BioShock 2 Review

By Jake Gaskill - Posted Feb 08, 2010

Rapture, Andrew Ryan's failed utopia under the sea, remains one of gaming's most compelling worlds to inhabit, and BioShock 2 does a great job of drawing you in and making you feel right at home. But while it certainly feels good to be back in Rapture and there is plenty to enjoy here, the game doesn't quite pack the same punch as the original.

The Pros
  • Rapture is as hauntingly gorgeous as ever
  • Tons of weapon and enemy variety
  • Hacking tool keeps gameplay flowing
  • Sound design is ridiculous
The Cons
  • Story structure = missed opportunity
  • Uses Rapture as a crutch too often
  • Multiplayer works but feels vestigial

Irrational Games set the bar incredibly high with its nightmarish, philosophy-riddled first-person shooter BioShock by creating one of the greatest settings of all time in Rapture, the twisted underwater utopia gone wrong, born from the mind of the ultimate champion of individual self-interest Andrew Ryan. The plasmid-infused gameplay of the first game was satisfying, but it was the world that kept driving you forward, making you want to see what lay just behind the next door.

In BioShock 2, developed away from Irrational’s Boston studio at 2K Marin, Rapture is still just as hauntingly gorgeous and stylistically stunning as ever, only now it’s under the control of an anti-individualist ideologue named Dr. Sophia Lamb. It was Lamb who helped spark the civil war that tore Rapture apart prior to the events of the first game. Helping her maintain control over the dying city, as well as giving her the means to achieve her own utopian goals, are the Big Sisters. As for the spliced-out citizens, they’ve become even more crazed and, in some cases, more monstrous over the years. In short, Rapture’s in a bad way.

BioShock 2

Dive! Dive! Dive!

So where do you fit into all of this? Well, you play as the original Big Daddy codenamed “Delta.” After being separated from your Little Sister Eleanor, you are awoken after being in a coma of sorts for 10 years and tasked with reconnecting with Eleanor in order to save her, yourself and Rapture from Lamb’s corrupted ambitions.

On the surface, the story sounds intriguing enough, but unfortunately the surface is about as deep as the story goes. The most disappointing part though is that the story could have been an instant classic had it simply let you play through Delta’s story leading up to the coma-inducing moment shown at the beginning of the game, instead of simply showing the tail end of this story arc through a cutscene. The rest of the story follows a rather predictable path and comes to a mostly anticlimactic conclusion. Also, the characters just aren’t as gripping as the previous cast of Ryan, Atlas/Fontaine, Tenenbaum, etc. Having said that, the voice acting here is once again top notch and hearing some familiar voices again will instantly resonate with people who played the first game.

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Give the Parasite a Hand

Now while BioShock 2 doesn’t contribute as strongly in the narrative department as it could have, the team at 2K Marin has made some fantastic gameplay improvements. Being able to duel-wield plasmids and weapons is a great addition as it adds tons of real-time variety to every single fight. Also, the new hacking tool, which allows you to remotely hack bots and turrets, keeps you engaged in the action at all times, as opposed to the first game’s water-flowing mini-game that interrupted the proceedings. Researching has also received a welcomed alteration; you no longer have to collect film to take pictures of enemies. Instead, you have access to a movie camera with unlimited film. Like the hacking tool, being able to just roll camera keeps the action flowing.

The new and slightly redesigned enemies also keep you from ever feeling like you have total control over fights, which adds a lot of tension to combat. It also makes harvesting battles -- free-for-alls that ensue once you place a Little Sister down to harvest Adam (Rapture’s biological currency) from splicer corpses -- joyously frenetic and tense. Later on, there are fights where you take on Tank-like brutes, Big Daddies and waves of wall-climbing Spider Splicers that are absolutely nutty. While the ramped up combat does give the game a decidedly different feel than the first game, it also effectively gets across just how much Rapture has changed since you last sloshed through its rotting corridors.

BioShock 2

Speaking of which, Rapture is once again the real star of the show here. Not only do you get to venture to parts of the city that were only mentioned in the first game, you actually get to walk along the sea floor at certain points to move from one area to the next, which really drives home the immensity of Ryan’s creation by giving you a completely different perspective on it.

Individual vs. Collective

BioShock fans have been scratching their heads about the game’s multiplayer mode since it was first announced and while it certainly isn’t for everyone, I can tell you that it doesn’t feel tacked on in the least. Plus, the fact that it takes place during Rapture’s civil war and actually serves a narrative purpose is fantastic, as it throws you right in the middle of Rapture’s darkest time.

Of the game’s six modes, Capture the Sister (just CTF with a Little Sister in place of the flag and one team complete with a big daddy trying to protect it) was easily my favorite, because it is gut-wrenching when you hear the Little Sister scream after being snatched up by someone. It’s even more so when you do it yourself as she writhes in your arms and screams for you to let her go as you attempt to carry her back to your team’s “base.” It is disturbing, heart pounding, but also an absolute blast. There are a ton of gameplay challenges to complete as well (30 kills with a shotgun, kill someone using a geyser trap to crush him against the ceiling, etc.). Also, every weapon has a bonus perk slot and you get to use three different plasmids and two tonics, which means you won’t want for customization options.

BioShock 2

Ultimately though, the multiplayer works better for people who don’t normally play multiplayer shooters. If you’re looking for an experience on par with top-tier online shooters, you’ll be disappointed. It’s not fair to call it a novelty, but the very nature of BioShock’s combat (specifically the combination of weapons and plasmids) turn things to mad frenzies of chaos that, while enjoyable, might not appeal to gamers looking for organization and ranking up as opposed to unbridled madness. Also, the maps aren’t all that conducive to multiplayer, especially sniping, since they are all interior maps (e.g. lots of walls, corners, balconies, other obstructions, etc.) so it makes it almost impossible to play any way other than close quarters. BioShock will always be about the single-player, story-driven experience and while the multiplayer is functional for the most part, it ends up feeling a bit unnecessary. It won’t win over the online shooter crowd and it’s a fun, but fleeting, curiosity for others.

Should You Kindly?

BioShock is one of those games with an immediately gripping story. Sadly, BioShock 2 rides on the coattails of the original a bit too much. I wish that the game opened by letting me wander around a pristine and pre-collapsed Rapture, because that would have instantly set the game apart from its predecessor and added so much to the franchise’s overall narrative. Even though the multiplayer “works,” it won’t make you forget about the single-player any time soon. It’s definitely a must-play, especially for BioShock fans, because it’s still a terrifying and intense ride, but if you go into it expecting it to blow your mind like the first one did, you might be reaching for the “De-disappoint” plasmid.