The star of Bioshock wasn’t Jack, the Big Daddies or even Andrew Ryan – it was Rapture, the underwater city that acted as a living backdrop to the dramatic events of the first game. It was such a brilliant setting but still most treated the news of a sequel with contempt, thinking of it as unashamed cash in (a situation not helped by certain 2K executives talking about milking Bioshock for all its worth). I was less than interested in it and didn’t even think of picking it up despite the promising previews. Well, I finally caved, picked up a Steam copy and have to say I was glad I did.
Bioshock 2 takes place in 1968, eight years after the events of the first game. This time around you aren’t playing as an outsider coming in, but instead as one of the Big Daddies the gentle protectors. However, you aren’t any of the normal kind but instead you’re one of the Alpha Series, the prototypes before the designers decided that maybe it was a bad idea to give these madly devoted bodyguards the ability to throw fire and/or bees when they feel that their Little Sister is in danger. You have a very special bond with her which is slightly ruined when you are forced to blow your own brains out on New Year’s Eve 1959.
A large amount of the plot is based around the bond between you and your linked Little Sister, Eleanor. Throughout the game she is constantly in contact, offering you advice and leaving little gifts of plasmids and tonics lying around along with a jar of fireflies. However, Eleanor is the daughter of the new supremo in Rapture, Sofia Lamb (and before anyone shouts spoilers, this is revealed in the first 5 minutes) and Sofia is not too happy to see you back. There is a lot of times where Sofia, just like Ryan in the first game, berates you over the radio for coming in and wreaking the world and also pulls the stunt of locking you in a place and almost killing you (to a point, I wonder if Rapture included an “evil methods of revealing your identity” course). Lamb doesn’t quite have the same personality as Ryan or even Frank Fontaine (who has some brilliant audio diaries once you find his office) so you never feel like she is a major threat, she is just some crazy with a radio. Its also a bit weird that you only find audio diaries that mention Lamb in the areas in this game, when you are told that Lamb’s ideas spread through the whole of Rapture. That said, the diaries featuring socialist Lamb squaring off against capitalist Ryan in several debates are among the best sections of plot I’ve ever heard.
The areas of Rapture you’re shown this time around are all new with no repeats from the first game. It is mainly the pleasure areas, such as Lamb’s own garden where her and her bunch of crazy artists hung out thinking revolutionary thoughts (until they met a watery end) or Siren’s Alley, an area that went down hill until it became the Red Light district of the underwater city. They show a different side, yet they still share the look and feel with the cobbled together turrets, Circus of Values vending machines and the ever present dripping water (including a smart thing where if you stand under a drip you hear it clanging off your suit). The real standout is Ryan Amusement’s, a museum setup to explain the principles of Ryan to the children of Rapture. Its also a good place for those who never touched the first game to get some of the history of it, as well as be a little ironic. It shows just how good the level designers are when you wonder round the gift shop and notice the little details.
As well as loopy Lamb and Eleanor, you also meet some other new characters. The best of these, and one of my favourite characters from both games, is Augustus Sinclair. You may recognise his name from Sinclair Solutions, the makers of the plasmids. He is you characteristics southern gentlemen, whose entire goal seems to be to make money. He holds quite a few secrets about Rapture, Ryan and you and seems to drip feed them as you go along. He also acts as your guide through Rapture while also reminding you of your goal. He is a brilliant character and his eventually fate, while not upsetting, did leave me in the “Fuck You Lamb” frame of mind for the ending. Yet he is but one of many characters who you have to deal with, including two of Lambs lieutenants. I do have to say that the Bioshock guys know how to introduce their characters as pre splicing version before you enter their area – for example, one character is a priest so in the area before you see him, you find an audio diary of one of his sermons. This method is brilliant as it leaves you mind open to consider just what may have happened to the voice of the past you hear. Similarly to this is some of the audio diaries that relate to the previous game and Project WYK. Its a little thing that helps to link it to the previous game while also revealing some more of the goings on behind the scenes of Rapture
Your trek through Rapture also brings up several moral choices. As well as the Little Sisters, you also meet three major players in Lamb’s rise to power and have the option weather to spare them or take your revenge. Each of them also has a link to you, either back to your mysterious past or having just spent the last level trying to kill you. The choices are included but they feel a little bit manufactured. The fact a cowardly character simply stand in front of you as you walk towards him with a drill kind of ruins the effect – you’d think he’d be backing away as fast as possible. However, these moral choices do affect the ending in a way that is really really good. I can’t tell you exactly what’s its like as you have to see it. But the good one had tears starting to appear as it was just what you wanted.
So that’s all the plot line, but Bioshock 2 is still a first person shooter at heart. It’s the exact same mechanics as in the first game, with a selection of weapons and plasmids to use. There are a couple of tweaks such as the ability to dual wield weapons and plasmids which help to make the gameplay a lot quicker and faster paced. The new weapons (all designed to be similar yet different to the first games selection) feel a lot more powerful so gun battles play better. In fact the combat overall is just slicker, making it more fun and less of the chore it was first time around. Similarly, health and eve (aka plasmid juice) are handled in exactly the same way. Hacking (or plumbing as it was the first time around) has been changed to be a slightly easier way of simple button presses. The aim is to land it in the green or blue areas but landing it anywhere else ends with either 1000 volts or a flying drone wanting to put a couple of .45 rounds in your arse. Now I had no issues, but many people who are colour blind have complained about the choice of colours which can lead it them being unable to differentiate between items galore or face ventilation. Researching is also back, but now in video. The idea is the same (do research to get bonuses) but now you take a clip instead of a still. In the video time you have to use a mixture of guns and plasmids in order to gain the best results. It works better then turning you into a photography but it would be better mapped to a single button as opposed to being a separate weapon as you can end up selecting it by accident mid-firefight
The ending of the last game majorly fucked up when if brought in the escort mission for the Little Sisters. This time, the system is a lot better. After offing a fellow Big Daddy and adopting his Little Sister, you then have a chance to set up some defences around a corpse before gathering your very own ADAM. Of course this makes the local splicers go ape shit before descending on her in an attempt to take the precious. So you need to stop them (via bullet, drill or electro-spear.) Various tonics (gained by rescuing the little tykes) can help out making her gain more ADAM or do the deed faster but after two collections you have to drag her to a vent to either rescue her or get the munchies and harvest the slug from her. Luckily, when you are moving her around, she climbs on your back so there is no dragging around or waiting for her to work out how to walk AROUND the wall. Additionally the sound guys have worked out how to make
In terms of enemies, the Splicers are the most abundant. They have really gone downhill in terms of genetics, with all of them covered in grotesque tumours or with malformed limbs. However they are exactly the same when it comes to combat, although the grenade spammers have been kicked out. Instead they are replaced with the new boomers. These rather large gentlemen are basically like a gorilla, getting close to you and punching or throwing large chunks of the scenery at you. They feel like weak version of the Bouncer Big Daddies but are great fun to shoot up especially when they turn up in tuxes. The Rosies and the Bouncer versions of the Big Daddies are once again protecting little girls, but they are now joined by the Rumbler, who has a nasty habit of throwing turrets and RPG rounds at you. There is another Big Daddy type, but I won’t reveal them as they first turn up in a awesome moment. The fights with these tin cans are still as good as they were, having to plan out areas to trap before funnelling them into your killing zone. Finally, there are the Big Sisters who turn up once you have cleared out an area of Little Sisters. These fights are the true stand out, really having a feeling of terror when you hear the music and your low on ammo.
I do have one or two faults with the gameplay though. The first is the fact that despite being a massive clunking lump of metal you fall prey to a splicer with a wrench is a tiny bit wrong (what’s he doing? Unscrewing the leg joints?). I didn’t die very often but the deaths I had just felt cheap, with no real reason why I had to go back to the vita chamber. This game also lacks the whole “Oh No I’m going to die” fear just like the first due to the chambers but it does come with an option to turn off them if you like the whole permadeath thing. The other thing is the combat and most of the gameplay is simply dragged over from Bioshock 1. Its alright but it would be nice to have a few more changes seeing as you’re a rather different character to the simple human that Jack was.
The graphics and sound are both amazing. Its the exact same engine as the orignal so don’t worry about it not running on your PC if the first one was fine. It still looks as good as ever, with the water dripping and running across the ruined surfaces. The effects of the plasmids are pretty cool, as are the new guns with their ornate decorations on some while other look like some crap thrown together. Bioshock 2’s graphics are not techical as good as Crysis but the art direction is a lot better – every think has the same art deco look the first game got to a tee. Want to see art deco skyscrapers under water? Go for it! Similarly the music, a key part of the first game is back and as good as ever. The orchestrated soundtrack is perfect for the setting, with some songs that just help to add to the tension and bring it to a level where you’ll be absorbed into the game. I still love the old 50’s style music. There is that innocence in them that is in contrast to the ruined setting around it. Though I swear to go, the song “Hush, Hush, Hush, Here Comes the Boogeyman” has quite literally drilled a hole in my head and is now stuck in their.
Now, I’d be pretty happy at this point with the single player. But Bioshock 2 also has a multiplayer option (made by Digital Extremes who took part in UT2003 and UT2004) which is interesting to say the least. Its a basic COD4 style setup (kill dudes with guns, gain points to gain levels and new guns, rinse, soak, repeat) but with a change or two. The use of plasmids changes it up slightly and you can hack turrets in the levels to bring the pain, booby trap vending/health machines to make enemy players hate your guts or snap a picture of a fallen foe in order to gain a damage bonus. Or alternatively snag the Big Daddy suit and introduce your misguided enemies to a rivet flying at high speed. Game modes include the usual deathmatch and team deathmatch (complete with 1 life mode for both of them) as well as a few new ones. There is Adam Grab (in either solo or team) where each player attempts to grab hold of one of the little sisters for as long as possible, Capture the Sister (where one team aims to take the Little Sister from the defenders) and Turf War (effectively Domination, with Team Atlas squaring off against Team Ryan). So far, so normal.
What is different is the multiplayer has a story. You choose one of 6 (8 if you preordered) character, each with their own back story. The multiplayer battles are in fact part of plasmid testing for Sinclair Solutions. In between each level you can go back your apartment where you can change your loadout of plasmids and guns, choose your character customisation options or listen to a set of audio diaries that reveal a little extra about the world. Its a nice idea, but some missions that play directly into the story of Rapture would be rather cool. Imagine playing in the battle over the Kashmir Restaurant in 1959. The setting of Rapture is too good to just simply have battles with no more story then fight. The areas are all pretty good though, bringing back fond memories of the first games amazing settings. The multiplayer also has a bad case of the gremlins, which can lead to freezes, crashes or simply major lag. I also worry about the population on all three platforms due to the elephant in the room of MW2. However, the game does have multiplayer achievements that should guarantee at least a small amount.
Bioshock 2 is not a poorly made rip off sequel. It feels natural, taking the story on with a new insight into the mysterious world of Rapture. Its not as written as well as Bioshock but that’s like saying that 1984 isn’t as well written as Wuthering Heights – it is still miles ahead of an industry that brought us such crap as Rogue Warrior. The gameplay is better, it has multiplayer but it just feels familiar. And that’s a good thing. If you have played the first, play this to remind you of the good bits. If you have never been to Rapture, play this as well. You may miss a few references (WYK Project!) but its still a good intro to one of the best settings in games ever. This has to be a must play.