When Ken Levine left the Bioshock development team, no one expected much from the game. Having the association with losing the primary visionary (or visionaries) behind the game, is a negative aspect for any game. To shine a ray of light into what sounds like a hopeless review, I would like to state that not all games that are in this situation fail. When Bethesda took over the development of Fallout 3, there was much bickering and doomsaying in the community. Luckily, the game turned out to be a jewel and not just a lump of coal. Now, the questions remains: Will Bioshock 2 be a boon to the franchise or just another sequel that attempts to milk out more money from the devout?
Bioshock 2 takes place after the initial events that occurred in Bioshock. Rapture is falling apart and splicers, big daddies, and hideous experiments are running amuck. A psychiatrist by the name of Sofia Lamb has taken control of most of Rapture and has created “The Family”, a huge group of splicers that scrounge Rapture for more adam, genetic material, that powers all of the genetic alteration that occurs throughout the game. Instead of returning to Rapture, you take the role of subject Delta, a prototype big daddy.
Not only are you swimming around rapture’s decaying architecture, you are actually one of THE coolest characters in a game. Anyone that is dressed up in a old school diving suit and has a drill for a hand can’t be all bad, right? Well, to make your character even more awesome, you are now able to use both plasmids and a weapon at the same time. In the original Bioshock, you were limited to only using one or the other, but now you can use both. This allows the player to take advantage of different strategic weapon combinations to obliterate the opposition. For example, you can use that drill and then use a lighting plasmid to shock the crap out of people before you put that drill through their abdomen. In Bioshock 2, a massive amount of plasmids are added to the mix, both passive and active, and some of them even have different power levels.
Once you get over the fact that you are a big daddy running loose in rapture with a wide arsenal of weaponry available to you, the game surely looks familiar to people who have played the first one. Both the graphics and the sounds that are present inside of the game are reminiscent of of the first. This isn’t a bad thing, as the sights and sounds quickly immerse you in Rapture…and isn’t that the whole point? You are able to see a couple of new creations in Rapture as you run through its corridors. The big sister is a big daddy times two and has a collection of psychic powers to boot. When I first met one on the battlefield, I had my behind quickly trounced and was sent to one of the revitalization machines in a hurry. Since I just returned to life and was able to run back and keep on throwing my body at her limited life bar, the encounters were quickly trivialized. Luckily, you can now turn them off so that death is a much harsher penalty.
If you were expecting the story to be something new and fresh, you might be a tad bit disappointed. There are a couple of scenes throughout the game that make you ooh and ahh in amazement, but after a while, it looks to be more of the same. Don’t take this in a negative light, though. The game kept me hooked throughout its 9 hour single player story, and if it wouldn’t have had captivating content, I would have struggled to complete it. This wasn’t the case as I genuinely cared about the characters and wanted to see what is behind the next door. In Bioshock 2, there are a couple of choices you make that shape the type of person you are in the ending. Also, the little sisters return in a big way. Now when you kill the big daddy that follows them around, you have the option of adopting the little sister and letting her harvest the adam for you. Once you set her down and let her do her thing, you are quickly surrounded and attacked by splicers who want nothing more than to kill you and take the adam for themselves. If you succeed in fending off the onslaught, you can harvest the adam for yourself. Then you have the option of harvesting the little sister or rescuing her. I have a bleeding heart so I rescued them all.
Throughout the single player campaign, you will discover that all those decisions you make will lead up to a couple of different endings. Due to my kindness, I received the happy ending and I felt at peace that I did the right thing. As with the first iteration of the game, Rapture has a boatload of audio recordings scattered about that complete the story. It is easy to miss them sometimes and I believe it does detract from the the player getting the complete picture.
In the original Bioshock, research was accomplished by shooting enemies with a camera. Now you actually shoot video footage of the opposition. Let me tell you, this is much harder than just shooting a picture. In my opinion, it was easier to shoot the enemies picture once and then shoot them in the head. Now you have to let the film roll while you dodge their attacks. Not only that, but it seems you are pretty weak for a big daddy. I understand you are a prototype, but it seems that you can only take a little bit of a beating before you are brought down. Wearing one of those suits makes you think that you are tougher than you really are. The player quickly loses the belief they are a big daddy when they fight their first real “big daddy”. Odd, but I guess it wouldn’t be “fun” if you were as tough as they are.
Not only are you able to fight your way through the single player campaign, but you are now able to jump online via GFWL (Games for Windows Live) and become a splicer who is sponsored by Sinclair Solutions, one of the plasmid manufacturers. As you fight with and against splicers in 7 different game modes, you start to unlock more and more of an arsenal as you “level up”. This sort of reminds me of what Modern Warfare 2 did to keep people playing their multiplayer mode. For the game modes, you have your usual free for all fare and some interesting options where the player becomes a big daddy and can run amuck through the splicers. I played for a while, but the multiplayer component did not really grab me. If you are into that sort of thing, more power to you.
There is one more amazing segment of the game that I have to write about: the score. As with the first game, lots of fifties and sixties music makes its appearance in the game and the music itself adds so much character to the game. I picked up the collector’s edition just to have the vinyl sound track (it also comes with a CD version). Also, listening to the different splicers and the main characters talk, you can see these voices were not “phoned in”. In my opinion, this made the game so much better because I actually believed I was participating in a movie and not just shooting random bad guys because it felt good.
Overall, Bioshock 2 is a good game. Not stupendous like the first one, but then again, it doesn’t have a lackluster ending like the first one did. Luckily, this seems to close the book of Rapture as I cannot see another return trip to the city under the sea. I can wholeheartedly recommend the game if you enjoyed the first one, though. There is one small issue that did crop up after the release of the game that dealt with the DLC. Looks like the DLC was already contained within the release candidate and 2K games only sold unlock codes. I will not take points off for this, but I do believe a person purchasing the game should know this. Other than that, enjoy the game and welcome to Rapture…again!