When first announced it seemed a sequel to 2007’s smash-hit BioShock was as redundant as it was inevitable. As one of the year’s most impressive titles, the original succeeded in delivering one of the most atmospheric standalone experiences of this generation, all while developing a world we could truly get lost in. Much of what made the broken world of Rapture so interesting to begin with – beautiful art deco themes aside – were the many mysteries it harboured. Making use of powerful genetic materials called plasmids, it was your role to traverse this underwater dystopia to unravel the secrets behind its colossal downfall as well as your own place within. While BioShock 2 brings a good deal more to the table with dual wielding and a fresh perspective, the fact these mysteries were explained towards the first’s conclusion has left some fans dubious over a second visit. Is this deep-sea adventure worth the same rapturous applause or should we refrain from taking the plunge?
Set ten years after the events of the first game, the story has you take control of Subject Delta, the prototype Big Daddy long since decommissioned. Armed – quite literally – with a drill or gun attachment in one hand and a plasmid in the other, your task is to smash, grab, scavenge and upgrade your way to victory in an increasingly fierce environment. Much has occurred since the last trip, with Ryan’s political adversary Sofia Lamb rallying her forces to hamper your efforts in reaching the Little Sister who was stripped from you. The quest is much more personal this time, providing more insight into this bizarre father-daughter relationship as well as Rapture’s depraved dealings; rather than playing as an outsider looking in, the story is an internal one and proves all the more engaging for it. The game does an admirable job of moving the tale along at a decent pace and the crescendo of a final act proves far more exciting than the slog that plagued the original. Certain plotlines are still only developed via audio diaries, though these may actually hold your attention this time due to more interesting dialogue.
Despite playing as one of Rapture’s most powerful residents you’re far from invincible, so staying alert and thinking ahead is demanded if you wish to survive for long. Little Sisters can again be left helpless by defeating their Big Daddies but rather than leading to a basic ‘save or harvest’ option another level of complexity has been added. Choose to adopt and you will be presented with the chance to gather ADAM from the lifeless bodies scattered about the environment. Doing so will cause splicers to charge from every angle to interrupt the process, so laying down proximity mines, turrets and traps can tip the scales in your favour if you’ve been thoughtful in your preparation. After a few harvests the process will begin to grind however, so the option to escort the Sisters straight to a vent rather than suffer the onslaught every time comes much appreciated.
The most publicised additions to the sequel are the Big Sisters. Swift and deadly, these plasmid-wielding foes prove a real challenge even for those adept at taking down a Big Daddy with ease. The game even forewarns you when one is approaching, though all encounters are scripted which makes them predictable rather than unexpected, or hanging over you as an ever-present threat. With a loud screech to announce her arrival, you have just one minute to prepare by laying traps, stocking up on ammo and making note of any security turrets or oil spills in the area. The following battles are intense, thrilling and dramatic, particularly on higher difficulties where there’s no guarantee that Delta will come out with the better hand.
Those who found the first game too easy will welcome the tougher challenge, despite the irony of playing as a more imposing character wielding a deadlier array of weapons. Where once atmosphere and a sense of foreboding were the order of the day, BioShock 2 spends much of its time inundating you with well-armed groups of splicers, now rallied by the machinations of the thoroughly insane Sofia Lamb. No longer the stragglers of ten years prior, Rapture’s residents are more aggressive than ever and the story accommodates this change sufficiently. The game has very little downtime and the change in pace makes it feel much more akin to a full-on first-person shooter than its predecessor. The new weapons are themselves more entertaining with a variety of ammo for each; it’s up to you to decide which strategy is best employed for each enemy type. Scavenging money and ammo from the dead has greater importance than before due to the regular depleting of ammo reserves. Additions such as the Rocket Spear, which will propel an enemy forward in a flaming frenzy will likely become a fan favourite and new abilities such as stacking the Cyclone plasmid with flame or electrical effects reveal significant depth to the combat.
As much of the game is about resource management, it won’t be long before Delta is equipped with gadgets to make the job easier. The research camera returns in the form of a film reel that can help to decipher an enemy’s weakness, in turn making you more proficient at taking them down. Far from yanking you out of the experience as the photo camera did before it, researching now proves more accessible without tearing the sense of immersion. The hack tool has also had a makeover, this time featuring a permanent item in your inventory. You’ll still have to gather tools such as Auto-hack but this time it can all be done from a distance and is therefore of greater use whenever a security camera or missile turret stands in your way. In a clever move, 2K has opted to ditch the terrible pipe connection mini-game, which always seemed like far too much work to be bothered with. It’s now a simple test of reflexes involving a sliding dial and the coloured areas in which it needs to be stopped.
Not everything has aged so well though, the biggest issue being a lack of polish overall. While the features of any given splicer are easier to make out and the weapon models outstanding, graphics on the whole have taken a significant nosedive. This latest take on Rapture is rife with muddy textures, pixelated water – particularly on the Playstation 3 – and even though the world is well designed with artistic flair, the fact is it looked decidedly more current-gen two years ago, and will be initially jarring to anyone who has spent time with the likes of Uncharted 2 and Bayonetta. Even so, BioShock 2 runs smoothly with virtually no pop-in, something fans of the original may remember was an issue. Barnacled and run down, the once magnificent Rapture lies in ruins on the ocean floor and, in this regard at least, the developers have succeeded in presenting the world in its dilapidated state.
A controversial addition to the game is the new online component taking place before the city’s fall. Developed by Digital Extremes, the multiplayer offers a number of modes, all of which will seem familiar despite the half-baked attempt at feigning innovation. Civil War is standard team deathmatch, Capture the Sister sets one team as defenders and the other as attackers while ADAM Grab plays as a free-for-all with victory awarded to the first player to keep a Little Sister for three minutes straight. There are a few other match types but they all come across as derivative and unimaginative – instead serving as the obligatory attempt at cashing in on net play’s growing popularity. Although plasmids do feature it’s simply not enough; BioShock 2’s multiplayer feels just as shoehorned in as fans will have feared due to a lack of creativity and a budget feel, especially when compared to any one of last year’s big releases.
BioShock 2 is an enjoyable experience in its own right regardless of the few niggles which hold it back from being a true masterpiece. The game is unmistakeably more focused on combat than its predecessor, whose shadow it fails to step away from due to lack of atmosphere courtesy of a removed sense of isolation. Thankfully, the weapons have never been more thrilling to wield, the powers never more necessary and the enemies never more challenging. Taking arms against a Big Sister complete with telekinesis and fire abilities has to be seen to be believed and even though the graphics as a whole have taken a hit, the game redeems itself with an affecting storyline that triumphantly overcomes the disconnect between player and protagonist. True enough, the multiplayer suffers from the ‘me too’ syndrome but it’s unlikely that people will be picking this up for its online capabilities. BioShock 2 expands the world, evolves the series and proves itself an excellent purchase for anyone looking to journey to a world beneath the waves.
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