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Critical Reception: 2K Marin's  BioShock 2

Critical Reception: 2K Marin's BioShock 2

February 10, 2010 | By Danny Cowan

February 10, 2010 | By Danny Cowan
More: Console/PC, Columns

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to 2K Marin's first-person shooter sequel BioShock 2, which reviews describe as "an undeniable blast." BioShock 2 currently earns a score of 89 out of 100 at

Will Herring at GamePro gives BioShock 2 5 out of 5 stars. "While I was initially in the camp that believed BioShock to be a self-contained narrative that didn't need further exploration," he admits, "it didn't take long for BioShock 2 to unequivocally sell me on the idea of a return-trip to Rapture."

Herring continues: "BioShock 2's narrative takes a much more straightforward approach with fewer plot-related twists, but it still offers up an incredibly strong yarn with a worthy adversary in the nefarious Dr. Lamb. The Rapture Civil War takes a back seat to Lamb's crusade against Ryan's objectivist rule, peaking in several Town Hall audio diary debates between their warring philosophies, and casting Rapture's former benefactor in a surprisingly tragic light."

BioShock 2's gameplay has also been overhauled, with a greater focus placed on strategy. "BioShock 2 as a whole has taken a much bigger focus on tactical thinking," Herring notes, "regularly asking players to seek out opportune vantage points for ADAM gathering, create elaborate traps for oncoming enemies, and mix-and-match various gene tonic/plasmid combinations against different foes."

The new multiplayer modes also work well. "The more matches won, ADAM collected, and Achievement-esque Trials completed," Herring explains, "the more Gene Tonics, Plasmids, and weapon upgrades your characters are allowed access to, allowing players to finely tune their avatar to match their play style. Combined with some detailed and nicely varied maps, BioShock 2's multiplayer is undoubtedly something that shouldn't work, but inexplicably does -- and pretty damn well, at that."

"BioShock 2 not only re-captures the dystopian aesthetic, gripping narrative, and deep gameplay of Irrational's original, but it actually greatly improves on the BioShock experience as a whole," Herring concludes. "2K Marin has breathed incredible life into nearly every aspect of Ryan's undersea society, not only justifying the need for a sequel, but leaving me incredibly eager to re-explore its dilapidated halls."

Wired's Chris Kohler rates BioShock 2 at 9 out of 10. "At first, you might get a sense of been-there-played-that as you search for clues in the familiar wreckage," he warns. "But don't let the superficial similarities fool you: Under the surface, BioShock 2 is a very different game from its predecessor, likely because it was developed by a new team based at 2K Games studio in Novato, California."

BioShock's moral aspect is no longer as surprising or engaging as it once was, however. "Dozens of lesser games, from Infamous to The Force Unleashed, have been built around this same idea," Kohler notes. "The fact that BioShock 2 does it significantly better doesn't entirely excuse the fact that it is stamping on well-trod ground. BioShock is memorable for the way that it subverted and shattered videogame tropes; BioShock 2 embraces them with all the fervor of a Big Daddy clutching his Little Sister."

Otherwise, Kohler believes that players will find a lot to like in the follow-up. "BioShock 2 is at heart a blazing-fast, run-and-gun first-person shooter," he writes. "Like your enemies, you can juice yourself up with Plasmids, consumer-level genetic modifying tonics that let you throw fire, electrify things, release swarms of insects and give you all sorts of other helpful powers."

"If BioShock 2's gameplay has a serious issue, it's that you're loaded down with way too much stuff," Kohler continues. "You get new weapons and additional ammo types regularly, and you're constantly buying more Plasmids. There are so many genetic upgrades in the game that you can't even afford to buy them all. Earning a new power can be a huge motivator for a player, but when they're dumped on you in mass quantities, it's far less exciting."

"2K Marin did a great job," Kohler assures. "It chose elements of the first game that presented opportunities to be expanded upon, created new environments and characters that fit neatly into the universe and orchestrated a few surprising, engaging moments.

"But it's hard to escape the fact that the original BioShock pre-emptively put the lie to the theme of its own sequel. 'Free will' in a videogame is ultimately a false choice, said Irrational Games; the game designer is the puppet master and in the end you will do whatever he says. BioShock 2 may be a clever spin on the are-you-good-or-evil convention, but it falls short of its predecessor by not breaking free of it."

Over at Game Informer, Andrew Reiner scores BioShock 2 at 8.25 out of 10. "I no longer feel like a tourist in Rapture," he begins. "Once wondrous and foreboding, this underwater society now has the familiarity of a local shopping mall."

Reiner continues: "Audio recordings of Andrew Ryan detail the need for rational selfishness in a controlled world, Big Daddies moan dejectedly in every corridor, and the biggest decision we are faced with is to save or harvest a Little Sister. For roughly 10 hours, BioShock 2 follows directly in its forefather's footsteps, too fearful to inject anything new into this twisted world."

Reiner feels that many of BioShock 2's new features are "tacked on," and fail to add much to the overall experience.

Reiner cites an example: "The Big Sister is the most noticeable mistake. Early in the adventure, her role seems to be similar to Resident Evil's Nemesis - dropping in unannounced to wreak havoc. Her combat prowess dwarfs yours to a degree that you immediately think, 'I'll never be able to take her down.'"

However: "As imposing as she is initially, you end up defeating her within the first hour of play. As the game progresses, her class type becomes a reoccurring boss (usually confronting you at the end of each level). Given the potential she exhibits in the first hour of the game, I'll never understand why 2K Marin opted to change her from a unique antagonist (the original plan and reason why the game was delayed) to a faceless enemy type."

"Eventually this disappointing adventure does turn a corner. It takes 10 hours to get there, but the final two acts (lasting approximately three hours) are brilliant," Reiner assures. "When this game recognizes its true potential, it shines. It's just a shame that it wanders misguidedly for so long.

"The first 10 hours are not bad or forgettable, they just don't branch out from the safe confines of the first BioShock. The controls are just as tight as they are in the first game, and the explosive plasmid play once again makes brutality against splicer nation an undeniable blast."

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