Return to Rapture
Bioshock 2 has long been bemoaned as the sequel that was never needed. The original Bioshock captivated gamers with its thrilling narrative and cast of fantastically eccentric characters; dealing with philosophical ideals, moral choices, a society driven to insanity and the complexities of free will in an underwater utopia gone wrong. Rapture was the star of the show; an atmospheric city built deep below the waves. Its 1930s art deco architecture housed by the criminally insane minds of the smartest people in the world, and the mysterious Big Daddies and Little Sisters that harvest the gene-altering substance that drove a perfect city to melting point. Bioshock’s story might have left little room for expansion but Rapture is a city worth revisiting for a second time.
This basic premise sets up your journey through the deepest bowels of Rapture, and the story is intriguing enough to hold your interest throughout. You’ll meet a wide variety of characters, each with their own motives and views on the current state of affairs, whether it’s in person or via the audio logs spread across the city. Each one reveals a little bit more about the mysterious goings on from myriad points of view. They’re not as interesting as those in the first game, but the fierce debates between Ryan and Lamb are definitely a high point. The only gripe is that Lamb feels shoehorned in as this protagonist towards Ryan’s power, almost ignoring Fontaine despite his large relevance to the first Bioshock. Lamb is never mentioned in the first game so the story here feels rather disconnected, like a side-story rather than an expansion on the main fiction. There’s still a degree of fan-service but the story doesn’t hold the same weight and sense of purpose in the overarching narrative.
The gameplay, on the other hand, is an improvement. Being a Big Daddy doesn’t substantially change much. You’re still a prototype of the very first so you don’t have a heavily-armoured suit or anything like that, so you’re still susceptible to the same kind of punishment as in the first game. However, you will get your hands on some new weapons and plasmids, including the deadly power drill. This works as a melee weapon, allowing you to get up close and personal with any Splicers foolish enough to venture your way. It’s satisfying to use and the rest of the weapons are a huge step-up from the first game as well. Bioshock 2 offers a completely different arsenal with new weaponry like the rivet and spear guns, and retooled shotguns, machine guns and grenade launchers, among others. There are various ammo types for each gun and augments for specific weapons, often providing a chance for extra damage, whether it’s setting enemies on fire or electrocuting them. And you can also find weapon upgrade stations to improve damage, clip size, accuracy and so on. The basic shooting mechanics haven’t really changed from the first game, but each weapon is a lot more fun to use, especially when combined with the different plasmids.
Combining the two together is now much more fluid and enjoyable as a result. In Bioshock you had to switch between plasmids and weapons, only being able to use one at a time. In Bioshock 2 you’re essentially duel-wielding, allowing you to better combine plasmids and weapons together. It’s difficult to imagine it any other way since it works so well; shooting bolts of electricity from one hand whilst the other uses the speargun to pin an enemy to a wall. It’s extremely satisfying and unlike combat in any other shooter. There’s a lot of fun to be had experimenting with what plasmids and weapons work well together, especially when you begin to combine multiple plasmids like incinerate and insect swarm or decoy and cyclone trap with a peppering of bullets from any number of weapons.
And all of this experimentation will come to fruition during the protection sequences. After defeating a Big Daddy you can now choose to harvest the Little Sister then and there, or, since you’re now a Big Daddy yourself, you can adopt it. Adopting a little one will allow them to lead you to any dead bodies flowing with ADAM – the valuable resource used to upgrade and purchase new plasmids and tonics – so you can earn more before deciding to harvest or safe them. Of course, putting her down to abstract ADAM with her oversized syringe will attract any nearby Splicers hungry for the stuff. You don’t want to disrupt the process and get yourself killed at the same time so it becomes imperative to lay down a few traps to slow down the horde. You can utilize trip wires, proximity mines, mini-turrets, plasmids and so on, and positioning traps becomes an important strategy that must be mastered to avoid being overwhelmed. Laying down mines in each nearby corridor before setting up a circular death-zone around the Little Sister and getting into a defensive position all become viable strategies, and every person will tackle each protection situation in a completely different way. A premise that sounded unappealing due to the lacklustre section in the original Bioshock becomes one of the standouts in Bioshock 2. It shakes up the fundamentals of the gameplay and allows for experimentation and strategy to shine.
Especially when you go up against some of the new enemies. The Splicers have largely remained the same with regular foot soldiers, Spider and Hoodini Splicers, only now there are also Brutes. These tough new guys work like tanks, throwing objects at you from afar before charging up close with exceptional force. You’ll need a different strategy to beat them and they offer a fun alternative to the Big Daddies. However, the Big Sister’s offer the most substantial challenge, even in their reduced role. They were touted as being a constant menace but they only really appear once you’ve dealt with every Little Sister in an area. There’s plenty of warning before they show up so you will need to prepare for their arrival. The Big Sister’s are definitely the toughest enemies in Bioshock 2, using phenomenal speed and a mixture of ranged and close quarters moves to disorientate and damage. The best way to deal with them and any other enemy type is to research. Bioshock used a still camera to capture pictures to reveal damage bonuses with certain weapons and plasmids, but Bioshock 2 opts for an easier approach, handing you a video camera. Now you can record a battle, using as many different attacks as you can to record and earn multiple damage bonuses. It works pretty much the same as in the original but it’s been simplified and works much better here.
Visually, Bioshock 2 is an improvement on the original. Rapture has taken a beating over the past ten years so there’s plenty of detail in the cracks. Everything looks great, although, as is usually the norm with Unreal Engine games, the textures sometimes take a while to load in which can zap you out of the immersion. The sound design is also terrific, from the voice acting and general creepiness of an underwater city. Your heavy Big Daddy footsteps are suitably loud and water pinging off your helmet is a nice touch, and the sweeping orchestral score is brilliant once again.
But with a game so focused on an immersive atmosphere and narrative, it’s odd to see multiplayer included in Bioshock 2. Featuring different variations on common multiplayer game types, like team deathmatch and capture the flag, there’s a nice degree of variation here with a unique Bioshock twist. You’ll be capturing Little Sisters and even hopping into the suit of a Big Daddy for an explosive bonus. And even the different turrets and research come into play. After killing an opponent you can hold down a button to fill up a research bar and earn extra damage against that person until they kill you. It’s a cool feature that maintains Bioshock’s personality in a multiplayer suite very similar to Modern Warfare 2 in its progressive levelling system. You can even choose different layouts for weapons, plasmids and tonics so there’s a certain amount of customisation. It might not disrupt the dominance of the biggest multiplayer games out there, but Bioshock 2’s effort is surprisingly enjoyable and well thought out.
Bioshock 2 has been faced with adversity since its conception and come out on top. The story feels disconnected and isn’t as strong as its predecessor but the gameplay has been improved upon for a much more enjoyable and fluid combat system. The art of protecting the Little Sister’s is a fantastic new element that encourages tactics and experimentation, and Rapture is just as fun to explore as before. There’s a sense of déjà vu despite the all new environments, and it doesn’t have the same variety the luscious greens of the Botanical Gardens or the dizzying lights of Fort Frolic had, but Rapture is still a beauty to behold despite its rigorous destruction over the past ten years. If you wanted more Bioshock then Bioshock 2 delivers with aplomb. You just might not realise how much you missed it until you go back.