When a game is surrounded by so much hype, there is always the possibility that the high you think you will have ends up falling short. That disappointment is part of the reason why I'm only getting to this article now. It's not to say that Bioshock 2 is a bad game. It just wasn't what I was expecting on my return to Rapture.
Bioshock 2 sees a brand new protagonist familiar to the confines of the intended utopia beneath the sea. Simply known as "Subject: Delta", you play as an early prototype of the famed Big Daddies from the first Bioshock who is "killed" in the final days leading up to Rapture's fall. Your carcass is left to rot in the middle of the streets of Rapture where you remain undisturbed for 10 years. Somehow, someway, you are brought back to life and are now forced to wander around Rapture searching not only for your lost memories, but also for the original Little Sister you were sworn to protect.
The first thing you will notice is that the graphics are still just as sharp as they were in the first Bioshock. There are moments where you will jump at your own shadow, literally, as the lighting effects cast eerie outlines of your own form against walls and floors. It sometimes takes you a second to remember, that Big Daddy shadow, a figure ingrained into your memory as an enemy, is actually your own, which only adds to the creepy atmosphere of the dilapidated Rapture.
In terms of sound, something the first Bioshock was lauded for, Bioshock 2 is just as strong. Heart pounding atmospheric instrumentals mixed in with classic 40s and 50s tunes provides a dichotomy that shocks your system more than any plasmid you may find in the game. Rounding out the great peripherals is the tremendous voice acting throughout. Whether a meaningless thug splicer's grunts of rage and desperation to the pleas of your original Little Sister all grown up, the voice acting is some of the best in gaming.
The plot is brilliant, but there is one question that plagued me through the entire game. If in the original Bioshock, Rapture was falling apart as was and this game takes place about eight years after those original events, how has most of the structure remained standing and that there are still humans around, whose fate you decide, who haven't succumbed completely to the temptations of Adam (the substance that grants you the ability to splice your DNA and give you powers)? I felt this little hole wasn't explained as fully as it could have been and will just have to be chalked up to some of the mysteries and wonder of Rapture will just have to remain unsolved.
As you move away from the creative aspects of the game, you start to see the cracks in the proverbial Big Daddy's armor. The game play is very good, but even on the hardest difficulty, which wasn't that hard because of no real penalties if you die, I blew through the entire game in what felt like no time at all. Then consider that the game removed the ability to backtrack into previous areas you've explored as you move through Rapture. This sense of exploration and being able to go back to collect audio files or collect Little Sisters you may have missed was a critical part of the original Bioshock's gameplay. Rapture felt a lot smaller and more restrictive this time around, even with being able to go into the ocean for short intervals, than in the first game, and I refuse to believe it was a creative decision to draw a parallel to you being trapped in the Big Daddy suit. You also have to remember to quick save a lot more often because the game froze at several key moments and needed to be rebooted. That is a huge glitch.
There were some new positives to the game play though. Using Little Sisters to harvest Adam from all the corpses around Rapture was this game's masterstroke and using new weapons like the Trap Rivet and the Mini-Turret to help protect them forced you to come up with new and inventive strategies continuously if you wanted to get the game's best ending (there are six in total depending on the decisions you make over the course of your adventure).
And you needed to think up new strategies constantly because the enemy A.I. is impressive. You light an enemy on fire and they will seek out water. You hack a camera or turret and they will avoid it as best they can once they find it. And add in new varieties of enemies like the hybrid Big Sisters and the plasmid overloaded Brute Splicers and at least you can say there was an effort to amp up the difficulty.
One of the reasons why the game play was lacking could have been that the inclusion of the new multiplayer mode simply took up too much space on the disc. The only real knock on the original Bioshock was a lack of multiplayer, so 2K made it a point to include one with Bioshock 2. Unfortunately, I would just rather have had more of the single-player mode if this was the best multiplayer 2K could have come up with. Being able to have up to 10 player death matches, team death matches, capture-the-flag with Little Sisters, and territorial control matches, you have a very basic multiplayer system. The problem is that players cannot take a lot of damage before they die, so many matches, although competitive, really don't require a lot of strategy as it is simply more a race to see who can light who on fire first and hack the handful of turrets scattered about each level.
Bioshock 2, although it didn't move me to tears of joy like I had anticipated, is a very solid game. It does a wonderful job for the most part of adding to the history of Rapture and its collapse as it develops new characters while adding shades of depth to characters long gone from Rapture. The multiplayer seemed thrown together and more of a move to pacify critics of the first game than anything else, and I would rather have seen the space used for the multiplayer used to be able to backtrack in a larger single player mode. Even with a couple of knocks on the game play and multiplayer, Bioshock 2 would be a solid choice for a purchase, especially if you are as big of a fan of the first game as I was.
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