Return to Rapture, and see what lies in wait for an old Big Daddy and plenty of Junkie Splicers in our Bioshock 2 review. (Xbox 360)
Sequels made after games where no follow-up title was never intended have an odd tendency of proving proficient in the games industry, though the second is never as good as the first. Bioshock, many adored and I praised, set the world afloat with a startling narrative in the underwater world of Rapture. Having gone through it once, why should anyone wish to do it again?
Like all good games that tell a whole story, Bioshock gained a following. It won game of the year awards, and even though it lacked the long life of multiplayer gameplay, you'll be hard pressed to find someone who isn't familiar with the title. Who wouldn't want to return to the world? We all wanted to return, and that's what 2K gives us with Bioshock 2.
Rapture hasn't changed much since we last visited, just quieter and broken.
Many of the inhabitants have died long ago, but even more lie in wait.
Ten years prior to the events of the original, Bioshock 2 plants us dead center in Rapture, once teeming with life, now a barren wasteland. Players familiar with the backstory suspend their disbelief that anyone survived Rapture after the prolific Jack finished with it the first time around. In this iteration, no human avatar would cut it. Instead, players become a free Big Daddy.
As Delta, the purported first Big Daddy to have some emotional bond with a Little Sister, the game begins akin to Mass Effect 2's introduction; Delta is killed in a cinematic prior to the actual game's events. Magically waking up ten years later with no appetite for helping Little Sisters retreive Atom, the all-powerful nutrient that powers the inhabitants of Rapture, Delta immediately finds himself out of place. An influx of characters introduce themselves very early on, all clearly defining just who's side they're on, and almost asking if the player would kindly go along the path to stop a Doctor Lamb, a renegade against Rapture's creator and visionary Andrew Ryan.
Completely lacking in subtlety, the majority of Bioshock 2's story is literally forced on players, though those who don't care can simply go along their business and follow the missions as they arise. In fact, while there is certainly high quality voice acting and plenty of audio diaries to listen to once again, there is almost never an actual need to listen to these, or to any dialog whatsoever. The good guys are blatantly good, and the evildoers will either talk and then try to kill you, or skip immediately to the killing part.
However rudimentary Bioshock 2's actual story is, there are some interesting twists and turns that may not make it worthwhile per se, but they are interesting nonetheless. Much of the plot, especially early on and through the midway of the game will feel mind-numbing.
Yet 2K never intended for Bioshock 2 to be the narrative masterpiece that previous Bioshock Creative Director Ken Levine sought out, instead replacing it with improved gameplay, customization, and a long line of new and interesting situations to play through. As a Big Daddy, the approach to combat is fundamentally different: in Bioshock, players relied on a wrench and extremely limited ammunition for a few select weapons. Bioshock 2 starts players with an enormous gas-powered drill, and piles on more and more powerful weaponry as players progress through the game.
Its in this that 2K hit a serious flaw in gameplay. Big Daddy's are, by defninition, lumbering giants in suits of armor that are the hardest things to kill in Rapture. Bioshock had many, and even killing one required planning, setting traps, having the appropriate armaments and ammunition, and more often than not the luck to run into another Big Daddy or at least a few Splicers who could intervene in the battle. For 75% of Bioshock 2, players are weak and can be easily taken down by individual splicers.
Moral choices return, though the implications of being good vs evil are again not incredibly significant.
The Big Sister, a fast, furious boss who you can't win a fist fight with, though it's always worth a shot.
This issue isn't absolute. 2K ensured that no player could drop dead so easily, and there is no weapon that can reduce the player's health so fast that a health pack cannot be used. A magic protective field keeps a sliver of health safe from damage until the rest of the player's health has been reduced to nothing. And, like it's predecessor, there are no deaths in Bioshock 2, only respawning in Vita Chambers, the only true downside of the original. In Bioshock 2, the use of Vita Chambers is optional (and as a default is set to on), and for good reason: there is no auto-save mechanic except after completing whole levels.
As disappointing as that may sound, gameplay is still quite enjoyable, even with the knowledge that any combat situation can easily be won after enough trips through the Vita Chamber and back. Eventually, I found it to be too much of a nuisance to simply allow myself to "die", but in reality there was never any need to horde resources; this time around, Rapture is drowing in ammunition, plasmids, food, and any other available resource. There is zero scarcity, even if you play on the hardest difficulty and do your best to use resources liberally. Money and hackable stores are so widely available that should you run out of something, stocking back up is easy. Chances are that you'll find what you need on a freshly minted corpse.
While this tactic seems to limit scavenging and focus on the gameplay, exploring Rapture is also a large part of the game, and scavenging for anything comes with that territory. The lack of lack, combined with instant respawns in Vita Chambers, is unsettling. There are now some situations where surviving is required, such as when a Little Sister is retreiving Adam from the bodies of dead Splicers, but once again this is not a requirement, but a suggestion for players interested in purchasing power for new plasmids.
Plasmids themselves haven't changed much, but a larger number of plasmids (magic weaponry, such as shooting lightning or fire) and tonics (abilities such as enhanced armor and faster hack times) are available to use. Plasmid use is somewhat problematic when you have more than five available because there is no simple method of switching between them quickly, forcing quick combat situations into frantic attempts to switch to the right plasmid before its usefulness dissipates.
Like the original Bioshock, every combat situation is different. Sometimes it's just a few splicers, and at other times a Big Daddy or two may enter the mix. Even Big Sisters, the level's bosses who are grown Little Sisters that are extremely powerful and agile, are susceptible to the environment. One battle involved a Big Sister, a Big Daddy, two Spider Splicers and a Brute Splicer (picture the Tank from Left 4 Dead); using the Hypnotize plasmid, I was able to widdle away at the Big Sister's health by making the Splicers and Big Daddy attack her while firing away with my assortment of weapons.
The weapons in Bioshock 2 are also much different from what I expected. A .50 caliber machine gun is innacurate but powerful; a shotgun that's only useful at close range; a spear gun that acts like a sniper rifle; and a few others all include several ammo types and available upgrades. The only constant is the drill, which is later powered up for a rush attack, which is beyond satisfying when done correctly. Yet these weapons are not made to be used in conjunction, only for specific uses. Close range means using the shotgun, long range is the spear gun, medium range is the rivet gun, medium to close range is the machine gun...it's far too scientific and not fluid in the slightest.
What this does, combined with the weak switching between plasmids, odd default controls and no controller support, is give the game a very frantic pace when combat is intense. More difficult scenarios may see all of your health packs disappear in just a short minute. It also wears the player down significantly, but each completed battle is another victory to take to heart, and many of these battles are very memorable. Few are not worth discussing at the water cooler.
Multiplayer support also makes an introduction for the franchise, which may perhaps be a key reason for Bioshock 2's production. Taking place ten years prior to the events of the original Bioshock, multiplayer includes several simple gametypes including a Deathmatch and capture the flag (in this case, the flag is a Little Sister), which is remarkably fun. I believe that this is because of two main reasons: all players are on equal terms, and all players are slow.
While the single player campaign was developed by 2K Marin, multiplayer was developed by Digital Extremes, who brought Bioshock to the PlayStation 3. DE was told that they are not permitted to include a run feature, putting in its place a useless iron-sights aiming view. At first, this seemed to make gameplay less exciting, yet after several hours and lots of clocked games, the slower movement paces multiplayer much more effectively than the Halos and Modern Warfares of today. Players actually have time to take a deep breath, stay alert, and get back into the game somewhat rested after being killed.
Splicers going after your protected Little Sisters are some of the most difficult side-missions in the game.
No matter how hard the Big Sisters are, they still pale in comparison to the weight of a Big Daddy.
Playing as Splicers, multiplayer allows for several customizable presets that can be changed prior to the game starting and in-game as well. Players will also have the chance to become a Big Daddy, which is purely on a first-come first-served basis. That is, whoever finds the Big Daddy suit first get's to be it. Just remember that if you do take full control, most players will go after you instead of going after each other.
Bioshock 2 is an admirable experience, one that doesn't compare to the narrative of its predecessor, but carries forth the fun gameplay that was originally inspired some two years ago. The addition of multiplayer gives us all the more reason to keep playing after completing the 13-15 hour campaign, though conflicting design choices keep Bioshock 2 from succeeding and ultimately stepping out of the shadow of the original.
BIOSHOCK 2 VERDICT
Bioshock 2 is an admirable experience, one that doesn’t compare to the narrative of its predecessor, but carries forth the fun gameplay that was originally inspired some two years ago. The addition of multiplayer gives us all the more reason to keep playing after completing the 13-15 hour campaign, though conflicting design choices keep Bioshock 2 from succeeding and ultimately stepping out of the shadow of the original.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Fighting a Big Daddy by having a gang of Splicers gang up on him, only to come toe to toe with another Big Daddy protecting his Little Sister.