Three years after its’ initial release, the original BioShock remains a significant part of the argument for the unique ability of videogames to question socio-political issues through the interactive engagement. The literary value of Ken Levine’s widely respected underwater adventure can not be questioned, and the fact that the experience is a wholly engrossing videogame in its’ own right only serves to compliment the concerns raised. Although a finite adventure it may have been such success deemed a sequel inevitable, but with Levine no longer at the helm and expectations immovably high, BioShock 2 has a lot to contend with.
BioShock 2 sees the player return to Rapture at two significant points in the series timeline, with the single-player and multiplayer each adding new perspective to the players’ understanding of the city. Undoubtedly the star of the show, Rapture itself remains a captivating venue, with BioShock 2 framing it’s storyline as just another part of the city’s history as opposed to the next most significant turning point. Beginning ten years after the events of the original game, BioShock 2’s single-player mode tasks the player with taking down Rapture’s new order – after the fall of Ryan, Sophia Lamb instigated a tireless movement for the pursuit of a true utopia, regardless of the cost. As one of her failed experiments, a new sentient Big Daddy carrying the weight of an unbreakable, co-dependant relationship with his Little Sister, the player must satisfy his unquenchable need to protect.
Things are never that easy, of course, and along the way the player will meet a number of interesting characters, and a variety of monstrosities vying for blood. A couple of familiar characters return some in person and others echoing a memory through the infamous Audio Logs, adding both a back-story and context to the current state of Rapture. The new characters that the player will meet disappointingly appear as somewhat 2D interpretations of BioShock’s tormented souls. Here, their mission is clear and their conviction unwavering. The conflict in BioShock 2 is that of the player’s own, and thankfully has been developed upon a significant amount.
BioShock 2 once again raises the question of whether or not to rescue or harvest Little Sisters – the gatherers of valuable ADAM, the element that allows the residents of Rapture to “evolve”, learning new abilities through the acquisition of Plasmids. A similarly neutered choice once more, as with the first title the rewards for either saving or harvesting every Little Sister are too close to offer a defining choice between personal gain and the aid of another, and most players will have decided their intentions in this regard before even meeting their first. However, the greater shade of moral ambiguity comes from three poignant characters the player will meet. Each of the three has wronged you, and each of their fates lies in your hands. What you do with it is a decision not to be taken lightly.
Similar to the repercussions felt in the likes of Fallout 3 and Mass Effect 2, your actions at these and other moments will define the outcome of your adventure, though the progression will remain largely unchanged; only a few helping hands or obstructions will be developed throughout the course of the game, but in the closing hours your decisions will show their consequence. And this is where BioShock 2 undoubtedly improves upon it’s predecessor: though it’s literacy qualities may not be considered in the same calibre as that of the first title, it’s resolve behind forcing the player to think about their actions is far more pressing, and feels more genuine because of it. Your decisions are black and white, but their implications are not.
Rather than a typical level structure, BioShock 2’s campaign is divided into separate landmasses – unique areas within Rapture which the player ventures through in turn. The resulting experience is somewhat similar to that of Metroid Prime, though without the regular trips back across old ground. The corridors and wards of Rapture remain a spectacle of creative thinking, though of course much of the edge has been lost through familiarity. The art deco of Rapture shows few inventive ideas this time around, relying heavily on your appreciation for your first visit. In addition, the much discussed ocean floor segments are truly underwhelming, wholly unnecessary and seemingly little more than an excuse to get tongues wagging in anticipation.
The weapon set thankfully shows more ingenuity, tied in every respect to the Big Daddy role that the player takes on. Every weapon has different strengths and weaknesses, the greater the impact the more likely the player is to be left with a moment of vulnerability, and even the weapon upgrades won’t counteract the feeling that you could be overpowered at any moment. The Plasmids return in much the same form as the original, with the familiar Incinerate, Winter Blast and Insect Swarm rounding-out a weapon set that is still best used as an accompaniment to your chosen firearm, rather than a primary attack. The Gene Tonics have been revised considerably however, taking into account the changing situations players will find themselves in during their second visit to Rapture and proposing tough decisions between adding to your chances of survival and offering the chance of greater rewards.
Many of the most discussed issues with the first game have been addressed, but in return BioShock 2 brings a number of new problems along with it. There is now a much wider variety of enemies and tactical options, resulting in tense and dynamic combat that pushes the player to make mistakes, rather than simply upping the numbers to increase the difficulty. Adopting Little Sisters gives player the option to hunt for ADAM, and doing so has great benefits in return for an intense combat challenge. Holding the X Button will reveal a path leading to a corpse containing ADAM, and commanding the Little Sister to retrieve it begins a sequence in which all manner of enemies encountered up to that point in the game will immediately come charging. Fending-off the opposing forces, defending the Little Sister as she does her work, the player will soon learn to explore the perimeter, monitoring each and every entrance and exit available and capitalising on the best of their armament’s unique properties. While most players will entertain these sequences without question, it could easily be seen as padding for an adventure that otherwise would be remarkably short in comparison to its predecessor. Experienced gamers not concerned with making the full use of every Little Sister or finding every last Audio Log could easily complete the game within eight hours, though those set to draw the most from the game should probably expect to double that.
Of course, this is before taking into account the multiplayer option. BioShock 2’s multiplayer mode has constantly been referred to as a “component” by 2K Games throughout development, and it’s not until experiencing the element that you will understand the decision to frame the gameplay mode in such a way, addressing it almost as a separate product on the same disc. Digital Extremes – the team behind the underappreciated Dark Sector - handled the development of the multiplayer mode, and the team’s passion for working on such a high profile project certainly shows. Set prior to the events of the original game, proposing the starting movement that lead to Rapture’s civil war, players assume the role of a Plasmid test subject, and wage war in a variety of gameplay modes. The typical Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch options are of course included, along with a variation on the Capture the Flag ruleset. Players will earn experience in each match for kills, assists and hacking object in each of the immaculately designed arenas, and progressing through experience levels offers more options for your loadout, customisable prior to each match. A number of tasks can be unlocked – which much like the Nintendo 64’s Turok: Rage Wars typically involve killing a set number of opponents with each available weapon or Plasmid – which further add to the experience earned when completed, giving the player plenty of reason to experiment, mixing together different Plasmids, weaponry and upgrades. BioShock 2’s multiplayer mode is such a compelling experience, that it manages to cast a bad light on multiplayer-only games such as MAG and ShadowRun for not developing their experiences beyond player competition. Setting a new precedent for multiplayer components, with it’s own detached plot and inventive progression system, BioShock 2’s single-player is certainly only half the story.
Though BioShock 2 has shown progression in many areas, visual fidelity is not one of them. Many of the assets from the first game have been reused wholesale, and it’s not until the later half that you get to visit any locations that BioShock 2 could claim as wholly of its’ own design. The atmosphere occasionally lures players into suspecting big scares or moments of disgust, which unlike the first game never actually come, and there is much less variety in your surroundings. The soundtrack compliments the action well at all times and the voice-actingis often of a fantastic quality, though it’s easier to shoot holes in the script this time around.
BioShock 2 is everything that a sequel should be. With a single-player campaign that draws you through a brand new yet familiar experience and a multiplayer mode that unquestionably adds value to the package, BioShock 2 joins a long list of top-tier productions having already hit the shelves in 2010. While there are still numerous flaws and few of the characters are as remarkable as those of the first game, the quality of the sum presentation is outstanding. BioShock 2 proves that Rapture remains a captivating city, and few would begrudge 2K Games returning for a third visit.
And don’t forget – you can win your very own copy of BioShock 2 along with BradyGames’ BioShock 2 Signature Series Guide right here at Electronic Theatre! Head to the competition page for more details.