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Postpartum Impressions: BioShock 2

4:00 PM on 03.29.2010 // Anthony Burch

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Last month, a group of Destructoid editors, myself included, looked back at Mass Effect 2 and discussed how we felt about the game a month after its release. We also managed to get through roughly 90% of the conversation without making any "this is my favorite store on the Citadel" jokes.

This month, we're having a similar discussion about BioShock 2 (minus the Citadel thing). Hamza Aziz, Chad Concelmo, Conrad Zimmerman and myself discussed BioShock 2's ups and downs with the benefit of a month's worth of hindsight.

You can read our conversation after the jump.

Anthony Burch:

So, BioShock 2. Having had a month to mull it over, how do you feel about it? Did the multiplayer have any staying power? Did you prefer the sequel's gameplay and, if so, did that make up for the comparatively lacking story?

Have you realized anything about the game that you hadn't thought of before?

Chad Concelmo:

While I enjoyed my time with BioShock 2, looking back, I feel the game is the perfect example of a sequel that never needed to happen.

The first BioShock was such a wonderful experience, with one of the most talked-about and memorable videogame stories of all time. It also was set in arguably one of the greatest videogame environments ever. And, most importantly, it had a clear beginning, middle, and end.

BioShock 2 just felt like more of the same.

Now, with something like Mario or Zelda, this is okay since the game's overall mechanics and presentations welcome similar gameplay styles with new levels and environments. But BioShock is not that kind of game.

Had the sequel been set in the same "BioShock" world, but in a brand new location with all new characters, I think it might have worked better. Setting BioShock 2 in Rapture -- despite its beauty and intrigue -- was a bad idea and begged for lesser comparisons to the stellar original.

I have met people that like BioShock 2 a lot more than the first game. While I disagree with this, I can understand it since the two games are so similar. If you weren't a fan of the first one, the minor tweaks to the gameplay and story could make you fan when going into the sequel.

For me, BioShock 2 didn't have enough surprises to make me feel completely satisfied.

Again, it's a well-made, entertaining game, but it could have been so much more.


Hamza Aziz:

I pretty much agree with what Chad said here. It was nice to revisit Rapture, but it was missing that spark of life you got from the first game. BioShock is like Disneyland. You go in with eyes wide open the very first time. The second time though, you're still excited but you've already seen it all and it just doesn't have that same feeling. 

The only real high points of the entire game I had was when you came across the experimental teleportation Plasmid and when you get to summon the Big Sister to aid you in fights.


"Now, with something like Mario or Zelda, this is okay since the game's overall mechanics and presentations welcome similar gameplay styles with new levels and environments. But BioShock is not that kind of game."

Can you elaborate on this? If anything, I thought Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess were more identical than BioShock and BioShock 2.

BioShock 2 may have revolved around plasmids and guns, but the combat felt much more intense to me, forcing a much deeper level of experimentation and versatility. I got through the entirety of BioShock with a wrench and a lightning bolt. I couldn't do the same in BioShock 2 (though maybe that's primarily because I never fully understood how to use the drill), and I really enjoyed that sensation.

That said, the return of the "here's a bunch of Adam for saving the little sisters" thing is total bullshit from any perspective.


Of course!

BioShock -- and to a lesser degree, BioShock 2 -- revolves primarily around its story and environment. Sure, the gameplay is fun and addictive, but how many people talk about the great shooting mechanics of BioShock as opposed to that killer twist near the end of the game?

Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time are very similar, but I think games can get away with that when they are not creating this very narrative-focused structure that feels so unique it almost can't be duplicated. Does that make sense? Argh, maybe I am not explaining it well.

I guess with BioShock, I felt it was about telling a really great story in a really great setting with some pretty cool gameplay that I have seen before. With Zelda games, they are all about the amazing gameplay that is wholly unique to the series ... with some passable, replaceable stories thrown in for good measure. I could play a million Zeldas with new, varied stories ... but I only wanted (and needed!) one BioShock.

I agree with you that BioShock 2 upped the ante in terms of combat and plasmid powers, but other than that, I felt like I was doing the exact same stuff as in the first BioShock. And, you're right, I can't really perfectly explain why that repetition is okay with my Zeldas, Marios, and Metroids, but, for some reason, I wanted BioShock 2 to take me somewhere new and exciting -- just like the first game.

I guess to grasp for an analogy, I wanted BioShock 2 to be to the original BioShock like Shadow of the Colossus was to Ico.


Conrad Zimmerman:

You're all giving me the impression that I'm in a minority view when I say that, taken as a whole, BioShock 2 is a better package than BioShock was.

As Anthony has already stated, combat in the sequel is much more refined and offers a better range of options when determining your approach against enemies. Far more intense and fast-paced, it gets the blood pumping far stronger than the original could manage and the improvements made to plasmids such as charged effects added versatility without encumbering the player.
Story is where BioShock 2 comes up short, certainly, but I think that's only a half-truth. The first tale, I think, is best compared to the works of Stephen King. It's an incredibly vibrant world filled with deep and faceted characters. It's easy to fall in love with them and watch as their stories intertwine and expand. Yet, just as I've come to expect from King, the writers of BioShock dropped the ball in the third act and produced a hackneyed sequence in the name of closure when the real climax happened hours earlier.
While characters are less memorable this time around (and returning characters have had some of their luster stripped away; seriously, where the fuck was Tennenbaum?), the structure is much improved.
The pacing is accelerated, something that could be good or bad depending on how much time you want to spend gawking at Rapture's details. And, perhaps most importantly, the ending is dramatic and exciting.
I think the climactic sequence escaping from Rapture was a bold move for 2K and one that pays off. One could accuse them of going too far in the other direction from criticism about how BioShock ends by eschewing the typical boss fight scenario for the very surprising last moments of gameplay. I found the rapidly accelerating intensity of that escape to be thrilling and was absolutely shocked to see how it ended. It's unconventional and brilliant.
The largest complaint I can really make about the single-player campaign in BioShock 2 is the one shared by everyone here: Rapture isn't as much fun to explore the second time around. That said, I have to wonder how much of that sentiment is due to the fact that I played BioShock. Had I not had that experience before picking up BioShock 2, would I feel the same way? The audio logs and radio communications do much to help flesh things out in the first game, something thrown to the wayside a bit as it seems assumed everyone who's playing the sequel has experience with the original title. At the very least, however, these shortcomings would not be drawn in such sharp relief.

I know for a fact that I can say had I not played BioShock 1, I would have been blown away by BioShock 2. But since I did, I just wasn't really wowed the second time through.
And yeah, seriously, what the hell happened to Tenenbaum? She was there for the first level of the game and then it's like 2K completely forgot about her.

I would just like to set the record straight that I really did like BioShock 2. It's an extremely well-made game and kept me interested throughout. (I just didn't want to give the impression that I hated it -- far from it, in fact!)

Maybe you guys can help me express what I am trying to say better, but I feel like there are certain games -- certain experiences, if you will -- that don't (and should never) warrant direct sequels. Shadow of the Colossus, Psychonauts, and the original BioShock are perfect examples of games that offer such wholly unique, mesmerizing, and complete experiences that a sequel should never be considered in fear of watering down the original's impact.

That is what BioShock 2 did for me. Looking back a month later, I am already forgetting about BioShock 2 and wish my only memories of the glorious Rapture were contained to the first game.

It sounds like you valued the atmosphere and story of the first one over its gameplay, which is understandable. It just seems almost inarguable to me that the sequel's basic gameplay isn't vastly improved over the first game's. There's nothing like shooting fifty trap rivets into a door and then watching a Big Sister set them all off at once.

Did anyone get to put in significant time with the multiplayer?

There was a multiplayer mode?! 
I only played the multiplayer once during a BioShock 2 preview late last year. I liked it, but there wasn't enough there to make me want to give it a shot again. I don't think it was a bad idea that 2K included a multiplayer mode, but I only had interest in the single-player here. I have plenty of other multiplayer games that I want to devote my time to.

I will give you that the gameplay in BioShock 2 is so much better than the original. I also agree with you on the trap rivets. So awesome! But, yeah, I think BioShock is so much about the atmosphere for me that it was hard for me to look past that in both games. I may be unfairly judging both games on that alone.

And I am with Hamza on the multiplayer -- I have not played much of it at all. But that's just me: I am not a big multiplayer guy, especially when it is added to a primarily single-player game.

And as much I loved using the Swarm plasmid on enemies (so amazing!), I think if the basic gameplay appealed to me more I would still be playing BioShock 2's multiplayer all these weeks later.

How about you, Anthony? Are you enjoying the multiplayer -- that is, assuming you are still playing it?

I enjoy it in theory. The interplay between the different plasmids and guns was, at least initially, really cool -- when you only had the lightning, fire, and a couple of guns to choose from, there was truly no "best" loadout. Sometimes I'd want to electrocute and shotgun people, sometimes I'd want to set them on fire and whittle away at them with the pistol.

Connection issues and balancing problems made the multiplayer effectively unplayable for me after a week, however. Everyone started using incinerate+grenade launcher, which is impossible to counter, and I became effectively incapable of finding lag-free games after a certain period of time. It's a shame 2K spent so much time making a hypothetically great multiplayer mode without bothering to make it balanced or playable.

Aw, that is a bummer. Even the way you described that sounded cool!

Despite my surprisingly negative afterthoughts, I am actually really looking forward to the inevitable BioShock 3. After seeing BioShock 2's ending, I have hope hopes for a brand new, completely revamped BioShock experience.

And that gets me really excited.

What makes you think BioShock 3 would be completely revamped?

I guess when I say "revamped," I mean "set outside of Rapture."

I don't know. After the dramatic escape and beautiful ending on the surface of the ocean, I just figured the series had said goodbye to Rapture forever.

Even if most of the gameplay mechanics stay the same (which is more than likely), I would love to play a new BioShock game in a brand new location. Following a character entering the surface world after growing up knowing nothing but Rapture would be absolutely fascinating.

Maybe it's just wishful thinking. :)

The multiplayer component of BioShock 2 is a disappointment, but not for the reasons I would have expected it to be. I like that plasmids feel as effective when playing against human players as they do in the single-player game and the combinations of weapons and plasmids are quite fun.
I didn't have Anthony's experience with playing the multiplayer, so far as one loadout seeming to be the overwhelming choice amongst players. I've always seen a pretty broad range. Which isn't to say that there aren't balance issues. Some of the higher level plasmids (like the Houdini) can feel really unfair at times.
The real shame is that it's not being played by anyone. This would have been predictable even if BioShock 2 were not a game where there was an almost universal outcry of, "THIS IS A BAD IDEA," from everyone everywhere in regards to the very existence of multiplayer. That's probably just the final nail in the coffin. As much fun as I find the online game to be, this is a title everyone is buying for the single-player experience so there was going to be little hope. 
I haven't been able to play half of the modes due to a lack of players. Getting into games seemed like a hit-or-miss affair on day one, let alone now, weeks later. The delay between rounds feels entirely too long, also. I'm of the opinion that anything over a thirty-second wait time between matches is too long. BioShock 2 is sixty and it's driving people out of lobbies to seek faster play elsewhere, crippling the flow of games for everyone else.
Worse yet, there's content in the multiplayer that I genuinely want to experience. I love earning the new recordings from Sinclair Solutions and the assortment of playable characters. Their stories add more flavor to a world that I'm already eager to devour whole. Sadly, I know I'll never get through the last third simply because it's too much of a hassle to play the game now.

That's some short sighted development right there. Even if people were going to buy this game for the multiplayer in the same vein as something as Modern Warfare 2, you shouldn't create components that require other players to unlock. In a multplayer setting that is. Something like Noby Noby Boy is a whole different (and good) story.  
Back to Chad's idea for a "revamped" BioShock setting, I just don't see it. I agree with you that a whole new setting would rock, but the only way I would accept  it is if the game is set in a modern or future setting. The governments of the world learned of Rapture, harvested it's advances and the world has started going toshit. Something like that. Prototype keeps coming to mind thinking of this new take on BioShock.
Conrad talked about the story earlier, and Chad seemed to dislike it in comparison to the first game's. Specifically, how did you all feel about BioShock 2's story? If you didn't like it as much as the first game's, why? Was it an issue of scale, or retconning, or theme? All of them? None of them?

I would have liked the story better if it wasn't trying to cover-up the fact that every mission felt like a giant fetch quest. It didn't even become clear to me what was driving me (Delta) until a couple of hours into the game. The only part of the story that wowed me was with the Big Sister twist at the final act.

I think I would have liked the story more if it wasn't structured so similarly to the first game. If you take out the character names and details and just look at the general overall pacing, major events almost unfold in the exact same order as the original BioShock. There is the same amount of "levels," you pick up almost the same number of "audio logs," you are guided through the world by a mysterious figure who could or could not be on your side, and the (brilliant) end sequence when you play as the Little Sister is in the same place in the story as when you pose as the Big Daddy in the first game.

The story is definitely interesting, but it was a slightly skewed mirror image of the original BioShock.

And getting back to what Hamza said about a "revamped" setting not working: I think it would work beautifully! Imagine seeing what the "normal" world was like outside of Rapture. We all have ideas about it, but who knows? The designers could have a creative field day with all the possibilities!

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