In general, there are few games that will force you to take a lengthy pause upon completion and push you to simply take a break, making you reflect upon every choice, action and consequence you’ve taken throughout your playthrough and how it shaped your ending. Then again, most games aren’t set in Rapture, the distorted, decaying underwater dystopia which is once again infested with moral dilemmas. Returning to a game that never really needed a sequel and giving it another story was never going to be an easy task, but even though Rapture feels overly-familiar, significant tweaks to the gameplay and a superb story make Bioshock 2 an outstanding sequel to the point of bettering its predecessor.
It’s ten years since the end of the original game and the fall of Andrew Ryan, and you take the role of a prototype Big Daddy named Delta, awakening from a decade of slumber. There’s a new leader in Rapture, and her name is Sofia Lamb. The polar opposite of Ryan, she values the collective over the individual, and has pulled the remnants and peoples of Rapture together to form The Family, to make Rapture in her own image. This wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t kidnapping young girls from the surface to act as Little Sisters, jumpstarting the twisted ecology once more. Not only that, but she is planning on subjecting her daughter and your original Little Sister, Eleanor to ADAM-infused experiments in an attempt to make her a glorious superhuman figurehead for The Family. As Delta, you must save Eleanor for yourself and stop her mother before she destroys her daughter, Rapture and you.
It’s instantly obvious that Bioshock 2’s narrative is a much more personal crusade than the first game, and it’s all the better for it. Eleanor is able to communicate with you every now and then to help flesh out the story further, and thanks to ADAM, that all-purpose genetic material she’s able to communicate with Little Sisters and send you gifts from time to time. As you plow on through the story, meeting Sofia Lamb’s co-conspirators, all-new splicers and multiple Big Daddies, your resolve to save Eleanor and the bond you have only gets stronger. This relationship is really the core of the entire experience of Bioshock 2, and it’s masterfully done.
Sofia Lamb, whilst a chilling character never quite scales the grand malevolent heights of Andrew Ryan. The same could be said somewhat for the supporting cast, but they’re still an absorbing mix of personalities and motivations. Perhaps the most important new enemies are the Big Sisters, Lamb’s personal stormtroopers who used to be Little Sisters but have grown up big, strong and really, really angry. Tremendously agile and powerful, you won’t be beating these ladies easily. If you wanted another indication of just how imaginative this game is, Big Sisters can pull other enemies towards them with their high-powered gun and suck out their remaining health to heal themselves. Gruesome, but effective.
Before talking about the gameplay, it’s worth noting that once again, you have big, moral decisions to make in this game, and they will impact on your experience and ending in a massive way. The Little Sisters are back, sure, but are once again protected by Big Daddies. As Delta, an original Big Daddy, they’re not as hard to take down as you might expect, but you still have to decide what to do with the Little Sister once they’ve been defeated. Harvest or adopt? If you choose to adopt, you can set her down to harvest ADAM from dead splicers around Rapture, and once that’s done, you can rescue her from her plight, as you may or may not have done in the original game. These choices, along with some brutal mortaility decisions scattered throughout the game will shape everyone’s destiny, and it’s another testimony to developers 2K Marin that they were again able to force you to make tough decisions that’ll stick with you long after you’ve turned your console off.
Speaking of adopting the Little Sisters brings with it one of the biggest significant gameplay tweaks from the original. If you choose to adopt, you’ll pop the Little Sister onto your shoulder and go scouting for ADAM-filled corpses. Once you spot one, its your job to set up security, traps and defence measures to make sure that when you set your Little Sister down to harvest, she’s well protected, because of course, splicers will come en masse. Perhaps the best thing about this is the sheer amount of options you have at your disposal for protection, from the recognisable security bots and proximity mines to mini-turret guns and cyclone traps. Every time you set a Little Sister down to harvest, you’re in for an intense few minutes of fighting. And you know what? It’s hellishly good fun.
Aswell as this, Bioshock 2’s gameplay seems to be centered on streamlining the experience as opposed to revolutionising it. Hacking turrets, security doors and safes isn’t an annoyance anymore, and the old pump mini-game has been replaced by simply stopping a moving pointer, abacus style on a correctly-coloured tile. This helps to keep you in the action and it’s an extremely welcome addition, along with a whole host of new weapons to try out on Rapture’s locals. Bioshock 2 seems to be geared more towards larger firefights, so it helps to have weapons like the spear gun that’ll allow you to fire rockets at enemies that macabrely wont explode on impact, but will eventually cause mass devastation. The Big Daddy drill and rivet gun are also worthy additions to your arsenal, and by allowing you to dual-weild plasmids and weapons, you quickly get the intented feeling of being a Big Daddy, but probably more importantly, the combat is much more varied, fantastically entertaining and very enjoyable.
Multiplayer is another aspect of Bioshock 2 that doesn’t seem to have had a lot of press inches in recent reviews, but when playing it, it’s a bit obvious why. It’s still great fun and there’s no real change in gameplay from the single player experience, it’s just taking it’s time to sort itself out. Eventually, the community will increase, its developer Digital Extremes will address its slightly jagged feel and some downloadable content will surely be on its way to help expand upon the rather low number of levels, game modes and avatars. Right now, it’s looking good but it needs some time to find its feet.
Inevitably, its not all plain sailing in Bioshock 2 and the main problem you’ll experience is that we’ve seen Rapture before. Whilst you wont revisit any of the areas seen in the first game, it all looks and feels the same as it did two years ago. Not enough has been done to really change the setting and make it feel like a new visual experience. Rapture is still one of the most fantastically imaginative, interesting and well-realised settings in videogame history, but to a certain extent, your surroundings feel a little too familiar. This is a problem that the third game in the series could also face, and it sets up a massive problem for the developers; where do you take Bioshock next when going back to Rapture again becomes too easy a decision? It’s also worth mentioning that you may experience a few frame rate issues when the number of enemies on screen goes beyond 6 or 7. It’s understandable considering just how much is going on and wont hamper your enjoyment at all, but it’s definitely noticeable.
Having said that, it’s a testament to how well 2K have handled this sequel that everything bar Bioshock 2’s setting has been expanded and improved upon to a great extent. It’s a much more emotionally involving journey with genuinely moving conclusions, and depending on the choices you make, you could see one of 6 different endings. It’s a good bet that you’ll be affected by any outcome, and each one will make you think back to every hard choice you made along the way. Despite Rapture’s effect being slightly diminished, there are still few games out there that challenge you emotionally and mentally as the Bioshock series does and will surely continue to do.
It’s pretty rare that a sequel to one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time can actually provide a better overall experience, but that’s what we have with Bioshock 2. In almost every way, it improves on its predecessor and offers an intense, emotional and fulfilling experience.