(Review written by Crakfox, all credit goes to him)
Bioshock 2, it’s set 10 years after the first game and a lot has changed in Rapture. You play as Subject Delta, a Big Daddy. Unlike the Big Daddies from the first game you are not a mindless monster, you’re a prototype of sorts. You’re still able to think and wield plasmids and a variety of weapons.
For those new to the series, Plasmids alter your DNA and give you superpowers such as telekinesis or the ability to set someone on fire by clicking your fingers. You need ADAM to buy them and EVE acts as ammunition for them.
You might have seen the advert on TV where the narrator proudly proclaims it as being the sequel to a Bafta award winner. This might give you an idea as to what the problem with Bioshock 2 is; it’s a problem a lot of sequels have, especially when they’re handled by a new team. Instead of improving over the original game in any significant way it seems like the developer aimed to emulate its success. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when the game you’re trying to emulate is as good as Bioshock, but it’s not going to win you any Baftas either.
That’s not to say there are no improvements at all, there are. The biggest of which is in combat, you now duel wield your weapon and plasmid eliminating the need to press a button to switch between them and allowing smoother gameplay. The research system has also been improved to allow for smoother gameplay, instead of taking pictures you now record yourself killing an enemy. The camera is swapped for your last used weapon as soon as you start filming so you spend less time in the menus switching weapons. These are welcome changes and the combat definitely fells less clunky than it once did.
The research system works similarly to the first game, you record yourself killing an enemy and you earn some research points for it, the more you research an enemy the more bonuses you get against it and when you max out the research bar for any particular enemy you receive a free tonic. It’s a system I disliked in the first game and I dislike it now, the whole thing just seems like a pointless annoyance to me.
Like the original there is a large variety of tonics and plasmids you can use, catering to a wide variety of different playstyles. If you want to sneak around and let your robots do the dirty work, you can. If you want to set people on fire and mow them down with a gatling gun, you can. If you want to go nuts with ‘winter blast’ and a giant drill, you can. The possibilities are practically endless and everybody will find a set up that suits them.
Another improvement is in the way the plasmids are upgraded, in the first game they simply became more powerful, now they way they work is changed, for example a fully upgraded ‘incinerate’ plasmid will have flames streaming from your fingertips, and an upgraded ‘cyclone trap’ plasmid lets you combine it with other plasmids to create elemental storms.
Splicers are back to make up the bulk of the poor saps that will be getting a face full of drill in this game. The grenade throwing splicer has been scrapped as anyone can now throw grenades when they’re available. The new brute splicer, reminiscent of Left 4 Dead’s tank, is more of a handful than any of the splicers from the original but most of them are easier to deal with than they used to be, since you’re now a Big Daddy.
The iconic Big Daddies return in Bioshock 2, and you’ll need to kill them if you want ADAM to upgrade your plasmids. As ever they’re tough to kill and there’s a new daddy in town called the ‘Rumbler’. This guy has a rocket launcher mounted on his shoulder, ensuring you’ll need to come up with a new tactic to defeat him.
After you defeat the Big Daddy you’ll be asked to deal with a Little Sister, the first game presented you with a very gimmicky moral dilemma where your options were to either rescue her or harvest her. In Bioshock 2 the choice is a little different, you can still harvest the little sister but the other choice is to adopt her. If you choose to adopt her she will lead you to an ADAM filled dead body. It’s advisable to set up some traps before you let your new companion harvest the ADAM, because the harvesting process takes some time and attracts waves of splicers. Once she’s harvested ADAM from two dead bodies she will lead you to an air vent, where you’re presented with the familiar choice of harvesting her or saving her. If you choose to harvest her now you will receive more ADAM than you would if you harvested her earlier.
There are other moral decisions to make in the game that don’t involve Little Sisters, I’m not going to spoil anything but at one point this game made me put down my controller and think about what I wanted to do, this is something all developers who implement a morality system should be aiming for and 2K Marin hit the nail on the head here. Your decisions have a tangible impact on the ending of the game too, making it more personal and increasing the replayability factor.
Another new enemy introduced in Bioshock 2 is the Big Sister. Big Sisters are suited up similarly to Big Daddies, except they are much more agile. They don’t like it when you meddle in the affairs of the Little Sisters and every once in a while, after dealing with a Little Sister you will be ambushed by one. These fights can be particularly difficult, especially if you adopted the Little Sister because you will also have recently fought a Big Daddy and are likely running low on health and ammo.
It’s a good thing then that the Vita Chambers return in Bioshock 2. Whenever you die you are spawned in the nearest Vita Chamber with a bit of health and EVE. Any damage done to enemies will remain, although Little Sisters will heal their Big Daddies if you give them enough time.
Graphically the game is at a similar level to the first one, it was impressive 3 years ago but it’s quite average now. Artistically it’s still fantastic, those returning to Rapture will find plenty new to see here. The underwater levels especially stand out. There’s also a level that’s been flooded for a long time and recently drained, this provides a very different setting to any of the levels we’ve seen before. There’s more but I don’t want to spoil anything. Those visiting Rapture for the first time are in for a real treat, and those returning will not be disappointed.
The sound design in the game is brilliant; everything from the trademark Big Daddy groan, to the noise of dripping water in the background, to the sound of your grenades exploding is fantastic. The soundtrack is excellent, it ups the intensity when it should and it pulls at your heart strings with equal effectiveness.
While none of the characters are as memorable as Sander Cohen from the first game, they’re all interesting and the voice acting is fantastic. The story is as good as, if not better than Bioshock’s fantastic story, thanks in part to the improved moral dilemmas and the way they affect the ending.
The single player campaign will last you around 10 hours, that’s about average for an FPS but it’s also about half as long as the first game so that’s a bit disappointing.
The game also has a multiplayer component set during the civil war (2 years before the first game) with a few different modes for you to try out. The graphics take a real hit in multiplayer, the textures all look flat and dull. There are a few characters you can use, all of which you will unlock audio tapes for as you progress through the ranks which is a nice touch. I would have liked to have seen more characters though, as you run in to clones in multiplayer all too often.
The game follows the Call of Duty model of unlocking new guns, mods, plasmids and tonics as you level up. It’s not a system I’m a fan of as it makes the multiplayer extremely unbalanced. You start off with no mods or tonics whatsoever available to you and you’re likely to be matched up with more experienced and well equipped players. I’d much rather each character had their own preset abilities defined by the developer to offer a balanced multiplayer mode.
In conclusion; this is a worthy sequel to Bioshock and a great game in its own right, although it may not reach the lofty heights of its predecessor. With the multiple endings and the different ways to approach combat this is a game that begs to be played more than once.