If you are a gamer then you are sure to know the Bioshock title. This game was the product of the remnants of Looking Glass Studios.  Looking Glass Studios created such games as System Shock [and System Shock 2] as well as the popular Thief series. Bioshock took you under the ocean on a journey through a utopia gone wrong, called Rapture. As you moved through the game you are given choices that not only shape your character but also shape the actual direction of the game. You also had an antagonist that was able to provide you with constant taunting [in the beginning of the game you are led to believe he is an ally].  This combined with an immersive game world dragged you into the game and made the original Bioshock a hit. Now the sequel to this great game is out in the form of Bioshock 2. We are going to take a look at the setup, configuration and our normal 30 minutes of real time game play. Let?s see if Bioshock 2 can drag you beneath the waves like the original did.

Buying the game
Bioshock 2 comes in a few different flavors [like most AAA titles do] in addition to being available for the Xbox 360, PC and PlayStation 3. The versions increase in price as do the number of ?goodies? inside the box. For most the stock Bioshock 2 box will suffice and will run you the now typical $50 for the PC version.

If you are one of those that needs [or likes] to have a lot of stuff bundled in with your games then you can shell out an additional $40 and get the Limited Edition. This comes with a few extras that are nice on the surface but in the end are not much more than fluff.

The Limited Edition comes with;

Vinyl 180g LP with BioShock orchestral score
Audio CD with BioShock 2 orchestral score
Three vintage Rapture advertisement posters (rolled)
BioShock 2 Art Book, 164 pages and hardcover
BioShock 2 game

For those of you that do not need [or want] to deal with a DVD-ROM or box then there is the ever popular Steam variety. This allows you to install the game on more than one system [but you can only play on one at a time] and also offers an easier method for reinstallation if needed.

However, if you do chose this method bear in mind that Bioshock 2 is a HUGE game. The download is over 7GB and will take some time to get it down to your system and installed.  

Installation and Setup
Before you buy a certain type of install you are going to want to make sure you have a system that can handle the demands of Bioshock 2.

Fortunately for you the minimum requirements are not that great. In fact to look at them you would not think this is a current ?cutting-edge? game except for the 11GB HDD space requirement and the 2GB memory usage.  Oddly enough there is no mention of DX10 hardware being required or needed. This is an interesting development as there is support for DX10 surfaces in the game [just like the first one]. Granted the recommended GPUs listed are all DX10, but as Windows XP is listed as a compatible OS it still should have been in the recommended list.

After you make sure that your system is up to speed and you have chosen your method of install, you will find that Bioshock 2 can take a while to get installed.  On our mobile platform we found the installation took just a little over 45 minutes to complete. The desktop system was much faster due to the Patriot SSD inside but still took about 25 minutes for everything to be in place.  

Once the game is installed you have a few more steps to take before you can get into playing. As this is a Games for Windows Live title you have to connect to your gaming profile [or create a new one] to play. As an alternative you can create an offline profile to allow you to save games locally but you will not be able to keep track of accomplishments or play on line [as you probably guessed]. I am not a fan of this type of requirement as I prefer to only need to setup an account or profile if I chose. To me this is only another form of restriction and DRM imposed by the distributor and MS in an effort to push PC games closer to the same restrictions that console games have; but that is for another article.

Configuring the Game
After you jump through the Windows Live hoops you finally get into the game. Here you can adjust the settings of Bioshock 2, with adjustments for video, audio, key binding and game play [in other words the usual]


Game Settings
Click to Enlarge – Opens new Window

One thing that I noted was a change in the key bindings from the first game. This is not something to do lightly. For the most part it is needed due to a change in the combat capabilities of your character [which we will cover below], but 2KGames should have kept as many of the key bindings from the first game as they could. This would have maintained a familiar feel to the game instead of having gamers suddenly feeling that this is a completely new game and fumbling for controls.


Different Control Bindings
Click to Enlarge – Opens new Window

Performance and Game Play
As with all of our Short Attention Span gaming reviews we test with both a desktop and a mobile platform. The specifications of each are listed below;

Desktop
Processor: Intel Core i5 750 [Supplied by Intel]
Mainboard Asus P7P55D-E Pro [Supplied by Asus]
Memory
: 4GB Kingston KHX12800D3T1K3/6GX [Supplied by Kingston]
Hard Disk
: Kingston SSD Now M [Intel X25-M 80GB SSD] [Supplied by Kingston]
Graphics Card
: Zotac GTX 285 AMP! Edition 1GB [flashed to stock BIOS] [Supplied by Zotac]
Cooling
: Cooler Master Hyper 212 [with an extra fan] [Supplied by Cooler Master]
Operating System
: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate

Mobile
Processor: Intel Core 2 Extreme X9800 [2.8GHz]
Memory
: 4GB Kingston KHX5300S2LLK2_4G [Supplied by Kingston]
Hard Disk
: Seagate ST9500325ASG 500GB SATA 150 [Supplied by Seagate]
Graphics Card
: nVidia GeForce 8800M GTS 512MB [dedicated]
Operating System
: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate

Both systems have enough horse power even for the recommended requirements so we should not see any performance problems here.

For testing we used FRAPS 3.0.1 and recorded our play from after the intro scenes to the end of our 30-minute run. Settings for both our mobile and desktop testing are shown below.

As you can see we were able to maintain 32FPS even on our mobile platform with an aging GPU under the hood. This is good news for Bioshock fans that want to play the new title without needing to shovel out money for a new system or a ton of upgrades.

Game Play
Without giving too much away we want to cover the basic story line. When the game opens you are greeted by a rather long opening movie. In it you take the role of Subject Delta a Big Daddy prototype and are following your ‘daughter’, her name is Eleanor.


Anyone else see Porky Pig here?

As you follow her joyfully romping through Rapture looking for dead people [she calls them Angels] to harvest Adam from you begin to see why Bioshock 2 has a mature rating. The scenes are disturbing, graphic and more than a little creepy, Eleanor happily stabs her extractor into the corpses and then drinks some though a nipple in the top of the container.  

At one point Eleanor gets ahead of you and surrounded by Splicers; you, as her protector, attack them without a thought. After you defeat Eleanor?s attackers the scene then flows into one where you meet up with a lady who claims to be Eleanor?s mother.


Combat De-Evolved?
Click to Enlarge – Opens new Window

She then commands you to kneel, take off your helmet, and shoot yourself. The scene goes dark and ten years go by.


This cannot be good

When you wake up you are still in Rapture but after the fall of Ryan and the events of the first Bioshock.  You have ghostly flashes of Eleanor [much older] and after a long ?walk-through? style opening which includes getting to go outside in the depths then being contacted by Dr. Bridgette Tenenbaum who wants to help you Find Eleanor and also get revenge on Sofia Lamb. There are a few surprised in store for you and of course the introduction of the Big Sister ?Monster?. Big Sisters are your new nemesis. They are just as powerful as you and are wickedly fast.
 

From there the game switches back to a more normal first person shooter style. It has a familiar feel [once you remap the key bindings] but has a very different combat style. In the first Bioshock you could only use one weapon or plasmid at a time. You had to switch back and forth between the two. In Bioshock 2 you can use an offensive weapon in one hand and use a plasmid in the other. This does take some getting used to but after a few minutes you will quickly get the hang of it.

Movement is a little slow [although you can run] to simulate the hulking size of the Big Daddy. They have also limited the field of view to simulate the opening on your suit, which I found to be both annoying and distracting.

Combat, as we mentioned above is different but still fast paced. The enemy AI seems to have improved a little over the original Bioshock. The splicers act in concert and backup will come running from nearby rooms at the sound of combat. This makes the combat more intense and adds a touch of realism to it. Another addition to the combat is the gore, in the first Bioshock the core was extremely cartoonish; the blood was purple and the people were not at all realistically portrayed.  This has changed in Bioshock 2, now the gore is more intense especially when you use weapons like the drill. Blood flies everywhere and the person at the business end jerks and thrashes during the attack.

The environment is excellent, and is an immersive one with great lighting and sounds although I would highly recommend turning the music off or down to a very low level. Otherwise it becomes annoying and even seems to just loop over and over taking away from the atmosphere instead of adding to it. Bioshock 2 also brings back the same plasmid system [genetic ?add-ons? that give you more power] as well as the ability to hack into systems; with a new remote hacking system.

One item that I found troubling; at the end of my 30-minutes I did want to keep playing but I started to get a feeling that the game was heavily scripted with little latitude for exploration and choice [other than what plasmids you chose later in the game]. I hope this is not the case but talking to a few other people I know who have played the game they had similar feelings. We will be continuing our testing of this game and will let you know what we find out [it is on our list with a continued test of Borderlands].

Value
As games continue to sit at the $50 mark I am beginning to expect more and more from them. I have found that the last three we have looked at have not been worth the price when you consider what you are getting. As for Bioshock 2 I am not convinced that $50 [even on steam] is the way to go here. I like the game so far but after 30 minutes of game play I am undecided. If the game does not open up and become less linear and scripted then I would say it is not worth the money right now. If it does, well we will see at that time.

Conclusion
I am completely undecided about Bioshock 2. On the one hand I love the familiar look and feel of the game. The new AI is great and adds to the new combat capabilities of your character. The environment and game setting is well done and adds a sinister and oppressive feel to the game. Unfortunately the background music does kill it for me after a few minutes, but if you turn it down that is ok. The gore and rather creepy [and almost inappropriate] imagery and content do not bother me though they may others; instead I felt they added a sense of brooding and stifling evil to the game.

On the other hand the game appears to be very linear with a heavily mission based style and is scripted to a great extent. The constricted view and sluggish movements of the main character also do not help to win my favour; as I play longer the more annoying it becomes [Although you could argue that they add realism to the game]. The need to use Windows Live is annoying and makes me not want to play [to be perfectly honest].  

For now, if you are a big fan of the first or do not mind linear games and creepy horror driven environments then Bioshock 2 is probably right up your alley. For the rest of you, you may want to wait until the price drops or we get a better feel for the direction of the game.