BioShock, developed by Irrational Games, was one of the smash hits of 2007 and is still highly regarded as an outstanding experience, one of the best in gaming history. Full of objectivist views—often echoing Ayn Rand’s classic novel Atlas Shrugged—and a tale full of deceit and horrific genetic modification, it is revered by many and is considered one of the best storylines in modern gaming, as well as one of the best settings. Obviously, when 2K Marin took on the task of creating a sequel, they had some pretty big shoes to fill. Lucky for them, they’ve got the help of a Big Daddy on his own personal mission.
BioShock 2 puts you in the role of a prototype Big Daddy known simply as Subject Delta. The story initially starts in 1958, two years before Jack’s arrival in the first game. After a run-in with a woman named Sofia Lamb, Subject Delta is taken out of commission and has his Little Sister stripped away from him. The game itself starts ten years later—eight years after the events in the first game—Subject Delta suddenly reawakens and immediately begins his search of his Little Sister, largely unaware of what has transpired over the last several years.
Along the way, you will run into a fair amount of characters, both old and new, as they try to manipulate you for their own needs. It is a familiar scenario that isn’t quite as effective to those who are familiar with the twist in the first BioShock. There are two key things to know about Subject Delta that set him apart from the others: he is the first Big Daddy to be successfully bonded with a Little Sister, and he is also the first to possess free will. There are several other differences, of course, but these are integral to the story, although the latter doesn’t quite seem apparent until later in the game, and even then, there is rarely a strong sense of actually having free will. Due to the linearity of the game, it is more a situation of the character having free will rather than the player having free will over the character.
Fans returning to the franchise should feel right at home, as BioShock 2 feels very much like the first one, which in all honesty was a relief for me. So often, I end up disappointed with sequels because so many of the core gameplay elements have been changed or “improved” when they were perfectly fine as is. Thankfully, that is most definitely not the case here. As is natural, some aspects have been modified, but the most important things have been mostly left alone, which means that even with all of the changes made to the environment and the storyline, this will feel much like the first game. In fact, it will at times even feel better because the improvements made actually do improve the game.
As has been hyped about for months, one other thing that sets Subject Delta apart from the other Big Daddies is that he can use plasmids. But what really puts icing on the cake is the ability to use plasmids and weapons simultaneously. That’s right, no more switching between the two. This makes for a lot of interesting and fun-filled defensive strategies, which will be necessary in the more-hectic-than-ever Rapture. Additionally, there is a number of new weapons and traps that you can lay for your enemies. There is no real explanation for why many of these weren’t available in the first game—has war-torn Rapture really had a chance to develop over the years?—but they prove to be very valuable assets, especially when dealing with the powerful Big Sister who seems to be constantly hunting you down.
Hacking and researching have changed significantly and they are handled in more of a real-time manner. When hacking, we are no longer given the quick Pipe Dream-esque minigame, which is something that I actually enjoyed in the first game, especially because it provided a small break from the action and sometimes even gave me an advantage over my enemies by allowing me to hack turrets mid-attack. Now, hacking is done with a new tool that requires you to press a button at the right time without leaving the action, which means you will sometimes have to choose between hacking and defending yourself. Researching is a bit more interesting and it involves actually recording splicers rather than simply taking a picture. Once a recording has started, you are then given a 30-second timeframe in which you can execute an “interesting” kill and earn bonus points.
Probably the largest fault with BioShock 2 isn’t a problem with the game itself; it is simply the fact that it can’t quite live up to its predecessor. While it is like the first game in so many ways, the overall experience isn’t quite the same because that feeling of entering Rapture for the first time can’t be recreated. We already know what to expect, so the city is no longer scary or mysterious to us, which can be rather disappointing because that was one of the most poignant things about BioShock. You can’t help but go through the game just knowing that they’re going to throw a huge curveball your way at some point. I certainly won’t spoil it for anyone, but when that time does come, it doesn’t have nearly as much of an impact. In fact, there is a decent chance that you will have already seen it coming.
Along a similar vein, the doomful feeling invoked by Andrew Ryan is sorely missed. His voice can be heard in a number of recordings throughout the game, but it isn’t quite the same as having him address our protagonist directly, which was often exciting and foreboding. In his absence, we are given Sofia Lamb, and while she has a fervor for expressing her ideals—which are starkly different from Ryan’s—and is hatching a fairly nefarious plot, it’s hard to not feel like she doesn’t quite live up to Ryan’s image. Many characters similarly suffer from being slightly less engaging than they could have been.
It is somewhat of a disappointment in this regard, but rather than making BioShock 2 a worse title because of it, it is more of a testament to how engrossing the first one was. It raised the bar somewhat unfairly, but the team at 2K Marin made a valiant effort to meet the mark. As long as you can enjoy the game for what it is, you will see that it still has an excellent story. And while Rapture is no longer mysterious, Subject Delta still manages to hold a fairly large aura of mystery that we can gradually unfold by progressing through the game, as well as finding various audio diaries, which fill in some of the blanks and help explain just what was going on during the time between the two games.
One good thing that comes from previous experience—aside from being able to have your wits about you—is that harvesting Little Sisters is now somewhat of a moral dilemma. Knowing what we do about them, it may be a tough call between harvesting them for instant ADAM or adopting them and using them to gather ADAM for you. Should you take the latter route, gathering ADAM will be a more daunting task in which you will have to protect yourself and the Little Sister from an onslaught of crazed splicers. Taking this path will certainly be more time-consuming, but it really pays off in the end. And especially considering the strong bond between a Big Daddy and the Little Sisters, you will likely feel like much less of a jerk if you are someone who is inclined to get emotionally involved with your games.
Every area in Rapture is completely new, so don’t expect all of the old landmarks, although the new locations will still feel very familiar. The underwater areas are a welcome change because they provide a bit of peace in which you have a chance to actually enjoy some of the detailed scenery. While playing through some areas, it would suddenly strike me just how eerily beautiful this place actually is. If it weren’t full of ravenous splicers, it seems like it would be a wonderful place to visit and explore. Although many of the old areas will be missed, these new locations are refreshing and help make up for that loss wide-eyed wonderment.
Those who long for some familiar areas may want to consider spending time in the online multiplayer mode, set in 1959 during the civil war just a year before Jack Ryan’s arrival. When this multiplayer mode was first announced, I found it rather upsetting because to me, isolation plays a huge role in BioShock. So, the ability to go online and play with groups of people made absolutely no sense to me. However, after having played it for a few solid hours with friends and strangers alike, it actually works surprisingly well.
Unlike the multiplayer in most games, this one has a unique story for each of the six playable characters, and each story unfolds as you play and gain rank with a particular character. This provides a fair amount of substance that I wasn’t expecting, and the prospect of finding out more information about Rapture, the civil war, and each individual character is enough incentive to justify playing online. One thing I found interesting is that there is no LAN support or any sort of offline multiplayer, which means that you can only play online with others in their own homes. While this may be an issue with some players, I found it to be redeeming because it almost seemed to cater to players like me who don’t want to lose that feeling of isolation. So, even when playing online with others, I can still get that feeling of being on my own.
Although I normally avoid competitive online multiplayer like the plague, I actually enjoyed myself most of the time. The variety of plasmids and the ways in which use of plasmids and weapons is limited adds a good level of strategy and can make some of the battles quite interesting, especially once you have unlocked a fair number of abilities. However, it can be somewhat frustrating when first starting out and being pitted against other players with much higher ranks and more powerful abilities. This can seem to tip the balance somewhat unfairly, so it is advisable to primarily play team matches or with friends until you have unlocked a couple of things. Surprisingly, the only issue I have with the multiplayer is the lack of dedicated servers, which means each match has a host and if that host leaves, the match is over. I ran into a fair number of people exploiting this when they started losing. But if you can get matched up with a decent group of people, you can actually have a rather fun experience.
Overall, BioShock 2 doesn’t quite live up to the experience of the previous game, but it is still a great adventure that fans will surely enjoy. The music is as great as ever and while that same feeling of mystery and intrigue doesn’t quite resonate, we are still given an interesting story and a fun challenge. Best of all, the majority of the gameplay mechanics have remained, so for the most part, it is essentially the same old game we know and love. Multiplayer, while it has its issues, is surprisingly a welcome addition that provides a fun experience without ever getting in the way or overshadowing the core game. When all is said and done, we have a very solid game here that craftfully expands upon the fascinating BioShock universe.
BioShock 2 was developed by 2K Marin and Digital Extremes. It was published by 2K Games and released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on February 9, 2010.