Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
The sequel gamers questioned was necessary is here. How does it measure up to the lofty bar set by the original?
Has there ever been a sequel less anticipated than Bioshock 2? That may be a poor choice of words. I don't mean to imply that gamers weren't looking forward to a Bioshock sequel, but rarely has a one elicited as much or more trepidation and skepticism as excitement. It's similar to the movie fans who consider Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and ask, "Can a third Batman film really measure up to the first two?" Maybe we should avoid a Blade Trinity or X-Men: The Last Stand or Spider-Man 3 and just quit while we're ahead. Whether you or I personally thought it was warranted/a good idea or not, development proceeded, and Bioshock 2 has arrived. The only question we need concern ourselves with now is, is it as good as the first game, and if not, just how good (or bad) is it?
To cut right to the chase let me say that no, Bioshock 2 is not as good as Bioshock. That's not as revelatory, nor as condemning a statement as it might seem. As I discussed, part of the (for lack of a better descriptor) lack of enthusiasm for Bioshock 2 stemmed from the (as I've perceived) consensus point of view that the Abominable Snow Man had a better chance of going 12 rounds with Bealzibub in the fiery pits of Hades than any attempt at making a sequel had at being better than Bioshock. Yes, Bioshock was that damn good. In my opinion, it was far and away the best game of 2007 and remains one of the best of all time. Now that we've answered the first half of my question (this game review thing is easy), let's address the second: how good (or bad) is it? That's going to take a bit longer to answer (er, maybe not).
Before I really start building some steam in this review, let me offer a disclaimer of sorts. I'm not going to review the multiplayer portion of the game. This is for several reasons. 1) I'm going to be doing a lot of comparing of the sequel to the original, and there was no multiplayer component to the first game, so there's nothing with which to compare. 2) The multiplayer component of Bioshock 2 was developed by a completely different company than the single-player portion, and as far as I'm concerned the quality of the former has no impact on the same of the latter. 3) Simple. I haven't played any of the multiplayer in Bioshock 2 and have no real intention to do so. Multiplayer isn't really my thing. But I will offer this: the prospect of being a Big Daddy and dual wielding plasmids and weapons against other gamers doing the same, all in the setting of Rapture definitely holds potential for some serious pwnage, if you're into that.
A big part of what made the first game so intriguing was its setting. Here's how I described it in my review:
Set in 1960, after a brief and turbulent introduction on the surface, the bulk of the game takes place in a city built at the bottom of the ocean. Called “Rapture” by its designer, it was undertaken in the mid-1940’s as an escape from both governmental and religious oversight. It was intended to be a place for the brightest minds from around the world to gather and pursue their interests without the restraints of morality or society’s judgment, a utopia of sorts. Of course, it all went horribly wrong.
The city of Rapture felt so unique, so alive that it became as much a character as Andrew Ryan or Frank Fontaine or Dr. Tenebaum. In that respect any opportunity to go back to Rapture and explore more of the submerged metropolis is welcome. Albeit one tinged with a bit of disappointment. It's like the second family vacation you went on to Disney World as a kid. Sure, it's all still great the second time around, but it's doesn't quite have the magic and novelty of that first trip when you were experiencing everything for the first time.
That's mitigated somewhat because your perspective in Bioshock 2 has changed from what it was in the first game. As I alluded to earlier, this time around you play as one of the Big Daddies. For those who don't remember, part of Rapture's downfall was the discovery and embracing of (and later addiction to) genetic modification. ADAM is the name given to the genetic material serving as the agent of change, and when supplies of ADAM diminished, Rapture's scientists took orphaned girls and engineered (or spliced, in the parlance of the game) them into so-called Little Sisters to go out and harvest ADAM from corpses. Since ADAM was both highly addictive and a precious commodity, Rapture's growing population of mentally unstable citizens had no qualms about attacking the Little Sisters to steal their ADAM. Hence the Big Daddies, men who were spliced into hulking, diving suit-wearing monstrosities that were each given a Little Sister to escort through Rapture and protect at any cost.
But you're not just any run-of-the-mill Big Daddy. You are Subject Delta, a member of an older "alpha series" of Big Daddies and the first to be successfully (psychically) linked to a Little Sister. And you didn't imprint on just any Little Sister either. Yours was named Eleanor, the daughter of a psychiatrist named Sophia Lamb. Lamb was a rival of Rapture's founder Andrew Ryan, and serves as the major antagonist of Bioshock 2.
After the events of the first game, specifically the deaths of Andrew Ryan and crime boss Frank Fontaine at the hands of Bioshock's playable character, Lamb has filled the power vacuum in Rapture and intends to bring forth a kind of rebirth, largely (and mysteriously) through Eleanor. Indeed, much of Bioshock 2's storyline centers around you (as Subject Delta) unraveling and preventing Lamb's intentions and reuniting with Eleanor. The story does suffer somewhat by presenting Lamb as such a major, influential character in Rapture's past, yet there was no mention of her at all in the first game. In the same vein the whole idea of the alpha series of Big Daddies is a concept that didn't exist until the sequel. Neither of these newly introduced elements are necessarily bad things; it's just that this kind of retconning (to borrow a term from comic books) can be jarring to fans of the first game.
In terms of straight gameplay, Bioshock 2 is not much different from its predecessor. The most notable difference is in the combat. In addition to an arsenal of weapons with multiple ammo types for each, in Bioshock you could wield a variety of "plasmids," offensive powers granted through splicing. Yet you had to switch back and forth between weapon and plasmid. In Bioshock 2 you can dual wield both at the same time, allowing for faster and more fluid attack combinations. Pretty much all of the enemy types from the first game return, with only Brute splicers and Rumbler class Big Daddies being added as new foes. And being a Big Daddy really isn't all that different from your character in the first game. This is a little surprising, in that Big Daddies are the alpha predators of Rapture. They are greatly feared and seldom attacked by splicers, yet you instill little to no distress in anyone. This is explained away by Lamb's call to arms and demand for your death, but it does detract a little from the coolness of being a Big Daddy when splicers will completely ignore another of your armored brothers (with Little Sister in tow, no less) and attack you with abandon.
Though there is one aspect of being a Big Daddy that is definitely a nice change from the first game. Whereas there your choices in interacting with a Little Sister were restricted to saving her or harvesting her, in Bioshock 2 you have a new choice: adoption. Adopting a Little Sister (after you kill her current Big Daddy) means you get to do what Big Daddies were designed to do. She will lead you to a corpse ripe for ADAM harvesting, and you will have to protect her during the process. ADAM harvesting is a nice change-up from the exploratory, hunt-and-kill attitude you take on for much of the rest of the game. Instead, you must defend a stationary position from multiple attackers assailing you (and your Little Sister) from all sides. And that's no exaggeration either; setting you Little Sister down to begin harvesting a corpse is like dropping a hunk of meat into a tank full of ravenous piranha. These were some of my favorite activities in Rapture.
With much of the gameplay seeming unchanged, and the environs evoking feelings of deja vu you tend to look even more to Bioshock 2's story as a measure of its quality. Unfortunately the plot doesn't quite have the tension, shocking twist, or meta-moment of the first game. While it is still solid and engaging, and may actually present a more personal story than the first game, it seems to suffer a bit in the later acts. Motivations get muddled, and certain characters get forgotten and discarded. Upon completing the game I felt satisfied, and I certainly had an enjoyable experience, but I didn't have that same floored feeling that I had after finishing the first game. But to expect such a repeat performance, as I mentioned near the beginning of this review, is unreasonable. As is, what Bioshock 2 offered was more than enough.
9.2 out of 10