4 stars
In Stock Buy Now»
Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
4.5 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
4.5 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
5 Stars
Replay Factor
3 Stars

Bioshock 2

Street Date:
February 9th, 2010
Reviewed by:
Review Date:1
September 20th, 2011
Game Release Year:
2K Games
2K Marin, 2K Australia
ESRB Rating:
M (Mature)

Editor's Notes

This review will assume the reader has at least finished the original “Bioshock” or knows major plot spoilers for that game’s storyline as “Bioshock 2” is a direct sequel and the game references the most important events of the past game.


The sequel, be it book, movie, game or even album, fans always want the chance to recapture the magic of discovery a second time. In the gaming world often a sequel means some cosmetic changes and a few innovations and that’s good for most. 2007’s “Bioshock” on the other hand didn’t amass legions of fans with providing them an online arena for first person mayhem or the chance to live our their sports fantasy. No, “Bioshock” put them into the underwater dystopia of Andrew Ryan’s Rapture, a (nearly) dead city happened upon the player’s character, Jack, in the year 1960. “Bioshock” was an immersive, often cinematic experience with a story that kept players moving at a steady pace forward, serving up twists and a the answer to the mystery, “what happened to Rapture?” Along the way, Jack encountered Rapture’s drug addled Splicer inhabitants, some survivors like himself, and most notably, the now iconic Big Daddy, protector to the Little Sister, small children responsible for harvesting ADAM, a substance that unlocks the fullest of human potential.

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

A little over two years later and a sequel was offered up, adopting the name “Bioshock 2,” somewhat of a step down from the work-in-progress title of “Bioshock: Sea of Dreams.” This time the developers at 2K Games offer up two storylines: one fully fleshed out single player experience, eight years after Jack’s arrival and one just a year before the original game in 1959, serving as the basis for the newly introduced multiplayer portion of the game. Upping the ante, the single player portion of the game lets you play as a Big Daddy from the get go (as opposed to the last half of the last game’ final act). As Subject Delta, you should be a walking force of death, but a clever plot twist robs you of your arsenal and Plasmid powers. Tasked with finding what happened to yourself and the Little Sister you were bonded with, Eleanor, Subject Delta will fight his way across new areas of Rapture, encountering a few stragglers unaffected by the fall of Andrew Ryan in the wake of Jack’s arrival.

Under close scrutiny, “Bioshock 2” can’t help but feel like a retread in many ways of “Bioshock” and to make matters a little worse, the game is decisively linear, with the game locking you out of past sections once business in the current section is finished. There are large areas to explore, but the further you progress into Rapture’s bowels, the more “Bioshock 2” becomes a corridor chase. The characters you meet along the way will give you a task to perform: find an item, confront an enemy, restore the power, etc. and you gladly comply. The Splicers are back to slow your travel down and every once in a while Subject Delta is forced to hunker down for an extended battle as wave after wave of enemy comes to take your life or the life the Little Sister you choose to save.

However, where “Bioshock 2” transcends such simple game play is by first and foremost, ensuring the experience runs smoothly: objectives are well defined, the difficulty levels are balanced, there’s no one right way to tackle a situation, making the various weapons and Plasmids you acquire all worth their weight in one way or another. The control largely remains unchanged, with the game adopting a basic FPS scheme. Plasmids and weapons are selected with a button press and selection wheel, on the fly, without so much as a hiccup. It doesn’t take long before you’ll have mastered the game’s controls and being using your elemental and psychic attacks on their own and in tandem with conventional death-dealing hardware. 2K games deserves great praise for taking something that worked well, polishing a few leftover rough areas (hacking is no longer a “Pipe Dreams” knock off and is now a timing based mini-game that can still be bypassed by spending in-game money) and leaving everything else unchanged. If you excelled at “Bioshock” you should find playing “Bioshock 2” will be an easy fit.

The second area where the game stands out from its predecessor is the amazing emotional connection it builds between Subject Delta and the world around him, specifically the Little Sisters. As before, should you happen upon a Little Sister you can defeat her Big Daddy protector and harvest her immediately (killing the child in the process) for ADAM, which allows you quick access to Plasmid and Gene Tonic upgrades. If you’re not so sadistic, you as a Big Daddy yourself, can adopt the Little Sister and protect her from Splicer attacks as she harvests ADAM for you. After three harvests set her free, and after three Little Sisters are saved, be prepared for a fight with Rapture’s newest figure of terror, the Big Sister.

The game’s slowly unfolding narrative isn’t as complex or full of plot twists as the original game, but what it lacks in scale it makes up for in emotional weight and urgency. While Andrew Ryan may be dead and gone, his influence remains in certain areas and the philosophical questions of “Bioshock” will come up again as do many new questions of morality. Refusing to pander to anyone, the game writer’s refuse to provide black-and-white answers, making the world of Rapture a dreary grey spot below the beautiful blue ocean waves. The game introduces allies and adversaries along the way including but not limited to the famous Augustus Sinclair (a rival to Ryan mentioned in the original game) and Sofia Lamb who will stop at nothing to prevent you from coming into contact with the Little Sisters. Your actions will have an effect on the game’s ending, four possibilities in all, however; only the two extremes are really different in overall tone. Either way, “Bioshock 2’s” single player experience is rewarding fun that will force you to invest your own emotions (I found the “good” ending profoundly moving) and feelings into a dystopian game world plagued by some problems facing modern society in different ways.

Not content to leave gamers waiting for “Bioshock 3” (or as it’s now known “Bioshock Infinite”), “Bioshock 2” features a novel multiplayer experience, thematically set in 1959 a year before Jack’s arrival and at the height of Rapture’s civil war. At the core, multiplayer is your standard FPS modes (deathmatch, capture the flag and territory control) with a few added twists to game play. The research feature of single player is employed in multiplayer allowing players to stop over the corpse of a fallen foe, hold ‘X’ for a few seconds and in turn receive a damage boost against that player until they die. As players gain ADAM in multiplayer (read XP) they unlock customization options ranging from enhanced weapons, various Plasmid abilities, and eventually permanent Gene Tonic boosts. Each load out allows for two of each, letting the dedicated fighter create a wide variety of kits for any given situation.

Multiplayer can often feel imbalanced with higher level foes dropping lower level opponents with souped up Plasmids, but in an effort to keep things level, 2K has added random Big Daddy suit spawns, letting any player become the pinnacle of evolution and combat. Imbalance issues aside, multiplayer is a smooth experience, not as visually sharp as single player for obvious reasons, but a nice addition to a near perfect single player ride. Multiplayer won’t be for everyone and the Rapture colored paint applied to the basic FPS experience won’t be enough to stave off comparisons to the genre stalwarts like “Halo” or “Battlefield: Bad Company,” but those wanting to burn some time in Rapture with other fans, will get some extra bang for their buck.

The Game: Vital Disc Stats

“Bioshock 2” comes on one standard disc with the single player experience housed separately from the multiplayer. There is no requirement to play through the main story to unlock additional features for multiplayer. As of this writing there are a number of DLC add-ons for the game enhancing both the multiplayer experience and the single player narrative, adding several solid hours of additional game play to those willing to spend the extra money.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Nearly perfect but missing the mark in a few key areas, “Bioshock 2” follows in the footsteps of its revolutionary predecessor to bring players back to the city of Rapture to explore new areas, many with their own sense of visual style and flair.

The game’s water effects are a crown jewel, with water looking natural a wide variety of settings: outside the windows in the ocean, streaming in through stress fractures, standing pools, and rising up past your field of vision as you must traverse the ocean floor to reach another portion of rapture. The only water effect that kills the mood of the game is the rapid melting on ice when affected by the fire based Plasmid. It’s the same quality as the previous game and there’s just something not right about it, mainly the speed and lack of residual drip effect.

Performance wise, the graphics are smooth and crisp, with the framerate being a non-issue. The developers give the option of unlocking the frame rate, which can cause slowdown during graphic intensive sequences, but the alternative is to leave the rate locked and experience some minor but noticeable screen tearing. I personally left it locked as I’d much rather experience the occasional image tearing then a drop in performance at a critical battle.

The high-res graphics of “Bioshock 2” once again bring players into the world of Rapture, and like “Bioshock” before it, the game setting is an eerie technological marvel; unsettling lifelike. Sadly though, the overall art design of the game does become repetitive and the game’s heavier reliance on corridor based game play is revealed earlier than desired. Likewise, while character models are fluid, unique and distinguishable, a few classes Splicers still have a not-of-this world look to them, reminding players they’re still in a sci-fi world. As a whole though, “Bioshock 2” is a very realistic looking and artful game, assisting its stellar game play and story, rather than acting as a crutch or detracting from it.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Quite honestly, the sound design in “Bioshock 2” may go down as underrated. It’s one of the few games that sells the actual weight of the character whose shoes you inhabit. If you choose to jump down a level in the game, the low end of your sound system responds accordingly with a heavy thud and a reverberation of your metal armor echoing off the cold surfaces of Rapture’s interior.

The immersion continues as you progress through the game with the distant sounds of vintage music, psychotic Splicers, low groans of other Big Daddies, and banshee like shrieks of Big Sisters keeping you on edge at all times. The directionality is so good you can track down a stray Splicer in an open area via sound with ease. Granted some of the minion vocal work gets repetitive, but that’s the only negative as the main cast is in top form, staying in character both through “live” interaction with your character as well as on the 100+ audio logs hidden away in the corners of Rapture. A testament to the voice work is the player’s ability to identify who is talking without even needing the on-screen visual cue.

The smaller things that end up constituting the experience as a whole are just as solid with effects being strong and well-defined, your Plasmids all have at least some semblance of unique auditory cue to their usage as do the physical weapons you employ. Even in the most hectic of battles, separation and sound balance never wavers reminding you of what is charging towards the barrel of your gun, scurrying along a ceiling above your head, or flanking you from your blinds spots, never allowing you to fully catch your breath until the last body drops.

Replay Factor

“Bioshock 2’s” multiplayer teeters precariously between hasty add-on and earnest revolution. There’s enough unique elements to the multiplayer to give players tired of the standard FPS experience reason to invest a few hours, however for those unimpressed or uninterested, only the single player storyline will be the deciding factor between a purchase and a rental. Like before, the game touts multiple endings, but in reality these are only subtle changes and one thorough playthrough is enough even for hardcore “Bioshock” fans. Those who miss the upgrade and audio log achievements will be forced to replay the game from the start as stated before, once you leave an area in the game, it’s locked away forever. Not factoring in multiplayer, “Bioshock 2” will offer the average gamer a solid 10 hours of game play on one of the standard difficulties.

Final Thoughts

While many elements of “Bioshock 2” feel like rehashes of the original game, the saga of Eleanor and the Little Sisters makes it a far more emotional experience. The world of Rapture comes alive with greater vibrancy to the ardent explorer who seeks out the supplementary audio logs. Subject Delta’s tale is simple on the surface, but more complex as he uncovers secrets of his past and Eleanor’s. The challenge of “Bioshock 2” can be a bit unbalanced with the game’s final act substituting strategy for endurance. “Bioshock” fans will want to weigh whether they purchase this entry on the strength of their connection to the series and the interest in multiplayer. If you think you’ll some time into the game’s multiplayer experience, then pick up the game posthaste. If it’s only going to be a solo trip to Rapture for you, consider a rental or discounted purchase as the inability to backtrack for forgotten collectibles makes another playthrough a tedious endeavor.

Audio Formats

  • Dolby Digital 5.1

Multiplayer Mode(s)

  • Online Versus

Motion Controls

  • No

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.

Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.

In Stock Buy Now»