I am shrekfan246, and I'm here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? 'No!' says the man at Ubisoft, 'It belongs to the publishers.' 'No!' says the independent developer, 'It belongs to us.' 'No!' says the critic, 'It belongs to everyone.' I rejected those answers; Instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose... Bioshock 2, a game where the player would not fear the corporation. Where the thespian would not be bound by petty morality. Where the great would not be constrained by the small! And with the sweat of your brow, Bioshock 2 can become your game as well.
A Shrekfan Review Presents: Bioshock 2
Platforms: Playstation 3 / Xbox 360 / PC (Reviewed)
Release Date: February 9, 2010
Developer: 2K Marin
Publisher: 2K Games
Bioshock 2 is, shockingly, the sequel to Bioshock - which was itself a spiritual successor to Irrational Games' much earlier title System Shock 2. Instead of being handled by Ken Levine and Irrational as the first game was, the reins of a sequel were placed in the hands of a developer splintered from the outliers of Irrational Games. This ends up being both a boon and flaw in the final product.
Bioshock took place in the fictional city of Rapture, an underwater utopia built from the mind of Andrew Ryan where the "greatest" minds of humanity would be able to come and progress, unhindered by the parasites of society. Spoiler alert: A power struggle began between Andrew Ryan and mobster Frank Fontaine and a civil war broke out, while citizens began experimenting with genetic manipulation and ended up turning into psychotic 'Splicers'.
Now for the actual spoiler alert. Spoilers for the first Bioshock:
Eight years after the events of the first game, Bioshock 2 opens up and we're introduced to Subject Delta, a prototype Big Daddy who had been pair-bonded with a plot-significant Little Sister. Unlike Big Daddies that had been seen up to this point, Delta has the ability to swap between multiple weapons and wield plasmids - the genetic tonics that caused the inhabitants of Rapture to begin mutating and losing their minds. Delta also has the ability to defeat other Big Daddies and then "adopt" or "harvest" their Little Sisters, a mechanic brought over and slightly altered from the first game which aids in the collection of ADAM, the currency of Rapture that allows for the continued use and evolution of plasmids.
While Bioshock thrived on its atmosphere and built an amazing, haunting city in Rapture, it was admittedly very weak mechanically. Bioshock 2 is essentially the opposite; It holds little of the same wonder from the first game, but proves to be much more engaging and enjoyable to actually play. The enemy balance has been tweaked rather significantly, leading to a more refined experience that ends up being simultaneously easier and more challenging. Enemies are easier to defeat, as a whole, but a larger number of them lends to the player taking more damage and requiring more health management.
The atmosphere, unfortunately, falls flat as the already large number of resources available during the first game seems to have doubled over the time we missed in Rapture. Health packs and ammo are in such exorbitant abundance that you're almost never in any certain danger, even while frustratedly protecting the Little Sisters as they gather ADAM for you. (Oh yeah, that's a game mechanic they brought over from the previous game too - And it's every bit as 'fun' as it was then.)
Though the game struggles at recreating the same lonely, helpless feeling the first Bioshock produced, it excels at making the player really feel the power of a Big Daddy. The weapons are all Big Daddy-fied versions of the weapons from Bioshock - The wrench is a drill, the pistol is a rivet gun, the machine gun is a machine gun, the shotgun is a shotgun, the grenade launcher is a much more useful grenade launcher, the crossbow is a spear-thrower and still useless, and the chemical thrower is excluded, and in its place (though obtained much earlier in the game, relatively speaking) is a Hack Tool that allows the player to hack turrets, cameras, switches, and machines from a distance. Hacking takes place in real-time and has been tweaked around to essentially be a quick-time event, which still manages to be sufficiently better than the hacking mini-game from the first Bioshock.
Alternate ammo and weapon upgrades are present as well, but feel much more useful than they did before. The Rivet Gun loses almost all worth once you've obtained the machine gun, but still remains a godsend for setting up traps to ambush splicers when you're getting ready to have a Little Sister harvest ADAM from a corpse. The hack tool comes with the ability to deploy mini-turrets, and the launcher can be upgraded to prevent the player from taking splash damage and send out shots that explode into cluster explosives. Combined with a drill that has two different normal attacks and an extremely powerful distance-closing charge, and the player is given the feeling of holding complete power over their situation.
Bioshock 2 may not possess the crippling atmosphere of the first game, but it still captures the awe-striking architecture of Rapture in all of its Art Deco glory. The city, falling apart at its seams, broken and decrepit, still manages to be beautiful and haunting in a way that makes one wish they could see Rapture as it existed before the greed of men destroyed it. The transitions between levels are decidedly more awkward, however, as you have to return to a train station instead of running across a new bathysphere.
Antagonizing Delta on his journey throughout Rapture is new villain Sofia Lamb, who, while not a bad antagonist herself, contains little of the charisma and vigor that Andrew Ryan brought to the table. Small subplots connecting Lamb to Ryan are pulled forth by way of audio logs, and more threads are tied together explaining what happened to Rapture, but Lamb never really comes into her own as much more than a crazed socialite blindly wielding power while believing she held much more control than she did in reality. She's not the worst villain I've ever seen in a game, and I wouldn't even say she's the worst villain from a Bioshock game depending on how wide you cast the net, but it's simple fact that she can't compare to Andrew Ryan, which is disappointing.
Fortunately, other characters you meet along the way make up for the weak link in Lamb. Augustus Sinclair stands out as a particularly good example, accompanying the player in much the same way as Atlas in the first game. His distinct accent and behind-the-scenes information made him one of the three secondary characters that really stuck with me after I finished the game. The other two characters were particularly tragic in their back-stories, including a man's search for his lost daughter until finding she had been turned into a Little Sister, and a man who documented how somebody would be able to enter the hidden reaches of Rapture, a penal colony known as Persephone, and asks that no matter what his current self might say or ask the player should end his misery.
When actually meeting the plot-significant secondary characters, the player is presented with a choice in how to proceed: You can either kill them, or let them live. These choices are far less significant to the outcome of the game than the choice to harvest or save Little Sisters, but still provide small differences to a short section late in the game, which I feel was the proper way to approach the situation. The player isn't reprimanded for any sort of misplaced sense of morality (or lack thereof) simply because they chose to enact revenge on a character who either tried killing them, or ties into Delta's own back-story. There are advantages to allowing at least one of the characters to live, but otherwise I saw very little that would suggest any differences in how the game treats the player's choice.
There's an argument to be made that there wasn't really any point in making a sequel to the first Bioshock. It had a tightly contained story with a definite ending and made a splash in the water of first-person narratives that hadn't really been capitalized upon since Half-Life 2 three years earlier. And if Bioshock 2 were attempting to continue the narrative of the first game, I would agree with the assessment. But, while it makes references and outright spoils the twist of the first game, Bioshock 2 builds off of the Rapture that had been created and makes a valiant effort to weave its own narrative tapestry. There are points where it feels limited and hamstrung to the previous entry of the franchise, but overall the title is worthy enough to stand on its own two feet.
Bioshock 2 may not have caused me to exclaim "Wow." upon the first glance of Rapture over the edge of an underwater cliff, but it remained interesting enough to me that I wanted to see it through to the end without distraction. With much better combat mechanics and enemy balance, it was also far more fun for me to actually play because I didn't need to resort to swinging a wrench around three-quarters of the way through the game just so I wouldn't waste three clips of ammo on a type of enemy that I'd been fighting since the beginning. As a way to simply explore more of an exotic underwater city in a game built around an old-school shooter design, Bioshock 2 does its job extremely well and really won me over after all of the negative reactions I had seen to it.