BioShock 2

BioShock 2
BioShock 2 Cover
Platforms Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows
Genre The Big Sister of shooters
Score 8  Clock score of 8Gameplay: 10
Fun Factor: 8
Gfx/Sound: 8
Story: 6
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The sequel to the original BioShock has finally arrived, and boy, is it good! BioShock 2 returns the player to Rapture, the underwater city dreamed up by Objectivist Andrew Ryan. Many gamers were skeptical of the need for a sequel, myself included, but developer 2K Marin made me a believer.

I'm not sure how much more I can say without actually reviewing the game, so let's just get into that. As usual, the multiplayer aspect of the game will not factor into my final opinion very much but I did play it for some time and will provide my thoughts on it. This review is based on the Xbox 360 version that 2K Games provided me a review copy of. I am also a big fan of the first game and you can read my review and thoughts on the original BioShock for comparison if you'd like.

Finally, check out the first hour review of BioShock 2 if you're interested.

BioShock 2 looks, feels, plays, sounds, and scares like BioShock 1

This is a good thing! BioShock was an awesome game that had "The Total Gaming Experience." It was one of the most distinctive games of all time, no other game that I had ever played came close to the unique experience of BioShock. No other game had such an intriguing, deep, wonderfully shocking setting such as Rapture. No other game had me hating and admiring the Big Bad like Andrew Ryan. No other game had such intense, insane firefights that made you wonder how you could possibly still be in control of what's going on like BioShock.

That is, until BioShock 2.

These were my requirements for a BioShock sequel:

  • Set the game in Rapture: Check
  • Don't make me constantly babysit the Little Sisters: Check
  • Don't mess up the gameplay: Double check
  • Somehow top Andrew Ryan: Hmmm...

As you can see from the requirements checklist I have just laid out a week after the final product was released, 2K Marin pretty much succeeded in meeting my goals. BioShock 2 is a true BioShock game.

Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabitants of Rapture

I love Rapture. Maybe it's because I don't like scary films or games and the idea of venturing into a place like Rapture makes me seem... very brave! Part of it is probably because after I read Atlas Shrugged, I had visions of unregulated utopias like this, and Rapture was that idea brought to life, for better or worse. But undoubtedly, I love Rapture because the place lives and breathes atmosphere. Its halls are lined with trash, graffiti, and audio diaries from citizens long dead. The people who are left are insane, sent off the edge by an ADAM addiction, and controlled by the dark hand of Sofia Lamb. And of course, the Big Daddies stomp around looking for their Little Sister.

Rapture is a character in itself, and BioShock 2 explores more of its dark corners. Early in the game we head to Ryan Amusements, a carnival of sorts used to fill the young minds of Rapture with Andrew Ryan's propaganda. It's a great way to refresh yourself on the history of the underwater city, and also reinforces the fact that the dead Ryan still has influence over his legacy. Each area in the game was memorable and had its moments, if not as definitive as the original.

Each new stage has you encountering the lone, (mostly) sane person who begins radio contact and either threatens you or asks for help. It becomes a bit repetitive after a while, as it becomes obvious what's going to occur: get off the train, Sofia Lamb's local splicer leader radios in and tells you to get out, and then you traipse around unlocking the door to get on the train again. While this is obviously a bit simplified, the general framework is ever persistent. What makes things unique are the locales and the personality you clash with. They're generally well written but mostly there to build up Sofia Lamb's character.

You do get to make some interesting moral choices that aren't just about whether a Little Sister lives or dies, I had to stop and think about a few of them.

Bioshock 2 Big Sister Stare

Little sister is all grown up

One of the big deals made about BioShock 2 were the Big Sisters: agile and powerful, the Little Sisters from years ago grew up and were corrupted by Sofia Lamb and forced to fight for her. I was surprised at their relatively minor role in the game, I was imagining that there was just one Big Sister roaming Rapture doing whatever it can to stop you, instead, they're more like plasmid-wielding Big Daddies. The moment I killed my first Big Sister, I knew that they were just another enemy to face off against, and they actually only arrive after dealing with all the Little Sisters in a level. A bit disappointing, honestly.

We can't discuss the Big Sisters though without touching on Rapture's original symbiotic relationship: the Big Daddy and Little Sister. In BioShock 2, you of course play as a Big Daddy, one of the originals and the only one left with free will. Turns out, you were actually bonded with a Little Sister ten years earlier, and that young girl happened to be Sofia Lamb's daughter. Lamb doesn't want her daughter Eleanor to have a "father" though, and in the opening cutscene confronts you. Fast-forward to present time and you suddenly re-awaken though mysterious circumstances, longing to be reunited with Eleanor.

Regular old Little Sisters and Big Daddies still roam the halls though, and once again, you can choose to fight the Big Daddy and then either harvest or rescue the girl. This time, however, you have the option of having them collect a bit of ADAM first from some dead bodies. This is the part I feared the most: that BioShock 2 would be one giant escort quest. Thankfully, it's not. The Little Sister defense sequences are one of the most enjoyable parts in the game because they are encounters you can control. Fill the room with traps, proximity mines, and hacked turrets, and then finally tell the Little Sister to start extracting ADAM from the corpse. A frantic few minutes of anarchy then ensue as baddies stream out of every crevice (and also annoyingly spawn in corners behind you sometimes) as you defend the helpless girl. Well, actually she's not that helpless, she is invulnerable, and basically as long as you can hold out yourself, you'll collect the ADAM.

Bioshock 2 Big Daddy Bouncer Battle

The organized chaos of battle

What 2K Marin really managed to improve on was the gameplay. In my original review of BioShock, I said, "there's nearly an infinite number of ways to duke it out." Well, obviously infinite wasn't big enough because BioShock 2 really ups the ante. While the weapons and plasmids aren't that much different than the first, the best new feature is that you can "dual wield" them at the same time. In the first game, you had to switch between whether you wanted a weapon out or a plasmid power, but now in BioShock 2, you never have to worry about it. The R trigger shoots your gun and the L trigger controls your plasmid. It's intuitive and simple, but yet a huge improvement over the old way. You can now shock a baddie and instantly drill their throat out. I like my drilling of throats to be easily executed, and this succeeds.

Another great gameplay improvement is you can now melee with any weapon! I'm a big fan of meleeing in first person shooters, which is why I was probably so attached to the wrench through BioShock 1. In BioShock 2, you get the Big Daddy drill to use, which is great and all, but you also can smash a splicer face in with the butt of your shotgun if you so like. The battles have really been streamlined now, in my opinion, and can you imagine getting pistol-whipped by a Big Daddy? Ouch!

The passive-ability granting gene tonics also make a return in BioShock 2, and again, have been improved. The limit of available slots has increased from 12 to 18 and you are no longer limited to only putting "physical" tonics in the "physical" track. Slap whatever you want on yourself as long as you can afford it. They also added some pretty cool new tonics, one in particular that really stood out was Drill Specialist. This one restricts you to only using the drill as a weapon, but also significantly reduces the cost of using plasmids, effectively making you a mage-like Big Daddy. This one tonic totally changes how you would play the game, great idea! I'm just sad I never found my favorite tonic from the first BioShock: Scrounger.

The upgraded plasmids are also pretty neat: the third tier of Telekinesis allows you to pick up splicers and toss them around, and the second and third level Security Command allows you to summon friendly security bots. The amount of ADAM really limits you on what you can buy though, especially early on if you're saving the Little Sisters. So be prepared not to be able to buy everything you'd like.

BioShock's hacking mini-game has been totally reworked, and for the better. No longer does the world around you magically freeze as you play a round of Pipe Dream, but now you must hack the machines potentially in the heat of battle. The hacking game itself is very basic, just stop the needle on a happy color and just pray you don't land on the red zone (which cues the security to start klaxonning). It's all the more stressful though if the turret you're hacking is shooting at you at the same time! 2K Marin happily provided a hacking gun though, which allows you to shoot a dart at a camera or turret and then scurry around a corner.

One last gameplay aspect I want to touch on is the new video camera. BioShock 1 featured a regular camera that let you take pictures of enemies and research them while they're on fire or going nuts. This would net you bonuses against them which were especially useful against the Big Daddies. BioShock 2 has a full video camera, which you start rolling right before you begin a fight. The game then grades you on how well you fought them, awarding you extra points for style and uniqueness. Along with getting damage bonuses though, you also are some times awarded with gene tonics! Sweet! My only complaint about this is that there's an achievement for maxing out research on all the baddie types, and once you actually get the camera, you'll hardly encounter any more Thuggish splicers! Get those guys finished off quickly!

Bioshock 2 Andrew Ryan Amusements Statue

Lamb of the people

BioShock 2's antagonist is Sofia Lamb, an altruist and philosophical opposite of Andrew Ryan. She brainwashes many of the remaining citizens of Rapture to join her cult, The Family. With Ryan gone, she fills the power vacuum and takes control of the city. Once again, free will is a major theme in the BioShock series as Lamb begins to eradicate any sense of it in her followers. Things go from bad to worse though when her daughter is kidnapped and made into a Little Sister, Sofia Lamb actually sees this as an opportunity to use her daughter for her own personal gain.

My biggest problem with her was that she was completely unsympathetic. At least with Andrew Ryan, we get a glimpse into his past and see an optimistic and confident man, with hopes and dreams for Rapture. Lamb just wants to draw more and more power from her collective. If it weren't for another character, Andrew Ryan would have once again stolen the show as we learn through audio diaries how he let Sofia Lamb into Rapture against his better judgment, and then be beaten by her in public debates.

The other character I mentioned though, was Eleanor, Lamb's daughter and the Little Sister bonded with the main character. She's witnessed first hand the atrocities performed by her mother, and sees her Big Daddy as her and Rapture's only hope. The story is really about her though and she drove the last few hours of the game with a great fury. Without her story arc so deeply intertwined with the plot, I fear the game would have really dragged on near the end.

Multiplayer

Just a few thoughts on this as I'm still playing and enjoying the multiplayer side of BioShock 2. The matches move a bit slower than I expected, but remind me of playing shooters like Perfect Dark and TimeSplitters. Using plasmids and guns definitely adds a bunch of depth to the skirmishes, along with the ability to hack turrets, plant traps in vending machines, and even become a Big Daddy! This may be due to timing, but I found it took a long time to get into a group, sometimes as long as five minutes for the required number of people to join so we could play. This really discouraged me from hopping from mode to mode as it seems once you're established with a group, you stick with them.

I like the idea of customizing my character and taking on challenges and growing my character ala Modern Warfare. It's giving me a reason to go back to it every night when I could be playing many other games. As I'm not a huge online gamer though, I put most of my attention towards the main game. I see the multiplayer as a great bonus on an already great game.

Bioshock 2 Atlantic Express Entrance

What was awesome: All the gameplay improvements to an already stellar base. No two people will play this game alike, and that's an understatement. Also, a few words: Little Sister collecting Big Sister parts. Yeah, that was awesome. Awesome!

What I liked: While Sofia Lamb was a bit underwhelming, Eleanor easily made up for her (no, I'm not implying that Eleanor is a bad guy or anything). I'm not sure if I've ever seen a father/daughter relationship like this ever before in a video game.

What I didn't like: This is a video game, give us a final boss! I'm not one of those guys that complains, "oh blah blah this boss doesn't make any sense, it would have been better without them." No. I love final boss encounters because it gives the developers a chance to mix everything up while forcing you to use absolutely everything at your disposal.

Scores

Gameplay: 10
The gameplay has definitely improved since the first one with the ability to wield plasmids and weapons at the same time and all the new abilities available to customize your character with. Combat is still great fun, recording videos is much more fun than taking random pictures of enemies, and hacking has been thankfully simplified.

Fun Factor: 8
All the gene tonics and plasmids are super fun to play with and configure, but I started feeling really overpowered near the end. With the help of research on some of the tougher enemies, the last series of battles was an unfortunate breeze. But really, this game is sadistic fun and a bit scary at the same time! A final boss wouldn't have hurt, though.

Graphics and Sound: 8
Not a whole lot of remarkable improvements over the original, which is definitely disappointing. There was a really well done level late in the game though where you get to see the world through another set of eyes, that was jaw dropping! BioShock 2 is chock full of voice acting though if you're willing to listen. The audio diary glitch is still around though where another entry will play after you finish listening to the new one.

Story: 6
Rapture is awesome, but Sofia Lamb is no Andrew Ryan. She did some despicable things and you hate her for it, but there's no final confrontation with her and there's barely a moment where you see her utterly defeated before you. I was disappointed with her, especially as she's the driving force behind the new story. I was surprised with Eleanor though, and the game's story is redeemed by her presence.

Overall: 8
BioShock 2 is a very good game but simply has too much to live up to to be really astounding. If you enjoyed your first foray into Rapture, absolutely give BioShock 2 a chance, I believe you will enjoy it. However, if you're new to the series, start at the beginning.

Bioshock 2 Little Sister Statues

Comments

Scrounger

just reading your very accurate and lovely review of bioshock2 and i just thouht i would tell you (if u didnt already know) how to get the scrounger tonic its a level 4 research from a thuggish splicer. i love this game and i like to try and get all achivements for it so hope that my information was helpful and i hope you do the revie for bioshock 3 (and there is going to be one!).

Scrounger

Cool, thanks for the tip!

Was it really necessary to

Was it really necessary to spoil most of the game? The review is good and informative, but I think I'd rather NOT know that *something happens* later in the game, or that *something else happens* in the opening scene. No matter how small or big these moments are, they're still spoilers, and the impact of them would have been so much bigger had you not mentioned them.

*Spoilers removed by review author per comment below.

Hmm... I apologize

Necessary? No. And here's my honest apology for spoiling it: I'm sorry.

I hate spoilers as much as the next guy, probably more as I have a friend who doesn't care if you spoil the biggest thing in the world for him and I argue with him about that a lot.

All I can say is that I'm still developing my writing voice and I'm trying to walk that line of being informative and not spoiling things. Thanks for your opinion, I'm going to clean up the things you pointed out in the review, and "censor" your own comment from spoilers.

This is actually the second spoiler comment I've had in the last few weeks so I'm going to take it as an indication that I need to cut back on the story comments a bit. Honestly, thanks for your input and I hope you keep reading the site.

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