You know what almost four years of production time between a game and its sequel means? It means a damn good sequel.
Bioshock was one of the best games of 2007, and that’s saying something considering 2007 also gave us Crysis. Now that the genre has been fleshed out a little bit more, we can see some of the massive problems with Bioshock; mainly it’s “one working arm” throwback from System Shock and a device disabling system that seems like it was made by Pop Cap Games. Not only has Bioshock 2 seriously rethought every niggling problem with its predecessor, but I’ll go so far as to say the controls and interface are absolutely perfect in every way.
The level design in Rapture is over-the-top immersive, with enough leaky pipes and walls to remind you you’re in an underwater hostile environment.
I’m a PC gamer, through and through, and it always upsets me when I have to play a first person shooter on a console. I prefer the precision of a mouse. But I was so blown away by how intuitive the controls work in Bioshock 2 that I’d still recommend the console version first. On your right trigger you have your gun and on your left you have your magical arm that shoots rainbows and death. To change which gun you’re using hold the right bumper and to cycle your particular color of rainbow and method of death on your magic hand hold the left bumper. It sounds simple, but Bioshock one required you to toggle between the two and operate them both on the right side of the controller, so you can see how something so simple as operating your hands respectively with your character’s hands can feel very immersive. The hacking is no longer plumbing but a little minigame involving configuring radio signals. Just as immersive and it doesn’t bring gameplay to a grinding halt, how novel.
To clarify for those who don’t know what I mean by “magical rainbows,” Bioshock is a game about the underwater city of Rapture, built underwater to escape existing laws regarding scientific research so that they could conduct experiments using slugs they found on the ocean floor comprised entirely of stem cells. A little made up pseudoscience later you have plasmids; genetic splicing which allows humans to control various forms of plasma with their minds. In game terms this means you have a magical hand which shoots lighting, fire, ice, wind, telekinetic shockwaves and even bees.
Like any good mad science experiment, something somewhere goes horribly wrong and the city is destroyed by gang fights until the only survivors are insane splicers whose minds are under the control of the mad scientist de jour, who in this game is Dr. Lamb. Luckily, mad scientists have a tool for gathering and controlling Rapture’s experiments. These tools are little girls who were genetically spliced at birth to act as storage tanks for “Adam,” the name for the gene splicing juice, who go around collecting Adam off corpses, and their protectors the Big Daddies, who are splicers in bullet proof scuba suits. After the events of the first game, Dr. Lamb attempts to repurpose the little sisters to take over the world or something. You play as a Big Daddy who wants his, now grown up, little sister back.
I could go on for pages about the plot of Bioshock one and two because they’re masterfully well written. Not only is there an explanation for every little plot point right down to “why did I walk into that elevator in the very beginning,” but you care enough about every character that the moral choice system in Bioshock 2 has some real decisions and consequences without being game breaking. The voice acting is also fantastic, but maybe I’m just biased in favor of Armin Shimmerman.
The level design in Rapture is over-the-top immersive, with enough leaky pipes and walls to remind you you’re in an underwater hostile environment. Everywhere you look there are crazed writings on walls, looted houses, hobo shacks and altars to the little sisters to remind you you’re probably the sanest person here, and that’s saying something considering your brain was recently on time share. Although when did all the splicers start carrying around Drill fuel? I get that it’s valuable ammunition, but why does anyone but a drill wielding big daddy like myself carry it? Is it a valid substitute for coffee now?
Other than the fantastic beginning and end, Bioshock 2 does suffer from being somewhat formulaic. Whenever you enter a new zone you are immediately introduced to a person who is in control of most of the splicers in the area who spends the next hour or so making them attack you. Meanwhile you kill three Big Daddies to abduct three Little Sisters and harvest six corpses before being attacked by a Big Sister, essentially a female Big Daddy working for Lamb. Once it’s all wrapped up you’re given the choice to kill or spare the person who’s been causing you grief and then ride the train to the next level.
While harvesting Adam, you’re attacked by rounds of splicers, and fights with Big Daddies and Big Sisters vary enough that this formula makes for fantastic pacing. But tell me 2k Games, what happened to boss fights? At one point, the game spends the better part of two hours hyping up an encounter with an insane villain who’s spliced himself into a thirty foot hybrid between Micah from Heroes and Jabba the Hutt. After beating waves of splicers I started laying traps to prepare for this awesome boss fight only to discover I could kill it by pressing a single button, or alternately just walk away. For a game with such great bread and butter, the seasoning is a big letdown. One of the big staples for horror games is ammo conservation and terrifying boss monsters. But before any major climax your sure to be swimming through piles of ammunition for guns you will never use because nothing in the game seems quite deadly enough to merit a dozen heat seaking rockets.
But even without any boss fights, the game is more varied than the original Bioshock. The enemies look and act more distinctly different. You’re given a glimpse into their psyche by the world around you so you get the feeling they somehow manage to coherently subsist in this dystopian deathtrap. There are even new enemies like the brute splicers who are clearly an homage to Mr. Hyde.
For a game so fantastic, I’m sorry to say it’s lacking content. But don’t let that dissuade anyone who is in the slightest interested. It even has a new multiplayer that lets you see some of the splicer wars before the fall of Rapture. It’s not perfect, but the shooter genre has been going downhill as of late, though the droves of CoD:MW2 players would disagree with me, and this is just the kick that’s needed.