Bioshock was, quite rightly, awarded several Game of the Year awards by many publications and websites. It was a stunning tour de force of a title that proved gaming had truly grown up, with an excellent story and superb atmosphere in a unique and absorbing world. As it was viewed as a real, bonafide landmark title by almost everyone who laid eyes on it, any follow up was going to have more than its work cut out for it, and Bioshock 2 is going to be closely scrutinised and criticised by everyone. It’s got hard times ahead, make no mistake.
Luckily, despite several setbacks, and a worrying ‘too many cooks…’ developer list behind it, the end result has turned out to be a pretty good effort, but is it good enough to topple the original?
Taking place 10 years after the original game, Bioshock 2 puts you in the role of the prototype Big Daddy, predecessor to the many stomping giants that made your life difficult in the original. After a harrowing event in your life as a Little Sister protector, which I won’t ruin for you here, you awake in the creaky, leaky underwater dystopia of Rapture, unaware of what’s really going on.
All you do know is that your assigned Little Sister isn’t around, and you’ve got to find her, as well as fight for your very life, thanks to new head villain, Sofia Lamb, a self-made messiah filling in the power void left after the first outing. Of course, the story isn’t that simple, and it soon twists and turns, as you meet the inhabitants of Rapture, but as the story is so important, I’m not going to risk spoiling it for you here.
As soon as you fire up the game you’ll be in familiar territory, and the look and feel is almost identical to the original. Visually, the game is still great, and controls are very similar. Rapture is just as absorbing as ever, and the ruined underwater city is in an even greater state of disrepair, if that’s possible.
Foes are all initially familiar too, including throngs of insane Splicers, the city’s rather unfriendly security systems and, of course, Big Daddies and Little Sisters. However, it’s not long before you meet the game’s major new foe, the Big Sisters. These are fast, agile foes that make Big Daddies look like pussycats. Confrontations with these fearsome foes aren’t as dynamic as the developers would have us believe, though, and they’re scripted, but running into one is still reason to change your pants.
You’ll also soon notice some fundamental changes that have been made to the game mechanics, many of which are welcome additions that help Bioshock 2 flow far more fluidly than the first. In particular, the control system has been tweaked. As a Big Daddy you’re now able to wield a weapon in your right hand, and fire off Plasmids with your left, all without having to swap between the two as in the first game. This works very well, especially when using the one, two attack of shocking a foe and then lamping them ‘round the head. Couple this with the new drill arm weapon, a staple Big Daddy armament, and you’re onto a winner.
The Pipe Mania-style hacking mini-game is no more, replaced by a little reflex testing game. This may sound simple, and it is, but it works very well, and is all done in real time, without pausing the game or going to a separate screen. This is a real relief, as one of the hiccups of the first game was definitely the stop/start nature of the hacking diversion.
The Plasmid system has been altered slightly too. Instead of Plasmids now simply getting more powerful as they level up, some evolve into entirely new powers, opening up more tactical options. Sadly, many players will still gravitate to the staple, tried and tested Plasmids like lighting, incinerate and freeze (with the latter being particularly effective in combat), but with the range of options on offer, there’s plenty of room to experiment.
Weapons have also been beefed up. Well, you’re a Big Daddy, after all. Instead of Jack’s smaller hardware like pistols and Tommy guns, this time you’ll wield rivet guns, rotary machine guns and more. These heavy weapons are initially surprisingly weak, but, as in the first game, you can use Power to the People machines to modify them, making them more powerful, and also granting extra abilities. Weapon ammo types also return, and scavaging for and conserving ammo is even more important here than in the first.
The Little Sisters also return, which is to be expected as you play a Big Daddy, and they also reprise their role as the major currency for Plasmids. However, while Jack simply had to defeat a Sister’s Big Daddy guardian to get to them, this time you have to defeat a Sister’s current Daddy, and then take over as her guardian (you’re the Daddy now! Ahem… sorry).
With Little Sister in tow, you have to take her to specific Splicer corpses and then drop her off to harvest Adam (the power used to acquire Plasmids, in case you didn’t already know). While she gathers this, waves of Splicers start to attack, and you have to protect your cute little helper. Cast your mind back to the Big Daddy training course at the end of the first game, and you’ve got the picture.
This makes for some hectic defensive battles where you need to use traps and anything you can find to give you the edge. Unfortunately, this is done for each Little Sister you find, and some may quickly tire of the repetitive harvest and defend mechanic, but I found each engagement enjoyable, and it really makes you think about your tactics (especially if you play on Hard, something I’d highly recommend Bioshock vets and experienced gamers do).
Once you’ve gathered enough Adam, you then need to take your Little Sister to her hidey hole in the wall. Here you then chose whether to cure her, or harvest her. The latter grants you more Adam, but kills the little girl (you monster!), while the former grants less Adam, but will give you less nightmares of your evil doings, and you may just get some pressies left for you later on.
Progression through the game is far more linear than the first. There’s no real open world back tracking as such here, and while Rapture is just as engrossing as ever, you can’t help but feel as though you’re being sheep herded through the dysfunctional urban nightmare.
Bioshock 2 also suffers noticeably from a lack of mystique. One of the greatest aspects of the original was the wonderment and mystery you experienced as Jack, as he discovered this bizarre and amazing construction under the sea. This time, and obviously unavoidably, this mystery just isn’t present, and you’ll find everything very familiar, having seen it all before.
That’s not to say Bioshock 2 is short on surprises and a great story. Far from it, Rapture has more than enough to offer, and the story is, while not quite up to the standards of the first, still great, with Sofia Lamb being a suitable replacement to Andrew Ryan (who also returns in many voice recordings). The little additions like walking around underwater outside of Rature’s halls is a nice, if fairly mundane touch, and there’s some nice set pieces thrown in to keep you on your toes.
As well as the single player, there’s now also a multiplayer element. I’m focusing on the single player here, as I feel Bioshock really is all about the single player story. That said, the multiplayer mixture of guns and Plasmids makes for some interesting online action. It’s certainly not going to topple the likes of CoD or Halo, and as with many flirtations with new multiplayer bolt-ons, I can’t see players sticking around for long, but it’s a welcome extra to add longevity to the game.
I must admit that prior to release I was more than a little sceptical about Bioshock 2. I liked the original so much that I couldn’t help but fear for the sequel’s quality, especially with the change of developer and setbacks. Thankfully, although the sequel doesn’t quite top the original in my opinion, it’s still a superb title that begs to be played. It improves upon some of the shortcomings of the original, and while the feel and atmosphere isn’t quite as impressive as the first, Rapture is still a place you won’t want to leave until the credits roll, and even then, there’s the multiplayer to have a go at.
Bioshock 2 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.