Eighteen hours later, I have once again survived The Zone. I can't come up with the words to describe the experience without sounding scatterbrained so I'll say that it improved on the experience in Shadow of Chernobyl in nearly every way.
I spent over eighteen hours playing this throughout the last five days, and now it's over.
This isn't a review. I'm not done yet. I just started, really.
I blasted through Bioshock 2, and now I can turn my attention to STALKER: Call of Pripyat. Pripyat is the third STALKER game, and after the disappointing second outing Clear Sky, it feels like the sequel that Shadow of Chernobyl deserves. If you own Shadow of Chernobyl or Clear Sky through Steam, you can get Call of Pripyat now for $20. It sells for only $30 to begin with, but selling it for $20 through a customer loyalty program is criminal.
Once a day, at a random time, a radiation emission blasts The Zone, killing anyone not within cover and scattering new artifacts across the landscape. I had just finished a mission when the emission warning sounded. My nearest cover was a good distance away and I was overburdened with loot. The warning gives you two minutes, I make it close within a minute.
My cover is in a hillside bunker. As soon I step inside, I spot three zombies. I put a few bullets in them and they drop. No one else is coming near my bunker so I don't bother looting their bodies. In the next room is two more. I take a few bullets for trespassing, by one that was hiding in the bathroom, and keep trying to make my way deeper into the bunker. I'm technically not safe until I'm dug in like a tick. I can hear barking inside, which could be a number of any variety of nasty mutants.
I turn my flashlight on and creep further in. I'm safe now, but I see that the barking is from a pack of mutated rats. I spray some bullets and the majority of them expire. The Zone is scorched with radiation while I sit in the dark with mutant rats running back and forth past me. The wave of destruction passes, I work my way back to the bodies of the zombies to collect ammo, bandages, food, and useful equipment before I emerge from the bunker and start on my path back to the STALKER base.
This was about five minutes of gameplay. Since Sunday I've spent almost six hours playing.
Did you like Bioshock? Then you'll like Bioshock 2!
They're really rather similar. The biggest difference is that since you are playing as one of the first Big Daddies, instead of your options being "rescue" or "harvest" little sisters, your options are now "adopt" or "harvest", wwith adoption requiring you to either drop off the little sister at a port hole for a small amount of ADAM or you set them down near a corpse and defend them from splicers while they gather ADAM for you. I'm a nice guy with a thirst for ADAM so I saved all the little sisters and gathered all the ADAM that I could, so I spent a lot of time fighting off splicers.
I played on medium difficulty, and maybe I'm spoiled from recently replaying Bioshock 1 on easy, but Bioshock 2 seems significantly more difficult. You can't carry as many health kits as you could in the first game, and I seem to remember the first one auto-using health kits when your health bottomed out until you ran out of kits. No such luck this time, and the first-aid button is on the d-pad so you can either move around or heal. The tradeoff they made here is that every weapon can be used for a melee attack, rather than having to switch to the melee weapon, which in this game is a massive drill.
Now in Bioshock 1, the melee weapon was traditional Irrational Games wrench. With the electric jolt plasmid (the first plasmid in the game), and the wrench (the first weapon in the game), you could almost beat it without picking up a single other weapon. It was a super effective combo that only got better with support tonics. You have no such luck in Bioshock 2. In fact, as massive drills go, it takes a couple support tonics to make it feel like it's doing some real damage. It's kind of a bummer.
The plasmids got a healthy balancing. Winter blast is far more useful than I remember it being in the first game, and even insect swarm is more fun! I didn't really use some of the less hands-on plasmids, like decoy, or scout, or hypnotize. You get the same eight slots for them as in the first game. The tonics are better handled this time too, with no distinction being made between them. You just get a number of slots and you can fill them with whatever tonics you like without regard for their purpose. A lot of them return from the first game, with a handful of new ones suited for the changes in weaponry. Wrench lurker became drill lurker, and what not.
I won't get into the specifics of the plot. I got the gist of the first game but some of the details escaped me, and there's no change here. There was an achievement in the first for collecting all the audio logs, and it has been replaced in Bioshock 2 with an achievement for getting most of the audio logs that I find far more reasonable.
There's another for getting all of the weapon upgrades, and towards the end I was beginning to get nervous because I had a lot of upgrades unfulfilled but I found them all regardless. Apparently you won't get every weapon up to full upgrades by the end of the game, so you should be choosy with what weapons you want to use. The game has a nasty habit of giving you a new weapon right after you've come across an upgrade station, and that kind of sucks because you can't un-upgrade a weapon and then use that upgrade station on the new gun.
Hacking has changed for the better, unless you've got slow reflexes. Instead of being a game of pipe-dream, it's a simple needle that goes back and forth and you just need to hit the A button when it's over a green section. Sometimes you need to hit a number of green slots to succeed, and if you hit a red slot you set off the security systems, and if you hit a white slot you take damage. It's easier and faster than the first game, and from the start you're given a tool to hack machines from a distance, which replaces the need from the first game to shock them with electric jolt and then run up and hack them.
There's a multiplayer component this time. I haven't played it, but not for lack of trying. I setup my character and tried to join a game but none were going on. Within the first week of release, this, to me, is a bad sign. Hopefully I can get some friends to play with me because a lot of achievements are tied into the multiplayer. I really hate when games do that, especially in the xbox live climate where every game has a multiplayer component and all anyone ever plays is Modern Warfare 2.
If you've liked Bioshock 1, this one's a no-brainer. It's more of the first game, but better, with only a little cognitive dissonance from making a sequel to a game that wasn't made to have a sequel. If you didn't like Bioshock 1, you probably won't like Bioshock 2. It doesn't change enough from the original formula to make it a different game. If you never played the first game, I'd recommend going through it before hopping on Bioshock 2. It's a fantastic game, it's only $20, and Bioshock 2 basically assumes you played the first game and doesn't make an effort to explain the world of Rapture again.
Thursdays are fantastic. On Fridays I only have two classes and they're flight classes that require little prep and homework, so my weekend almost begins on Thursday. Since my classes on Monday are the same low-prep flight classes from Friday, I really almost have four whole days to get Tuesday's homework done. It's fantastic!