Tuesday, September 7, 2010

DLC review: Bioshock 2 - Minerva's Den

The third and final bit of Bioshock 2 DLC has arrived and, as with the previous two releases, 2K has created a great experience full of everything that makes Bioshock 2 the unique game that it is. That said, Minerva’s Den didn’t feel as fleshed out of DLC as the Rapture Metro Pack or the Protector Trials and is, in my opinion, the weakest of the three.

Minerva’s Den opens up with an Alpha-series Big Daddy named Subject Sigma being denied entrance to Minerva’s Den, home of Rapture Central Computing, via a tunnel exploding. But as Sigma is a Big Daddy, moving about the ocean is quite simple and so he finds another entrance into the home of Rapture Central Computing, with the help and guidance of Brigid Tenenbaum and Charles Milton Porter. Porter, along with his colleague Reed Wahl, worked on The Thinker, a supercomputer that runs many of Rapture’s everyday needs. However, over time Wahl took control of The Thinker and subsequently all of Minerva’s Den, while Porter was banished from his own creation. Now Sigma must get control of The Thinker back out of Wahl’s grasp.

The single-player story that is Minerva’s Den plays out like a two to three-hour version of either Bioshock or Bioshock 2. The overall objective is ever-present, but players will have to traverse different sections of Minerva’s Den and complete various objectives before reaching Wahl and The Thinker. Along the way, players will find a handful of audio diaries, most of them pertaining exclusively to Porter and Wahl’s collaborative work, as well as the major weapons and plasmids found throughout the main game of Bioshock 2. While collecting each weapon doesn’t detract the narrative, it is a bit of an annoyance as players are only granted use of the drill and telekinesis plasmid at the start of Minerva’s Den and are then expected to take out some relatively challenging enemies (such as Spider and Brute Splicers) with this combination. Once players have tracked down more weapons and plasmids, however, the big challenge will be balancing weapon use and conserving ammo, as this isn’t nearly as plentiful in Minerva’s Den as in the rest of Rapture.

Two new additions to the Bioshock arsenal make their debut in Minerva’s Den. The Laser is a weapon carried by the newest Big Daddy model known as the Lancer. Once players have taken a Lancer down, they can loot his Laser for ammo cells, and can then fire the weapon with three ammo types – a standard laser beam, a thermal beam, and a charged ion blast. A new plasmid, Gravity Well, creates a small gravitational center which pulls objects and enemies towards itself for a brief time period. While it’s nice to see that 2K is as creative as ever, the Laser basically combines three ammo types from other weapons and attributes them to one convenient location that is ultimately a less powerful weapon. As entertaining as Gravity Well is to use on a handful of Splicers, it doesn’t prove particularly useful against the large numbers of enemies players face in gather sections, and is a plasmid better reserved for its primary inclusion – unlocking certain areas.

The design of Minerva’s Den is much darker and moody than many other areas of Rapture and often carries a feel much more akin to that of the original Bioshock than Bioshock 2. There are a number of areas that players can choose to travel to if they wish to explore more of Minerva’s Den, but these are not required by the main narrative. Some of these simply allow players to stock up on munitions and health packs, but others further explore the history of Minerva’s Den. Unfortunately, a few of the questions brought up by exploring these areas are never answered by the narrative’s conclusion.

Minerva’s Den is a nice addition to the overarching tale of Rapture, but is still very much self-contained. While players may find a few audio diaries by Andrew Ryan, the only character that makes an appearance both outside and inside Minerva’s Den is Tenenbaum, and the story of Sigma, Porter, and Wahl doesn’t extend past this DLC or play into the main events of Bioshock 2 in any way. While the story of Minerva’s Den doesn’t explain much of anything until (quite literally) the last fifteen minutes of the gameplay, the payoff is quite good and delivers a solid plot twist that keeps with Bioshock tradition. In the end, Minerva’s Den is easily the weakest of the three pieces of Bioshock 2 DLC, but is still a great addition to any fan’s collection.

My rating: 8 (out of 10)*

*(rating applies solely to downloadable content, not its inclusion with the content on the original game disc or other downloadable content)

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