BioShock 2: Multiplayer Impressions

February 15, 2010

Although it was never quite going to match up to the Modern Warfare 2 juggernaut for sheer depth, Digital Extremes’ multiplayer component for BioShock 2 feels like a missed opportunity. It introduces some innovative features that really lend it its own personality, retaining the essence of Rapture and the BioShock universe, but poor balancing, ropey animation and lacklustre maps let the whole thing down.

When you first connect to the multiplayer component of BioShock 2, you are taken to your apartment, a hub of sorts which houses various settings for you to customise your character. The wardrobe allows you to reskin your player, with equippable face-masks adding another art deco flourish in keeping with the BioShock theme. Loadouts are also configured in your apartment, initially allowing you to equip two weapons and two plasmids out of a choice of three apiece. Levelling up in multiplayer matches, by collecting ADAM (identical in all but name to XP) , unlocks further weapons, plasmids and tonics; much of which is borrowed from the single player adventure. Entering the Bathysphere which adjoins to your apartment takes you to the Player Lobby, where you can search for public games by game type and also host Private Matches with players on your friends list.

Sticking (mostly) to what I knew best, I usually plumped for Civil War (Team Deathmatch) and Capture The Sister, in which each team takes turns in capturing and defending a Little Sister and delivering her safely to a pre-determined vent. Each game type is limited to 10 players, five on each side, although it’s a little concerning that only one week post-launch sees long wait times and games only just reaching the minimum amount of players.  Once you are up and running, Civil War pans out largely like its counterpart in Modern Warfare 2; namely, everyone runs off as a lone wolf and tries to plunder their own kills. Tactics are scarce, unless you are playing with friends with a common goal, but there are lovely innovations here which add extra spice to the battle. Chief amongst these is the ability to hack turrets and vending machines. Turrets are self-explanatory – hack it by walking up to it and holding down X (or A for Xbox 360, I presume) – and it will automatically shoot at an opposing team member, oftentimes giving you an assist or an outright kill. Of course, enemy players can freeze your turret and hack it themselves, switching its ‘allegiance’. Vending machines work slightly differently. The sight of an EVE Hypo and ammo lying in its container is enough to send anyone bounding over to replenish, but if you get to the machine first and hack it, enemy players who wander too close in order to pick up the goodies will be killed by the resultant booby trap. Unless, of course, the trap is disabled by Winter’s Blast or Electro Bolt, plasmids that are available from Rank 1. The strategic hacking and re-hacking of these two machine types result in an enjoyable meta-game, and a good way of accruing ADAM should your shooting prowess leave something to be desired.

Another fantastic implementation is the ability to use your research camera (again, another idea from the single player campaign) on the corpse of an enemy in order to get a damage bonus on that player, giving your plasmids and weapons that little extra punch that may well be needed to finish off a subsequent kill. Should that enemy player kill you, however, you lose your damage bonus and will most likely be ‘researched’ in return as you lie dead at their feet. The only gripe with this mechanic is the slightly fiddly nature of getting the picture – the prompt only appears when you hover your cross-hairs over the corpse, and even then seems to be a little temperamental. In the middle of a firefight, these wasted seconds slightly adjusting your crosshairs in order to get the button prompt could be the difference between a damage bonus or your own death. It’s a shame that this little problem wasn’t ironed out in QA.

Keeping faith with BioShock’s most memorable character, Civil War games also randomly spawn a Big Daddy suit somewhere in each map several times per game, depending on its length. This powerup often has a major impact on the balance of a game, and also conveys the sensation of being a Big Daddy much better than 2K Marin’s attempt in the single player adventure. A team that is losing heavily might find skilled use of the Big Daddy suit will oftentimes bring parity to a match, as the Daddy’s cannon and Proximity Mines pack a hefty punch. Conversely, if a team is already leading by a considerable margin, acquiring a Big Daddy suit often makes their score tally unassailable. Just putting on the suit grants you some bonus ADAM and the resulting kills are a welcome boost. Opposing team members will often gang up on a Big Daddy, however, and that large health pool can be whittled away pretty rapidly by concerted, coordinated attacks.

Capture The Sister requires more tactical nous to pull off a win and is therefore much more tricky. Most of the Capture The Sister games I’ve participated in have been decided by a single solitary point, or been 0-0 tie games. Defenders are spawned in a room with multiple entrances, a Little Sister in their midst draining ADAM from some poor unfortunate. In addition to the strength in numbers and close proximity to their charge, one random defender is awarded the Big Daddy suit from the get-go, oftentimes overpowering any force the attackers may muster by laying down Proximity Mines at each entrance. With only 3 or so minutes on the clock in which to extract the Little Sister and guide her to the vent, assailing the defenders is a tall ask. Aero Dash, a plasmid that grants its user a temporary speed boost, is a good way of getting an advantage in this game type, but it takes careful coordination from other team members to keeps the defenders occupied long enough in order to pull the dash off. Most times, Capture The Sister devolves into players trying to get as many kills as possible, like in many alternative gametypes to a standard deathmatch.

These innovations are a welcome addition to what could otherwise have been a rather by-the-numbers mutiplayer BioShock tie-in. It’s a crippling shame, then, that the mechanics and balancing of the shooting isn’t at the same standard. Firstly, health pools are enormous. If I unload a single shotgun blast on an enemy splicer at point-blank range, then I expect that splicer to go down. Instead, even two direct shotgun hits and blast with the fiery Incinerate plasmid are not guaranteed to kill your opponent. And woe betide anyone who isn’t accurate enough on a moving target with a machine gun – you might end up emptying twenty rounds without getting a kill, and wind up hitting the deck yourself. These huge health pools are compounded by some ‘floaty’ aiming, and with no satisfactory option of zooming your weapon available, require some very rocksteady skills in order to pull off consistent killstreaks.

It’s these flaws that really marr what is, otherwise, a very decent fist at turning a quintessentially single player experience into a compelling multiplayer one. Whilst the maps don’t have the variety of a Modern Warfare 2, and lack the hiding places and vantage points that characterise a good multiplayer map, they are nevertheless decked out in the beautiful art deco aesthetics that make it unmistakeably Rapture. The hacking and research innovations enable an alternative means of levelling up to those of us who aren’t quite reflexive enough to get consistent killstreaks , but the mainstay of any competitive multiplayer – the shooting mechanics – aren’t quite up to snuff.

A good first attempt then, but with plenty of room for improvement in the inevitable third installment in the franchise; you might find yourself distracted long enough to pick up the various mutiplayer trophies awarded to complete the set, but soon afterwards you will be returning to Call Of Duty for your mutiplayer fix.

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