Home Upcoming Reviews About
Ethos and Riddles talk about video games...
            Can you handle it?
by Ethos

BioShock 2 Review – Big Sister is Always Watching

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

BioShock 2LIKED:

-Moral choices that actually carry weight

-Fantastic exploration and atmosphere

-Fun and varied combat

-Big Sister battles


-Over-emphasis on combat in certain sequences

-Loss of novelty/mystery from first game

-Loss of Andrew Ryan. Sophia Lamb just doesn’t measure up.

BioShock took the world by storm upon its release back in 2007. With its brilliantly told story, masterful atmosphere, and varied first-person gameplay, few other games to this date offer such a complete experience. Two years later, 2K Marin’s return to Rapture in the form of BioShock 2 most certainly suffers from a case of “been there, done that,” and comes replete with a few new issues of its own. But make no mistake; BioShock 2 went above and beyond my expectations in many ways, and proves that there’s life left in Rapture yet.


The story in BioShock 2 gets the job done. Set eight years after the original game, BioShock 2 puts you in the shoes of a Big Daddy who’s been separated from his Little Sister companion. It just so happens she’s being held by a woman named Sophia Lamb, who has all but assumed control of Rapture – or what’s left of it.

BioShock2-1Like the original game, you’re presented with certain moral choices – and this is one area in which BioShock 2 improves upon its predecessor. In the first game, you were simply given the choice to harvest or save the numerous Little Sisters you came across. Very black-and-white to say the least, and frankly, the game never gave a legitimate reason to care about the creepy little things. (Which is why I harvested them all.) Because of the new Adoption system (which allows you to “adopt” little sisters, carry them around, and have them gather ADAM) the choice between harvesting and saving the sisters carries much more weight. Listening to their childish prattling while you tote them around is undeniably endearing, and as you protect them from the many dangers of Rapture, you’ll likely develop a sense of responsibility towards them. The Sisters will act differently towards you depending on how many you’ve harvested or saved – and it’s hard not to feel awful when a Little Sister cowers and asks, “Daddy… you’re never gonna hurt me, right?”

Little Sisters aside, BioShock 2 also gives you the choice to let certain people live or die at several points during the game. The decisions aren’t easy either – just to illustrate, there was a time that I spent several minutes looking straight at a man who was begging for his life, unable to decide. Finally I decided to let him live and walked off – only to change my mind, run back, and fry him with my Incinerate plasmid. BioShock 2 isn’t “all about choices” in the sense that, say, Mass Effect is. But the choices you make carry stunning emotional weight.

But in spite of this, the storyline in BioShock 2 simply can’t stand up against that of its predecessor. The mystery behind the ruined utopia of Rapture has long been solved, Andrew Ryan is gone, and as a result, the game loses a lot in the way of narrative punch. Sophia Lamb, unfortunately, simply can’t match the charisma and sophistication that made Andrew Ryan such a likable “villain” in the first game. Her motivations are clear as mud, her philosophies aren’t particularly interesting, and by the time the game is over, you’ll probably have grown a bit tired of her pseudo-Marxist collectivist ranting. Ironically enough, she’s most interesting when Andrew Ryan talks about her in the few audio diaries he has in the game. His reactions to her ideals are more interesting than her actual beliefs are. To be sure, BioShock 2 is still an extremely well-written game. But the novelty is gone, Ryan is gone, and both are sorely missed.


BioShock 2 plays more or less like the original did, with some subtle improvements – such as dual-wielding and more practical plasmid upgrades. For example, upgrading your Lightning plasmid allows you to charge it and subsequently unleash Chain Lightning, which can hit multiple targets. Like the original game, the variety in which you can approach combat situations is fantastic. See a Splicer chilling in a pool of water? Zap the water with lightning for an instant kill. Is there a puddle of oil on the floor? Ignite it with your incinerate plasmid to toast anyone standing near it. Is a Big Sister on her way? Think smart, and run to a hacked security camera or turret to gain the advantage. Combat can be a blast in BioShock 2, especially when facing off against such frightening and unique foes as the Big Sisters or Big Daddies.

However, someone at 2K Marin seems to have misjudged just how important combat is to the BioShock experience. That is to say: despite how fun it is, it’s far from the main appeal of the franchise, and at times, BioShock 2 seems to think that it is. Certain segments place too much emphasis on shooting down Splicers and Big Daddies when they should be allowing the player to simply explore and enjoy the atmosphere of Rapture. The endgame, in particular, is frustrating because it’s nothing but battle after large-scale battle and you’ll likely be begging for the end long before it’s over. BioShock 2 still places a healthy emphasis on exploration and atmosphere, but for BioShock 3, 2K would do well to scale back the combat to a more acceptable level. (i.e., the level it was at in the original BioShock.)

Entirely new to BioShock 2 is the online multiplayer mode. At first glance, the mode seems entirely superfluous – BioShock doesn’t exactly seem like an experience that lends itself to deathmatches. But, believe it or not, the limited amount of time I spent with it was actually pretty enjoyable. There are a variety of mode to choose from, including team deathmatches, free-for-alls, “Capture the Sister,” et cet. Like Modern Warfare 2, there’s a rank system – the higher your rank, the more goodies you unlock, including additional plasmids and gene tonics. The battles themselves are complete with BioShock conventions such as turret hacking and taking photos to earn damage bonuses. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s interesting to see BioShock’s unique combat carried over to an online arena. But, at the same time, it’s difficult to imagine why you’d choose to play BioShock 2 over the bevy of online shooters out there.


BioShock 2 looks identical to its predecessor. In fact, it’ll likely look a bit worse, if only because so many prettier games have been released since 2007. The game continues to use an older version of the Unreal engine, and it definitely shows. But even so, like its predecessor, BioShock 2 manages to be one of the more visually appealing experiences in recent memory. The art style is fantastic, and you’ll be stopping to take in the sites more than once. The underwater sequences, which are new to BioShock 2, stand out in particular. During these segments, nothing attacks you, and you’re allowed to simply take in the aquatic sites.


The sound design in BioShock 2 is impressive on many levels, and acts as an essential part of the game’s atmosphere. Rapture wouldn’t be the same without the inane babble of the resident Splicers in the background, accompanied by the whale-like groans of the lumbering Big Daddies. The chilling, velociraptor-like screech of the Big Sisters is fantastic as well. Finally, a shout-out must be given to the game’s dark but whimsical musical score. The original compositions are fairly subdued, but always very good. And like the original, the use of 1950’s art-deco era music is a very nice touch.


BioShock 2 does fall on its face on a few occasions – mostly with its over-focus on combat and weaker storyline – but to be honest, its biggest fault isn’t really a “fault” at all. BioShock 2 simply isn’t BioShock 1. In the original BioShock, the novelty and mystery of the experience was a huge part of what made it so engaging. When I first crash-landed into Rapture, I had absolutely no idea what to expect – I was confused, a little frightened, and determined to discover what, exactly, had happened to destroy the paradise Andrew Ryan had attempted to build beneath the sea. But in BioShock 2, you go in already knowing what makes Rapture “tick,” per se. You know what the city is, why the city is, and what to expect from it. Again: the novelty is simply gone.

But while this is disappointing, it can hardly be called a “fault” on part of the game. And even though we’ve been there before, Rapture is still a fantastically immersive place to explore. BioShock 2 is still an extremely well-executed, atmospheric experience, and if you enjoyed the first game, it’s difficult to imagine that you couldn’t enjoy its sequel. Despite all my prior misgivings, I had a blast with BioShock 2 – and I’m genuinely interested in seeing where the franchise goes from here.

BioShock 2

Sunday Soapbox: BioShock and the Death of the Cutscene

Monday, February 15th, 2010

BioShock1It’s not often that a game like BioShock comes around.

And odd thing to say, seeing that it “came around” some years ago. Right now, the gaming world is busy playing through and sizing up the long-anticipated sequel, BioShock 2. Anyone who’s read my two separate impressions of the game knows that, despite all my prior misgivings, I’m having a blast with it.

Playing BioShock 2 has made me realize what an influential game the first BioShock was. BioShock 2 doesn’t feel as fresh as the first game did, and here’s why: not only have I seen these gameplay mechanics and storytelling conventions in BioShock 1, but I’ve seen them in countless games since. I thought it before, and I’m almost sure of it now: BioShock may, in fact, be the Ocarina of Time of this generation.

Quite a bold statement, you say? Well, here’s another one for you: in this console generation, videogames have finally come unto their own as a legitimate and unique form of storytelling, and BioShock was one of the main proponents of this movement.

BioShock was one of the first games to effectively tell a deep, involving, and well-written story entirely devoid of non-interactive cutscenes. You’re never, ever taken out of the gameplay in BioShock – you’re in control the entire time. The plot is developed through dialog spoken during gameplay, as well as numerous “audio journals” scattered throughout the world.  Even during the game’s most pivotal moments – for example, the fated meeting with Andrew Ryan himself – you never left the world of the game in favor of a cinema.

As a result, BioShock was a very unique, immersive, and seamlessly story-driven experience. It was proof that games could tell stories – not movie scenes interspersed throughout gameplay segments, but games themselves.

Dead SpaceThe number of games that have adopted a similar or identical model of storytelling are numerous and obvious. Dead Space, for example, is almost identical in its storytelling: almost no cutscenes are utilized, all dialog is spoken in-game, and dozens of audio/video logs develop the game’s mysterious backstory. The seamlessness and consistency that comes with such a model allows developers to craft a more immersive, poignant atmosphere – can you imagine if Dead Space utilized traditional cutscenes to tell its story? Much like BioShock, Dead Space thrives on its constant, unsettling atmosphere – and being broken from such an atmosphere for the sake of watching a movie would cause the game as a whole to lose its frightening effectiveness.

It’s not only Dead Space, of course. Batman: Arkham Asylum, Uncharted, Mass Effect 2, and perhaps even Modern Warfare can all be considered part of BioShock’s legacy in some way. In Arkham Asylum, how dull would it have been if we only ever heard Mark Hamill’s rendition of The Joker when he appeared in cutscenes? Listening to his jeering voice over the asylum’s intercoms was one of the most awesome things about that game.

And in Uncharted 2, what if you had simply watched a cutscene of Drake battling his way up that train? It must be noted that the Uncharted series still makes fairly liberal use of the non-interactive cutscene, but it combines them with fantastic sequences of interactive storytelling. (Incidentally, that’s one of the main reasons why Uncharted is so awesome.)

BayonettaThere’s nothing wrong with the traditional cutscene, of course. We’ve been watching them for years, and there’s no reason to entirely do away with them now. Games like Uncharted 2 show that there’s still a place for them in the current gaming landscape, but they are to be used sparingly. Take Bayonetta, as a bad example – well-done as the cutscenes were, many of them felt entirely out-of-place in this day and age. Why, exactly, do I need to watch a movie scene of Bayonetta and Jeanne dueling? Why can’t I just fight her myself?

In the game’s defense, you are indeed given the pleasure of fighting her yourself – but only after sitting through a lengthy and entirely superfluous cutscene.

Videogames are the art of interactivity, and to create an artful interactive experience, it’s crucial to achieve a certain level of immersion. Gameplay segments should never feel like obligatory hoop-jumps that connect non-interactive plot points. Rather, the player should feel that with every passing moment that they play, the story is advancing. The player should feel, quite literally, like they’re playing through a story – not as if they’re advancing through a level in order to get to the story.

The reason BioShock was and is such an amazing experience is because it’s not something that can be fully replicated through any other medium. The same story told through film wouldn’t even be comparable. It thrives on its atmosphere, and atmosphere in a videogame thrives on interactivity. Not every game needs to be BioShock, and not every game needs to tell its story through audio logs; however, games do need to remember that it’s not what a gamer sees, but what a gamer does that defines an experience.


Sunday, February 14th, 2010

Yo, so the Olympics started, and then two days passed. Oh well, I have nothing to say about Bioshock 2: The Pointless Sequel, and it looks like reality has hit Riddles and he has nothing to say about it either. Or MAYBE he’s excited about the upcoming Theme Week.

A theme week that will change everything…

flOw Is Free for Today

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

flOwFor those of you who care. I’ve never played, cared, or read about flOw, but who can pass up free shit?

Not me, that’s who. Buy flOw from Sony’s PlayStation Network today, for the low low price of zero dollars!

Hey! Look! Listen!

Friday, February 12th, 2010


BioShock 2 and the makings of a flu virus may have kept Hey! Look! Listen! at bay earlier in the week, but the Friday edition is now present and accounted for.

For what it’s worth, anyway. Unless you’re a Microsoft fanboy, this week hasn’t seen many interesting announcements or news items. If you are a Microsoft fanboy, it might be worth it to check out coverage of the recent X10 event, which includes first looks at both Hal0: Reach and Fable III.

Unfortunately, I don’t really care about either of those franchises. Nonetheless, let us press onward and see what we have.

Halo: Reach Impressions Hit the Interwebs

It’s weird, but I actually read 1UP and IGN’s impressions for the recently-displayed Halo: Reach, and I was intrigued. I’ve never really enjoyed a Halo game before, but with Reach it sounds like Bungie is pulling out all the stops. Good on them, since it will (supposedly) be the final Bungie-developed Halo title. Read IGN’s impressions here and 1UP’s here.

New God of War III Trailer Brutalizes the Interwebs

And it’s everything you’d expect from a God of War trailer, I’ll say that much. Badass dialog, badass fight scenes, badass music, all made more badass by the graphical power of the PlayStation 3. I really should get around to finishing God of War II sometime.

By the way, God of War III has been reviewed by the UK’s Official PlayStation Magazine. They gave it a 9/10, and apparently it only missed a 10/10 due to the “familiarity of the core gameplay.”

“But it’s definitely the biggest,” says reviewer Nathan Ditum,  ”and if this is the finale (and the corpses littering the stage by the end of the game suggest it might be), then God of War III gives PlayStation’s toughest hero the send-off he deserves.”

Sweet. (VG247)

Alan Wake Boxart Amuses the Interwebs

Alan Wake is the only 360 exclusive to pique my interest in some time. But then, how could it not? It’s a Psychological Action Thriller!alanwakeboxart

Alan Wake Trailer Mystifies the Interwebs

Seriously, though, Alan Wake looks pretty damn good. This new trailer from the aforemention X10 event proves it.

And… we’re done! Man, what a boring news week. I guess everyone’s been too busy playing BioShock 2 to make any big announcements, or do anything newsworthy. But hey, who can blame them? Not I, not I.

’till next time, readers. Look for something from me tomorrow.

A REAL game

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Do Big Sisters look like this?

Do Big Sisters look like this?

While Riddles is gushing over his “All in the Family” licensed game what with big daddies and little sisters and big sisters and whatnot, I came across a cheap used copy of Magna Carta 2. If you’re a fan or begrudging reader of Scatter Storming, you’ve probably noticed me talking briefly but excitedly about it. So I popped it in last night for some classic JRPG gaming before I fell asleep. And y’know, the animations are stiff, the voice acting is mediocre at best, and the script is worse, but unlike something like Blue Dragon that just feels vapid, I found myself getting really into Magna Carta 2. Maybe it was the traditional leveling up system or the unbelievably clichéd girly boy hero who has amnesia and runs into the sexy busty princess, but there was a traditional charm that moved me from rolling my eyes to caring about what happened next. The battle system is real time and has some really interesting mechanics, and after hours of Mass Effect 2, it’s refreshing to sift through some good ol’ Japanese menus. Yet, it’s nice to see even the most minor of influences from the Western RPG sub-genre. Sidequests give out experience and…well…okay, so that’s the only influence I’ve noticed. Still, I’ve always liked that idea and it’s taken too long for JRPGs to adopt it. So anyway, the game has already opened up quite a bit for a traditional RPG, so if I don’t buy a piano today, I’m excited to play more of it.

Anyway, I’ve been good about turning my eye away from Final Fantasy XIII media and impressions, but I skimmed this post from Ryan Clements of IGN, because it didn’t seem to be so much about spoilers, but rather about his level of excitement from the viewpoint of a Final Fantasy fan. Worth the read if you’re on the edge of your seat for the game like I am. Anyway, back to more of Riddles’ Bioshock 2 drivel after this, so I apologize for that.

BioShock 2 – Midway Impressions

Friday, February 12th, 2010

BioShock2-1I’ve been playing BioShock 2 for a few days now, and I can safely say that I’ve enjoyed every moment. 2K Marin’s return to rapture has me hooked on both the addictive gameplay and the storyline. As the world’s biggest fan of BioShock, I’m happy to say that BioShock 2 seems to be getting everything right so far.

The last article I wrote about BioShock 2 was a fairly broad overview, but today I want to focus more specifically on the new and improved features of BioShock 2. BioShock 2 doesn’t represent a massive overhaul from the original, but there are more than a few subtle facelifts, and a some notable new gameplay conventions.

Let’s start with one of the more basic additions: dual-wielding. In the original BioShock, you were required to switch back and forth from guns to plasmids. Not so in BioShock 2; as a Big Daddy, you pack heat in one hand, and plasmids in the other. The result? Faster, easier, more streamlined combat. It’s odd, because I never really considered it an inconvenience in the first game; but after playing BioShock 2, I wouldn’t want to return to the bondage of single-wielding.

Which brings us to the next difference: you play as a hulking Big Daddy. But fear not, tramping through rapture as the mysterious Subject Delta isn’t nearly as annoying as the Big Daddy suit-up near the end of the original BioShock. In fact, it’s not annoying at all – you can tell that you’re a heavy dude, but the game controls just as smoothly as the original did.

Which brings us to the most prominent new gameplay mechanic of BioShock 2: Little Sister adoption. Being a Big Daddy and all, the Little Sisters will trust you and allow you to “adopt” them – after taking down their current Big Daddy guardian, of course. Once you’ve adopted a little sister, you can perform two “ADAM pickups” – you find a corpse with precious ADAM inside, and let the Little Sister gather it for you. However, while she’s performing the gathering, every Splicer in Rapture comes crawling out of the woodwork. It’s your job to defend the Little Sister while she performs the gruesome task, and frankly, it’s not that easy – to turn the tides in your favor, you’ll need to plan carefully beforehand. For example, set a few traps, or hack some security bots to aid you.

It’s worth noting that you can simply harvest the sisters straight away if you’d like. There’s no need to go through the ADAM collecting process. However, this results in significantly less ADAM being awarded, obviously. And believe me, to survive in Rapture, you’re going to need all of the ADAM you can get. Overall, the adoption mechanic is a fun new feature, and successfully pulling off a gathering without getting shot to death can feel immensely satisfying.

BioShock2-2BioShock was well-known for its visceral, pseudo-boss battles against the aptly named Big Daddies. They were the only real enemies in the game that offered a decent challenge, and squaring off against one of them was always a nerve-wracking experience. In BioShock 2, the Big Daddies are still there, but they’re no longer the only tough kids on the block. Before long, you’ll be face-to-face with Big Sister – and what a meeting it is.

After harvesting or rescuing a few Little Sisters, you’ll attract the attention of Big Sister. A velociraptor- ish screech will fill the air, and the game will warn you that she’s coming. A good thing, too – because you’ll need to be prepared. After some tense  moments of waiting, she’ll finally attack, and the ensuing battle is always epic. Big Sisters are the polar opposite of the Big Daddies. Rather than being moderately slow and predictable, she’s amazingly quick and spontaneous in her motions. She’ll spend a few seconds leaping from wall to wall, and then without warning, attack and latch herself onto your helmet. I’ll refrain from describing an entire encounter in detail, but suffice to say, the Big Sisters provide some of BioShock 2’s finest, most intense moments.

I’ll refrain from gushing further. If you can’t tell, I’m having a blast with BioShock 2. There’s not an ill-conceived addition or upgrade that’s been made; rather, 2K Marin has found ways to improve on near-perfection. Good on them.

I’m a genius and Lusipurr hates me.

Thursday, February 11th, 2010


Scatter Storming. Issue #019 “Mark Thunder in the Scatter Storm”

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

ss019Hello there everybody! Welcome to 6:30am Eastern Standard Time. The ONLY standard time in my books, because I’m a Torontonian and we’re assholes like that! Anyhoo, this week has been a blast so far. Good ol’ Riddles/Ethos rivalry, incredibly stupid pictures, and solid video game impressions. So let’s add to this cesspool of nonsense with the most pointless feature on the entire site: Scatter Storming!

20th Issue next week! –
Yup, I’ll have to come up with a new way to organize my “cover art” after that, since I think 10 issues is a good rotation number. My 10th issue won a Best Riddlethos of 2009 award, so I have a lot to live up to.*

Mark Fucking Thunder! -
Oh yeah! I forgot to mention it in my opening blurb, look at me as Mark Thunder on the cover! I’m such a fucking badass. Pit that dude against Nathan Drake, Jack Bauer, a big daddy, and Commander Shepard, and Mark Thunder would easily come out on top. No question. **

I’ll irony you! -
God fucking damn Final Fantasy XIII and my three weeks off that don’t correspond with its release. Seriously, I beat and loved Mass Effect 2 and Darksiders, and now I have nothing new to play until I don’t have the time to play it! Oh well, I’ll just stay up all night playing FFXIII and then get fired when I don’t show up for work. Worth it?

Heavy Rain Review –
IGN seems to love it. I still don’t really care.

Fable III looks awful -
Truly. And I had some fun with Fable II. Genuine fun. I mean, I sold it and I don’t regret it although I don’t sell many games. But still, I would never have called it awful. It looks like the design philosophy for Fable III is “how can we make this the most annoying unappealing game ever?”. Seriously. Be bogged down in politics while failing your arms in front of Natal. Sounds like the perfect gaming experience to me. Goddamn it.

I’ll leave you with this -
9 seconds of comedic gold from my early years. You don’t see me, but you hear my voice. Enjoy, and see you later, suckers.

* “a lot” in this case may also mean “practically nothing”
** Alternatively to no question, you may ask the question: “seriously?” To which I would reply “No…definitely not. Nathan Drake would win”. Mark Thunder would, however, defeat the big daddy handily.

Mass Effect 2 Second Opinion – The Choice is Yours, Shepard

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Mass-Effect-2-BoxartMass Effect 2 is the best RPG I’ve played in years, full stop. It’s also one of the most improved sequels I’ve ever played. With Mass Effect 2, BioWare has addressed the original game’s weaknesses, and produced an incredibly well-written, cinematic thrillride that improves upon its predecessor in every way.

Speaking personally, my main complaint with the original was its dull, slow-paced plot. The writing was fantastic, and the amount of backstory provided about the massive universe was staggering; but the main plot almost became buried beneath this deluge of exposition.

In Mass Effect 2, the stops are immediately pulled. The game kicks off with Shepard’s beloved ship Normandy exploding. I won’t spoil more, but suffice to say, things get pretty crazy. Like Empire Strikes Back, Mass Effect 2 takes on a much darker, more desperate tone the the original, right from the start.

And, seeing that Empire Strikes Back is my second favorite Star Wars movie, I consider that a compliment. In Mass Effect 2 the stakes are higher, the decisions are heavier, and the ramifications are dire – people often live or die on your whim. Mass Effect 2 is a far more intense, involved, and well-paced experience than the original was.

Not only that, Mass Effect 2 plays a hell of a lot better than the original as well. Gone is the ridiculously contrived “overheat” system, replaced with a fairly typical ammo system. The gunplay adopts a more cover-oriented approach, and as result, ends up feeling slightly Gears of War-ish. This isn’t a bad thing, though – combat is much faster and more enjoyable in Mass Effect 2.

Oh, and I feel compelled to point out: the exclusion of the awful dune buggy that occasionally forced itself upon you in the original game was a good decision. That is to say: the dune buggy sucked ass. A break from the usual gameplay, yes, but a shitty break. It is not missed in Mass Effect 2.

This dude is my fave.

This dude is my fave.

But the most impressive thing about Mass Effect 2 is how flawlessly it maintains the richness and believability of its universe. After importing my save from Mass Effect 1, I soon found out that decisions I had made in the original game would have ramifications now. Also, I was impressed to see that concepts only touched on in the original – such as the Krogan genophage – were fully explored in Mass Effect 2. You’ll even come across a number of incidental characters from the original, and they’ll all know who you are. Something this complex has really never been done before, and BioWare is pulling it off with remarkable grace.

But I’ve said all I need to say. Ethos has already written extensively about the game, so check out his two posts for more information. Other than the specific points I mentioned (such as the Buggy) I agree with his analysis of the game. His generous score 9.0 is well deserved. Mass Effect 2 is not a game to be missed.