Returning to Rapture is a lot like visiting Disney Land as an adult. It doesn’t have that same awe-inspiring presence, the locals are still hostile and a bit tweaked, and while all the sites (and amusements?) are familiar, there’s still a welcoming sense of nostalgia that makes the long lines worth the wait. Your first time visiting both was likely filled with excitement, intrigue, and mystery. But when you return, you already know what to expect – the environment is familiar enough to feel like you know your way around. So when you return to Rapture in BioShock 2, does all that familiarity and loss of mystery take anything away from the experience? The short and easiest answer is no, but the more accurate answer is a little, maybe, just a bit, not too much. This will all depend on how much you enjoyed and played 2008’s critically acclaimed BioShock (or 2007, if you happened to experience it on 360/PC). If you dare to trek back into the underwater city, you have a lot to look forward to.
BioShock 2, developed by 2K Marin, takes place 10 years after the events of the first game. Instead of playing as a mysterious man washed ashore after a plane accident, the protagonist is a Big Daddy. Without spoiling too much of the plot, it should be noted that although fans of the first game will obviously be familiar with these behemoths, we should point out that you are not as elite as some of the other metal giants you’ll find in Rapture. Nonetheless, you’ll have complete access to the Big Daddy’s drill, along with a host of plasmids and various weapons, new and old. As a Big Daddy, you are tasked with watching over Little Sisters. The main character’s Little Sister happens to be the daughter of Rapture’s new boss, Sophia Lamb (more on Sophia later). All you have to do is venture through Rapture, and rescue your Little Sister. Of course, you’ll have to deal with splicers, other Big Daddies, and the newly introduced Big Sisters.
To better understand BioShock 2, it’s important to take a quick look at the story of the original game. The underwater city of Rapture, conceived by Andrew Ryan, was supposed to be a Utopian society. ADAM was eventually discovered. This substance genetically altered those who used it. Little Sisters harvest the ADAM, and Big Daddies must protect these girls from the junky splicers that seek to consume as much ADAM as possible. Rapture failed. As the second games picks up, the city is in even greater disrepair. Leaky walls, agitated splicers, and an enormous amount of junk food compose the city. Sophia Lamb takes over the role of Andrew Ryan. The use of audio diaries return as the main storytelling mechanism. You’ll quickly learn that Lamb has been abducting little girls from the surface world to act as the new Little Sisters. It works, and the city is once again filled with ADAM hungry residents.
This is a true sequel, meaning all the familiarities of the first game are there, plus some new , albeit somewhat minor additions to keep it feeling fresh. Like the original, BioShock 2 is a first-person shooter with RPG elements through Plasmid upgades (that game’s magic elements), and genetic alterations. The player guides the Big Daddy through the city, uses the standard array of weapons, and Plasmids to defeat enemies both small and large. The use of the drill is pretty satisfying, especially later in game. When you get the charge ability, the drill really turns into a valuable weapon. Coupled with the winter blast ability, even your biggest enemies can be tamed.
Combat is relatively traditional for a FPS. Weapons like the shotgun and machine gun can be tough to control at the beginning, but by upgrading your weapons, you can add stability, a bigger clip size, and ammo that packs a bigger punch. You can also set traps in BioShock 2. These are nearly required to fend off splicers when you have to protect a Little Sister while she gathers ADAM from a dead enemy. The player also has a full arsenal of Plasmid powers, including incinerate, electro bolt and the aforementioned winter blast.
Your enemies in BioShock 2 are quite similar to the first game, but with some noticeable additions. There are the standard additions of new, beefier splicers, but the biggest addition is the Big Sister. These enemies are more agile than their male counterparts, and they are substantially harder to kill. What makes them all that much harder is that Big Sisters typically only appear after you’ve harvested or rescued all the Little Sisters in the level. To get to the Little Sister, you have to take down the Big Daddy that is protecting her. After you take possession of the Little Sister, you can have her find a corpse with ADAM. She’ll harvest the ADAM, but splicers will go after her – your task, naturally, is to keep her alive. You’ll do this by laying traps, auto or hacked turrets, and cyclone traps. Needless to say, defending your Little Sister provides quite the gun battle. Simply put, these moments can be really intense. So, after you finish defending your final Little Sister, out comes the Big Sister with a loud screeching. You’ll be short on ammo, and EVE (the game’s mana), and health; yet, somehow you’ll have to pull off a kill. These battle sequences are some of our personal highlights in BioShock 2. Still, while at its core the game is a FPS experience, it’s not as fast-paced as some of its equals. The enemies do come at your fast, but there are few times when you’ll be fighting more than 10 enemies at once. Your actions will be thought out and methodical.
Another new element is being able to walk around outside, underwater. Sadly, this isn’t as interesting as it sounded when the game was being promoted. It’s nice to see the city from the outside looking in, but it would have been nice to have underwater combat. The only purpose of walking around underwater is to get from one location to another. Also new to the sequel is the addition of an interesting, yet simple multiplayer component. The multiplayer mode is heavily story driven taking place during the fall of Rapture. You get to test weapons and Plasmids during a war with Andrew Ryan and company and the Sinclair Solutions Consumer Rewards Program. The modes support up to 10 players, and features faster and more intense action than in the single-player campaign. Since the game takes place in Andrew Ryan days, you’ll find familiar locations from the first game. You can play in a host of standard online multiplayer matches. While there is nothing revolutionary about the multiplayer, the addition means you’ll have quite a bit to do in Rapture long after you finish the single-player mode, the latter of which clocks it at around 12 hours in length.
Everything about BioShock 2 feels like it’s trying to catch up to what the original game did so well. One of the biggest problems this presents is the lack of originality in the sequel. For better or worse, the similarities between both games are practically identical. Beyond some small tweaks, there aren’t any grand strokes of genius in the follow-up. It’s not that we were looking for major changes, but when we play a sequel, we’d like to see something new and different. Although, a bigger problem would have been major changes to the sequel that actually weakened the experience. Still, your missions are pretty much identical to the first game, and when venturing through Rapture, you’ll find yourself doing the same things over and over again. We feel this takes a bit away from the overall experience, but not enough to say it severely lacked anything.
Creating a sequel to one of the most critically successful, surprise gaming experiences is not an easy task. 2K Games looks to take BioShock to a new level, with multiplayer, a new storyline, and placing you in the shoes of a Big Daddy. Everything works well in BioShock 2, but doesn’t quite live up to the high standards of the first game. If you were intrigued by the mystery of Rapture, you’ll likely salivate when you step back in the watery city. The storytelling in BioShock 2 is as much apart of the gameplay experience as the combat. You’ll find audio diaries, spray painted messages, and radio messages from allies and foes. As the story unfolds and the mysteries of your presence in Rapture, and why you are a Big Daddy are revealed, you will quickly find that you cannot put your controller down. When everything is done and dusted, you’ll find yourself obsessed and ready for the next installment.