Bioshock 2 Review
By Gaetano Prestia
Bioshock introduced gamers to the mysterious and tragically beautiful underwater city that was Rapture. Its 1940s charm, complete with music and film references, as well as architecturally accurate building designs, made it as much a character as the heroes and villains that plagued the city’s halls. Coupled with the game’s imaginative and incredibly engaging and interesting narrative, it provided gamers with one of the most unique and memorable experiences on a console ever. It was a new and original world and that’s where a lot of the game’s brilliance lied. With its sequel in Bioshock 2, we return to the city after 10 years, and while the city might seem a little too familiar, there are enough gameplay enhancements - including the introduction of a fantastic multiplayer experience - that make Bioshock 2 a very worthy addition to the franchise.
As great as Bioshock 2 is, it does lack that sense of originality that made the first so great. The environments have evolved, as have the city’s inhabitants, but it still is essentially the same place. When we first visited Bioshock back in 2007, Rapture was such an amazing city: an underwater mystery land that had the hopes and dreams of a utopia, but ultimately ended up being a living and breathing hell. You would roam the halls of this city, not really knowing what to expect. Walking around every corner was a complete surprise, and unfortunately, that element of shock at the city’s atmosphere just isn’t as strong this second time round. That’s massively disappointing, because Rapture was just as important to the experience as the narrative was in Bioshock. Furthermore, the story itself in Bioshock 2 lacks the thrills of the first. It will stay with you once you finish it, no doubt, but it lacks the imaginative pull that the first game offered.
Check out our video review of Bioshock 2
The story takes place ten years after the first game. Your main goal is to find your Little Sister: you’re a prototype Big Daddy, one of the first, and your original Little Sister, Eleanor Lamb, has been kidnapped by her mother, Sofia Lamb. Fueled by a love so strong, you must search the decaying ruins of a city gone mad to find your long lost Little Sister. The plot itself isn’t that bad, but its main issue falls into the lap of the main antagonist in Sofia. In the first game, Andrew Ryan was a creative, intriguing mad man whose passion for the city of Rapture eventually took hold of him. This passion, fused together with the atmospheric tension that is the city of Rapture, helped mount a strong narrative. This second time round, Sofia is essentially the complete opposite of Ryan: she lacks the god-like intimidating presence that Ryan had, instead appearing like more of a supernatural crazy lady.
Furthermore, there is little-to-no focus on the history of Rapture, which was actually an integral aspect of the first game’s story. In Bioshock, we were told the history of the city through journals and the like scattered throughout the city. This ultimately helped make the city a character itself, and stretched the limits of the narrative. Bioshock 2 never really touches on the history of the city, so if you never played the first, you might find it difficult to actually care about what is going on. The story is anything but accessible for newcomers to the series, and it seems like the developers have done a major injustice to the brilliant city that is Rapture by ignoring its colourful past completely. Surely it could have been expanded on and there’s no way that ideas could have dried up.
The issues with the story don’t stop there. Bioshock 2 seems to quite obviously lack the emotional strings used so aggressively in the first game. Firstly, it’s never really explained why this prototype Big Daddy is as powerful as it is (it can use plasmids, for example, whereas other Big Daddy’s can’t), and secondly, the bond with Eleanor is never really explained. We’re essentially told to find her and that’s it: forget about an explanation of the bond or why the Big Daddy is as connected to her as it is – the two are just meant to be with one another. This lack of emotional elaboration has the potential to ruin the story for fans of the first, as the relationship between the Big Daddy and Eleanor is so poorly explained that you can be forgiven for subconsciously thinking of your own reasoning to their pairing.
However, the story does have its moments of brilliance. For what it’s worth, Bioshock 2 does provide an overall memorable narrative, as broken as it may be in some parts. While it might be unexplained and not as powerful as it could have been, the relationship between the Big Daddy and Eleanor actually has the potential to wring a tear from your eye. The city of Rapture still has its eerie charm, and the occasional drawing that Eleanor leaves for you around the city is both heartwarming and frightening considering the surroundings. What the first game did was generate a touching story surrounded by terrifying ideals in a dark and frightening city. Bioshock 2 essentially offers the exact same thing, but not quite as well or as aggressively.
Just as the walls of the city have aged ten years, as have the inhabitants. Sofia’s partners in crime - known as The Family - are mainly splicers you’ll all remember from the first, but with some minor ”improvements”. As past citizens of the city of Rapture, these beings have used too much A.D.A.M. (a drug used to rewrite the human genome) and have evolved into emotionless yet cult-like splicers; hell-bent on attacking anything that gets in their way. The familiar ones that attack from the sides, sprint up walls and jump at you at blistering speed all return from the first game, but this time they attack in groups as opposed to individually. You’ll also come across the Brute splicer, which is an overgrown version of the splicer and has the potential to knock your Big Daddy down with little effort.
It’s good to see things mixed up a bit as opposed to using the same old enemies. The city has evolved by 10 years, so naturally, so should the things living in it. It’s a natural progression of life: whatever we have access to ultimately assists in the evolution of our appearance and mentality. In the instance of Rapture, the use of A.D.A.M. (or rather, overuse) has allowed the citizens to evolve quite dramatically over the past decade, showing improvements in intelligence, strength and overall appearance. A common question during the game’s development was how would the world adapt to counter this large, near-unstoppable prototype Big Daddy that we would now be controlling: how would they make it so we weren’t invincible? If you remember back to the first game, the Big Daddy was essentially the strongest thing walking around the halls of Rapture, whereas our hero was this vulnerable and weak human. Now we take control of this massive Big Daddy, but things have grown around him, so that level of challenge is thankfully still intact.
The moral dilemmas that plagued our hero in the first game have made a return this second time round. As a Big Daddy, you will have to rely on A.D.A.M. in order to adapt to the world as it attacks and attempts to counter your presence. Getting A.D.A.M. definitely isn’t an easy task, especially considering Sofia Lamb is after every last drop of it for herself. You can get it one of several different ways; by either brutally harvesting a Little Sister or adopting one and letting her lead you to corpses around Rapture to harvest their A.D.A.M.. At the end of the day, you’re eventually going to have to make one big decision; you either rescue the Little Sister and allow her to be transformed back into a real girl, or you harvest her yourself. That’s ultimately what it comes down to. Either way, no matter what decision you make, you’re always going to have to deal with the consequences, which are pretty much severe in every instance. Remember, Sofia wants it all for herself, so any decision you make takes A.D.A.M. away from her, meaning she’s going to come after you with everything she’s got in order to get it back. That presents quite a bit of challenge for you and your Big Daddy, having you always on your toes, watching for any counter attack by Sofia and the splicers around the city.
Once you harvest enough A.D.A.M., you can use it to upgrade (or “splice”) your DNA, allowing you to use plasmids and other psychokinetic powers during combat. You’ll have access to many of the same plasmids from the first game, as well as a whole hoard of new ones, as well as some slight upgrades to ones from the predecessor. There are plenty of wild and devastating one’s at your disposal, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to rip through a bunch of attacking splicers with a bunch of bees or a mini-tornado. You’ll also be able to improve your physical traits, such as improved health, faster speed and improved mobility, meaning A.D.A.M. is an incredibly integral part to success throughout the experience. The developer has done a wonderful job in evolving aspects like this to counter the evolution of the city and its inhabitants, and while the story may lack the pulling power and shock-value of the first adventure, the gameplay seems to make up for it, no matter how familiar it might be in some aspects.
A major improvement on the combat front is the implementation of dual weapons: you can have both plasmids and weaponry ready and raring to go at the same time, as opposed to in the first game where you had to manually switch hands and use only one at a time. This upgrade in the gameplay allows for a far more free-flowing combat experience. Each of the different weapons available has several different types of ammunition available to you, as well as multiple upgrades. No matter what type of weapon you’re using, each has a specific type of ammunition and upgrade for a specific circumstance, so you can switch things up a bit and really mix it up whenever you come across an enemy that is proving too challenging for the basic bullets.
The combat is actually expanded in several ways beyond your typical action FPS. You’ve got the opportunity to set traps and prepare yourself for oncoming attacks, just as you were able to in the first, and it’s important to anticipate and know the behaviour of the splicers and the city in order to successful counter any attacks coming your way. Just as when splicers attack whenever you harvest A.D.A.M., placing some mines and having hacked bots ready to attack for you as they approach is an important tactic to consider before you start filling up on the drug. Your actions and how to react during combat ultimately assist in unlocking new abilities and skills, so it’s important to use all of your Big Daddy’s abilities and weapons to their best abilities. This isn’t just a typical FPS with a linear and straightforward approach: it’s very much a tactic-based experience that requires thought and minor planning.
Once you finish the single-player, you can move onto the surprisingly entertaining online multiplayer, which offers a fast-paced and at-times intense experience. Set shortly before the fall of Rapture in the first game, you play as one of the city’s citizens as they test out all of the new plasmids. Most of the seven modes are slightly altered versions of typical FPS multiplayer modes, such as capture the flag and team deathmatch. The experience itself is quite unique considering the settings and story implemented into it, and it’s well worth checking out beyond the single-player experience. It has the potential to be great if 2K were to expand on it, and the world of Rapture has always dictated a multiplayer experience. Thankfully, this experience is pretty good.
The Final Verdict
Bioshock 2 may be a little too familiar for fans of the original. While the city and its inhabitants have evolved over time, the game ultimately lacks that sense of originality and imagination that made the first so special. The story definitely has its moments but lacks some emotional tendencies that were elaborated on so perfectly in the first title. However, the gameplay is improved, with more at your disposal when it comes to combat. Things have changed in the city of Rapture, and it’s definitely good to be back.
Accessible and incredibly enjoyable. There’s a whole bunch of improvements, from the implementation of dual weapons, the new hacking techniques, as well as new upgrades and improved weapons.
Impressive art designs. Rapture is a memorable city, and one of the best locations in a game ever.
Spectacular voice acting, sound effects and soundtrack.
A great single-player experience that lasts anywhere between 10-14 hours, as well as multiplayer that will keep you playing for a while.
A score between 9.0 and 9.4 means that the game offers a very good gaming experience. There may be some minor issues with gameplay and value.