Review: Bioshock 2

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Bioshock 2 is the sequel to the “thinking man’s” shooter which had shaken expectations within the slowly drowning underwater utopia of Rapture. The first game took place in 1960 and escaping it was the player’s only goal after a mid-ocean airplane crash leaves him the only survivor. But in doing so, they also unraveled the city’s fiction of shattered lives and lost, art-deco glory to individualism run amok.

Big Daddies were the iconic foes of Rapture. These are hulking, pressure-suited titans that did their best to protect Little Sisters; brainwashed children who spent their time harvesting ADAM from the dead, the genetic stuff that was responsible for Rapture’s ultimate fall. It can also rewrite your genetic code so that you can throw powers around like an X-Man which is what made it so valuable in the first place.

The sequel doesn’t assume which ending is considered canon and takes place 10 years after 1959′s civil war had torn the city apart. But in an imaginative twist, players become a Big Daddy. Not only are you a walking weapons closet, you’re one of the first and are able to use ADAM in order to throw around the kind of firepower that the other Big Daddies can’t. Unfortunately for you, Big Sisters are apparently the new model as someone else has taken control of what is left of Rapture and you don’t fit in with their plans.

The gameplay has remained relatively similar to the first with tweakable weapons and upgradeable powers allowing anyone with an imagination to creatively deal with enemies. You can freeze and shatter baddies, burn them before mulching their bones with your giant drill, or simply go in guns blazing after hacking a nearby turret to help out. Fans coming into this one will feel right at home while newcomers will get to experience why its gameplay can be a lot of exciting fun.

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Focusing more on being a Big Daddy, one new twist is in being able to adopt a Little Sister. While she goes on her rounds to collect ADAM, you’ll also need to set up traps and guard her with your life so that she can complete her work. She’s immortal, but she can only do so much when everyone is gunning for the ADAM she’s gathering.

And when it finally come time to say goodbye, players can opt whether to release their adopted charge by excising the ADAM producing sea slug that she was implanted with or harvest her for a windfall of ADAM instead. That last choice, though, is fatal to her, and what you decide will reflect what will happen with the title’s ending delivering either a poignant climax or a grim prophecy of things to come. From a story perspective, Bioshock 2 isn’t so much about jousting between two rivals as it was in the first game. Instead, it seems to be more about family, something that drives on through to the very end lending its ending act a bit more heart than what is typically expected from a shooter.

Multiplayer adds to the history behind Rapture in casting players as its citizens during the civil war of 1959. It borrows heavily from Modern Warfare’s formula of perks and levels, replacing the perks with powerful plasmids, performance enhancing tonics, and a few new weapons – all while fitting in neatly with the storied backdrop of the single player making it a treat for fans of its fiction. Maps are based off of locations from the first game and although the player counts are small (a maximum of 10 players at any one time), the fast paced action flavored by plasmid powers and game modes such as Capture the Little Sister make it unique and familiar at the same time.

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But it’s also hard to shake the feeling that it comes up short in a few areas, notably in how linear the single player can feel. Unlike the first game, players no longer are able to backtrack into previous areas to seek out anything that they might have missed, such as tape recorders or tonic enhancements. It’s a one way trip forward once you decide to hop on the sub to the next neighborhood.

As for the gameplay, while it sticks closely to the original in almost every way with the exception of helping out Little Sisters (and facing off against Big Sisters that occasionally arrive to stop you), it can also feel slightly stifled with its reverence to the source material. I’m not complaining that having more Bioshock is bad, but it can just as often feel a bit too familiar…as if I had played through some of this before.

Despite experiencing some of that deja vu, it leans more towards the sense that the experience is still worth revisiting. Though it cautiously paints within the lines of its predecessor, Rapture’s propaganda plastered facade hiding its fallen Shangri-La is still a joy to peel away one splicer at a time making the trip through the embers of its utopian ideals as unforgettable.

Bioshock 2
2K Games / Digital Extremes / Arkane Studios
Xbox 360, PS3, PC (reviewed)
Rated M for Mature