While it's lacking in Originality, Bioshock 2 excels
I'm ashamed to say that I waited almost two years to play Bioshock. Part of that is because I didn't get a Xbox 360 until late 2007, and the other part is because I spent every day sitting on the couch playing Call of Duty 4. But when I finally played the game last year over April vacation, I was very impressed. It was so easy to get lost in the world, which was weird because you knew nothing about it. Bioshock 2 has a lot of expectations to live up to, and while returning to Rapture a second time isn't as thrilling as the first, the sequel does improve on the gameplay aspects which makes it a well made package.
Because you've already been to Rapture and you know what it's all about (assuming you played the first game), the return isn't as exciting. You already know that it's an underwater city, and you already know about ADAM, Little Sisters, Splicers, Big Daddies, Andrew Ryan, and more. You probably won't be awed by the new locations, by that doesn't mean the game is dull. The new locations are interesting in their own way; you'll find yourself blasting apart Splicers in an amusement park and even walking on the ocean floor at certain points in the adventure. Just like the last game, everything looks fantastic. The lighting is great and the textures give everything a very distinct and dirty look. It's also worth noting that the voice acting is astounding. Each audio log is delivered with brilliancy, and some of the new accents you'll hear are awesome.
Probably the biggest gameplay change is your ability to wield Plasmids in your left hand and a weapon in the other. This means you no longer have to switch from using a weapon to using a Plasmid, and it makes going from zapping people to shooting them much quicker. Most of the Plasmids from the previous game return with only a few new ones, one of them being Scout which lets you control a ghost version of yourself. All of the Plasmids also have upgraded versions like the first game, but the effects are different. Let's take Incinerate, for example. When you upgrade it to the next level, you can charge it up for an even more devastating fireball. Once you get to level 3, you'll be able to spew fire out of your hand in a continuous stream like a flamethrower. Because you play as a Big Daddy, you'll also be able to wield bigger guns. You'll get access to the Rivet Gun early on, and eventually you'll pick up a large machine gun and other tools of destruction. (Different ammo types also return). Unfortunately, I felt that the shooting was rather weak and unsatisfying since some of the weapons are inaccurate and don't feel as powerful as they should be, so I was perfectly content with simply zapping people and feeding them my Drill for an instant kill. ("Remember, the One-Two Punch!")
I noticed that the single player campaign is sort of a mix between a linear experience and an open world one. While it is true that once you leave a level you cannot go back to it, you can however do many different things once you are in a level. Maybe you want to just zip through, complete every objective, and leave. Maybe you want to explore to find ammo and money. Or maybe you want to look for Little Sisters, which brings us to another major feature of Bioshock 2. Because you are a Big Daddy, you will be able to carry Little Sisters around (after killing their current Big Daddy) and have them gather ADAM. When you get to a corpse that the girl can stick her needle into, you'll be able to set up traps to keep the two of your safe. Because ADAM gathering attracts Splicers, you'll want to place traps around the area (like Trap Rivets, which fire when an enemy passes in front of it, or the Plasmid Cyclone Trap) to make life easier. However, later on in the game I found that Trap Rivets did nothing but damage the enemies and not kill them, so you'll have to watch to see if your defense mechanisms are getting less effective.
Some of the key features of Bioshock 1 return, such as researching enemies (which you actually do with a video recorder rather than taking pictures) and hacking different machines. The hacking is a whole lot easier in this game, since the annoying pipe minigame has been taken out in favor of something much easier. When you go to hack something, a meter appears with a line going back and forth, and you must stop the line in either a green section or a blue section (the latter of which gives you a bonus). Security cameras and turrets return, but sudden alarms are much easier avoid because your trusty Hack Tool allows you to hack things from a distance.
What is easily the strangest feature of Bioshock 2 is the inclusion of multiplayer. I was skeptical of playing Bioshock online at first, but after sinking several hours into it I've concluded that it works pretty well. There is a leveling system similar to that of Call Of Duty, where you'll get 10 XP for killing an enemy, 5 XP for assists, and so forth. You unlock something each time you level up, whether it be a new weapon, Plasmid, Tonic, or something else. The shooting in the multiplayer is pretty bad, and I found myself using the Grenade Launcher as my primary weapon as soon as I unlocked it. The game modes are pretty basic, but playing Capture the Flag where the Flag is a Little Sister is pretty entertaining. You'll also be able to pick one of the 6 characters and change what they're wearing on their face and what they use for a melee weapon (they are all the same, just different looking). The developers even put in backstories for each character and used the whole "The multiplayer allows you to experience the downfall of Rapture" as justification for its inclusion, but I pretty much ignored all of this. You're given 3 loadouts to customize, but there isn't much point in having more than one because you can't switch after dying.
All of the maps are slightly modified versions of locations from Bioshock 1; it's pretty cool to run around Arcadia and blast people apart. While the multiplayer may sound generic, there are a few key features that set it apart from other shooters. Each map has turrets and Vending Machines that can actually be hacked. When you hack a turret, it fights for your team until it's either destroyed or an enemy runs up and hacks it for their team. It's pretty cool when a turret is shooting your enemies one moment and the next it's hurling rockets your way. When you hack a Vending Machine, you rig it to drop a live grenade when an enemy approaches it. You also have the chance to become a Big Daddy during the match if you find the suit when it spawns. This gives you access to a large rifle-like weapon, lots of health, and proximity mines. I think I've actually spent more time playing online than playing single player. It's that strong.
Many people may be confused about a Bioshock sequel, but there's no denying that this game is worthy of the Bioshock name. While the story and gameplay fall a bit short compared to the first, the fun single player campaign is backed up by an entertaining multiplayer component that should keep you going for quite a while.