The original BioShock was a feast of memorable moments. Few can forget that opening, with the chilling sounds of Jack’s plane crashing as the title appears. The same can be said of seeing the bathysphere’s projection screen drop away to reveal that first breathtaking view of Rapture. Of course there’s also that mind-blowing final showdown with Andrew Ryan.
This begs the question, “How can you possibly top that?”
Indeed, how do you top something like that? Well 2K Marin has figured out the answer to that question: You don’t.
This is not a bad thing by any means. In fact, I’d call it a smart move. There was no way BioShock 2 would ever be able to deliver an experience as unforgettable and earth-shattering as those five or so minutes spent in Andrew Ryan’s office, so they didn’t try. This means no forced (and failed) attempts at 1-upping the original and no resources wasted on lame cash-in attempts. What’s left is something that succeeds on its own merits. Something that can stand on its own as a great game. Something that’s undeniably BioShock.
While this does mean a second trip through Andrew Ryan’s failed attempt at an undersea Utopia, it’s not the same journey players took back in 2007. You’ve been to Rapture before, and 2K Marin knows this. Jack, Andrew Ryan, Atlas and Frank Fontaine are long gone, Rapture is still in shambles and Splicers still roam the leaking hallways. This is now the story of Subject Delta, one of the first Big Daddies. Don’t think of BioShock 2 as a direct sequel, but rather as a way to see a different side of Rapture from a different perspective.
Ten years after the traumatic events in the game’s opening, you wake up in a puddle on the outskirts of the Adonis bathhouse with a singular goal: Find Eleanor Lamb, your Little Sister. Of course, nothing is ever that cut-and-dry. You’ll have to contend with Sophia Lamb (Eleanor’s mother) and The Family, Lamb’s cult of brainwashed Splicers. Fortunately you’re Subject Delta. You can use all of the Big Daddy weapons (even the drill), as well as upgradable Plasmids. You’re tougher and stronger than any mere Splicer. You’re also the one Big Daddy in all of Rapture that hasn’t been stripped of his free will, and that makes you incredibly dangerous to the current status-quo.
A lot of care has gone into balancing BioShock 2. As a hearty and heavy hitting Big Daddy, you can turn any normal Splicer into a red smear effortlessly. Being able to wield a Plasmid in one hand and a weapon in the other serves to make you an even more effective killing machine. But it would be too easy if you could just charge through the game turning your enemies into paste. This means you won’t be fighting just one or two Splicers at a time anymore. You’ll also have to contend with new Splicers like the Brutes (gorilla-like mountains of muscle that soak up bullets) as well as the now legendary Big Sisters. Both of these new enemies offer up some much needed challenge, but just don’t expect to do too well against a Big Sister if you aren’t well prepared.
Fortunately, being prepared is really just a matter of doing the proper research. That’s right – the Research Camera is back and it’s better than ever. Apparently some years after Jack left Rapture someone discovered the magic of moving pictures. This time around it’s a matter of filming your targets, then dispatching them with various methods as the camera rolls. Each completed stage of research (of which there are 4 for each enemy) will net you a nice little bonus, including damage increases against Splicers, defense boosts for yourself and even special Tonics. Not only is it easier to pull off, it’s much more rewarding.
Aside from the ability to dual-wield Plasmids and weapons, another interesting tweak to the BioShock formula is your new-found ability to “adopt” any Little Sisters you find. Provided you manage to eliminate their current protector of course. If you choose to adopt the Little Sister (a tactic I fully endorse), you’ll be able to carry her around on your back as she leads you to Adam-filled corpses. Letting her gather will net you more Adam, which can then be used for more Plasmid and Tonic upgrades, on top of whatever she may provide when you finally decide to free/harvest her. It’s a great way to earn more of the precious goo while staying on the morally righteous path (i.e. saving the Little Sisters). However, it does have a catch.
Once the Little Sister begins to gather, you’ll have to defend her from swarms of Splicers. Dozens of them will come crawling out of the damp woodwork, focused on killing you and stealing your precious cargo. These defense-based moments do a great job of mixing up the pacing. You can defend your Little Sister in a myriad of different ways, utilizing traps, hacked security bots, Plasmids and so on. Every area with a corpse has its own strengths and weaknesses for defense, and it’s up to you to capitalize on them. Once the Little Sister is done draining a body, you can pick her back up (or harvest her right on the spot) and carry her to a vent where you’ll finally be forced to make the call: Does she live or die?
Once all of the Little Sisters have been “dealt with” on a given level, a Big Sister will take notice. Granted, fighting with a Big Sister is always an intense affair, what with the fireball slinging, debris hurling, acrobatics and whatnot, but it’s a bit disappointing that their appearances weren’t delivered as promised. Initial impressions (and previews) indicated that the Big Sister (now Big Sisters) would be a constant threat. Players would never know when or where she’d show up to ruin your day, and that made for a very exciting prospect. Instead, a Big Sister will appear only once each Little Sister in an area has been taken care of. It’s a bit too formulaic, and I can’t help but feel like having one appear at different points in each level (even if it’s only once) would’ve made them feel like much more of a threat.
Another interesting design choice was the decision to remove the player’s ability to return to previous areas. So if someone were to miss a Little Sister, or desire to go back and explore, they’d be out of luck. The environments are still enormous with lots of little secrets to find and they give you a very obvious heads-up whenever you’re about to reach that point-of-no-return, but it’s still a little jarring if you’ve become used to Rapture’s quick-travel bathysphere system. Of course the flip-side to all this is that it allows the game to flow much more evenly. By forcing players to follow a specific path (wide though it may be) 2K Marin is able to tell Delta’s story much more effectively.
And then there’s the multiplayer.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it – I make it a point to avoid competitive multiplayer like the plague. I’ll play co-op, I’ll play against friends on very rare occassions, but I hate, hate, hate, hate, HATE playing competitively against people I don’t know. Because of this, I haven’t experienced most of the (arguably) best aspects of many, many games over the years. Maybe that’s why I enjoy BioShock 2‘s multiplayer so much. I’m aware that the “Level up, gain ranks, unlock abilities and weapons” concept has been done before, which means this will be more of the same for a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.
Modes consist of variations of classics such as Civil War (Team Deathmatch), Capture the Sister (Capture the Flag) and so on, but the inclusion of Plasmids coupled with Rapture’s decor go a long way to keeping things interesting. Perhaps the most compelling (and ingenious) concept behind the multiplayer is the idea that it takes place prior to the events in the first game. Players have their own apartment in Rapture (a purely aesthetic choice as they can also opt to just jump straight into a matchmaking lobby) where they can change their load-outs with new plasmids, track their rank progression, see how close they are to unlocking weapon upgrades, and (most notably) unlock audio files by the different multiplayer characters that give more insights to Rapture’s history and the progression of the war between Ryan and Fontaine.
So is BioShock 2 as good as its predecessor? No, of course not. It never could be due to the simple fact that it would be impossible to recapture that feeling of exploring Rapture for the first time. But it’s still a good game. In fact, it’s a great game and a worthy followup to one of the current generation’s most memorable journeys. It’s a little slow to start, but steadily builds up steam as you progress, coming to a head during the final few hours and making for an incredible experience.
Things We Liked: Smoother story progression. Protecting Little Sisters makes for some intense, enjoyable moments. Improved mechanics in just about every conceivable way. The beautiful serenity of the underwater segments. Getting kills in multiplayer posthumously from a hacked turret.
Things We Disliked: No way to backtrack and attempt to unearth more secret caches. Big Sisters feel underutilized. Hacked bots still get in the way – all the time.
Target Audience: Rapture alumni. Those willing to accept the fact that this is not a continuation of the first game. People who aren’t afraid to get a little genetic modification in their gunplay.
(BioShock 2 – Developer: 2K Marin, Digital Extremes, Irrational Games, 2K China, Arkane Studios. Publisher: 2K Games. Available on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 – Xbox 360 version reviewed. Unfamiliar with CFD!’s review system? Read our newly revised explanation here.)