BioShock 2: Inside the Reviews

  • Publish Date: February 9, 2010
  • Comments: ↓ 20 user comments

A slight disappointment -- or are expectations simply too high?

ImageTry not to look so disappointed

In 2007, the shooter BioShock captured game of the year honors thanks in part to its unique underwater setting, immersive and thought-provoking story, and superb gameplay. Along the way, it scored quite a few "perfect" 100 scores from a variety of game publications.

This week, 2K Games released a sequel, BioShock 2, that returns players to the submerged city of Rapture ten years after the events in the original game. Those perfect scores, however, seem to be harder to find the second time around, and the sequel -- though unquestionably a good game -- does not yet appear to be living up to the incredibly high expectations established by the original BioShock's critical reception.

How exactly does the new BioShock 2 match up to the original? Let's start by comparing scores given by critics and users (so far):

Review Comparison for All BioShock Titles
Game/Platform Metascore % Scores
= 100
% Scores
> 90
All-Time
Rank
User Score
BioShock 2 360 89 5% 59% 40th 7.9
BioShock 360 96 39% 98% 2nd 8.7
BioShock 2 PS3 89 11% 63% 23rd 9.2
BioShock PS3 94 29% 92% 6th 8.0
BioShock 2 PC 91 14% 71% 69th 7.3
BioShock PC 96 32% 93% 5th 8.1

The score percentages indicate the percentage of critic reviews matching those criteria for that particular game. The All-Time Rank indicates the game's current Metascore ranking compared to all releases in history for that platform. All scores, rankings and percentages are from the afternoon of February 9, 2010, and will likely change as new reviews are published over the next few weeks.

Here's how BioShock 2 compares to other releases this year (through February 9th):

2010's Best Games So Far - Xbox 360
  Game Publisher Genre Metascore User Score
1 Mass Effect 2 Electronic Arts Action-RPG 96 9.0
2 Bayonetta Sega Action 90 8.1
3 BioShock 2 2K Games First-Person Shooter 89 7.9
4 Darksiders THQ Action-Adventure 83 8.8
5 Chime Valcon Puzzle 79 9.5
2010's Best Games So Far - Playstation 3
  Game Publisher Genre Metascore User Score
1 BioShock 2 2K Games First-Person Shooter 89 9.2
2 Bayonetta Sega Action 86 7.2
3 Darksiders THQ Action-Adventure 82 8.5
4 Dante's Inferno Electronic Arts Action-Adventure 76 8.0
  MAG Sony First-Person Shooter 76 8.3
2010's Best Games So Far - PC Games
  Game Publisher Genre Metascore User Score
1 Mass Effect 2 Electronic Arts Action-RPG 94 8.9
2 BioShock 2 2k Games First-Person Shooter 91 7.3
3 VVVVVV Terry Cavanagh/ Distractionware Platformer 83 7.0
4 S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat BitComposer First-Person Shooter 80 8.8
5 Greed: Black Border Meridian4 Action-RPG 61 7.6

Games must have at least 7 reviews to qualify for the above high score charts.

Let's take a closer look at what game reviewers are saying about BioShock 2, to see if we can find out why the scores are lower for the sequel.

General differences between the first and second installment

A quick word of warning before we begin: Gamespot recommends playing BioShock before diving into the sequel, since "prior knowledge is required to fully understand what is happening."

While gameplay between the two versions is similar (although the nature of your character is very different), BioShock 2 adds a competitive multiplayer mode to the title, which the first BioShock lacked. What else is different this time around? Let's check:

What's Worse

"Familiar" is the word that appears again and again in the reviews for BioShock 2. For example, Gamespot lamented that the sequel has lost some of the original's mystery:

Everything seems a bit too familiar, and the story that accompanies your journey is not as impressive or shocking as the original.

Other publications agreed:

It's hard to feel like you haven't done it all before. --1UP

Traipsing around Rapture is certainly still enjoyable, but it's kind of like a magic trick you've already seen -- not quite as impressive as it was the first time around. --GameSpy

While most critics who complained of overfamiliarity were doing so in the context of comparing the new title to the first game, Wired felt that, while the original title shunned gameplay conventions, the new title embraces them a bit too tightly:

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.

And other publications, like 1UP, found the new game less involving than the original:

It fails to provide the strong narrative that made the original so compelling.

Similarly, IGN missed the "captivating" characters from the original title:

Unfortunately, none of the characters introduced in BioShock 2 are quite as fascinating as Andrew Ryan

What's Better

Not every critic felt that BioShock 2 was less compelling than the original game; Games Radar, for instance, actually prefers the second title:

In some fairly significant ways, including combat diversity, enemy variety, character depth and emotional attachment to the story, BioShock 2 is superior to BioShock 1. Plus, fans’ biggest criticisms of the original – the pipe hacking and the sagging third act – have been addressed and fixed for this sequel.

Indeed, BioShock 2 incorporates a number of subtle changes to gameplay mechanics, weapon upgrades, and the like that critics found welcome:

It doesn't take extreme liberties with elements that worked before; it improves them in simple but effective ways. --IGN

Every weapon in BioShock 2 is more impressive and more satisfying than its equivalent in BioShock 1 --Games Radar

Wired enjoyed the fact that "BioShock 2’s levels are much less linear than the original’s," meaning that there are more chances (and rewards) for exploration. (In fact, choice and variety seem to be a running theme throughout the new game.) That magazine, and other critics, also noted that the new game forces you to consider your actions -- which involve weighty moral decisions -- more carefully, since the choices you make determine how the game plays out.

Overall concept and story

The importance of the storyline is what separated the first BioShock from lesser first-person shooters, and that dedication to story continues in BioShock 2.

One of BioShock 2's biggest strengths is its narrative. --GameSpy

The plot in the new game, which takes about a dozen hours to unfold, picks up nearly a decade after the original. The sequel makes an important change to the protagonist, with users now playing as one of the iconic Big Daddy characters -- a switch welcomed by reviewers. BioShock 2 reveals new secrets along the way, with players also able to venture into new areas -- including outside the city (on the ocean floor).

Games Radar found the new game's storyline "unsettling," "intriguing," and "emotionally investing." But other critics were slightly disappointed, finding the story, for the most part, safe and familiar.

BioShock felt like an introduction not just to an underwater city, but to a maniacal philosophy and alternate history. BioShock 2 feels like a solid but plain knock-off of that world. ... You're not getting the same caliber of twisted, engaging story this time around. It's a standard, straightforward tale, with a few too many holes to be called truly "great." --1UP

Despite not liking it as much as in the first game, the story in BioShock 2 is nonetheless compelling. --Team Xbox

The developer’s stubbornness to not veer off of the beaten path clashes with the game’s premise. ... For the majority of this experience, these developers seem to be spinning their creative wheels, and the tiny bits of new content feel tacked on. --Game Informer

While Wired found that "the moments in the middle of BioShock 2 tended to be more intriguing than the big reveal at the end, which wasn’t so big after all," BioShock's concluding few hours were lauded by almost every other publication as the best part of the story.

There is no twist in this game on the same scale as the first one’s, but you will still be shocked at the game’s climax, and the ensuing couple of levels will be of great interest to you if you’re invested in the world of Rapture. In fact, the last hour or two of this game are among the most exciting and compelling game finishes I’ve played in a while.  --Team Xbox

It takes 10 hours to get there, but the final two acts (lasting approximately three hours) are brilliant. --Game Informer

Gameplay

Single Player

GameDaily enjoyed the action and weapons choices that come with playing as a Big Daddy:

You'll thoroughly enjoy experimenting with different plasmids, gene tonics and weapons. In addition, there's something empowering about snatching these Little Sisters and defending them from harm.

That publication, however, did find the new game less than challenging:

Depending on the difficulty, BioShock 2 may also be one of the easiest games you've played. As expected, it comes with multiple difficulties that ratchet up the artificial intelligence, but on Medium, it's kind of a pushover.

Wired called the game "a blazing-fast, run-and-gun first-person shooter," but found BioShock 2's structure a bit too similar to other games:

The things you do throughout the game determine what your character becomes and how the finale plays out. The only real problem with this is that dozens of lesser games, from Infamous to The Force Unleashed, have been built around this same idea. The fact that BioShock 2 does it significantly better doesn’t entirely excuse the fact that it is stamping on well-trod ground.

Wired also faulted the sheer number and frequency of upgrades, which made getting new powers and weapons too commonplace to be exciting.

Most critics, however, liked the small gameplay improvements (the original already played very well, remember), which resulted in, among other things, "considerably less clumsy" combat and "more tactical variety," according to GameSpy.

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. --Game Informer

Multiplayer

While the single-player story mode is the obvious draw, the sequel's new online, competitive multiplayer mode "is actually a lot of fun," according to IGN. And Games Radar adds:

The developers have done a good job distinguishing – and separating – the online multiplayer from the offline campaign. 

But most critics either didn't see the point of the multiplayer mode, or weren't completely thrilled with it.

It's just not as smooth an experience as the single player campaign. --GameDaily

While BioShock 2's multiplayer has all the modern trappings of an addictive online shooter ... I can't see people buying it for this reason, or trying it for more than a few games before heading back to their multiplayer shooter of choice. --GameSpy

The weapon functionally doesn’t feel right. --Game Informer

Graphics

The fantastically detailed underwater city Rapture was one of the highlights of the original BioShock, and while critics enjoyed the graphics in the sequel quite a bit, they were maybe a touch below those of the first game.

Rapture's halls aren't quite the visual spectacle they were when we saw them back in 2007, but the subaquatic city is still a terrifically detailed and engrossing setting. --IGN

An artistic masterpiece, if not always technical one. --Team Xbox

Once again, 2K did phenomenal work bringing this twisted 1950s era city to life and populating it with all sorts of horrifying monsters and images. --GameDaily

Sound

Critics had few, if any, complaints about effects, vocal talent, or music, which all were well received in the new title.

Strong voice acting lends believability to characters you interact with mostly through audio logs, an excellent score underscores the mood, and a diverse range of distinct audio effects like the alarm triggers and high pitched whistle of security bots all feel right at home in this decaying dystopia.  --IGN

Excellent art direction, a great soundtrack, and a fantastic voice cast all team up with a powerful story to create an atmosphere so thick and intense that it is at times downright chilling. --Gamespot

Out of the various sound subcategories, it was the ambient background effects -- the creaking and groaning of the city itself -- that were most appreciated by critics.

Other thoughts

It's a rare thing for games built with this kind of big budget to take seriously a thematic cohesion between setting, story, and gameplay, yet that's exactly what we get here.  --IGN

Gorgeous, gripping and enjoyable, it's without question a game of the year candidate. --GameDaily

360 vs. PS3 vs. PC

There are no major differences between the three different versions of BioShock 2, one of the reasons that the Metascores for the games are running about the same so far for each platform.

Your take

What do you think of BioShock 2? How does it compare to the first BioShock? If you haven't done so already, feel free to cast your official vote for the PS3, Xbox 360, or PC versions of the game, and read the user reviews already posted on those pages. Or continue the discussion in the comments section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (20)

  • kin  

    The biggest problem with Bioshock 2 is that BioShock creator Ken Levine had nothing to do with it...

  • Crazycatguy  

    Great feature, hope to see more like it.

  • Bioshock 2  

    [...] 2nd one is not as good as the first, but still a good game. The story is not quite as good, and the environments are not as varied. In the end it's very similar, but not up to the level of the original. There is also the "been there, done that" factor. The original was so, well, original. Yet having gone through Rapture once already it's not as fascinating. If you want to read more reviews Metacritic is a good site. Here is their review rundown of Bioshock 2.... BioShock 2: Inside the Reviews - Metacritic [...]

  • Alan  

    What most people fail to admit to is that they already have it in their heads that "sequels always suck" which...any logical person knows is not always the case. Still...I would not doubt for a second that those who claim for it to be "overhyped" or whatever are really wanting to hide the fact that they already had it in their heads that it was going to be "worse" than the original. And so they got exactly what they deserved. For those without sequelphobia...this game will most likely impress you. Bioshock is one of the best FPS series to date, there is no way around it.

  • Ryan  

    It's not that the 2nd game is underwhelming, it's that enthusiasm distorted the scores of the original. Play it again now and you'll see that it is a PC shooter with detailed environmental graphics and standard gameplay. I kid you not.

  • fractalSoup  

    I guess I was in the minority in that I was disappointed in the original Bioshock. As a fan of the Thief series and the original System Shock., I was hoping for more of that style. Bioshock reminded me more of System Shock 2, which had also been a let down for me.
    From that perspective, how would Bioshock 2 stack up? Is it more free form like the original System Shock or Thief, or is it fairly linear corridor crawling like Bioshock 1?

  • Spedmental  

    !!!READ THIS F' ERs!!!!!! This game let me down I give it 6.5 out of 10, and the overblown hype makes it look so good. Essentialy this is bioshock 1.its more then an add on but still not enough to be a full game. They gave us 1 new splicer ,a new big daddy suit,a big sister a few new weapons and a few plasmid tweaks but really no outstanding new plasmids, The level design is lame compared to the first with very few large areas,instead you find your self mostly in small rooms and narrow hallways that look like there just mashups from bioshock one. The few big areas are highly cluttered and feel small and pale in comparison to the maps of the first. underwater section are stupid and pointless ,they really just replace the large amount of glass tunels that were present in the first ,they have no part in the game play what so ever other than getting you from one point to another and the overly vibrant pinks and purples in the color scheme take away from the darkness of the game and over all looks very cheap. The biggest let down was the story......the immersivenes of the first game is gone and replaced with a simple plot with hardly no mistery or intrigue,your a big daddy looking for your little sister thats it,not even a unpredictable plot twists.your tossed into the game and it doesnt slow down untill you beat it.The endings is note worthy and one of the bright parts of the game because you see the outcome of your decisions but after a meger 8 hour play through the first time around you will find your self there wandering what the f happened.

    on a brighter note the multiplayer is infact multiplayer with all the standard features. but seeing this is common on all just about all games now and it should have been there in first one its no reason to give this game an 8 out of 10.

    when you just spent 300 hours playing borderlands .8 hours of gameplay just dont cut it anymore ,for $80 its infact a bit insulting.you can get double that time out of a fallout addon for 800 ms points,if you want to play something a little worse then what you allready and have no reason to play it again after 2 days then buy this game.

  • The Sunday Papers |  

    [...] Metacritic actually producing content instead of merely existing as all-powerful parasite. They’re analysing the reviews. This is the sort of thing a lot of us do anyway, in terms of looking at where the communal [...]

  • Nick Borrego  

    Brilliant article. It's obvious that expectations are going to be set quite high after the near perfect execution of Bioshock 1. I think what people should do for Bioshock 2 is step outside their expectations, and just enjoy it for what it is. How could there be a gigantic improvement on something so amazing? Not to mention when it's developed by almost a completely different team than its original dev team, Irrational Games. I'm about halfway through this game, and so far I've been extremely pleased with the respect they've given it. Yes, it's a bit more of the same, but when something is awesome, I'll take as much of it as is out there.

  • Avs  

    Forget this "metareview". You should focus on the disparity between the metascore and the player score. Notice how they are so far apart. The biggest problem with metascoring is that most of the "critics" are random small sites with 0 credibility. All the larger sites (IGN, Gamespot), have only a small amount of credibility. The entire video game industry's "review" process is laughable compared to other entertainment industries. We totally need to fix this otherwise these scores are nothing but marketing if anything at all.

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