In many ways BioShock 2 is a better game than its predecessor. The new weapon and plasmid dual wield system, solid multiplayer experience, the improved research camera and additional enemies are the stand out improvements over the first game. While parts of the game have been tweaked for a better overall experience, BioShock 2 still falls short of reaching the same level of intrigue the first game delivered back in 2007.
This is not a reflection upon the storytelling or game design of BioShock 2 but more of a testament to how original a concept BioShock was and the compelling story that Irrational Games delivered to us. BioShock 2 is very similar to the original in the vein of level design and unique characters. These elements do not have the same impact as they did in the original for the simple fact that most gamers will already be familiar with the setting and eccentric characters.
BioShock 2 once again takes place deep under the ocean in the industrious city of Rapture. Created by Andrew Ryan as a means to free the world’s premiere scientists and thinkers from the constraints placed upon them by society. BioShock 2 takes place ten years after the events of the first game but it has no direct connection to the story of the original besides the setting. You play as Delta, an old model big daddy whose little sister was stolen from him and was left for dead at the hands of the new antagonist Sofia Lamb.
Ten years after Sofia Lamb kills Delta, he awakens mysteriously to find that Rapture has changed tremendously in his absence. Andrew Ryan is no longer the power player of Rapture, Sofia Lamb is. She has organized the crazed splicers under her religious furor and immediately sets them upon Delta.
Sofia Lamb is an interesting additional to the BioShock universe because her ideals differ greatly from the previous leader of Rapture, Andrew Ryan. He led rapture by promoting the idea of self interest among his citizens, their ambitions and determination would be solely responsible for their success. Sofia Lamb has a different approach to leadership than Andrew Ryan, in which she believes in stripping individuals of their own self-awareness and working towards the betterment of the group to achieve a utopian society. The contradictory philosophies provide an interesting contrast between the two games which almost mirrors the capitalist vs. communist ideals that were happening outside of Rapture during the cold war.
Besides the antagonist, 2K Marin has made several changes from the first game which serve as improvements to the overall game experience. There is now a dual wielding system allowing the use of both traditional weapons and plasmid powers. This system provides greater control during fights. There is no more swapping between weapons and plasmids like in the original.
The research camera has been improved by being upgraded to a video recorder over a standard camera. There is no more jumping around trying to avoid splicer attacks while trying to capture an adequate research photo. Instead simply enable the camera and start filming; a grain filter will cover the screen during the fight with the enemy. Depending on how creative the kill is, a better grade will be awarded.
The weapon upgrades are now more substantial with the third tier upgrade providing a special effect to the weapon. Now plasmids are also upgradeable in a similar three tier system with special effects granted on the final tier. The insect swarm power at its basic level will surround and attack and enemy. The third tier improvement to insect swarm creates hives inside the bodies of the dead the act much like a proximity mine. If an enemy passes by, insects will come out of the dead body and swarm the new enemy.
Fans of the first game will recognize several of the enemy variations but there are also a few new foes that can prove to be quite troublesome. The brute splicer is a large enemy class that is slightly more common than a big daddy. It will pick up rocks and hurl them or charge at the player. It is very similar to the tank found in Left 4 Dead.
The big daddies have gotten a facelift from the previous game. Now you will encounter different models of a bid daddy, some with the standard drill, others with rocket launchers attached to their shoulders. There are even “alpha” series big daddies which pack a lot of fire power and are much quicker than the traditional big daddies.
The big sister is the new mini boss type enemy and is the counter thesis to the big daddy. While they both have similar armor, the big sister is much quicker and much more agile. She will often bounce off the ways and charge at you, while making use of both weapons and plasmids. She has a lot of health and is hard to kill.
One of the most interesting new additions to BioShock 2 is the gathering activity. While completely optional, it involves bringing a little sister to collect Adam from dead bodies. Adam is the currency that allows you to purchase new upgrade plasmids.
In the first game you were an outsider looking in on the weird dynamic of the big daddy and little sister relationship. Now you are part of the relationship, and as a big daddy it is your duty to protect the little sister from enemy splicers while she is gathering. In additional to simply attacking incoming enemies with weapons and plasmids, you have the ability to make use of trap bolts, mini-turrets, rivets and hacked security drones.
The hacking process now involves a real time ticker mini game where you have to press the A button to land in a green area. The hacking activities no longer interrupt the flow of the game like the pipe mini game did in the original.
The game mechanics of BioShock 2 are welcome improvements and strengthen the overall experience compared to the first game. The only area where BioShock 2 fails to improve upon its predecessor is the story.
In the original BioShock the process of entering this fantastic world of rapture for the first time and learning about the crazed splicers and the frightening big daddies was deeply intriguing. Uncovering the mysterious origins and fall of rapture was exciting, and with the second game we already know all these things. We are returning to a familiar environment and all these levels of intrigue are not necessarily there. While playing through the new story line and discovering who Sofia Lamb is and what her motivations are is interesting, it does not compare with the story presented in the first game.
The story of the first game revolved around the mystery of rapture and the second game’s focus is discovering more about your character, the fallout of the first game, and the rise of Sofia Lamb. The story in BioShock 2 is in no way uninteresting or unexciting, it simply exists in the shadow of the tremendous story of the original.
Visually the game looks better than the original and has all of the trademarks of Rapture that fans would expect. Water pouring from the ceiling onto Delta blurs his visions momentarily; the lightening effects are great when projecting the characters shadow onto walls. The sound once again fits the world of Rapture perfectly; alarms chirping, splicers heckling, the grunts of the big daddy and the groans of the city itself. There is also a noticeable different in the sounds of main character. Your footsteps and grunts of pain all sound just like a big daddy.
The sounds and visuals as well as the core game mechanics all carry over into the multiplayer without losing any of their quality. While I was initially skeptical of the multiplayer mode for BioShock 2, it has proven to be a lot of fun. There are several different game modes that will be familiar to most FPS fans with a BioShock twist to them. Players will be able to choose different character models that can be slightly customized. There is a load out customization and level up system similar to Call of Duty and eleven different multiplayer maps. During certain game modes, players will also have the chance to play as a big daddy.
BioShock 2 is a great sequel to the 2007 original. It offers a stellar single player experience as well as a solid mulitplayer. It is definitely a game I strongly recommend playing.
This review is based on a retail copy of the 360 version of BioShock 2.