Written by Paul Lyon
One of the current generation’s most lauded titles, the original Bioshock was a videogame experience like no other. While on the surface it appeared to be just another first-person shooting experience, those willing to take the plunge and submerge themselves into the wildly inventive, philosophically challenging world that developer 2K and their talented team crafted were rewarded with one of the strongest marriages of digital narrative and visceral action yet. While some fans may have shuddered at the thought of a sequel (an inevitability in the industry) cheapening the experience, they needn’t worry, as Bioshock 2 continues the tradition with style. Welcome back to the distorted reality that is Rapture.
Bioshock 2 puts players in the role of Subject Delta, a Big Daddy prototype who committed suicide ten years prior, leaving his accompanying Little Sister, Eleanor, in the company of the twisted Dr. Sofia Lamb. Having recently been resurrected in a Vita-Chamber, he now finds Rapture a rotten place, the result of biological experiments run amuck. Dr. Lamb is now fully in command of what remains, having populated the remnants with an army of her freakish “Family” members. Delta, as he’s now called, begins his journey to save Eleanor and escape, encountering and often engaging with fellow Daddies, Little Sisters, and remaining Splicers. As in with the first game, much of the pleasures of the game rely on experiencing it firsthand, and as such I won’t spoil the ‘juiciest’ bits of this sordid tale in this review.
As with the original game, you’ll progress through fairly linear levels, fighting off various Splicer encounters using a variety of upgradable weapons and injected plasmid attacks, collecting valuable ADAM along the way. You’ll also discover ‘lost’ recorded messages from past citizens that help tell the story of what happened to Rapture, and will encounter a host of surviving characters – both friend and foe. You’ll also hunt down other Big Daddies in intense battles that’ll test your endurance, and will have to make moral decisions on the fate of their surviving Little Sisters. You’ll also face their terrifying successors, the Big Sisters, the faster and deadlier version of the Daddies. Fear not, however, as there’s always a handy game-reviving Vita-Chamber close by in case you fail.
The game play in the sequel is nearly identical to that of the first, with a few key exceptions. The most obvious, of course, is that you now play as a Big Daddy, and with that role come certain entitlements. Chief among them is the use of the drill, a monstrous weapon that violently takes out enemies with ease. However, such power uses fuel to maximize the fun, although in a pinch it makes for an impressive melee weapon. There’s other firepower available, from a double-barreled shotgun to explosive grenade launchers, with available upgrade options to find and employ along the way. The game now allows you to dual-wield both a plasmid and weapon in either hand, while varying plasmids and tonics help add considerable upgrade potential as well, and part of the fun is to utilize your upgraded powers strategically.
One of the more interesting details is how choosing to either harvest or protect the various Little Sisters affects gameplay, giving the game its own surrogate morality bent. Rescuing or harvesting Little Sisters gives you a quick dose of ADAM, but you can also choose to adopt them, which adds a new defensive strategy to the gameplay. Adopted Sisters will harvest ADAM from dead corpses, and will need defending from voracious Splicers while collecting, then leading them to safety through wall vents. Not only do these moments add some much-needed variety and need for exploration to the adventure, but can also affect the game’s final moments. Choose your ADAM wisely.
Also new to the experience is underwater exploration. Noteworthy is the fact that steam, rain(leaks) and sprays of water(also leaks) all show up inside your helmet, blurring or obscuring your vision. There are some drawbacks to being underwater though as you will immediately notice, such as the inability to use weapons, and that actual exploration in these watery spaces is extremely limited. But the change is welcome, as it helps give balance to the otherwise shocking scenes that take place in dryer places. Although I did find it interesting that, despite the location, you never experience any sea life up close in personal, with sharks, squids, and fish all swimming safely off in the distance, and the sheer creepiness of seeing dead bodies with sea life growing on them.
Hacking has completely changed to help speed things up, as the static pipes of the original have been replaced with one that requires a bit more timing and skill. Timing a hit with an arrow that sweeps back left and right on a mini-screen, all while the rest of the game continues can be a thrilling experience. Successful hacks lead to discount items, unlocked rooms and safes, and even reprogramming enemy turrets. Failed attempts will sound the alarms, so better brush up on those skills. The research camera also returns, although you’ll be taking full video footage this time around, with plenty of bonuses to be had, and is much more fun this time around.
The original Bioshock was visually stunning, with extremely detailed characters and landscapes that really helped bring the decorative world of Rapture to life, and the sequel doesn’t disappoint…much. While the return to this underwater world retains the same stunning retro aesthetic that helped make the original standout, there’s no denying a sense of déjà vu this time around. Still, there’s plenty of eye candy to take in, from leaking surfaces to the littered corpses of unfortunate citizens (strange they’d be so well kept after so many years), with beautiful lighting and surface effects throughout to add weight to this deteriorating world.
Likewise, the game’s use of period-friendly music and lush soundtrack fits well within the context of these environments, accompanied by terrific sound effects (the shrieks from Big Sisters are terrifying) that add immeasurably to the experience. As with the excellent visuals, those with proper equipment will benefit greatly from their investment here.
Multiplayer is a new feature for Bioshock 2, although it’s been given an storyline twist to keep things interesting. Set just before the events of the first game, during Rapture’s own civil war. Sinclair Solutions, a plasmid manufacturer, is offering a morbid “consumer rewards program” to volunteers willing to test new plasmids in seven deadly modes that help reveal even more of Rapture’s chilling history. Developer 2K wisely enlisted the help of fellow developer Digital Extremes to help craft an online experience that not only adds value by not only extending the game’s replay value, but in the growing canon of this compelling alternate-reality.
While most of the available modes are just reworked from other popular multiplayer modes (i.e. free-for-all, capture the flag), the twist here is that increased levels lead to unlocked plasmids and tonics, which have direct consequences that help advantage dedicated players. This is somewhat similar to the system employed in Modern Warfare 2, although your actual experience online will depend largely on what platform you choose to play on.
As with the original game, the PlayStation 3 version requires a mandatory installation to the console’s hard drive, although its mercifully shorter this time around, taking just ten minutes (opposed to the original’s 15-20 minutes) and will soak up roughly 5011 megabytes. Better make sure you’ve got the extra space before slipping the Blu-ray disc into your console.
Not only does Bioshock 2 contain an excellent first-person shooting experience, but successfully advances one of gaming’s most fascinating narratives set in the grotesque world of Big Daddies and Little Sisters. While harsher critics will cite the relative lack of freshness and overall feeling of sameness, its clear the developers were interested in a cohesive experience between chapters. The addition of multiplayer only adds to an already-popping package, as do the inclusion of morality-based actions that help determine the final outcome. Fans looking to continue their strange journey into this subaquatic dystopian world will need no further convincing; Rapture is waiting.