You’ve been here before. The hallways of Rapture—the art deco, objectivist’s paradise turned gory nightmare—are still prowled by psychotic Splicers who babble insanities to themselves and attack anything near them like feral animals. Big Daddies lurch from vent to vent seeking Little Sisters who go about their gruesome tasks while humming a happy tune, both oblivious that they serve no purpose now that Rapture is all but dead. The city sits like a sunken ship at the bottom of the Atlantic, its glass walls crack and leak with the ocean threatening to rush in at any moment. In many ways, Rapture is much the same place as it was when you left it. It’s a tomb to one man’s idea of “what if?” and the poor souls that followed him.
What made BioShock a standout game in 2007 was how it created an immersive world. It is one of the most unique settings to ever be envisioned in a video game, complimented with an intellectually-stimulating storyline that got more people to read Atlas Shrugged than all of the Ayn Rand Society’s efforts combined. That being said, there didn’t seem to be much room for a sequel until 2k Marin came along to develop one. The results are better than one could hope, but ultimately unfulfilling.
Rather than play as an outsider, players are cast as a Big Daddy, a prototype model dubbed Subject Delta who has been psychologically-conditioned to protect only one Little Sister—Eleanor Lamb. This puts Delta at odds with her mother and the game’s antagonist Dr. Sophia Lamb, who has him killed only to be reactivated a decade later with the gift of free will. Feelings of elation are soon short-lived once a design-flaw of Delta’s is discovered: the longer he’s away from Eleanor, the more likely he’ll be shut down permanently.
It would be disingenuous to say there’s absolutely nothing new in BioShock 2—new plasmids to play with are no doubt going to be the main draw. Rather than merely upgrading their strength, investing in a plasmid will pay off in new ways such as being able to combo with another plasmid or being able to charge-up attacks. While there are plasmids that are certainly more effective than others—one can rarely go wrong with the trio of ice, electricity, and fire—there’s plenty of incentive to diversify and experiment with the myriad of plasmids at Delta’s disposal. If not for effectiveness, then at least for novelty.
Plasmids can now be wielded in conjunction with firearms. Most of the weapons return from the first game but have been given a new, more imposing look. Weapons not found in the original include a rivet gun, harpoon gun good for sticking enemies to walls and the iconic drill-arm Big Daddies are known for. Every weapon also has a melee function so if Delta’s in a bind he can always do a little damage by thwacking a Splicer in the head with whatever’s handy.
It certainly helps to be able to set a Splicer on fire and while he’s flailing around shotgun him in the face, and it’s imperative that you double-up on damage as often as possible because BioShock 2 has some newer and tougher enemies to throw at the player. Brute Splicers are freakishly large and can dish out heavy damage as well as take it. They’re bullish, rushing at players and throwing heavy objects. A new Big Daddy variant, The Rumbler, introduces more headaches by tossing around automated turrets and firing rockets.
The biggest obstacles to the player are the encounters with Big Sisters which become the game’s de facto boss battles. While it may seem like you’re being stalked every step of the way by the Big Sisters, sometimes catching glimpses of them before they scuttle off, in truth they’re very predictable encounters and will always occur after you’ve dealt with all the Little Sisters in the area, which undermines their appearance of malevolence. Big Sisters are lithe death-dealers who wield powerful plasmids and are incredibly speedy, even knocking back Delta with acrobatic moves.
Killing the Big Sisters will take a variety of skills and use up many of your resources. It’s imperative you use the retooled research camera as much as possible. Rather than collect static images of foes, it’ll video-tape enemies and it’s up to the player to experiment with their arsenal to find what works best. This new method encourages creativity and feels much less intrusive than the static camera in BioShock.
Hacking, which played a huge role in the original, returns and is streamlined to be more accessible. Delta can hack objects from a distance thanks to a new device that shoots hacking darts. Once that’s done with, hacking is now done with a simple gauge and moving needle. Line up the needle in a blue or green section of the gauge and your hack is a success. Much less time is involved with hacking and the pace of the game isn’t slowed down nearly as much as if the original hacking method had remained intact.
Acquiring Little Sisters and their ADAM is slightly tweaked. Once their Big Daddy has been dealt with, players can still opt to lethally harvest them or save them. There’s a new wrinkle in the process, though. Players can adopt the Sister and have her gather ADAM from corpses. However, any time a Sister gathers ADAM an attack sequence is initiated and the pair will be overwhelmed by an onslaught of Splicers.
Carefully setting traps and identifying where the Splicers are most likely to come from are key to survival, along with having a hefty supply of heavy-duty ammo and health kits. Once successfully fended off, players can then choose whether to rescue them or harvest them as before, but with a little extra ADAM for the trouble.
The problem with getting the Sisters to gather for you is that fatigue quickly sets in. Battling waves of Splicers drains resources and time with only a small payoff. It’ll also make the inevitable run-ins with Big Sisters even more difficult than before.
BioShock 2′s overall structure is more linear than before. The game hurries players from location-to-location thanks to a one-way train. If you miss something, you can’t go back for it. The train ties into the story and atmosphere of BioShock 2. It takes players through the older, dingier parts of Rapture.
Pauper’s Drop is a low-income slum and Siren Alley serves as the city’s red light district. These are not the opulent apartments of Olympus Heights or the unnatural beauty of Arcadia. These places are where anyone without the vision or luck to make it in Rapture’s objectivist society live. Some of the art-deco influences are lost in these areas, and frankly they’re not nearly as interesting as the sections in BioShock.
There is a certain lack of immersion that the player can’t help but feel. The city seems less believable, the audio-log entries a bit forced. Novelty is missing. A huge part of the original’s success was the believability of the setting and that’s missing here.
The philosophical dilemma of collectivism versus objectivism is somewhat cheapened with BioShock 2‘s Dr. Lamb as the main enemy. She’s Andrew Ryan’s antithesis—eschewing the desires of the self and embracing endeavors done solely for the collective good of humanity. Her diatribes are regularly broadcast throughout Rapture’s halls and she takes every opportunity available to expound on her viewpoints. Unfortunately she quickly becomes a caricature of herself. None of the words she says ring true and she is completely oblivious to the constant violations she makes against her own beliefs.
Multi-player has been included in BioShock 2 and it is a strange beast. It’s a mixture of old-school deathmatching and story-driven prequel. Rather than taking place concurrently with BioShock 2’s main story, things kick-off during Rapture’s Civil War. Players can choose from a host of psychotic Splicers that have been chosen to participate in trials conducted by Sinclair Solutions. As a participant in these trials you’ll level up with each match and unlock more powerful plasmids and weapons in a not-so subtle nod to Modern Warfare’s perk system.
There’s a healthy level of customization. Players can choose what melee weapon their Splicer wields, their mask, and the overall weapon layout. The lobby is given the appearance of the Splicer’s living quarters and between shootouts players can uncover more information about what led the Splicer to Rapture and what fuels their psychosis.
It’s an interesting way to develop Rapture’s mythos, but aside from the ability to use plasmids in battle and single-player abilities like researching fallen enemies for bonus damage or hacking turrets, there’s not much else to justify the multi-player portion’s existence. For starters, aiming isn’t the smooth, crisp process one finds in other shooters. The weapons don’t feel precise, the reticle a loose approximation of where your shot will end up rather than a direct bullseye.
Not to mention that some tactics are just so much more effective than others that the whole thing quickly becomes predictable. One can rarely go wrong with immolating an enemy on fire and running away while the fire slowly consumes them. Or freezing someone and whacking them to shards with the melee attack.
And there aren’t any modes you haven’t seen a hundred times before. The usual suspects are all here: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, but each has a different name and modes just have a hint of BioShock flavoring to them. It isn’t awful, necessarily. However, it is a textbook case of misplaced effort. Effort which should have been directed towards fleshing out the story campaign.
BioShock 2, despite its problems, is as good of a sequel as one could hope for. When the game takes chances and tweaks things it usually works out for the best. But any time it tries to replicate the elements that made the original unique, it fails. The surprises aren’t there and neither is the awe one feels the first time they booted-up their copy of BioShock and laid eyes on Rapture.