BioShock 2 Review «

I knew the original BioShock was a special game from the moment I first laid eyes on the underwater dystopia of Rapture. The setting was so unlike anything I’d ever seen, and exploring it was so enthralling, that I easily overlooked the game’s less-than-stellar elements (the hacking mini-game, the shooting mechanics, and the story’s ultimate conclusion). While BioShock 2 largely addresses the shortcomings of its predecessor, it also bears the curse of familiarity. Traipsing around Rapture is certainly still enjoyable, but it’s kind of like a magic trick you’ve already seen — not quite as impressive as it was the first time around.

You don’t have to be super-familiar with the original BioShock to enjoy the sequel, but if you are, you’ll still learn plenty about the fate of Rapture. BioShock 2 takes place about 10 years after the original, with the player taking up the mantle of a special Big Daddy who wields a host of superpowers. (For the uninitiated: You’re essentially a genetically enhanced super-soldier with a drill for an arm who can cast spells called “plasmids.”) This particular Daddy is on a quest to find out why he’s been revived.

Since one of BioShock 2’s biggest strengths is its narrative, I don’t really want to get into more of the story than that… suffice to say that Rapture still holds some secrets for you to uncover, and many areas that weren’t present in the first game. Fanatical collectors will learn much about what transpired during the decade-long gap thanks to BioShock 2’s hoard of audio logs, which supplement the main story nicely but aren’t essential. I was worried that the story would feel contrived, set up in such a way to force Rapture into the plot once again. Yet everything makes sense considering the events of the first game, and is conveyed in such a way that I still felt invested in the characters involved.

Someone babbling details about what’s happened via a recording might draw you in, but the main way BioShock 2 invests you in the narrative is by forcing tough decisions. During your journey you’re presented with life-or-death decisions for the people of Rapture, and face the consequences of said choices throughout the campaign. And, as in the original BioShock, you must decide whether or not to sacrifice Little Sisters (young girls who have been mutated into genetic-material harvesters).

This time around, though, things get more complicated: Instead of merely choosing to save or harvest the Little Sisters (harvesting yields more genetic material for you to use), you can choose to adopt the children, acting as their stalwart protector and defending them while they gather precious resources… and then saving or turning on them at the last minute. It boils down to a small change in the process, but the additional interaction makes you care that much more about your choices… and makes you that much more of a bastard if you kill the Little Sisters after gaining their trust.

Good storytelling is important to BioShock, but this time around, the combat is greatly improved, too. While the first game forced you to use either plasmids or firearms at any given time, you can now use plasmids and weapons simultaneously, which makes the combat feel considerably less clumsy. Another important addition is the inclusion of a dedicated melee attack button, which frees you up from cycling through weapons to find your wrench. The end result of these seemingly minor adjustments is that the fights flow much more smoothly than before, and invite more tactical variety.

I appreciate the smart improvements upon the first BioShock’s shortcomings, but I’m still a little confused as to why the developers decided the game needed a multiplayer component. BioShock 2’s improved combat mechanics lend themselves to player-versus-player combat, and while I had plenty of fun while playing this mode, I don’t think it was necessary. While BioShock 2’s multiplayer has all the modern trappings of an addictive online shooter — complete with level-based perks and a host of unlockables — I can’t see people buying it for this reason, or trying it for more than a few games before heading back to their multiplayer shooter of choice. I hope I’m wrong about this for the sake of those interested in BioShock 2’s multiplayer, but with so many other great online-centric shooters to choose from, I don’t feel like BioShock 2 is unique enough to garner a strong community.

I had my doubts as to how a different studio would handle a sequel to one of the best games of this generation, but 2K Marin (which took the baton from original BioShock developer Irrational Games) has proven that Rapture’s still ripe for storytelling. Sure, the wonder of experiencing Rapture for the first time is gone, and yes, the engine is really starting to show its age, but the most important element — BioShock 2’s narrative — lives up to its heritage. That said, I can’t emphasize enough how badly I want the next BioShock to leave the sea behind for good. The first time was rapture, the second time’s been solid, but a third visit to the depths would make me wonder if creativity’s been lost to the abyss.


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