Final Thoughts: A Few Years Later
When we published a similar article based on the original BioShock, we found that few graphics cards at the time could provide playable performance using the high quality preset at 1600x1200 (1680x1050 is the widescreen version of this resolution).
In fact, mid-range and even some high-end graphics cards of the time, like the GeForce 8800 GTS and Radeon HD X1950 XT struggled at 1600x1200 with average frame rates dipping below 40fps. Therefore we concluded that if you were not too picky about performance, you could get away with a GeForce 8600 GTS using low settings at resolutions at or below 1280x1024.
We went on to say that unfortunately Bioshock didn't seem to be the same game when using low graphics settings and we get the same impression with this sequel. As far as graphics are concerned, BioShock 2 is very reminiscent of the original and we had a hard time telling the two apart. While some may find this disappointing, it is largely good news for gamers on a budget, particularly those who cannot afford to blow $300+ on a graphics card.
Those with 24 screens will find the Radeon HD 5770 to have enough guts to play BioShock 2 at 1920x1200 using the high quality preset. If you haven't upgraded for a while and still run on a GeForce GTX 275 or Radeon HD 4890-level graphics card then you are well past the requirement to run this game with all eye candy turned on.
Having now thoroughly tested BioShock 2 using a small army of graphics cards, we can safely say that gamers should only aim to play this game using the high quality preset. Not only did we see a significant reduction in visual quality when using the medium quality preset, but the performance was not greatly improved.
The Radeon HD 5750 saw its average frame rate increase by 8.5%, a mere 6 fps gain, while the minimum frame rate was increased by just a single frame. Slower graphics cards, such as the GeForce 9600 GT, also saw small gains, with the average increasing by 9% which worked out to be a dismal 4 extra frames per second. These small performance gains simply don't justify the noticeable reduction in visual quality.
In terms of stability BioShock 2 did have its fair share of annoying bugs and while some of them could be blamed on graphics card drivers, we were still disappointed. The game also has an annoying level of anti-piracy measures, just as the original did. It's this kind of features that put me off buying such games. The multiplayer aspect is similar to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in the sense that you have to be connected to the Internet to play over LAN, and that is just rubbish in my opinion.
However my personal feelings aside, the problems that we encountered when testing BioShock 2 included visual errors with vsync disabled, occasional crashing when using Crossfire, and the inability to change resolution without having to first ALT+TAB out of the game. Actually the issue with changing the resolution was again only limited to ATI graphics cards, though once or twice the issue presented itself when using Nvidia hardware.
What we were forced to do every time we wanted to change the resolution was to select the desired setting and click apply. The screen would then go blank and remain that way indefinitely unless we quickly hit ALT+TAB taking us to the desktop and then hit ALT+TAB again to re-enter the game. This had to be done within the 15 second countdown or the resolution would revert back to its previous setting.
This made benchmarking quite painful as you can imagine, having now done this well over a hundred times. The slider bar used to select the resolution is also very clumsy, while on the positive side we liked the menus in BioShock 2 as they were quick and easy to navigate. Thankfully this is likely a task that many of you will only do on rare occasions.
Finally, the only other request I have for my own benefit, and of course those interested in testing their system's performance, would be for 2K Games to include a built-in benchmark feature to help gamers accurately measure the impact various visual quality settings have on performance.