Written by Zack Cain and Seb Parker.
The mere mention of the name BioShock 2 had us eagerly awaiting our return to Rapture, but not everyone shared our enthusiasm. You see, many people have taken BioShock and Rapture into their hearts and consider it one of the best, if not the best game to be released in recent years. So why the big uproar? Perhaps many feared it would somehow ruin their memory of Rapture, and that no matter how good BioShock 2 could be, it would never live up to its predecessor. In many cases that’s true, but with such an amazing setting and so many stories that could be told, not returning to this iconic franchise would be a terrible shame. However, slipping back into Rapture, it was like we’d never left.
When we return to Rapture, the year is 1968. Many years have passed since the events of BioShock, but the place is in no better shape than when we left it. Cue female psychologist Sofia Lamb. Despite her fierce dislike of Ryan and polar opposite political stance (as you will find out through the audio diaries), she’s not all that dissimilar to him. As the story progresses you’ll find out why things aren’t so black and white, in turn making her a convincing villain without the clichés. You play as Delta, the very first big daddy to bond with a little sister. After 10 years of dormancy, you are revived by a Vita Chamber and it’s not long before your little sister- who is actually your daughter, Eleanor- starts sending you messages in psychic form. The tale this time around is a lot less complex and fits together nicely. You have only one goal in mind - recover Eleanor in order to save yourself.
Due to the last game being almost perfectly crafted, 2K didn’t have a lot on their hands when it came to mixing up the gameplay. BioShock 2 surpasses the original in terms of gameplay, with those few annoying creases from the previous game ironed out. Now, being a big daddy requires you to have the mother of all weapons, the drill. This is a great improvement over the wrench: it’s a lot stronger, and though it requires fuel to power, it also serves as a powerful melee weapon with or without. Throughout the game, Power to the People stations are tucked away, just like before, but with more upgrades per weapon. As well as your basic ‘Increase damage’ modifier, you can also upgrade fuel efficiency and gain a drill thrust, devastating to even the most powerful of enemies that you encounter later on in the game. Old favourites such as the shotgun, machine gun and grenade launcher are back, but the chemical thrower and crossbow make way for a spear gun (complete with rocket propelled spears) and a rivet gun, which is particularly useful for setting up traps.
The research camera rears its ugly head once again, but fear not! It’s been overhauled and now captures video, making research a lot easier. Another new addition is the hack tool. Previously, in order to hack a turret or vending machine you had to perform the laborious task of connecting pipes to guide a flow; very mundane and very much gone. Instead, a bar appears with various different colours placed on it, with a moving pin and a countdown. You have to precisely hit the correct colours to complete a successful hack. Green indicates success, blue a bonus (meaning turrets do more damage and vending machines are cheaper), red indicates immediate failure with an alert sounded, and if you miss or hit orange that’s a simple shock and loss of HP. Hacking has a difficulty scale, with safes being the hardest, so the pin moves a lot faster and there are fewer safe zones. The hacking gun allows you to hack far away objects like cameras and unreachable door controls. Above all else, hacking is now much more enjoyable.
The main staple of the gameplay are the myriad plasmids and tonics, and not a lot has changed here. All of the familiar plasmids are back, alongside a few new tonics, but the gene bank has had a makeover. Tonics are no longer set in individual tracks, such as physical and aid. Instead, they’re placed together. With great power comes great responsibility, and as a big daddy you’re tasked with protecting the little sisters against pretty much anything you face. You still have the option to save or harvest, the latter netting you more ADAM, although gathering gives you an opportunity to net even more. Once you have pried away a little sister from its former big daddy, she jumps up onto your back. You then have the option to seek out an angel (juicy dead splicer), in which case a smokey white light will guide you, courtesy of your little sister. Then, the standoff begins. Whilst she’s going about her own business of harvesting ADAM, you have to fend off the hordes of splicers attempting to capture her. After a minute or so, if you’re both still alive, the ADAM is yours for the taking. You can do two gatherings per little sister, and the ADAM soon adds up over time. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because you play as a big daddy you’re virtually unstoppable though. At times, Delta feels nearly as vulnerable as Jack from BioShock.
A new addition to the splicers is the brute splicer. Huge in size and capable of some hefty damage, his signature moves are throwing rubble and charging. Unloading a magazine of bullets into him won’t likely work, so this is the perfect opportunity to discover some new plasmid combos. Although a couple of new big daddy types appear (namely the rumbler, a big daddy that specializes in fire power, and the Alpha Series, which has a similar charge attack to the brute splicer), none of these are a match for Delta. So who could possibly take on that role? None other than the big sister. She’s an advanced form of a little sister, who has become unstable due to Rapture’s environment, her suit constructed from scavenged items.
Before you have the pleasure of meeting a big sister, she will let you know she’s coming. Loud screeching fills the halls of Rapture as the floors start to tremble, and when you finally come face to face, you need to be ready to take on the toughest opponent in Rapture. Aside from her overwhelming agility, the big sister can launch several devastating attacks before you even get a chance to hit back. One of these is her telekinetic pummel, which throws any nearby objects right at you. She also wields huge needles on both arms, for melee attacks, and for extracting ADAM from splicers to regain health. The gameplay in BioShock was already fantastic, but the additions in the sequel make it even more polished.
This time around there’s also a multiplayer offering! This being BioShock, the multiplayer component features a narrative element. Set prior to the events in the original BioShock, the multiplayer aspect puts you in the shoes of a splicer in the middle of the civil war, fighting either for Ryan or Atlas. You start off in your apartment, where you’re introduced to the main features of the multiplayer. It’s a nice touch which makes the multiplayer feel more at home in a game with such a strong single player and story-driven focus, but you’ll probably bypass the apartment altogether after your first couple of visits.
You could perhaps be forgiven for expecting, as many did, multiplayer which doesn’t quite gel as well as it does in other FPS games. However, it in fact works surprisingly well, feeling similar to the TimeSplitters series. All of the traditional modes of play are accounted for and have been given a distinct BioShock infusion – Capture the Flag becomes Capture the Little Sister, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch become Survival of the Fittest and Civil War, and Domination/Capture the Territories becomes Turf War. The final two modes are Last Splicer Standing (where each player only has 1 life per round) and ADAM Grab, which is perhaps the most unique of the modes on offer and tasks players with seeking out and holding the littler sister for as long as possible; the team which builds up the most time on the clock wins.
As it’s set prior to the first BioShock, and you play as a splicer, the gameplay mostly incorporates the original’s plasmid/weapon system, rather than the re-worked system found in BioShock 2's single player. You’ll encounter the trusty machine gun and crossbow, plasmids such as Incinerate!, Electro Bolt and Insect Swarm, and tonics like EVE Saver and Speedy Recovery. To begin with, your options are limited, but as you gain ADAM and level up, you unlock more weapons, plasmids, tonics and character customisation options, so you’ll keep coming back for more. There are even a few items you won’t have encountered in either game, such as the Houdini Plasmid and the Elephant Gun. The maps are inspired by locations which featured in BioShock, such as the Farmer’s Market, the Kashmir Restaurant, and Neptune’s Bounty. These aren’t the only ways in which the traditional multiplayer set-up has been infused with BioShock influences, however. You are also able to hack turrets and vending machines, take research photos of dead opponents in order to increase your damage against them, and even play as a Big Daddy.
From a technical perspective, the multiplayer runs smoothly on the whole, with fewer lag spikes and random host disconnections than you may have come to expect from multiplayer offerings in other FPS games. There is. however, one glaring technical issue which has quickly become frustrating -random game freezes. They sometimes occur whilst you’re moving between menu and loading screens. Fortunately, it’s confined to the multiplayer, and doesn’t venture into the single player game. Unfortunately, it seems to be affecting a large number of people, so it's good to know there’s a fix in the works.
BioShock is not far removed from the original in terms of graphics, and this comes as a disappointment. The world of Rapture that we were introduced to back in late 2007 was, for us, captivating, and beautifully presented with great graphics and lavish style. Fast forward just over two years, and you find graphics which are remarkably similar; the gaming world has moved on quickly and Rapture has struggled to keep up. It’s important to stress, however, that BioShock 2 is still a beautiful game, and advances have been made. The world is more polished, technical hitches have been ironed out, and the levels are much more elaborately designed, creating the sense of an open world: Rapture was, after all, a home and place of work for thousands. Level design which begins to reflect this fact is a welcome advance, although objectives which require you to backtrack will continue to frustrate some players. Just as in the original BioShock, these homes, streets and businesses have been ravaged by civil war. Shops are often boarded up, sandbags double up as makeshift cover and dams to hold back the floods, messages of war are scrawled on the walls, often in blood, and corpses litter the streets, some of the bodies clearly having been tortured grotesquely prior to death. All of this is presented in a wonderful, almost futuristic, 1950 and 60s Art Deco style which contrasts brilliantly with Rapture’s story.
This may very well all sound familiar to you if you’ve played BioShock, and of course it’s undoubtedly true that there is less mystery and suspense to be found in Rapture this time around, but if you loved the style and design of the original there’s still every reason to return, if only to once again be immersed in this twisted underwater world. You are, of course, exploring different parts of Rapture this time around, and there are some unique stand-out levels which truly set this apart from the original.
The music, sound effects and voice acting are all superb, genuinely adding to the game’s atmosphere. Audio diaries make a return, fleshing out the back story to many of the characters, and also proving a great opportunity for Ryan’s presence to continue to be strongly felt long after his demise. One small gripe we have is that audio messages will clash if, for example, you’re listening to an audio diary when you trigger a second audio message that’s part of the main storyline. In these instances the voices will talk over one another and you’ll have to go to the menu screen and select them manually if you want to hear them again. The soundtrack is once again an expert mixture of hits from the era which compliment the time period and the game’s wonderful art style, and an original musical score and ambient sound effects which really cap off the atmosphere which the series in now so famous for.
The campaign is a good length, though it ultimately depends on how much you wish to explore the world and whether you tend to adopt or harvest the little sisters. The ‘moral choice’ focus of the series once again lends itself to at least one additional playthrough, as events unfold and characters react in different ways depending on how you approach these choices. Finally, there are different difficulty settings, as you would expect, and 128 audio diaries to find scattered throughout the world.
For some, BioShock 2 will be a little too close to the original for comfort. The presentation feels much the same, but almost by definition lacks the sense of awe and originality that the first game possessed, and the gameplay hasn't been drastically overhauled. But much of this was to be expected; BioShock itself was a tremendous foundation from which to build upon, and the symbiotic relationship between little sister and big daddy was the perfect place to start. The incredible sense of atmosphere, the most unique of art styles, the newly refined and addictive gameplay with its hint of flare and RPG-like upgrades – it’s all still here and improved upon, placed alongside a brand new multiplayer component which silenced many preconceived doubts. BioShock 2 is a great sequel to one of this generation’s most defining titles.