Big Daddy needs a nap.
There have been many games released that have been met with exaggerated eye-rolls and a collective "ugh" in the past, and it seems that 2K's sequel to 2007's Bioshock has come under that same scrutiny. While it doesn’t exactly feel new, or at times even exciting, Bioshock 2 does manage to maintain enough interest in the world and happenings of Rapture to keep you engaged until the end.
The story follows a prototype Big Daddy, named Delta, on his journey to find his now grown-up Little Sister and uncover why he was awoken so long after the fall of Rapture. The main story itself is very linear by design, with you moving from area to area by a train linking the old parts of Rapture together. The thing is, it all feels a bit too familiar. Wandering through the sunken corridors and grand open spaces of the game doesn't hold the same sense of mystery the original Bioshock had. Instead of everyone’s favorite villain-yet-not, Andrew Ryan, we are given Sofia Lamb, who was apparently Ryan’s main rival before the city descended into chaos. She has now taken over since the events of the first game and controls all of the Splicers through her speeches over the city’s PA system. This change in antagonists feels strange though, considering there was no mention of Lamb in the original Bioshock. 2K felt to remedy this with a few audio logs of Ryan and Lamb in debates and Ryan expressing his thoughts about Lamb’s plans for Rapture. These logs feel exactly like what they were made for, to patch up the inconsistency in the two stories, though it acts more as a simple fix for a larger discrepancy than a true bridge between the narratives.
The sounds of Rapture in Bioshock 2 are on par with the original though. Splicers are still as talkative as ever, and all of the characters, whether they are major players or short-lived acquaintances, are well voiced. The little effects, like water bouncing off of your helmet or the plodding of your footsteps, really help to add to the idea of your character being a slow, lumbering colossus. Old-timey music still echoes through the halls of the city, some of it being timed well with action sequences. You can still find audio logs as well, but most tend to just add small tidbits of information to the Rapture universe and not to the story itself.
The gameplay has been improved somewhat from the first game, with larger, and thankfully, more powerful weapons at your disposal. Since you’re a Big Daddy this time around, you get some of the Big Daddy’s armaments. The Rivet Gun and Drill are now available to you, along with some reincarnations of old weapons (spear gun, machine gun, etc.). The problem is, shooting is not Bioshock’s strongest element, and while the gunplay has improved, it still doesn’t rival other great first-person shooters on the market. A lot of the time you feel like you’re wasting ammunition taking out a Splicer, which makes plasmids now so much more important. Bioshock 1’s original plasmids make a return, now with the added ability to be used while firing weapons. You have your basic fire and ice powers with Incinerate and Winter Blast, and your more abstract powers like Decoy and Insect Swarm. Plasmids definitely help pick up the slack of the still inaccurate guns, since it seems that as long as you aim your power in the general direction of a Splicer you tend to hit them.
Hacking has had a much-needed overhaul. Gone are the days of carefully placing and rotating pipes, now with a new minigame where you time button presses, done in real-time. In addition, you can now hack objects at a distance with the new Hack Tool. Researching has also been redesigned for the better. Instead of the still photography from the first game, Bioshock 2 now implements the Research Camera, allowing you to film Splicers and Big Daddies while in combat to gain damage bonuses and other rewards. Gene Tonics are back as well, and are as useful as ever. They can range from damage modifiers, vending machine price reductions, research bonuses, to more health kit/Eve slots and improvements to hacking. You can carry up to thirty at a time, and change them out at any Gene Bank.
One new element to the game is your ability to now adopt Little Sisters and carry them on your back. Doing so will let you find Adam (the game’s currency) from nearby corpses for the Little Sister to extract. Setting a Little Sister down to extract Adam triggers a sequence where you must defend the Little Sister from Splicers until she is finished gathering. Setting up traps holds much more importance in Bioshock 2 if you choose to help the Little Sisters gather Adam, and while these sequences are fairly necessary to progress through the game, they tend to feel like no more than tedious side missions and halt any momentum the story might have had. Your toughest adversary appears at certain parts of these sequences as well. The Big Sister, a Little Sister now all grown up, will show up after you’ve dealt with several of the Little Sisters in the area. These fights are probably the hardest in the game, especially near the beginning, and take some thought and strategy if you care to come out on top.
While on the topic of the beginning of Bioshock 2, it is probably a good idea to mention the difficulty. The game can be pretty punishing for the first couple of hours if you’re not used to it. You will probably die a bit at the start, since you don’t have the arsenal or the powers to deal with a lot of the opposition you’ll be facing, but after a few upgrades and plasmids, you’ll be dominating pretty much everything. Give it some time, and make sure to use the Research Camera, because if there is one thing Bioshock 2 does right, it’s making you feel like a badass. Some may think that means the difficulty doesn’t scale to the player, but considering you are a Big Daddy, wouldn’t you want to feel a little overpowered?
As for the multiplayer component of Bioshock 2, I’m pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it can be. By no means do I think it can stand up to the more popular competitive shooters out there, but it’s a fun sidebar that might keep more people interested after they’ve finished the game’s singleplayer portion. Borrowing a bit from the Call of Duty series, you have customizable loadouts with special upgrades to weapons and plasmids that are earned through leveling (i.e. kills and such). Being able to customize to your playstyle could definitely add to the mutliplayer’s longevity. A bit of strategy has also been thrown into the mix, as vending machines and turrets found around the maps can be hacked by either side for extra experience. To further add to the back-and-forth of play, a Big Daddy suit with appear on the map, and could turn the tide of battle if used efficiently.
Multiplayer has your typical game modes, like Deathmatch and Capture The Flag (called Capture the Sister), but what makes Bioshock 2’s really multiplayer stand out is its initial presentation. When you are at the multiplayer start screen, you can choose to see the “Prologue,” which plays a cutscene that sets up the backstory for why the Ryan and Fontaine factions are at war, and gives you your own apartment to walk around in. In the apartment you can change your characters appearance and weapon and plasmas loadouts, and listen to audio logs that serve as further backstory for the mutliplayer’s characters. This is all a nice attempt at something new in terms of making multiplayer feel more apart of the universe and not just a mode that was tacked on near the end of production.
In all, Bioshock 2 is a bit of a slow burn. It's main story is not as interesting as its predecessor's, but starts to ramp up towards the end to a somewhat satisfying conclusion. Some slight improvements to how the game plays and the surprisingly good multiplayer component make up for a bit of its narrative shortcomings. The game at least hits enough of those familiar notes to keep fans of the series interested, but if you're looking for something new, or even groundbreaking, you may want to look elsewhere.