Just because “BioShock 2” was my 2010 Game of the Year, doesn’t mean I think it was perfect. As someone who primarily games alone and dabbles in co-op and multiplayer, I enjoyed the single-player return to Rapture as much, if not more than the original. But there were a few niggling things that stood out as I played the game that didn’t make it into my review of the game. I didn’t dive into them in my Game of the Year post because I think it’s better to devote such posts to celebrating the game’s artistic accomplishments.
That said, I didn’t want to close the book on “BioShock 2” without talking about what might have been done differently. Here goes:
Multiplayer: Yes, there was a vocal contingent of players who said they’d never buy the original “BioShock” because it didn’t include multiplayer. Those people are foolish. “BioShock” games are worth playing because they tell excellent, 15- to 20-hour single-player stories. And while online multiplayer gaming is a huge industry, not every game is going to catch on and become the next “Call of Duty” or “Halo.” It’s puzzling that we haven’t seen the first-person shooter market fragment, with some games being geared toward online multiplayer, and others being geared toward single-player and co-op play. Just as nobody buys “Call of Duty” games for the single-player story, few people likely bought “BioShock 2” because it had multiplayer.
The multiplayer component of “BioShock 2” wasn’t horrible, but it did suffer from more lag than is customary and, despite an interesting leveling/plasmid-unlocking feature, a la “Call of Duty,” it seemed more like a passing diversion than anything anyone would really dive into. Even within the first month or two from launch, I had a hard time being matched up with similarly skilled players. It seemed like only the hardcore, high-level folks were the only ones still playing. I don’t begrudge that 2K Games gave multiplayer a go, and I’d be happy to play more in the future, but supporting it with a map pack rather than putting those efforts into creating more compelling single-player content seemed like an odd investment of resources.
Plasmid puzzles: Given the two “BioShock” games’ cerebral stories, plasmid-related puzzles would have been welcome. From time to time in the game, you’re required to use a particular plasmid to open a door or get past an obstacle, but these moments are well telegraphed and never mentally taxing. It makes sense to want to craft a main game that most players can finish, but something along the lines of “Portal” by way of “BioShock” would make great downloadable content.
Turn off the arrow: Like a lot of games featuring nonlinear maps, “BioShock 2” offers a helpful navigational arrow to guide players to the next objective. But it makes the game less fun and mars the immersiveness of the world. There’s a ton of detail packed in to Rapture, and the best way to enjoy it, honestly, is to go into the menu from the get-go and turn off the arrow. The developers already provide you with a map of each level, and many levels feature signs telling you how to get to particular rooms. It’s not like you’re going to get lost. I’m not proposing doing away with the arrow entirely. It could be enabled on the easiest difficulty settings and disabled on normal and hard, with the player having the option of turning it back on.
Balancing: By the end of “BioShock 2,” I was a walking tank. I could summon an ally and security bots to fight by my side, plus hypnotize a Big Daddy and shoot swarms of stinging bees from my arm. On the last level or two of the game, I barely ever fired a shot. I had full ammunition for every gun and the maximum amount of money I could carry. About the only thing I ever needed to buy were Eve Hypos. It was just too easy on normal difficulty level. The late-game story was amazing, but the gameplay that went with it didn’t rise to the drama of the narrative.