Review: Bioshock 2

March 1, 2010, Author: Ray Willmott

When attempting to create a sequel to one of gaming’s great masterpieces there is surely a great sense of trepidation amidst those set out with the treacherous task. The very announcement of a sequel to Bioshock scared me. Petrified me, in fact. Bioshock stands alone very well and is not only one of my all-time favourite gaming experiences, but ranks fairly consistently as one of the best video games of all time. Bioshock was a very complete, well thought out and detailed story and is a franchise that certainly doesn’t need whoring out and milking dry. It has a compelling narrative with shocking twists and turns, stunning visuals, powerful sound effects and clever gameplay mechanics that hook you until the very end. Certainly, Rapture is a very full and realised World with plenty of opportunities for stories, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to be created as that can ultimately result in being a detriment to a franchise, rather than a benefit.

That being said, I decided to take a second dive into the World of Rapture to make a fair assessment, one way or another.

Returning to Rapture
From the days of the game receiving the subtitle Sea of Dreams to just being plain Bioshock 2, this game has been a long time coming. Set in 1968, eight years after the events in Bioshock 1, Rapture is now controlled by a female psychologist named Sofia Lamb, an antagonist to the concepts originally devised by Andrew Ryan, and an advocate for rebirth and the symbolism of the butterfly. Also, just because she’s female, she still has a ruthless streak and can certainly match Ryan for wit and will.

The protagonist in this game is Subject Delta; the forth prototype of the entity known as the Big Daddy, but the first Big Daddy to be successfully pair-bonded to a Little Sister. Your objective, should you choose to accept it, is reach your Little Sister named Eleanor. However, as with all tragic tales, you have been separated from her by Lamb, who is, ironically enough, her mother. In order to save Eleanor and stop Lamb, as Delta you must travel across the ruins of Rapture to Fontaine Futuristics where Eleanor is held. However, your path is bound to her alone and should you deviate from it, then a killswitch programmed into your very essence will activate, killing you instantly.

Despite the fact that the game was considered unnecessary, Bioshock 2 has made itself an integral and important part of the lore of Rapture. Having played Bioshock 2, it’s now hard for me to imagine the series without having uncovered the revelations made about the creation of the Big Daddy or even how a Little Sister came to be and what created their insatiable lust for ADAM. This game has had a resounding impact on the over-arching story that cannot be ignored and could potentially change your perspective about what you thought you knew about Rapture.

She has a nasty temper tantrum

Careful, she's got a raging case of PMT.

There is a truly powerful narrative in both the undertones and exterior of Bioshock 2. This is a story about the emotional and physical entanglement between a small girl and her protector. A girl who believes you will let no harm can come to her, a girl who trusts you despite the horrific, violent, disturbing things happening around her and the altogether wretched form you’ve undertaken. This is a powerful tale that will touch you, grip you, and move you. Bioshock 2 widens the narrative scope in comparison to the original and does give you options and choices to consider at every turn. This is interactive entertainment, but one that works well within the context of its original vision. While certain choices you make within some games can leave you feeling quite flat and unenthused, realising that the story wasn’t catered to this direction, Bioshock 2 always makes you feel like you made the right decision for you and that the story works according to how you chose to walk the path.

In addition, Bioshock 2 has not one, not two, but six different endings determined by your actions throughout the course of the game. Few games can make you pause for a few moments to contemplate the ramifications of your decisions, that test your own moral outlook on life, yet Bioshock 2 can consider itself in that category and how you treat the remaining denizens of Rapture will reflect the broken down and beaten world in more ways than you care to realise. The way Little Sisters look at you, the way you are spoken to through the speaker system, whether you are offered help and assistance in times of need. The perception you as a player had of the Big Daddy in the first game can be echoed in its sequel or reversed as you please, in a sense making the world of Rapture one resounding with your perceptions and outlook on life.

2K have indulged us with another intelligent and intrepid story that discusses life after the fall of Rapture, that illustrates the high plateau that Andrew Ryan set his nirvana upon and how it came tumbling down all around him, that discusses the political imbalances that plague the underwater realm and how a city that is a bunch of rubble and seaweed still has those who strive to claim it for their own. How a simple relationship between girl and beast weaves such an emotional tapestry, a relationship that we as players, were terrified by in the original title, now structures something we want to fight for so feverishly in the second.

It’s the same… but different…
As before, the game plays much the same. You walk around Rapture, collecting Audio Logs and still receiving audio transmissions, all of which give detail to the characters you pursue and backstory while explaining more about the experiments in Rapture. As before, you’ll also collect a camera which will allow you to film any type of villain in action, although this plays slightly different to the first game. When the film is rolling you will get extra bonuses for the amount of damage you inflict on the victim, but only by using as much variety as possible. This enables a more accurate assessment of what works best on each enemy. The more you film them and the more you become accustomed to their abilities, the quicker you’ll be able to fully research them and inflict maximum punishment.

There are also some really cool new features, such as the ability to melee attack with every weapon in the game, and the ability to dual wield both Plasmid and weapon at the same time, causing extra damage and variety in combat. There is also the hacking tool which enables you to hack vending machines, bots, cameras and turrets from a distance, saving you from getting up close and getting your skin ripped to shreds. Also, for the first time in the series, you will explore the ocean outside of Rapture, which is possible due to the Big Daddy armour being a modified diving suit. This creates some unique storyline and game play opportunities and further reiterates that the character you’re playing in Bioshock 2 is a completely different breed and personality to the protagonist in the original game.

Of course, there are the familiar foundations you have come to expect from the series still very prominent in Bioshock 2. The Big Daddy battles are still as difficult as you remember them, despite the fact that you yourself a big hulking metallic menace. I don’t mean to dispell any illusions here, but if you’re coming to the fight unprepared you are still going to get your ass kicked. In addition to the Bouncers and Rosies you met in the first game, there is also the Alpha series that will literally pound grenades against your skull if you give them enough distance. However, if they discover that strategy is ineffective, they will drop their launcher, sprint toward you at the pace of a 100m Olympic runner and charge right into you without any remorse.

Also, if you thought the Big Daddies ruled the roost in Rapture, think again, because when you save the last of the Little Sisters in any hub, your vision will become impaired and all you will hear is a piercing shriek, symbolising the imminent arrival of the Big Sister. If you thought tackling Mr Bubbles was difficult, then just wait until you see this hybrid of a Houdini Splicer and Big Daddy cart wheeling away from your bullets and melting your face with plasmids. To make matters worse, the Big Sister can heal herself when in combat, by absorbing ADAM from other Splicers. This bitch means business and she wants your ADAM!

The Splicers remain mostly the same; you still have the Lead-heads, the Spider and Houdini Splicers from the original, each with the same set of tricks. However, there is also a new entrant to the party, the lumbering Brute Splicer, who reminds me a bit of the Charger from Left 4 Dead 2. The Brute Splicer, on sight, will search for a piece of debris to throw at you if he has the range. However, if you close in on the Splicer or he runs out of chunks of rock, the Brute Splicer will charge, destabilising you and sending you into a crumpled heap on the floor. From there, the behemoth will pound dents into your suit and turn you into scrap metal. To down these abominations, you’ll need tactics and smarts as well as raw strength and dexterity; a key aspect of the Bioshock series once again well implemented in the sequel.

Cuddly Bubbles

Cuddly Bubbles

However, there are some aspects that aren’t so well realised. In an unusual turn of events, 2K have changed the gameplay of hacking a machine, and decided to use an altogether different mini-game. Instead of the fast and furious pipe creation game, 2K have decided to simplify the experience and reduced it to a simple button press. Whereas in the original Bioshock, there was an element of tension when making sure the pipe was fully connected to the exit while the water was creeping along, now it’s a simple case of ensuring the ticker is on a green or blue section and pressing a button.

While the original mini-game taxed your brain, there is no such revelation to be found in this mini-game, and frankly it leaves you feeling a bit empty. Perhaps removing the pipe feature from Bioshock 2 was a way of ensuring the games were kept separate in someway as they are both otherwise very similar in play and feel, but it also seems more of a detraction from the original and makes hacking seem like something any monkey with a wrench can do.

However, 2K also prove that they know how to get your adrenaline working and understand their subject matter well enough to implement a new feature which will have your heart racing faster than ever before. After you defeat a Big Daddy and choose to adopt a little sister instead of harvesting them outright, you can search for bodies around the map which are filled with ADAM. The Little Sister will show you the way to go by the means of a white trail leading directly to the body. Once you reach the corpse, the Little Sister will climb off your back and start to gather the ADAM for you.

However, the moment the Little Sister begins harvesting, the Splicers sniff you out and come to try and get the ADAM for themselves. Your job is to protect your Little Sister as she gathers ADAM from a host of villainy that descends upon you. Depending what gene tonics you have equipped, this can be over quickly, or it can be a couple of gruelling minutes as you fight your way to victory, especially on the later difficulty settings. Luckily you can prepare yourself for the battle beforehand, whether you want to approach it tactically by planting grenades and turrets to help fight for you, or even just stock up on ammunition and eve kits and obliterate the opposition the old fashioned way. It’s entirely up to you. However, if you’re successful, the rewards are rich, and will ultimately help you upgrade your plasmids, and health and EVE bars faster than normal as you progress through the game.

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