The original BioShock was considered a masterpiece by gamers and critics alike in 2007, and whenever something’s successful a sequel usually gets announced. Now the time has come to return to Rapture, but is this a welcome one?
BioShock 2 puts you in the diving suit of one of the prototype Big Daddies, the first one to be successfully bonded to a Little Sister. On New Year’s Eve, 1958, your Little Sister was forcefully taken away from you, putting you in a chemically induced coma. Now, ten years later, you have awakened to find a city in utter ruin, with a constant need to relocate your lost companion.
In the eight years between the first and the second game (story wise), Rapture has fallen even further; evident by just looking at the game’s logo which has been overrun with corral. The seas are starting to take over and Rapture’s citizens seem even crazier than before. BioShock 2 perfectly nails Rapture’s atmosphere, and there are still many audio logs to collect which provides further detail into the fall of rapture on New Year’s Eve 1958.
Pipes and glass windows are leaking, the lights fail flicker almost constantly, and paint and plaster is peeling off the walls. Every environment within the game seems to scream “This place got fucked up!” especially the various messages written across the decrepit walls of Rapture: “We will be reborn of the ocean,” and “Lamb is watching!”
The graphics have been given an update, but the odd slow texture pop-in ruins the immersion from time to time. Characters animate well, but we rarely see anyone but the Little Sisters up close and personal. Voice acting is top notch and several nationalities are represented throughout the characters we hear and meet. Sofia Lamb’s voice actor is particularly good, radiating madness, scorn and utter disdain for you and actions. The Little Sisters sound just as innocent and naive as before, but hearing them call you “Daddy” instead of “Mr. B” or “Mr. Bubbles” sounds incredibly dirty and unnerving.
Adding to the game’s atmosphere is the music, which continues the trend set up in the first game. Songs from the 40s and 50s drift out from broken jukeboxes and record players, only to amplify the differences between Rapture in its heyday and the Rapture you’re experiencing. “How much is that Doggy in the Window?” sings Patti Page as Splicers come charging at you.
There are several tense moments within the game that almost seems to overload your senses with helplessness and as a tool of immersion it works great, but eventually it boils down to things you’ve experienced before both in the original BioShock and in other games. The flickering lights, something moving just off camera and the constant chattering of the Splicers does get a bit repetitive. Once you’ve gotten far enough into the game most of the tense and scary moments fail to make you utter as much as a squeak.
The return to Rapture also marks the return on the game’s iconic weapons and plasmids, but everything’s gotten an upgrade, including a melee attack for all weapons. The wrench has been scrapped for a gigantic drill, delightfully carving your enemies into mince meat as long as you’ve got the fuel for it. The Big Daddy’s iconic rivet gun is another new addition, but everything else is just a variant of what we’ve seen before; the Tommy gun is now a machine gun; the shotgun comes with two barrels; and the crossbow has been replaced with a spear gun which can satisfyingly pin your enemies to the walls.
The grenade launcher also makes a return, not much different than before, but a welcome addition is the hack tool, which fires remote-hack-darts that lets you hack turrets and cameras at a distance. Hacking has been simplified, so you don’t have to play Pipe Mania every time you want to hack something. The hack tool also comes with the ability to fire small mini-turrets that lets you set up defensive perimeters.
BioShock 2 features a greater focus on defensive situations than its predecessor. Once you take down a fellow Big Daddy, you get the option of harvesting or adopting his Little Sister. The game then takes a page from Tower Defence’s book as you have to guide her to a suitable corpse and make her collect ADAM, genetic currency you use to buy plasmids and tonics. When the extraction process begins, Splicers will attack and it’s best to be prepared! While most of the locales in BioShock 2 are open enough to ward off attackers and set up traps to defend yourself, fighting off a horde of Splicers in a narrow corridor simply becomes one big giant clusterfuck as enemies swarm in from all directions.
These harvest-defend scenarios need to be done twice for each Little Sister, and can get very repetitive when there are three or four Little Sisters to find within each location. The girls themselves are never that difficult to locate, but for the sequel to a game that sold itself on atmosphere and a well written story, BioShock 2 seems to appeal more to your trigger finger than to your intellect.
After defending your Little Sister from Splicers you once more get the option of harvesting or rescuing her, echoing the original BioShock’s moral choices. And just as before, the “evil” path offers you immediate rewards, and the “good” path offers up more work, but greater rewards in the long run. You will also find yourself in situations where you can choose whether certain characters should die or not, but players of the first game will most likely adhere to the creed of “A man chooses, a slave obeys”.
Harvesting or rescuing every Little Sister within an environment also pisses off the game’s newest enemy: Big Sister. These are Little Sisters who have grown up and act as Sofia Lamb’s personal army of enforcers. These fights seem to turn into arena style battles between two foes, but with a few tricks up your sleeve they can easily be defeated without much hassle. They’re not that different from a regular Big Daddy apart from the ability to heal themselves by draining corpses of ADAM, as well as use plasmids. They also promote their arrival with three high pitched screams, giving you plenty of time to prepare for their assault.
In between shootouts you’ll be exploring the dilapidated ruins of Rapture: collecting money, health packs, ammo and various other things that either restores health or EVE. If you’ve played the first game, there’s nothing really new to see as far as items are concerned except some new types of ammo like exploding buckshot and heat seeking missiles. BioShock 2 seems like it tries to be many things at once: shooter with RPG elements, and moody and atmospheric survival horror both at once.
Fighting a Big Daddy, Big Sister or hordes of Splicers has a tendency to drain your supply of both med kits and ammo pretty fast, but you can’t help but trip over extra ammo and more med kits just down the hall. While the game has certain scares and shocks, you rarely feel weak or helpless unless the game actually wants you to in a scripted sequence. You also have a tendency to get bogged down with tonics, genetic upgrades that allow you to customize your character with various attributes, making it feel like the game is doing what it can to make you as powerful as possible when you’re already powerful enough.
Being confined to a diving suit means you’ll be able to explore the outside of Rapture, and these quiet moments of solitude are quite beautiful, in a very morbid way, to behold. Everything from giant squids, sharks, Big Sisters and Big Daddies swim and lurch by respectively as you wander about on the bottom floor, which adds to the atmosphere.
Entirely new to the game is the addition of multiplayer, which is your basic all-round multiplayer experience, but with a bit of a twist. BioShock 2 features a more story driven multiplayer mode. Set in 1959, the multiplayer portion allows players to explore the fall of Rapture first hand by taking on the role of a Splicer. At first you get access to basic weapons, plasmids and tonics, but gain better weapons as you gain rank.
Players can choose between 6 characters to use as an in-game avatar, but your choice of avatar has no effect on the overall experience. Apart from this, the multiplayer modes themselves are your basic deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag. While the addition of multiplayer is an alright feature, it doesn’t really add anything to the overall package.
BioShock 2 is the kind of game that’s very hard to review. Everything you experience in the game has already been masterfully done in the previous game. While BioShock 2 never really does anything wrong, it doesn’t try to innovate either, apart from the odd weapons upgrade and new tonics.
It’s by no means a bad game, but it feels like it’s all been done before. While the game’s story adds more details to the fall of Rapture and the consequences of Jack’s actions in the first game, it wasn’t something that needed to be fleshed out. As a whole it’s a fun and engaging experience, but fans of the original are better off renting BioShock 2 than buying it.
– 7 / 10