BioShock 2 Gameplay Performance and Image Quality

BioShock 2 is here for your damp dark pleasure. BioShock, its predecessor, was a feast for the eyes when it was launched back in 2007, but does the aging engine stand up well to today's video cards and today's expectations? We'll check it out with six of today's best video cards. Now, who's your Big Daddy?


BioShock 2 was set loose on an anxious world by 2K Games on February 9, 2010, about 2.5 years after the first game in the franchise was released. It was simultaneously released for the Microsoft Xbox 360, the Sony PlayStation 3, and Microsoft Windows. It is an alternative history game, set in 1968 in the utopian underwater city; Rapture.

BioShock 2 takes place approximately eight years after the events of the first game. This new game does not come from the same production team as the first BioShock, so Ken Levine, the designer also responsible for such gaming zeniths as Thief and System Shock 2 is unfortunately not attached to this title. BioShock 2 has been generally well received, receiving scores of 90% or better from most gaming editorial outlets. The review score aggregator Metacritic gives the game 89 out of 100 points, while Metacritic users give it 88 points.

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BioShock 2

BioShock 2 is a first-person shooter set in an alternate history version of 1968. The game takes place entirely underwater, in the dysfunctional utopian city of Rapture, as conceived in the first game. Water dominates every part of every level in the game. The city is falling apart, and the Atlantic Ocean is anxious to reclaim the space Rapture occupies. The game follows the exploits of one of the first Big Daddies, the hulking giants charged with escorting and protecting the ADAM-harvesting Little Sisters. The player’s name is Subject Delta, suggesting that he is the 4th Big Daddy to be created. He has some unusual powers for a Big Daddy, such as free will and the ability to use plasmids.

BioShock 2 sports multiplayer capabilities, which the first game lacked. There are seven multiplayer modes: Survival of the Fittest (free-for-all deathmatch), Civil War (team deathmatch), Capture the Sister (capture the flag), ADAM Grab (modified capture and hold), Team ADAM Grab, and Turf War (capture and hold). There are six avatars to choose from in multiplayer, and the multiplayer component t tells the story of a violent civil war being waged in Rapture leading up to the events of the first game.

The Technology

BioShock 2 is powered by the same graphics engine that was behind BioShock: Unreal Engine 2.5, or UE2.5. It has been upgraded and modified, and even sports some features from UE3, but it is still UE2.5, which first debuted in 2004 with Unreal Tournament 2004. The upgraded features include DX10 support, which adds "DX10 Detail Surfaces", which is basically the ability to realistically simulate ripples and waves in water. The game’s minimum system requirements list a graphics card equal to or greater than an NVIDIA GeForce 7800GT or ATI Radeon X1900, so we expect our much newer NVIDIA GeForce GT200 series and AMD Radeon HD 5000 series video cards to perform extraordinarily well in BioShock 2. 2K Games has also tapped the Havok physics engine for physics processing in BioShock 2. Havok, of course, is a multiplatform CPU-based physics engine capable of utilizing multi-core CPUs.

The Video Cards

For this evaluation, we are using a smaller lineup than usual, for some good reasons. From AMD we have three video cards. We have the ATI Radeon HD 5870, the Radeon HD 5850, and the Radeon HD 5750. From NVIDIA, we are using the GeForce GTX 285, the GeForce GTX 275, and the GeForce GTS 250.

For this evaluation, we chose to exclude the GeForce GTX 295 and Radeon HD 5970 for a simple reason: redundancy. The GeForce GTX 275 and GTX 285 can already play BioShock 2 at the highest in-game settings, so adding the GTX 295 would enable us to use a slightly higher AA setting than the GTX 275 and 285. Then, the Radeon HD 5870 can play with extremely high framerates, but since AMD’s drivers do not support AA in BioShock 2 yet, there would be no headroom to enable higher levels of AA with the Radeon HD 5970.