Pub: 2K Games
Dev: 2K Games
www: Official Site
Bioshock 2 Reviewed
An air of uneasiness has surrounded Bioshock 2 since its initial announcement. The intent of turning the IP into a franchise was met with even further trepidation upon the news that Ken Levine would no longer be directly involved with the sequel to a game which many would rather be seen left untarnished by assumptively weaker sequels.
Bioshock 2 takes place eight years after the events of Bioshock. Rapture still lies in ruins bellow the Atlantic and is now controlled by a totalitarian Sofia Lamb who, converse to Andrew Ryan, believes that the success of society should be driven by the collective rather than the individual. You assume the role of a Big Daddy codenamed Delta; an idea toyed with somewhat unsuccessfully in the latter, and arguably weaker, third of the original.
Delta, forced to commit suicide after being stripped of his purpose and protectee, Eleanor (Lamb’s daughter), awakens ten years later and finds himself on a mission to track down Eleanor. The games structure is similar to that of its predecessor. Each new section of Rapture visited is treated as a level within which several objectives are given with each area providing multiple routes and open areas to explore at your own will although the nature of the plot dictates that, unlike the original, you can’t go back and explore previous locations once you have left.
Combat is now essentially based around duel wielding a plasmid and gun – each controlled by one of the triggers. As with the first, each gun has a variety of ammo types with varying degrees of damage or area of effect and your arsenal of plasmids ranges from different elemental attacks to unleashing swarms of bees or cyclones to trap your enemies. Playing as a Big Daddy allows for more focus to be put upon melee combat. The iconic drill is now at your disposal and can be used to brutally thump enemies clean out of the way or drill straight into them.
The ability to use guns and plasmids concurrently now expands your ability to experiment on the most effective, and satisfying, ways to take out groups of Splicers and tactics can be quickly adapted to any situation you find yourself in – regardless of its stickiness. There’s very little here that’s new to veterans of Bioshock but everything appears to have been refined and built upon with flexibility in mind. Freezing enemies and then shattering them with a melee attack will still result in no loot to be had whilst upgrading your shock plasmid will still allow you to charge up and stun multiple enemies at once.
The highlights of Bioshock for many were the battles against the Big Daddies themselves. Again, they remain largely unchanged. They won’t attack unless provoked but once aggravated will quickly become the most brutal foe you’ll face. Success still relies upon laying preliminary traps and hacking nearby turrets and drones but, more often than not, even the best laid plans will soon turn into tense games of cat and mouse as both you and your hulking foe slowly inch towards your last slither of health. The primary new addition to the roster of enemies are the Big Sisters. Big Sisters are what have become of the first wave of Little Sisters. Unlike the Big Daddies, they are fast, agile and unpredictable. Victory against a Big Sister draws more upon thinking on your feet and will test your natural FPS skills rather than careful strategy.
Once again, there are three sources of income in Rapture. Cash can be looted from enemies and abandoned stores and is used to purchase ammo and health – both of which you will be noticeably short in supply of for much of the game. Although this does force you into making the most of your whole arsenal rather than just relying on your favourite gun, it can sometimes result in finding yourself in some rather impossible situations if you don’t save often at appropriate intervals. The amount of EVE you have restricts the use of your plasmids and can be topped up by finding hidden vials or can be purchased alongside ammo at vending machines with any spare cash you might have.
Finally, ADAM is again the currency used to purchase new plasmids and tonics to upgrade your abilities. ADAM is extremely short in supply and can only be sourced by harvesting (murdering) Little Sisters or having them harvest it for you from dead Splicers. As a Big Daddy, rather than immediately harvesting or rescuing the Little Sisters that you orphan upon defeating another Big Daddy, you can now adopt them. Once adopted, they can guide you towards corpses rich with ADAM which they will then harvest for you.
Each time you initiate a harvesting session you will trigger a Splicer ambush which you have to deal with whilst protecting your Little Sister from harm. These attacks do become rather repetitive and the rather limited supply of ADAM you receive for completing them really becomes hard to justify considering the amount of ammo and supplies needed to survive the attacks. Essentially, the binary moral choice you have of whether or not to harvest the Little Sisters themselves upon finding them is really a choice of whether you want to immediately put them out of their misery and be rewarded with ADAM there and then or take the time to have them harvest a much smaller amount ADAM for you.
Another feature from Bioshock that has been refined is the ability to research enemies. Research is now commenced by equipping the camera which will then film the targeted enemy for a certain amount of time within which you must try and do as much damage as possible to it. The process of bringing up the weapon menu, equipping the camera and then focussing on the enemy you want to research each time you encounter an opponent can become a bit of a chore but, thankfully, once you pull the trigger to activate the camera, you automatically switch back to the weapon you had equipped before.
Unfortunately, there is one glaring omission in this mechanic; if you attempt to trigger research on an enemy you have already fully researched nothing will happen and you will remain totally vulnerable with no weapon equipped until you re-enter the weapon menu and switch back to something with ammunition in it. Alongside becoming more effective at defeating enemies, extensive research also provides a variety of rewards in the form of new tonic upgrades or abilities.
Rapture itself is still one of the most beautifully realised and atmospheric game worlds around and is bolstered by more than competent audio and visuals. The attention to detail and quality of the audiologs scattered around the city is sublime and the ageing propaganda of Andrew Ryan’s dystopia is used to superb effect; especially when mused over alongside Lamb’s conflicting ideals.
Finally, the multi-player component of Bioshock 2 is far more than a throwaway addition. Developed separately by Digital Extremes, it is impressively contextualised within the universe and surprisingly enjoyable. The multi-player portion is set a year before the original Bioshock and your skirmishes are as a Splicer taking part in the civil war that ravaged Rapture. Gameplay is similar to that of the campaign but noticeably balanced and features a persistent experience system that allows you to pick and mix your own loadouts of weapons and plasmids.
A fully fledged matchmaking system supports the usual roster of modes; deathmatches, CTF variants, land grabs and elimination. Most modes come with a twist inspired by the single player games. In deathmatches, a Big Daddy suit will randomly appear which will transform one lucky player into a Big Daddy which can quickly tip the balance of even the most tedious of stalemates. Assault based CTF matches also see one player on the defending team spawning as a Big Daddy which forces the attacking team to plan out tactics before going on the offense. It’s unlikely to rival the likes of Modern Warfare or Halo, but it’s a welcome addition that adds genuine value to the package
Although Bioshock 2 doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, it has refined and built upon everything that made the original such a great game and is arguably a more consistent and focussed experience. The plot certainly has no ambitions of rivalling that of its predecessor’s but there’s really very little upon which to fault a game with such a deep combat mechanic and well-realised setting but it’s unlikely a third a trip to Rapture would get away with such little evolution. However, for now, Rapture awaits.