Bioshock 2 Review

9 05 2010

Rapture loses some of its luster the second time around, but a fresh coat of paint on the combat makes this sequel shine through some story flaws.

The first Bioshock was hailed (and rightly so) as one of the best shooters of this console generation, if not one of the best shooters ever, period. With the eerie ruined objectivist utopia of Rapture as a backdrop, 2K Boston crafted a tense shooter experience with a wealth of tactical options via the use of plasmids. The ability to not only gun people down with a shotgun, but also blast them with ice, fire, or stinging insects gave the player a true sense of power as you gained more and more abilities. Now, with Bioshock 2, 2K Marin gives players an even bigger power trip.

This Big Daddy is about to get owned with the equivalent of a nail gun.

You play as Delta, a Big Daddy prototype with the ability to wield both conventional weapons and plasmids. Instead of a wrench, you start off with the iconic drill, which hits much, much harder and is exponentially gorier. Delta doesn’t quite have the heavy, lumbering gait of the other Big Daddies, presumably because he’s an earlier, lighter model. Not having to swap between plasmid abilities and weapons seems like a big deal at first, but I rarely used them both at the same time. An interesting new tweak to the progression of more and more powerful plasmids is the changing effects of the higher level plasmids. Ignite now turns your arm into a flamethrower later in the game, Winter’s Breath turns enemies into freeze bombs, etc. All of this newfound power is very handy, as the number of Splicers you face at any given time has increased from 2-3 at a time to 4-6, maybe even seven at a time. New Brute Splicers and Rumbler Big Daddies add even more to the challenge, though for the most part you will be fighting the same guys you fought on your first foray into Rapture.

From the Brute's accent, you'd think that at one point Rapture was overrun with soccer hooligans.

The biggest change in the gameplay is the option to “adopt” Little Sisters, and harvest them outright or guard them while they gather more Adam, with which you buy more plasmids and Gene Tonics (upgrades like running faster, more drill damage, etc). Once you adopt one, she can lead you to corpses filled with Adam, which she can harvest. These harvesting session play out like escort missions, where you are stationary and must protect the Little Sister from the hordes of Splicers that will descend onto your position, drawn by the sweet, sweet smell of Adam. Luckily, much like the first game, you can turn the environment against your enemies by hacking turrets, cameras, and drones via a simplified mini-game that can get hectic really fast if you screw up. Many of your weapons have special ammo that is also tailor-made for protection, including proximity mines, mini-turrets, and single-shot “trap rivets”. Not only that, but you can also use the Cyclone Trap plasmids (along with, later, fire, ice, or electricity) to fling your foes screaming into the air. It’s pretty hilarious, especially when they’re on fire.

How much would it suck to be set on fire and then gored to death? This guy is about to find out.

Once you harvest/free all of the Little Sisters in a level, you get to meet the big new addition to the Rapture family: the Big Sisters. The first few battles with these screaming, agile, plasmid-throwing banshees are pretty intense, as were your first meetings with the Big Daddies of Bioshock, but eventually, as you power up and she stays the same, and appears at the same time every level, taking her down becomes a breeze. I think it would have been cooler and added much more tension if they were just loose in the levels, or released at different times, so that the player never knew when she is coming. It would have added a nice air of impending doom, to hear her scream at the worst possible moment, letting you know she’s coming, but you’ve only got seconds to get ready.

She's like a bulky, clunky ninja. That screams. Ok, so she's nothing like a ninja. But she will kick your ass if you're not ready.

The levels of Bioshock 2 never get mundane or repetitive, but they do feel like levels instead of actual places. Taking away the ability to go back and explore places you may have missed, and instead making fairly linear, “grab this key/item and open this door” areas with vague themes detracts a bit from the lived-in feel of the first Bioshock. However, one can’t deny the desolate beauty 2K Marin’s version of Rapture. The underwater segments, where you go outside the city and walk on the ocean floor are cool and add atmosphere, but it would have been nice to have some combat in such an environment. Or anything to do, really, as all you are tasked with doing in these areas are walking from point A to point B, while staying on the lookout for Adam-filled slugs, which themselves are scarce.

It's like walking around your aquarium.

The story, while not as complex or engrossing as its predecessor’s, is a fascinating one nonetheless. Subject Delta was the first Big Daddy bonded to a Little Sister, in 1958. However, your Little Sister, Eleanor, turns out to be the daughter Sophia Lamb, a psychiatrist devoted to the idea of an ultimate socialist utopia, where everyone gives everything for the good of “the people”. If you’ve played the first game, you know this is in direct opposition to Andrew Ryan’s objectivist vision of Rapture, and as a result a civil war breaks out. Lamb has you (Subject Delta) kill yourself in front of Eleanor, and the next thing you know it is ten years later and you are somehow alive, and looking to reunite with your Little Sister. While you were out, Bioshock happened, and now that Andrew Ryan is dead, Lamb has begun remaking Rapture in her image.

You will get so tired of hearing this bitch talk about her "family".

As in the first game, details of the story are filled in via audio diaries spread around the levels. All of these are well-acted (as is the in-game voice acting), but to me they ended up falling kind of flat. In Bioshock, they were a window into a happier time, and over the course of the game the horror of what Rapture was becoming crept into the characters’ recorded thoughts. It added a bit of melancholy that was bittersweet, and I found myself kind of sad at what had happened to a place with so much potential. In Bioshock 2, the audio diaries simply move the story along, or tell you a code to a locked door. It’s kind of a small gripe, but the mood that the first game’s audio diaries added to game was part of Bioshock’s charm, and I hate to see that tossed aside.

Not that horrifically deformed dudes jumping down at you from the ceiling while wielding a sickle isn't atmosphere enough.

Now to address what has been probably the most controversial part of Bioshock 2, its multiplayer component. The verdict? Meh. It’s fun, and the various game types are interesting (such as a variation on CTF called Capture the Sister, and the inclusion of Big Daddies in most game modes), but ultimately it’s nothing special, doesn’t detract from the single player, and most people will play it once and forget it, much like I did. I will say that it seems a bit easier on newer players, but this is not going to eat up many nights that couldn’t be better filled by Halo, Modern Warfare, or Battlefield. Praise must be given to the developer, however, for crafting a story around the multiplayer, especially one so engaging. Basically the multiplayer is set during the Rapture Civil War, and you play a Splicer testing out new weapons and plasmids for Sinclair Solutions. I wish more developers would put this kind of care and thought into multiplayer, it’s just a shame that even now online games are tough to find except for prime time.


This game comes with my highest recommendation. It’s rare these days to find a shooter with such outstanding writing and lofty ideas, and if you like a little brains behind your FPS, you’ll dig it as much as I did.

Follow me on Twitter! @CharlieHamlin

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