When BioShock 2 was first announced, I was among the few skeptics who felt that the game should have been left alone. The original was one of the few games that went beyond gameplay thanks to its great setting backed by a thought-provoking story, fun gameplay and a very satisfying ending. It was a game that stood well on its own. So, to me, a sequel always felt like a bad idea from the start. I started playing BioShock 2 with that same mindset, expecting it to be a throwaway sequel made to cash in on the critical and commercial success of the first game. Though it felt quite underwhelming initially, I came out quite impressed in the end.
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It was previously announced that BioShock 2 would act as a prequel as well as a sequel to the first game. However, apart from the impressive opening cutscene, the majority of the single player game is set ten years after the events of BioShock. The underwater city of Rapture still lays in ruins with most of its inhabitants being crazed junkies aka. splicers. The lumbering Big Daddies and creepy Little Sisters still prowl around looking for corpses to harvest for the miracle substance called Adam. However, the fall of Rapture’s founder Andrew Ryan results in a new authoritarian figure taking up control of most of Rapture in the form of Sophia Lamb, a former psychiatrist, Andrew Ryan’s rival, and the game’s primary antagonist. Without spoiling much, all I can say is Lamb has her own agenda for Rapture and its future and it’s not good.
You play as Subject Delta, the very first Big Daddy, who, after a tragic death, is somehow awakened by Dr. Tenenbaum (from the first game). You are then guided on a mission to find your original Little Sister named Eleanor, who may or may not be what she seems. Unlike other Big Daddies, however, Delta can actually think for himself. This leads to many moral choices in addition to saving or harvesting the many Little Sisters you’ll find along the way. As expected, your actions determine how the ending plays out, and somehow, it feels far more logical this time. And though the final resolution comes off as a bit predictable, most of the game still manages to hold your attention all the way through, especially during the last few hours. There is also a strong emotional element to the story this time around, with the Big Daddy-Little Sister relationship being the focus.
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The core gameplay largely remains unchanged, but 2K Marin has introduced a few tweaks of its own to make it flow better. For starters, you can now simultaneously use your weapons and plasmids, the game’s special magic-like abilities. Being a Big Daddy means you can wield all weapons with one hand, leaving the other free for using plasmids. Most of the plasmids from the first game are back. You can freeze enemies, burn them, electrocute them, in addition to some unconventional methods like hypnotizing an enemy to fight for you, turning invisible for some stealthy attacks or deploying a doppelganger that soaks up damage for you. Add to that some fun-to-use weapons with diverse ammo types and you can see that there is a great amount of variety in the combat. You can even enhance your character further by finding (or buying) various passive boosts known as gene tonics throughout the game.
You’ll rarely want to stick with one type of weapon and plasmid for too long though. Part of the fun in BioShock’s combat lies in experimenting with different plasmid and weapon combos. Much like the first game, your default melee weapon remains the best in your arsenal. However this time, the wrench is replaced by an equally awesome drill. You can perform deadly melee attacks at close range which can greatly be enhanced by certain gene tonics. There’s also a devastating “drill charge” move which lets you quickly dash to an opponent while impaling them with the spinning drill. These moves are very satisfying to perform and give the combat a visceral kick.
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Most of the enemies you’ll face are the same splicer types and Big Daddies from the first game. The extremely fast spider splicers and teleporting Houdini splicers still remain a pain in the butt, but yet always offer a decent amount of challenge. The game also throws in a couple of new enemies, the most distinctive of which is the Big Sister. Depending on your choices, you’ll encounter these female Big Daddy counterparts many times throughout the game. Big Sisters are far more agile and can use plasmids in addition to deadly melee attacks. However, taking them down isn’t too different from fighting Big Daddies. Just throw all your best stuff at them and they’ll usually go down in no time. Also, like the first game, you cannot die. Death usually means exiting the conveniently placed vita chambers, finding the enemy who killed you and finishing it off.
Despite the lenient death system, it’s worth mentioning that BioShock 2 feels more challenging than its predecessor, especially in the early levels. Some encounters feel flat out frustrating, requiring some persistence, which is made worse by the fact that the first couple of levels aren’t as good as the later ones. However, by getting enough upgrades, plasmids and gene tonics, you’ll be pretty much unstoppable by the end of the game. BioShock 2 is one of the few games that actually get easier as you progress thanks to a great RPG-like customisation system that will constantly have you tweaking your character setup. Most plasmids and tonics can be found by actively exploring the levels. However, some have to be purchased at the Gatherer’s Garden vending machines using Adam, which is found mostly by dealing with little sisters found in every level.
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Unlike the first game, you can now choose to adopt a Little Sister every time you kill her Big Daddy. After adopting her, you get an option to harvest corpses for some extra Adam before you choose to either rescue or harvest the Little Sister herself. Harvesting corpses is no easy task though. Splicers will attack from all directions and you’ll have to defend the little sister until she finishes harvesting. To aid you in this, the game gives you a variety of options. You can set up traps by using special ammo and hack turrets, sentry bots or cameras to help you defend the area while you keep the splicers from getting too close to the Little Sister using conventional means. There are numerous ways to deal with these encounters limited only by your own imagination and availability of resources. These sections are quite tense and get progressively harder as the game throws tougher enemies into the mix later on. They do tend to get repetitive, but are not mandatory. You can choose to ignore them and still get enough Adam to get by.
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