When BioShock first hit the Xbox360 back in the summer of 2007, many were left in awe by a stellar plot, original gameplay and great customization options, and above all, a gorgeous yet ultimately disturbing backdrop that was the underwater city of Rapture.
Now, two and a half years later, we make our return to the dystopian society in this highly anticipated sequel from 2k Games, ready to explore the submerged depths of the mentally unstable once again, and every bit of it is as eerie and disturbing as it was before. Yet, will returning to Rapture have the same lasting, profound effect as it did the first time around?
If you’re not familiar with BioShock’s lore, here’s a quick rundown: Rapture was created by business tycoon Andrew Ryan in 1946, with hopes of creating the world’s first Utopian society through the power of the individual, casting aside all religions, politics and social conformity. As with most Utopian fantasies, shit hits the fan in a quick 15 years with the introduction of ADAM (stemcells), and ultimately the super-human enhancing Plasmids. Young children, known as Little Sisters, roam the submerged city harvesting ADAM, protected by mentally-sterile humans; the Big Daddys.
BioShock 2 begins eight years after the events of the original, and depicts Rapture now under the control of Sofia Lamb and “The Family.” You play as Delta, one of the first successful subjects of the Big Daddy project. In an effort to reunite with your original Little Sister and Lamb’s daughter, Eleanor, you’ll have to brave the derelict city and the deformed Splicers, while piecing together the events of the past ten years by speaking with a small group of unaffected people and gathering audio journals from times of sanity that are scattered amongst Rapture.
Though it may take a bit to really pick up and it doesn’t leave the same “OMFG!!1@!” moment at the end like the original title, the plot is still very compelling (even with all the retconning of characters). It provides great backstory that both answers questions left from the first installment and leaves new ones that’ll have your craving for more of Rapture’s mysteries. Similar to the original, BioShock 2 will have you questioning and seeking answers to ideals conveyed through the story, greatly enhancing the overall experience through the deeper connections that are formed with the player’s own ideals.
One of my favorite experiences with the original came in exploring and looting each increasingly eerie area, requiring a minute to just sit back and let the wealth of detail put into every visual aspect sink in. Returning to Rapture doesn’t quite hold the same distinct feel, yet the second trip down the rabbit hole is every bit as disturbing as the first. Many of the areas feel familiar, but are now more rundown with eight more years of Plasmid splicing and delving deeper into insanity, especially with Sofia Lamb’s vision of Rapture drastically differing from that of Andrew Ryans’. Rather than a Utopian society achieved through the greatness of the individual, Lamb focuses on the achievements of the community and the power of a bat-shit crazy cult “The Family” that will lead them to salvation.
This leads to some new, beautifully grotesque enemies and the infamous Big Sisters that will stalk your movements throughout Rapture. Big Sisters are a menacing foe; imbued with ADAM since their lives as Little Sisters, these adolescents can quickly destroy you with lightning quick plasmid attacks and high-flying maneuvers. You can run from the hormonal succubi, but you’re only delaying the inevitable; they are relentless in finding and killing subject Delta.
The “new hotness” in BioShock 2 is the ability to play as a Big Daddy throughout the entirety of single player. You’ll get command over the gas powered drill and some newly redesigned weapons, but for the most part, the overall gameplay was left untouched. Like the first installment, each contemporary weapon comes with three types of ammo, and three different upgrades that can be applied from vending machines found strewed across Rapture.
These upgrades will be vital, as combat is heavily emphasized this time around due to the nature of playing as a Big Daddy. Everyone is out to get you and your Little Sister, and you’ll need everything in your arsenal, as well as your surroundings, to bring ‘em down.
Your Big Daddy can hack the numerous vending machines, security cameras and turrets stationed around Rapture to grant you discounts, security drones and some extra defense, respectively. It’s been simplified from the first game, doing away with puzzle-pipe mini game in favor for a more streamlined method, as well as introducing the hack tool that enables you to hack from long distances and comes with handy little mini-turret ammo.
Once you enter the hacking interface, which no longer pauses the game, you’ll only have a couple seconds work with a needle flicking back and forth on a meter with sections colored green, blue and red. Landing in the green or blue sectors the correct amount of times yield a successful hack, while falling in the red will summon security drones. It my be simpler, but it intensifies the chaotic atmosphere as you race against the clock with bullets wizzing by your ears.
In order to keep the playing field even, you’ll have to splice yourself up with Plasmids and Tonics. You’ll have the power over old favorites like Shock and Cyclone Trap, and you’ll get access to new ones like Scout, which lets you explore Rapture undetected, allowing you to stalk and drill-bash your enemies. Tonics will grant you passive abilities, such as dishing out more damage when using the drill or making you immune to electricity damage.
Although they’ve been tweaked, for you can now use both plasmids and guns concurrently, and they look better and work more efficiently, this time around the plasmid system feels underwhelming due to the lack of new abilities introduced. Shocking things over and over got boring in the first one, and it’s no different this time around.
Much like the more contemporary weaponry, your Plasmids and Tonics can also be upgraded, but you’re going to need some ADAM for that. You’ll have to find your own Little Sisters guarded by their own Mr. Bubbles. After you’ve successfully freed the Little Sister by disposing of her Big Daddy, you’ll have the option to adopt or harvest her. Adopting the girl will yield much greater volumes of ADAM, as you can utilize the little wench to harvest ADAM from corpses, known as “Gathers”.
Once you choose to set her down, however, you’ll be faced with waves of enemies that get progressively more difficult as you collect more Little Sisters. The Gathers are a great addition; they create an intense, combat-heavy experience that wasn’t focused on in the original, but lets you play it on your own terms by setting traps and mines for the oncoming psychotics.
After they’ve collected enough ADAM, you’ll then be faced with the same tough decision as the original: do you save the Little Sister and release her from the clutches of ADAM addiction? Or do you harvest her soul for an extra healthy dose of the red stuff? Depending on how you act, you’re choices will affect which one of the six endings you receive.
Also new to BioShock 2 is the story driven multiplayer, which takes place one year before the events of the original game. You play as a splicer in the heat of the civil war between Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine, and you are given a starter kit from Sinclair Solutions packed full with guns, ammo, plasmids and tonics. As you progress the seven modes of play, which are versions of deathmatch, capture the flag, king of the hill, and “oddball” of Halo fame, you’ll increase in rank and subsequently unlock new weapons and plasmids to fight your way through the other splicers and discover the history of Rapture’s civil war. Big Daddy’s are playable as well, granted you can swipe a suit in one of the levels or are chosen randomly at the start of a round.
While being plot-related saves it from feeling completely tacked on, multiplayer is, at best, a side note. Some of the modes are unique for the first couple plays, but after that, just feel like the same old game types with an added bonus of using plasmids. Not to mention, after a good four or five hours and at least fifty different games, I only found a very small handful that were actually playable. Regardless of the game’s or my connection, the lag was just plain awful. It was hard to keep my character going in the direction I wanted him to, let alone grab a Little Sister or kill a Big Daddy.
While the story may not sink as deep and Rapture may not contain the same atmosphere for those who’ve experienced the first game, BioShock 2 still manages to orchestrate a harrowing first person experience. With a strengthened focus on increasingly intense close quarters combat, the storytelling takes a bit of a backseat role, but contains moments of brilliance, and provides further insight to the history of Rapture and the philosophies of its’ most influential residents.
The action fills the weak points of the story, creating a horrifying experience as the screeching music and demented splicers cause the adrenaline to flow and the nightmares to flourish. Throw on your diving suit, grab your drill, and come join the insanity; you won’t regret it.
Rapture is just as beautiful and disturbing as I remember it being. The framefrate was consistently smooth and I encountered no bugs or crashes, just well polished, high detailed visuals.
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Although the core gameplay remains relatively unchanged, the added ability to use both plasmids and contemporary weaponry together is a nice improvement, and makes the intense combat more enjoyable.
The music creates a haunting atmosphere right from the beginning, as footsteps and incoherent babbling echo behind you, intensifying the eerie experience.
The main story will net you about 15 hours, and while you can spend a great deal of time with multiplayer achieving greater ranks and more weapons, its just simply run-of-the-mill.
While it doesn't quite have the same penetrating, vivid experience as the original, BioShock 2 spins a thrilling tale of Sofia Lamb, "The Family," and their maniacal ideals of Utopian society. Multiplayer does have its' high points, but pales in comparison to the finely crafted single player.