A happy return to Rapture
Bioshock 2 follows on 10 years after the conclusion of the original game. Through a series of plot contrivances the world of Rapture has managed to survive and blossom into one ruled by a new zealot: Sofia Lamb. You find yourself thrust into the world as a prototype Big Daddy, revived some years after your original death.
Bioshock 2's principle villain is Sofia Lamb who is basically an Anti-Ryan. She's a psychological communist (or 'collectivist') which is interesting opposite to Ryan's objectivism, but her story does feel much smaller and shoe-horned in to the established history. As before you can hunt for the audio diaries which reveal more about her, the build up to the civil war, and her involvements with Ryan and Fontaine. Attempts are made to try to explain the continuity problems by having Lamb is locked up in prison during the first game, but I find it odd that she and Sinclair survive 10 years in Rapture, whilst the rest of the population splice themselves into madness?
The story develops very slowly this time around, and the narrative highlights come much later in the game. In fact, the game's standout moment doesn't come until much nearer the game's finale. Bioshock 2's is interesting as a side-story, but it just never reaches the dramatic highs and dark lows of the original. I can't help feeling part of the problem is playing as a Big Daddy. It devalues one of the iconic enemies of the last few years, forcing Bioshock 2 to introduce more sub-boss characters and back story to compensate.
The game design of Bioshock 2 largely remains unchanged. The locations feel a little more linear this time around, and some of the mini games have been simplified or completely removed (sadly the Pipe-dream hacking mini-game and ammo creation has gone). Each level is structured around solving some basic puzzles, adopting a number of little sisters, performing ADAM harvests, and then engaging in mini boss battles vs Big Sisters. Bioshock 2 definitely feels much more action orientated, and the ADAM harvests are some of the highlights of the game: these require you to employ traps and counter-measures so that your adopted Little Sister can harvest ADAM from a corpse. There are far more gameplay options in Bioshock 2 via the improved Plasmid-Tonics system, which enable you to develop completely different Big Daddy traits: from tank to stealth, or plasmid mage to soldier.
Bioshock 2 features a competitive multiplayer mode with the usual game types - which are given Rapture twists. It works as well as can be expected, although the relative high power of the plasmids and weapons make each round feel like a frantic frag-fest. Personally, I didn't enjoy it.
Bioshock 2 proves yet again that Rapture is a wonderful game world to be in. It looks both spectacular and dark, inspiring and horrifying. The changes largely improve on what Bioshock previously delivered, but at the cost of a weaker story and more linear progression. Fans of the original will appreciate some of the additional back story but may also question why we needed a return at all. That shouldn't detract from what is a very good game indeed.