I’m starting a new idea for the blog called Weekend Writing.
Weekend Writing is an experiment for me to try to write more often. Some posts may be about things that I don’t think merit a full article, or may be me talking about games I’ve recently played in an attempt to play more games than I usually do.
There’s no guarantee every weekend will have a Weekend Writing post, but I hope I can stick with this idea for a while.
As of this writing, I finished BioShock 2 Remastered. Part of BioShock: The Collection, it’s one of those fancy HD Remasters that was released for the current generation of platforms and PC. I had finished BioShock Remastered back in 2016, not long after beating BioShock 2 for the first time. Since it had been a few years, I figured it was time to go back to it, just to have something to play in the meantime, and to see if my opinion has changed on the first two games.
I say first two because despite buying it way back in 2014, I still haven’t played BioShock Infinite. Maybe some day.
BioShock is a pretty cool series. A stylistic art deco first-person shooter with skills, hacking and magical abilities; the game came out in 2007 to universal acclaim, some putting it on their “best of all time” list. I’m not one of those people, though I do consider it to be a solid game.
BioShock shares several elements with System Shock 2, considered a spiritual predecessor to BioShock. Fitting considering both were developed by Irrational Games. Stripping away the futuristic space motif for Rapture’s 1950s look was a wide decision as it gave them a fresh, unique environment to work with. BioShock’s look and feel is something I haven’t seen in a big budget game before or since, the closest is maybe Fallout. I’m surprised this style didn’t get ripped off more.
A sequel to BioShock followed in 2010, and the general consensus at the time was “the original was perfect, why do we need a sequel?” Indeed, it seemed redundant considering the first BioShock’s story was well wrapped up with very little loose ends. That, combined with a superfluous multiplayer mode, resulted in a game considered a disappointment by most fans of the series.
Then a few years later, in 2013, Irrational would release BioShock Infinite, the third and most recent game in the series. In a sense, fans were pleased that Ken Levine and original developer Irrational Games were back at the helm, rather than an internal studio like 2K Marin. Much like BioShock 2, the general consensus of Infinite is incredibly split, which I’ll get to in a bit.
The story of BioShock 2 shares elements of the first game – it still takes place in Rapture, everything’s gone to hell – but with a different protagonist: A Big Daddy whose Little Sister named Eleanor is taken away by Sofia Lamb, in which he’s then forced to kill himself by Sofia’s request, but later revived by Eleanor. The rest of the story is a fairly uneventful revenge plot: The Big Dad must stop The Big Bad and rescue Eleanor to Save the Day.
I honestly don’t care a lot about BioShock 2’s story. It feels uninteresting and derivative, completely divorced from the first game short of audio logs and a few areas that allude to specific characters and events. Granted, the first BioShock’s plot isn’t unique as it’s System Shock 2 with the serial numbers filed off, but I was more interested in that story compared to the sequel’s. There isn’t even a plot twist like in the first game, it’s fairly cut-and-dried.
Now, there is a conundrum. The story of BioShock 2 is meh. But the gameplay is somehow better than the first. Sounds weird, right? Let me explain.
While the weapons are similar to the first game’s counterparts – the drill replaces the wrench, the rivet gun is your pistol, the machine gun replaces the Tommy Gun, etc – they feel more unique and interesting than just generic steampunk-styled weapons the first game had.
Another cool addition was that the player character can now use their weapons and their plasmids at the same time. In the first game, you had to switch between guns and plasmids, which was incredibly cumbersome to use. This baffling design lead me to barely using plasmids in the first unless I was required to.
Since BioShock 2 can have you use both at the same time, I felt a lot more versatile and could plan things better. Big Daddy fights were so much easier when I could combine Telekinesis with a powerful weapon like the grenade launcher or spear gun, throwing projectiles back at them. In the first game it would take me 3-4 tries before I could down a Big Daddy, even on normal difficulty. In BioShock 2, I rarely died to them unless I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings and got blindsided by a mini-turret they threw down. As for the Big Sisters they added, those still kicked my ass considerably in both the original and the remaster.
BioShock 2 also does the research mechanic, but now it’s a film camera that takes footage of the enemy in action, eventually filling a bar to unlock upgrades that way. Best part: no ammo! Just use it whenever, be diverse in how you attack your foe and you’ll be unlocking abilities and upgrades in no time. It sounds like a minor change, but it makes a big difference, especially when you don’t need to scrounge around for film to research and upgrade like in the first BioShock.
Hacking is easier too: No more bargain basement Pipe Dream garbage, it’s now a simple tracking line that’s more timing based. This is probably more frustrating to people with bad reflexes, which is why they have Gene Tonics to make the needle slower, make the the success areas wider, and requiring fewer steps to unlock. Like in the first, you could unlock it by buying out if you have the cash to spare.
Speaking of scrounging, that hasn’t changed between games. Easy to find ammo, health, EVE hypos and consumables. Hell, by the game’s end, I was practically flush with ammo. Almost filled up every weapon and every ammo type with relative ease, which was disappointing as it gave me so much ammo but not many enemies to fight with it. Kinda wished the ammo pickups scaled based on the game’s difficulty, because I’d rather be low on ammo so each fight requires a bit of planning rather than just being a walking tank. And I was playing on hard difficulty!
While BioShock 2 Remastered omits the game’s multiplayer mode – I bet Digital Extremes is crying that their work gets tossed away as they wipe their tears with Warframe money – it does have the same problematic quirks I had with the original.
BioShock 2 is not a well-optimized video game on the PC. Crashes on the original were so frequent that I had to quick save every couple of minutes so I didn’t have to redo large swaths of the level I was on. Worst, it was a “freeze, then crash to desktop with no error message,” so I couldn’t even search what that error message meant.
I was thinking that “okay, whoever did the remasters probably had some time to fix those issues and optimize it, right?” I was a damn fool for expecting that, as the same crash problems persisted even in the remaster. At one point after crashing at a point near the end of the game several times, I had to result to hotfixes involving NVIDIA’s Profile Inspector and some INI file editing, and then it worked fine.
If you stumble upon this post with the same problems I had: Someone from the Steam Community has these solutions found fairly recently that worked for me.
The crashes in the original are why I never got to play Minerva’s Den, the game’s only single player expansion. The DLC didn’t allow me to quick save, and I wasn’t really keen on the game randomly crashing and having me restart at the very beginning each time, so I abandoned it before I really got to experience it. Here’s hoping those hotfixes I mentioned makes it not crash, because I’d sure be bummed that I can’t play what was considered by some “the only good thing about BioShock 2.”
As time goes on, I’ve noticed a significant change in opinion of the BioShock games. There are more and more people realizing BioShock 2 was actually a damn good game in spite of being in the shadow of the original. That’s great, because all the simple quality-of-life improvements end up with a solid game that stands out on its own.
Hell, I’ve seen people actually turn on Infinite, going from extreme hype and putting it as the best game of all time, to saying it’s actually the worst in the entire series. With how conflicted that game is, it actually makes me very interested to play it, as the games that are the most polarizing tend to be the most fascinating to me.
I recommend giving BioShock 2 a shot. The game alludes to events from BioShock, but it isn’t required to play that one to understand what’s going on. On PC, the only version on sale is the Remaster (on GOG or Steam), but it does come with the original version on either version. I didn’t see much of a drastic difference between the two versions – I’m not Digital Foundry – so I guess you can’t go wrong with either one.
Though, now that I think about BioShock 2‘s multiplayer, I wonder if there’s a small community of people still playing it. I’d reinstall the original BioShock 2 to give that a bash just once…
After I wrote the stuff above, I sat down to play Minerva’s Den through the Remaster. While I won’t go into extreme detail here — this post is already long enough as it is — I will say it lives up to the hype.
It does a few little changes to the core BioShock 2 experience that somehow actually makes it more enjoyable, such as upgraded weapons being found scattered in the world rather than using Power to the People Machines, and there’s no researching. The story’s definitely a lot better in Minerva’s Den compared to the regular BioShock 2 campaign, and I agree with the general consensus: Don’t sleep on this, play it if you can.
Though I do recommend playing both BioShock 2 and Minerva’s Den. Just so the main game can prepare you better for the DLC.