Is It Worth Returning To Rapture
The first Bioshock, released in 2007, was a refreshing surprise. Made by those who developed the System Shock games, it offered players a similar experience; an atmospheric first-person shooter. The world the players found themselves in, Rapture (a supposed underwater utopia created by Andrew Ryan), was fully fleshed out and very fun to explore. The political and philosophical intrigue was interesting to a point. Players that have a fairly good understanding of the subjects being discussed could pick apart the logic fairly easily. However, regardless of nitpicks, it was an interesting story with interesting characters. Seeing how successful it was inevitable that the game's publisher, 2K Games, would eventually announce a sequel. Fortunately, Bioshock 2 fine tuned the gameplay of Bioshock 1 in a lot of very important and meaningful ways. Unfortunately, the uniqueness of Rapture is not quite as palpable as it once was.
The original game was so unique, in part, due to its story and its environment. The uniqueness of this game, because it takes place in a still destroyed Rapture, is set-back before it even has a chance to set the mood. If you played the original, you know what type of atmosphere you'll get in this game. It's a shame they didn't take any real chances with this game's environment. The story follows a very similar story arc to the original just tweaked here and there. Instead of hearing the philosophical and political ramblings of Andrew Ryan you get the philosophical and political ramblings of Sofia Lamb. Lamb is a psychologist who believes in socialist ideals (ideals that are the polar opposite of Ryan's). Yet, the world and its people still act the same way as they did with Ryan. It's as if the switch from Ryan to Lamb was more for the players benefit then Rapture's as nothing really changed (except now, instead of ruling the people with terror, Lamb rules with 'love'). It appears the writers of Bioshock 2 are making the argument that, similar to Ryan ruling with tyranny, Lamb can rule, and control, with socialistic influence. It's an intriguing idea that, at times, is bogged down by the game's script. For example, Lamb will ramble about political and philosophical concepts that, when really digested and thought about, don't hold their weight in water.
The player plays as one of the original Big Daddies. Big Daddies are charged with caring for various young, mutated little girls that take 'Adam' (genetic material that are located within dead bodies) and share that Adam with their Big Daddy as well as sending it back to...well, wherever-ville. The Adam was sent to Ryan in the first game. However, in this game, that information is not offered. If a new player to Bioshock plays this game that player will end up pretty confused about the nature of Adam. In fact, new players to this franchise will have a hard time understanding anything about the story in Bioshock 2. Moments and characters from the first game are continually referenced yet not explained. The Big Daddy the player controls has a genetic tie to one particular little sister (the daughter of Lamb) and must get to her if he wants to live and take her out of Rapture. The game informs the player that this link is so strong that the character becomes weaker if that character is too far or long removed from the sister. It's a neat idea that sort of explains why the Big Daddy you control is quite as powerful as the Big Daddies fought in the previous game. It's a bit contrived, but at least it is an explanation.
The gameplay is very methodical. The game is primarily a shooter with minor exploration mechanics. The player can shoot weapons (all of which can be upgraded and have three varying ammo types) and plasmids (basically the game's version of 'magic'). Unlike the first game, this game allows for dual-wielding of the plasmids and weapons. This is a much smarter way to handle these two mechanics rather then switching back and forth as was the case in the previous game. The shooting is fast and feels a little old-fashioned. I found myself on more then one occasion circle-strafing like I did back in the days of the Nintendo 64 and early PC games. The shooting is fun and satisfying especially when the player takes on the more difficult enemies in the game. On harder difficulties the game can be pretty tough, especially fighting Big Daddies and Big Sisters (who are grown up little sisters). Like the previous game, plasmids can be used on the environment to inflict large scale damage (ex; firing lightening into a pool of water). Like the previous game players can add new plasmids (either by finding or buying them with Adam) and tonics (i.e. stat-building/changing items). Like the previous game the player can chose to rescue the little sisters (i.e. send them to a person that can change them back into real girls) or harvest (i.e. kill) them to get more Adam. See a formula forming? This game is very similar to the first game. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but I find it a bit disingenuous to ask players to pay another $60 to play what is essentially an enhanced remake of a three year old game. There is multiplayer this time but it serves as more of a nice diversion then a reason to buy this game.
Bioshock 2 made the design choice to take place ten years after the events of the original game. I think an argument could be made that the game could, or maybe should, have been made during the rise and fall of Rapture and Andrew Ryan but that's neither here nor there. However, due to this design choice, the game's is very similar to that of the original in terms of artistic design. Everything has a Tim Burton feel to it and looks really good. Technical the game is all over the place, though it is improved over the original. Some textures are adequately detailed while others are very blurry. The animations are awkward and, at times (ex; when an enemy falls over), looks stop-motion. The character models can be downright ugly. All of these technical limitations were in the first game but it's been three years and the Unreal engine (the engine this game was built on) has been tweaked and improved since then. These limitations should not be as big of a problem anymore. The audio design is incredible. If you have a 5.1 or better sound system this game will surely impress. The surround was handled beautifully and the effects are great. The acting is consistently outstanding as well.
Bioshock 2 is a modified version of Bioshock 1 (a three year old game). The combat has been improved but the sense of exploration found in the previous game is hindered as the player now travels from section to section within Rapture via a train which only goes one way. The atmosphere is set up just as the first making the uniqueness of Rapture feel much less impressive. The story feels a bit flat as well. Lamb is no Ryan and none of the set-pieces work quite as well as the those in the first game. Sequels are never easy to make nor to review. A lot of aspects of the game need to be considered. Does the game improve on the original? Yes, but only in some aspects and is actually less engaging then the original. Is the game unique enough to stand on its own merits? No, I don't think it is. Without the first game as a reference, this game wouldn't feel as intriguing to me. Is the game, overall, a good game? Yes. The three year old gameplay of the first game still holds up. Despite being a modified version of the first game, Bioshock 2 is still very fun, is still fairly unique compared to the rest of the video games we've seen released this console generation, and Rapture still impresses despite my criticisms of this game's design choice. This isn't an example of a sequel trumping the original. However, that doesn't mean the sequel isn't worth experiencing.