Back in 2007, A video game released by the company 2k Games and developed by Irrational Studios literally wiped the floor of my own expectations on the First Person Genre. A game that combined philosophical teachings, chilling design and scripted storyline moments with well executed controls through tired yet true combinations made a tour de force of a game that I doubt will ever be experienced in the genre for years to come. That game was “Bioshock.”
It is funny to think that three years ago the Aryn Rand philosophy study in game format graced our HD sets for the first time. Since then, the game has spawned so much hype and thought that even a feature movie is possibly in the works for it, something many games cannot claim. Yet, in that time, the unthinkable happened. A near perfect game in terms of its tight story and execution got a sequel. It was one of those moments that I felt as cynical as ever, boldly claiming that “Bioshock” did NOT need a sequel to it, and that it is a standalone title in its own right. And after playing the game and reflecting on the adventure through rapture once more, it is really easy to say I called it, and that this game is horrible.
Well, nothing is ever this easy.
While the game is definitely inferior to the first one, the charm of Bioshock is still there, albeit in a more forceful manner. Here, you star as subject Delta, the prototype Big Daddy, (because being a Big Daddy is what everyone wants). As the prototype, you retain pretty much all the powers from the previous game, from using weapons like shotguns and grenade launchers to your plasmid powers that you pick up throughout the game. Plus, you get a drill hand! Your goal, to help two people, Dr. Tennebaum from the first game, and a newcomer Augustus Sinclair, take down the new leader of Rapture, Dr. Sofia Lamb, who took over Rapture ten years after the events of the first game.
While the gameplay is fairly unchanged in the sense of the first one, there are new elements that do change the overall mechanics of the game. Since you are a Big Daddy this time around, you get to corral your own little sisters throughout the crumbling ruins of Rapture. Not only you need to wrestle them away from other Big Daddies, but you need to protect them from harm as they harvest Adam against hordes of the former denizens’ of Rapture as they attempt to take her away from you, offering a kind of horde mode aspect to the game. You can also skip this by just harvesting the little sisters too, offering that degree of choice from the first game, but in a more abstract form.
Regardless if you save them or kill them, you will likely fight the new baddie on the block, the Big Sister. This is basically a harder, stronger version of the Big Daddies, faster and easily more powerful than previous creatures. These moments just add another problem to the game though, and that is constant draining of your characters resources. In saving one little sister, you will have to kill a Big Daddy, protect it using as much of your ammo and health as possible against splicers several times in one level, mind you, and then likely fight a Big Sister after you free or harvest your character. It becomes way too tedious and honestly, frustrating to play through to the point where you would either ignore them all together or harvest them to make it go faster.
Other gameplay aspects changed are the pipe dream sequences, which are now real time change games of hitting a needle in the sweet spot for hacking. Failing means more risks and succeeding means extra rewards, which is nice change and does fix one of the few repetitive problems in “Bioshock”, but it still becomes a chose at times because it is in real time, meaning you can get attacked while doing this.
And as for the major sticking point, the multi-player, I admit it feels out of place, but to give 2K some credit, they did a good job in making it unique. Instead of it taking place during the game or some abstract land, its setting is actually before the fall of rapture between the factions that led to the destruction. It also offers more character development for what would be generic citizens of Rapture in any other game, plus it follows the now jaded method of leveling up that “Call of Duty” pioneered, so there is enough there to keep it fresh.
But perhaps the biggest sticking point is the story itself. While “Bioshock 2” tries very had to be different from its predecessor, this time around it feels more honed in to capture the magic the first game had. The intellectual edge offers some great dialogue, again through the finding of tape recordings scattered in the levels, but the words this time feel empty, almost hollow when compared to the first game. For one, the story this time has that communist/ power hungry edge to it, which is a stark contrast to the first game, but in a bad way. It almost negates the events and dialogue in the first game because of this, as it is a storyline that would not even be feasible due to the power struggles in the first “Bioshock.” It also doesn’t help that this time it is clear who is right and who is wrong, the strength of the first game was the shades of gray in between, not the obvious black and white of it. If there is one bright spot that showcases this, it is the character of Augustus Sinclair, who is that middle man of sorts; that shade of gray that “Bioshock 2” needs. He anchors the story to the point where it is playable and enjoyable at the very least; just to see his own character arc.
I will say that the graphics and sound are still incredible. The new areas of Rapture explored are well thought out, maze like corridors that run the gamut of a movie theater, a “theme park” that serves are pure propaganda for Andrew Ryan himself, and even a slum. The design is still amazing, and the continual decay is apparent in its look; there are more creeps and cracks in Rapture than before. Soundwise everything is excellent. The effects are spectacular, the music is still moody and has that 40s and 50s vibe to it, and the voice acting is amazing by all accounts.
So did I call it? In many ways yes. A typical reviewer would say that this game is just as good as its predecessor, but the changes aside to the gameplay, “Bioshock 2” is still a game that should not have been made. It has enough in it to be great, but it suffers from the boiler plate production that many franchises go through. The new direction is a nice attempt, but it messes with the universe almost to the point of causing continuity problems. The story is more tame and by the books, the action is great but most of the time way too much for your character, and the thrill of being a Big Daddy is almost laughable, since your pretty much the same character only with a drill for an arm. Overall, “Bioshock 2” is a good game, but it is an unnecessary one.
Final Score- B