When the original Bioshock was released in 2007, no one could have expected the level of praise it was destined to receive. Heralded as one of the best single player experiences in gaming history, the game left some awfully big shoes that would need to be filled with a sequel. Losing some of the talent that helped shaped the original also didn’t do any favors to the already high level of skepticism. People questioned the need for more after the original story had done such a fantastic job of introducing the world and characters of Rapture while both starting and finishing the story. Like it or not, more Bioshock is here and you’ve been thrown back into Rapture. Does this much maligned sequel manage to silence the critics? Or does it sink under all the pressure?
Returning to the world of Rapture ten years after the events of the first game, you control “Delta”, a first generation Big Daddy with all the skills necessary to handle the wild citizens of Rapture. You have been brought back to life in order to save the little sister you were bound to and the entire world of Rapture is standing in your way. Andrew Ryan’s time has passed and his utopia has slipped further and further into madness and chaos. His life long over, you are introduced to new leaders who have picked up the pieces left by Ryan. Instead of having Andrew Ryan or Fontaine, you have Sophia Lamb, a former psychiatrist and new leader for the abandoned city. She might claim to have different motivation and political views, but it all feels pretty much the same from your boots. Lamb is holding your little sister hostage and you’re going to have to go and get her, but that’s not as easy as it sounds. The remaining non-splicer citizens have taken over sections of Rapture and you’re going to need to get their help to continue your journey.
You get to listen in through audio logs as Lamb and Ryan debate back and forth on the motivations behind each others actions. It sort of feels forced in as you think of how someone clearly so important in the history of this place was never once mentioned in the previous game. It’s obvious why, but still disappointing to know that these characters are being inserted into the cannon of Rapture in order to create more room for a sequel. New enemies pop up but none prove more potent then the Big Sisters. Some Little Sisters that have remained in Rapture have been transformed into these quick moving and deadly enemies. Tools of Sophia Lamb, they are always watching you and show up periodically to give you trouble.
Although the story still managed to hold my interest through its entirety, I certainly didn’t feel any of the shock and awe I experienced when I was first introduced to Rapture and its history. Discovering and diving into the art style and characters was a new and fresh experience in the original and as much as I enjoyed seeing new characters and places, non of it felt as important as when I had seen it first. One thing that has been drastically improved is the ending, which comes off as the strongest part of game, in stark contrast with the first offering.
Moving along from the disappointments of the story, one thing that this game definitely does better is the gameplay. You still have the interesting powers you remember from the first game but everything has been upgraded. As a Big Daddy, you are given the choice to deal with the Little Sisters in whatever manner you see fit. Harvest her for a quick boost of Adam, or adopt her and go from there. Having the little sister on your shoulders means she can lead you to bodies that have large amounts of Adam for her to harvest. This proves a profitable way of gathering Adam, but it’s not the easiest way. The act of gather the Adam attracts all sorts of unwanted attention, so be prepared to fight as you wait for her to finish her job. Luckily you are provided with more then enough tools to help fight off the evil forces of Rapture. One of the most prominent new features is the ability to dual wield your powers along with your weapons. You can now use your powers to turn the tides in guns fights. Freeze, ignite and shock your enemies mid fight to give yourself a tactical advantage, or use other powers to help use the environment as an ally.
Like the first one, half of the battle is in the plannings. Set up traps for your enemies with weapons or plasmids. Everything from Tornado traps on the floor to the old fashion electrical wires can be used in lots of creative ways. It’s a fresh breathe of air and can really encourage some creativity in a genre that needs it. The shooting feels a little questionable at first, but is greatly improved later on in the game with upgrades. Your trusty wrench has been replaced by the Big Daddy drill, which when used right can cause massive damage to any enemy in the game. Upgrade your guns and Plasmids to the higher levels and you will be pleasantly surprised at the new additions you find. Some of the new powers like “Scout” (the ability to move forward into areas while invisible) really can prove useful once you upgrade it and gain the ability to hack turrets and cameras before entering a room.
Nothing has really been changed about the health or gathering system, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The hacking mini game has been changed for the better. This time is doesn’t take you out of experience and kill the pacing. Hack vending machines and ammo stations for bonuses in a quick and neat fashion, but be prepared for trouble if you fumble the hack.
Along with the addition of Big Sisters, new types of splicers show up in the game including the “brutes” who charge at you and throw objects from a distance. You will meet plenty of enemies throughout your journey and have lots of memorable battles. The experience starts off a little slow, but after a few hours you will be rolling along nicely picking up audio logs and smashing splicers with your new powers and weapons. You also get to explore more of rapture as you gain the ability to go outside underwater in your Big Daddy suit. I can’t get into every new aspect of the gameplay because it would take forever. Just know that it’s all been improved and handles a lot more smoothly then the first. Take care in the choices you make during the game because you are forced to answer for your choices in the end.
A Multiplayer Experience?
Maybe one of the most questionable steps taken by Bioshock 2 is the addition of a competitive online multiplayer mode. No one seemed to mind that the first was lacking this mode because of the strong single player experience. The main worry is that time taken away from the single player and dedicated to the multiplayer would negatively affect the game as the whole. That just isn’t the case. The multiplayer feels almost shockingly well rounded. As is the same with so many other games, a experienced system has been integrated in helping to encourage you to keep coming back. Customize your load outs and choose from a number of game types to suit your fancy.
The classic deathmatch and team deathmatch areboth present along with some variations on other popular game modes. Capture the flag has been turned into capture the little sister, with one side on defense and the other on offense. The gunplay feels a lot faster than the single player in a good way, and the ability to hack and use the research camera also makes an appearance in the multiplayer. Scan the the bodies of your victims for a damage bonus or hack turrets to help fight for you in gun fights. Maybe if you’re lucky you will find the randomly appearing Big Daddy suit and put the hurt down on those lowely splicers.
Add it all together and you have a completely competent mutliplayer experience. It doesn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking, but it does check all the boxes you would hope for. I’m not sure how long it will keep players interested, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it managed to carve out a small dedicated group of players that really find something they enjoy. They event went so far as to try and write the entire multiplayer mode into the cannon as experiments in plasmid research. It’s a little charming and a nice touch when you enter your apartment to customize all your load outs and outfits.
Despite the negative feelings you may have about creating a sequel to Bioshock, their is no denying that this game is great. It looks beautiful and it plays fantastic. 2K Marin gave it a real shot and I feel like they succeeded in drawing me back into the Bioshock universe. The new additions are all welcomed as the game takes the abilities of the players to new levels and really lets you customize your own play style. The overall level of action is just better. You no longer have to fight with the controls and can take full advantage of the gifts you have been given. Combine that will an incredible ending and you have a game that manages to hold it’s own ground when compared to the original.
Additional Thoughts by Patrick Adams
Being that the original BioShock is at the top of my “favorite games of all time” list I was a little skeptical when I heard that Ken Levine would no longer be the man behind the series. I was afraid that the BioShock franchise was going to be ruined but yet I still stayed faithful. I did have low expectations going into the game but only because of what other people were saying (without having even played it). I must say that BioShock 2 has exceeded my expectations and in my opinion is the best way they could have done a sequel. The story is still interesting, the gameplay has improved to what I would expect, and the final product feels great. Maybe it’s because I have a daughter but I really enjoyed the interaction with the Little Sisters. To be honest, BioShock 2 is really just more BioShock, and to me that is definitely a good thing. I’m excited to see what 2K Marin can come up with for BioShock 3. My suggestion is that they bring us into Rapture when it was at its peak, before it’s downfall, whether it be by playable flashbacks or actual present time.