This review is written for the installed Xbox 360 version of Bioshock 2.
Did you like the original Bioshock? Of course you did. Everyone did. Now imagine they took Bioshock and made the gameplay better. Not in a dramatic, game-changing fashion, but enough to make a noticeable impact on how you play the game. Also imagine that they took Bioshock and made the story worse. Not in a horrible, mind-numbing way, but enough to make you remember how great the original was. If you can read that and say “that doesn’t sound too bad”, then you should stop reading this review and go buy Bioshock 2, because the fact is that it is still a pretty excellent game. However, if you’re looking for a sequel that lives up to the promise of the original, you may be a bit disappointed.
|The dual-wielding can make a big difference|
I’m going to go ahead and assume that you played Bioshock 1, seeing as how it is one of the biggest and most well-liked games of this generation. Everything from the first game is in here; there’s a wide assortment of upgradeable guns; you get plasmids that can have elemental effects of enemies and the environment; there’s a hacking minigame that unlocks doors or turns hostile machines to your side; you’ll research enemies to gain damage bonuses and other rewards; and you’ve got a light RPG element where you can upgrade your plasmids and other secondary characteristics using ADAM, a resource gathered by saving or harvesting little sisters. While this may sound extremely derivative (and let’s be honest, it is), every aspect of the game has been tweaked to make it just a tiny bit better than in the original. Guns and plasmids can now be wielded simultaneously, a seemingly small addition that actually makes combat more about chaining multiple kinds of attacks together than just spamming a couple extra-effective ones. Also, both types of attacks have an extra upgrade level, that can do things like add an electrical effect to your shotgun shells, or fire a solid beam of electricity from your Electro Bolt plasmid. The hacking is significantly different in that the minigame is now a short, timing based task compared to the pipe-orientation that was in the first game. It’s hard to say whether it’s an improvement, per-se, but it does serve to making hacking a more action oriented task that can be incorporated into regular combat. The photographic research camera from the first game is replaced with a video camera here, a change that is extremely irritating at first but is actually nice once you get the hang of hitting your research target with every type of attack possible before it stops filming. The gene tonic system of the first game is streamlined in that, instead of having four separate skills to place your perk-style tonics into, it’s all funneled into a single row of tonics, a simplification that works out surprisingly well. The final and most significant change in the game is your interaction with Little Sisters, the ADAM gathering girls from the original. You are still given the option of harvesting them immediately, but because of your position as a Big Daddy (oh yeah, by the way, you’re a Big Daddy again in this game), you can adopt the little girls. This means that you get to take them to a pair of corpses and defend them from waves of splicers for a minute or two while they harvest ADAM for you to take later. Hey, you know what makes a game fun? Multiple escort missions! It mixes up the primary combat a bit and makes sense within the context of the universe, but really, it just feels game-y and detracts from the game as a whole.
|The hacking is much, much quicker|
The reason I point out all of these minor points about the gameplay is because it’s really all that Bioshock 2 has to differentiate it from the original. When it comes to everything surrounding that gunplay, all you get is Rapture. Remember Rapture? Remember the moody, post-WWII atmosphere, the art-deco stylings and the audio logs that capture the periods both before and after the fall of the underwater city? It’s all here, largely copy-pasted from the assets of Bioshock 1. There are a few interesting new environments, such as a cool historical museum/theme park that briefly details how Rapture came to be, as well as a prison embedded in the sea floor that has some great views through its long, glass hallways, but all in all, there’s nothing really unique about the feel of this Rapture compared to the one you journeyed through in 2007.
|The short submerged sequences are relatively cool|
The way that Bioshock 2 tries to divert itself away from the original is by changing the tone of the story. The game takes place eight years after the first game, and the effects of Jack (the player character of the original), are still felt. With Ryan and Fontaine dead and Jack himself gone to the surface, psychologist Sophia Lamb now rules Rapture using a socialist framework instead of the objectivism that had been the foundation of Rapture from the beginning. You play as the first successful Big Daddy, Subject Delta, who is revived ten years after his death by his particular Little Sister, who also happens to be the daughter of Sophia. Remember how in the first game there was a portion where your heart slowly began to stop beating? Well your goal of this game is to get to Eleanor Lamb before this happens to you. Of course, Sophia Lamb has other plans for both Delta and her daughter, so you get to fight against hordes of splicers in your quest to save Eleanor and retreat to the surface. Other characters are in play as well, such as Tennenbaum, who returns for a bizarrely short amount of time, and Augustus Sinclair who fills the position that Atlas did as your sidekick/mentor of this game. The thing that bothers me about Bioshock 2’s story is how it tries to take every idea from the first game and stretch in its own unique way. Things like Sophia’s presence, which was never mentioned in 1, make sense even if they need to somewhat retcon the world of Rapture to make her seem to have been around the whole time. Other things, however, stand out as just bizarre when placed in the world devised by the first game. The premier example of this is the fact that apparently ADAM absorbs the memories and personalities of its host, which can then be harvested from their corpse and seen for yourself. It’s a weird “twist” that just doesn’t jive with the core atmosphere of the original, and ends up coming across more as a piece of fan fiction than a coherent, self-contained story.
It’s worth noting that I tried and failed once to complete the game, having only passed the first few levels before giving it up. It wasn’t until all the E3 buzz about Infinite that I decided to go back and play both Bioshock games back-to-back to get myself psyched up. That may be the reason that I have a somewhat negative opinion of Bioshock 2; it just doesn’t achieve what the first game did, let alone surpass it. Let me again emphasize that it is by no means bad or even mediocre, and for ten bucks new there’s a lot of game here to enjoy. However, if you’re a big fan of the original, I really can’t blame you for giving this one a pass and waiting for the actual sequel (/prequel?) that is Bioshock Infinite.
Images courtesy of Giantbomb.com