Most shooters are somewhat limited by their mechanics. Players are either in first-person or third-person mode, with affixed crosshairs, and traverse levels constantly shooting things down until completion. But the original BioShock (2007), developed by 2K Boston (Irrational Games), went above and beyond the genre, creating an experience within its confines quite unlike anything gamers ever experienced before it. Its story was engaging and satirical of the medium. Its underwater dystopia of Rapture was as immersive and important as any traditional character, and amidst shooting down treacherous Splicers, BioShock presented the player with moral quandaries at every turn.
It’s the type of game that, artistically, should never have had a sequel. But its success was of the type that, from a business standpoint, absolutely demanded one.
Enter 2K Marin with Bioshock 2, stepping in to take over where the team at Irrational left off. And it would be easy to stop and analyze every last pixel, comparing and contrasting, looking for its faults, for where it wavers in comparison to the original. Or…players can simply try to take the game for what it is. And in this case, despite its inability to live up to that “relentless spirit” of the original, what it is happens to be is a very good action game that still has enough surprises up its sleeve to be immersive and fun from start to finish.
The game starts with a big bang. The player is thrust into the perspective of a Big Daddy prototype named Project Delta, roughly 10 years after the events of the original, with Rapture in ruin. There is a Little Sister nearby. Delta has been bonded to the Little Sister for life under the Rapture rule of Sophia Lamb, but then comes a shocker. Lamb forces Delta, through the power of words, to place a gun to his head and pull the trigger.
Amazingly, Delta is revived years later via the trusty Vita-Chamber, and begins to receive messages from the Little Sister, Eleanor. For both of them to survive, Delta has to traverse the ruins of Rapture. Another questionable man named Sinclair guides him along the journey, while Lamb taunts the player all the way.
Despite playing as a Big Daddy, the gameplay remains incredibly similar to the first, with similar weapons and mostly repeat plasmid technology. The character controls at a normal human pace, rather than at the slow, lumbering speed of the finale in the original. The major difference is the player is equipped with the Big Daddy’s drill, which can be used for standard melee strikes or drilling attacks. Either way, once players acquire a decent gun or two, the drill proves to be a moot point, a rather useless tool in the scheme of things while battling through Rapture.
Again, Rapture encourages exploration, with audio tapes providing much more substance to the story and history of the game. Players can also work to find 14 weapon upgrades, some in tucked-away positions. And hacking plays a major part in keeping supplies cheap and security on the side of the player. This time, though, hacking is carried out by stopping a needle on a color spectrum, rather than playing mini-games of Pipe Dream, and the player must still contend with real-time events while hacking. While the colorblind may have issues with it, the new method works well as an expedited hacking system.
In addition to following the major goals of the game, players are tasked once again with battling Big Daddies to get to the Little Sisters they guard. These play out as mini-boss fights, and though the difficulty disappears quickly once the player’s arsenal increases, they’re still a welcome bit of gameplay that helps make us feel right at home in Rapture.
Players have more options with the Little Sisters this time, though. Upon killing a Big Daddy, the child can either be harvested for Adam (the soul currency that is needed to buy plasmid and tonic power-ups), or the player can choose to pick the child up. Each child can then be taken to two specific bodies to harvest the Adam of the dead, essentially what the Big Daddies are taking the children around to do when you decide to off them. Putting the child to work gains the player more Adam. After one or two harvests, the player can take the child to a vent, and either choose to rescue the child, or harvest for more Adam, depending on one’s morality versus need for power.
After all of the Little Sisters are dealt with (one way or another) in a particular area, players must face the series’ newest mini-bosses, Big Sisters. They’re taller, skinnier, faster and generally more aggressive than the Daddies, and wield a few different powers. The battles often play out in a similar manner though, protecting against big attacks and drilling heavy ammo and appropriate plasmids into a well armored enemy.
The first round of dealing with Little Sisters and battling their elder is a fun new experience, but by the second time around, it starts to feel like an obvious device to extend the gameplay hours, simply adding on steps to what gamers did the first time around. Still, with as well as BioShock 2 plays and as much detail as is present in the new settings of Rapture (not to mention totally kickass weapons like the crossbow), there are worse crimes than adding obvious devices to extend gameplay. Just remember to save often, as BioShock 2’s auto save system isn’t very generous, waiting for big events to take note of one’s progress.
What is incredibly impressive about BioShock 2, however, is that while there was no chance of recreating the artistic successes 2K Boston achieved with the original, Marin actually does a quite admiral job of still making BioShock feel like something special, something that stands apart from the rest of the world of shooters. Its world is still fully realized, and though it includes some pointless underwater fare either used to mask loading or to show off the game’s water effects, I was still more than happy to spend extra time exploring every nook and cranny. The sense of wonder is inevitably gone, as players know what to expect this time around more so than the first crash landing on Rapture, and yet it’s still an engaging environment. And while Andrew Ryan was focused entirely on the power of the individual, Sophia Lamb presents the alternative of dedicating everything to the community, and her method doesn’t appear to be faring much better. But it works as a great counter piece to BioShock 2’s predecessor.
Then there are 10 maps and seven modes of multiplayer in a series that never really lent itself to a multiplayer experience. Again, one can criticize every last idea behind the Rapture civil war set-up for the multiplayer mode, but give it a chance and there’s a lot of fun to be had here. It doesn’t rival the pinpoint accuracy and balance of Modern Warfare 2, but BioShock 2 does a great job of utilizing its assets (a research camera to gain damage bonuses on rivals, hacking to set up security and booby traps, and the Big Daddy as a special role to be acquired, while Little Sisters act as Adam gathering flags for certain modes) to create a somewhat unique multiplayer experience.
Toss in the standard ranks, trials and loadouts, and BioShock 2 has an endearing multiplayer mode to extend the hours well beyond the trip through Rapture. Starting players with just a shotgun and pistol for weapons makes it a bit hard for newcomers to take off against experienced rivals, and glitches in the first few weeks meant roughly one in seven games I played got disconnected, setting everyone back to the match-making lobby, without rank credit for the 17-kill, 11-assist, 3-death game they had going. Still, despite some of its faults, BioShock 2 can be a lot of fun online.
So criticizing every departure that BioShock 2 is from the masterpiece of its predecessor be damned. No, it doesn’t resonate as much emotionally, but BioShock 2 is a hell of a lot of fun and still shows a maturity of the first-person shooter genre that remains slightly ahead of the curve. And it’s great to be in Rapture once again.
About the Writer
Bill Jones is the editor-in-chief of padsandpanels.com, a site dedicated to the coverage of games and comics.