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)

  • Shabulia  

    While I have not yet explored the world of Rapture at the length of the first game, I do have to say that it is more enjoyable playing as a Big Daddy up to this point. I do think that the mystique of playing through Rapture isn't as chilling as it was in Bioshock. But I think that stands to reason. I compare it to playing Doom and Doom II. In Doom II, the graphics and style was exactly the same as the first game. While there was a case of "been there, seen that" it was still superior in gameplay due to the new additions and enemies. That's what I think we have here in Bioshock 2. No matter what, this series will go down in gaming history as one of quality and enjoyment. The dark premise of both games remains consistent and helps to hold everything together for the gamer. I am enjoying Bioshock 2 just as much as I enjoyed Bioshock. And that's the bottom line, is it not? So what if I've seen most of Rapture before. If the game's fun, isn't that what is most important? And on that level, Bioshock 2 more than delivers.

  • Keith Howarth  

    This is the first "Metacritic" compilation review I've read, but it won't be the last...excellent idea and great implementation, including well-produced original verbiage and conclusions. Thanks!

  • Egoode  

    Playing through (PC) version, I'm finding many of the gameplay flaws of the original were not addressed. The main problem with this game is that while it has a great setting, a unique take of the FPS game from a thematic point of view and some nice graphics (though at some points quite dated and rushed looking) it falls down on game play. If you really think about what you are doing while you play, you realise you are merely being led from tape recorder to tape recorder in a semi-linear fashion. That IS the game. It's about uncovering the story, but in my opinion a game should never solely rely on it's story to give entertainment as when your eyes start to glaze over after the 40th tape deck you start looking for more compelling reasons to continue. Like the first game the 'shooting' part of the game isn't very fun at all. It SOUNDS cool yes, and the new dual wielding is much better, the combination of plasmids and weapons should work great in theory. In practice though it all feels too 'loose' and unfocused. That feeling comes from 3 key problems:


    . Guns and weapons feel unsatisfying Plasmids fair a bit better as it's sort of fun to shock a pool full of splicers, but overall the gunplay feels weak and by the numbers. Any number of other (less hyped) shooters do this intrinsic element properly. You should want to continue playing because of the adrenline of combat, the sense of victory with each kill, the need for thought as you progress. It is more like Splicers are just thrown in to slow you down, to stop you getting to the next story element. They are not fun to deal with because of...


    .Enemies.
    Easily one of the worst enemies in an FPS game, splicers suffer from many problems including a 'joke' pressence whereby their silly voices, silly animations and capped/jerky physics ruin all sense of fun from dispatching them. They are as dumb as Doom1 enemies but actually far less fun to kill. In a game like bioshock with it's 'glorious' theme and premise, the enemies should be awesome. I don't mean overpowering or frustrating, they should just feel like you want to kill them for the right reasons (because it's fun) and not simply because a whole bunch of them just spawned predictably. I think Bioshock 2 failed in this way, they should have adapted the story to say a new breed of enemy had taken over the abandonded rapture, and made those enemies not have spindly bodies, silly masks, basically make them completely different from bioshock one. This is one of the main reasons the game feels all too 'samey' compared to the first. Really though if the A.I and animation was to the same level as it is here it probably wouldn't matter what enemy you had, it would still feel like a tedious chore to get rid of them rather than an exciting and immersive tactical shooter. 2K threw in all the weapon combos and varied ways to get rid of enemies but opted to not make the enemies in anyway interesting to kill. I often feel/felt that the bioshock games would actually IMPROVE without splicers/enemies. Sounds strange I know but all the good stuff the games do (build up atmosphere and a sense of 'exploration', only a sense mind you) they kill with the tedious gameplay and poor interaction which leads me to....


    .Physics/animation/sound
    The whole game in many areas (again like the original) feels unfinished. In part due to the physics STILL be capped at a much lower frame rate than needed. When you shoot exploded tanks or barrels for example, it's almost like you miss the moment of impact (check a great FPS like Crysis that does physic beautifully), like you virtually 'blink' and only see the affter effect (a large, jerky explosion). This is hampering the game from being fun, seriously. No matter who is reading this and thinking they love bioshock you have to admit this game would rise from it's curse if only they implemented proper physics. Maybe you can't tell on the consoles so easily but on PC it stands out a mile, it feels extremely dated. And shooting anything is simply not as fun as it should be because it constantly reminds you it's 'only software' by running the physics updates so slow. They probably did this to save performance elsewhere but it wasn't needed (at least on PC) and has really ruined the game for me. Another example is Half Life 2, use the gravity gun in that, when you pick up/throw things with it it feels slick and believable (and FUN). In this game the similar plasmid basically makes an object fly at you in jerky updates, then the object stutters around in front of you, you fire it and it's at it's target in about 5 frames instead of a smooth frame rate. Actually a bit hard to explain this properly, but many have noticed it and those who know what I mean will probably agree. The game is hurting itself in all these areas and 2K learned nothing from the complaints about bioshock 1. In that respect this is a step backwards.


    Sounds are also very imbalanced, they didn't test them properly to get a cohesive level.. some sounds (explosions, drill whacking) are into borderline distortion, they sound very bad.. others are too quiet. Whoever did the sound design for this game reeks of inexperience.


    I know the vast majorty disagree with anything critical said about Bioshock/2 but those points above really ruin what could be a very slick and immersive experience. Hopefully 2K will actually listen for future games and stop making schoolboy errors that hurt their own games.


    As I said I love the setting but the gameplay was very badly designed, you can't simply stick on a corridor traipser to some story and forget about the game play. Game play needs to come first, unfortunately as with the first game it's all to obvious their only focus was the story, trying to create the impression of an immersive epic through a psuedo-clever twisting plot, but then they tacked on a horrible mediocre FPS game play system. I think this game would be better as more of an RPG or at least make it's mind up whether it's a shooter or an adventure game. Lastly, the unreal engine 3 has had it's day. I've been a fan of the unreal engines since the first unreal (199 but this engine peaked with Gears of War and any other developer that has used it has tended to make very lazy choices (like poor widescreen implementation) and it also shows it's age when in the wrong hands (Epic can still make it look good but 2K just don't have the skills to fully understand the engine it seems).


    Oh and finally, the PC game is obviously a 'quick' console port again, even worse than the first - not even got Xbox360 controller support this time (which normally in FPS isn't a problem but with this game's poor controls and already 'abstracted' feel a vibrating controller would be good to help pull you into the game a bit and make it feel more solid, the mouse/kb on this game feel floaty and tiresome).

  • Buz  

    If you fell in love with the world that is Rapture before, there will be nothing stopping you from getting engrossed once again. It's my opinion that the story wasn't as good as the first, but I was still thrilled to learn more of the politics of Rapture. As for multiplayer, It's a fun distraction when you've been exhausted by everything that's been thrown at you (story, aesthetics, and the sheer scale of the whole thing). And if you're playing the game right, that's exactly how you should feel after taking in a full level. If you're reading this, and you are interested in buying Bioshock 2, but haven't played the first, go out and buy the first instead. Also, the game plays far better than the first. Don't get hung up on the multiplayer factor. If you can get into the philosophical world of Andrew Ryan, GO DO IT.

  • Revor  

    Coming here to check out the score I did not expect this type of review. It was a welcome addition and well done, keep them coming!

  • Captiosus  

    I would say expectations were too high, honestly. This kind of "sequel blah" happens almost every time when it's a game that's held in high regard. Everyone who played the original KNEW this one wasn't going to hold the same level of "wow factor" because we were going back to the same place we had already been. By contrast, Bioware's Mass Effect 2 did a great job preventing similar problems because they turned the entire original Mass Effect setting on its head - giving us a new ship and entirely new locales in the Universe.
    .
    Is it still a good game? Yeah. But I think too many critics and fans alike expected to pop in Bioshock 2 and get the exact same responses they got when they popped in the original.
    .
    That said, I wish they would have just abandoned this really "meh" multiplayer. Not every game needs multiplayer to succeed. I wish game developers would learn this. Bioshock was a solid title with no multiplayer. Adding a "prequel" multiplayer which takes elements from popular shooters of the last 15 years (Call of Duty and Goldeneye 64, to be precise) just really doesn't fit and, frankly, is a bit boring. Ultimately, adding multiplayer to a formerly single-player-centric title causes the development team to split which, often times, hurts the title due to the splitting of your talent.

  • Mark  

    I hate to say it.. Not sure if I havent played far enough.. but 3 hours in I just can't buy into it. I wished they would've delved into more back history.. I think a prequel would've been better than a sequel. More Bioshock is good, but the story just isn't compelling me. I'm still hoping Gore Verbenski is still planning on making a Bioshock movie.. Based on his Pirates skill it will be awesome! Bio 2 is a great game in its own right.. I am maybe spoiled.. and overly discerning.. So I will not go with dissapointed but say that my bar was too high.. The Bioshock experience has set a new standard for immersion in the sense of feeling like you are experiencing the character first hand.. A feat that FPSs have yet to accomplish effectively.. Bravo to the Bio team..

  • Craig  

    Some games just shouldn't have sequels. BioShock is one of them.

  • byF  

    I'm a bit surprised and, frankly, I don't get it.

    If I compare ME1 and ME2, I see ME1 as winner (in the matter of gameplay).

    If I compare B and B2, I feel those two equal.

  • OhMikeOdd  

    i´m really disappointed. i didn´t finish bs2 yet - i´m somewhere in the mid game right now and i didn´t enjoy playing through it yet. it´s no fun to be a big daddy. that little sister adam splicer gunfights get old right from the start. the water levels are not creative. and i just rush through the levels because they don´t have thee creepy atmosphere and mood thant the ones in the first bs had....also you are way too underpowered in the beginning. no problem with being underpowered at all but being underpowered because you just never got enough ammo sucks....this was a very very very very bad design decission because it makes you endlessly swap your guns and ammotype - swapping menues like forever. b o r i n g....i really don´t know ig i will ever finish the game at all...multiplayer is nothing special...one thing that annos me in mp....no sound when you get a kill...in a hectic mp game like this this is also a bad design decission....

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