With Irrational Games already assiduously busy building their next big title, it became incumbent upon 2K Marin to provide fans with their next excursion into the crumbling, iconic city of Rapture. As the direct sequel to Irrational’s brilliant opus BioShock, 2K Marin’s BioShock 2 released in 2010 to droves of internet fans asking whether or not it was even necessary. Many fans feared an improperly handled sequel would tarnish the legacy of its appropriately stand-alone predecessor. Thankfully, within the able hands of 2K Marin, BioShock 2 has proven to be a welcome addition to the franchise, a game developed with respect for the fiction and its fans while attempting to inject its own unique interpretation to the original’s established game mechanics.
Beginning in 1958, BioShock 2’s opening scene has players witnessing the self-inflicted demise of a Big Daddy with the designation “Delta” succumbing to the suggestive vocal powers of Sofia Lamb, a psychiatrist whose social-collectivist philosophies run antithetical to the anarchistic self-determination espoused by Rapture’s founder, Andrew Ryan. Delta’s last vision before losing consciousness is that of the horrified Little Sister he is imprinted to named Eleanor, Sofia Lamb’s daughter and planned instrument for her worldwide collectivist designs. Fast forward ten years to 1968 when Delta is resurrected to the sounds of a now adult Eleanor’s voice who pleads with the Big Daddy to free her from her mother’s bondage. As players take control of Delta in his quest to rescue Eleanor, they embark on a journey which delves deep into examining the nature of the bizarre relationship between Little Sisters and Big Daddies. It is from this framework that BioShock 2’s story is told, a vehicle for which players are given a perspective pertaining to the consequences the events of the first game had on the progressively decaying city of Rapture. BioShock 2 crafts an evocative side-story which can be enjoyed independent of its predecessor, an expansion of the firmly established fiction that carefully avoids treading on the ambitious narrative of the original game.
At first glance, BioShock 2 looks and feels identical to the first game. Best described as a first-person adventure with RPG elements, BioShock 2 eschews precise first-person shooting in favor of utilizing powers and perks with an emphasis on character progression and customization. Like the first game, BioShock 2 compels players to doggedly search for the genetic substance called Adam, the game’s analogue for experience points. Adam is found on the bodies of the genetically altered denizens of Rapture called Splicers, whose ubiquitous presence poses the main threat in the game. Protected by their deep sea diving suit clad Big Daddiess, Little Sisters lurk the streets and halls of Rapture, harvesting Adam from dead Splicers. The player’s very challenging task is to defeat the Big Daddies to get to the Little Sister’s precious resource. Once obtained, Adam can be used to purchase and upgrade special powers known as Plasmids, which Delta can fire out of has left hand. Also, Adam can be spent to purchase Gene Tonics, which confer upon players perks and special abilities, as well as enhance their maximum life meter and their Eve bar, the substance used to replenish Plasmid power. 2K Marin saw fit to dramatically expand the number of Gene Tonic slots players have available, allowing for a myriad of permutations to character customization options.
Although the fundamental game mechanics for BioShock 2 are largely unchanged from the original game, 2K Marin did make a few subtle tweaks which, along with new weapons and enemy types, greatly enhance the game play experience. For example, the research camera makes a return, but this time it plays a much more important role in character progression. Upon its usage, the camera actually begins recording video rather than take a snap shot, examining every detail of the enemy’s fighting techniques and weaknesses while filling an experience meter which maximizes at level 4. Each level increase bestows players with an enhanced ability and completing research for each of the nine enemy classes yields powerful Gene Tonics. Also, exploration still plays an essential role. Players will want to investigate every corner of Rapture for health and Eve replenishment, cash to use at vending machines, and ammo for weapons. Gone are the crafting items of the original game and their corresponding vending machines. Instead the developers opted to more appreciably enhance weapon power at weapon upgrade stations located throughout Rapture. These enhancements, along with the inclusion of new and clever weapon types, help prepare players for the more difficult battle scenarios in the game, as well as the boss battles which punctuate the end of each stage.
Delta begins the game naturally equipped with a Drill arm which requires fuel and can be upgraded in usefulness by equipping specialized Gene Tonics. The Drill can make for an effective tool in dispatching enemies who attempt to crowd you into a corner. However, the most interesting and entertaining new weapons in BioShock 2 include: the Rivet Gun, the Big Daddies signature projectile weapon; the Spear Gun, a powerful tool used to harpoon hapless enemies; and the Hacking Tool, an implement used to hack security objects at a safe distance and lay down Mini-Turrets. The Rivet Gun can be upgraded to set enemies on fire and it can set traps in solid objects and walls which then fire high-speed projectiles at enemies that wander into their range. The Spear Gun can fire exploding spears and can set electrically charged trip-wires. The aforementioned Mini-Turrets can be used as valuable offensive allies and distractions on the field when strategically placed. Along with familiar implements such as Proximity Mines and commandeered turrets and security cameras used in conjunction with Plasmids such as Insect Swarm and Electro Bolt, these new weapons give players greater agency in setting traps and creating veritable “kill rooms.” Having this creative freedom becomes necessary when defending a harvesting Little Sister from an onslaught of Splicers, or when fighting Big Sisters, the faster and more powerful female equivalent to the Big Daddies which appear only after each Little Sister in a given stage has been “dealt” with. Theoretically, masterful formulation of strategy when implementing powers and weapon abilities can defeat entire swarms of enemies with little or no player participation in the violent bedlam. Watching enemies helplessly flail about in a mist of bees or in a current of electricity while Mini-Turrets and Rivet Gun traps take them down; or watching harpooned foes fly across the room only to end their journey stuck to a wall, provides players with some of the most satisfying combat experiences in modern gaming.
The insidious sadists over at 2K Marin also felt it necessary to compound upon the ideas set by the original game’s morality system. Little Sisters and Big Daddies are genetically engineered abominations which are designed to exist in symbiosis with each other; with the Little Sister gathering Adam for the Big Daddy as he provides her with protection. BioShock 2 allows players to participate in this process. After players defeat enemy Big Daddies, they are given a choice to harvest Adam from the newly orphaned Little Sister, destroying her in the process, or to adopt the girl and use her to find and gather more Adam. Naturally, players would want more Adam to upgrade Delta with, so many will volunteer to offer the girl protection as she harvests Adam from the dead, which does manage to attract hoards of Splicers to converge upon her. After adoption, the Little Sister innocently flashes a smile at you, and playfully banters with you while riding on Delta’s shoulder, further encouraging the player to form a bond with the virtual child. After the Little Sister has exhausted her usefulness, players are again given the choice to harvest her for a large amount of Adam, or to liberate her for a little amount. If players choose to harvest, subsequent Little Sisters will demonstrate fear when in Delta’s presence. For example, after finishing extracting Adam from a dead Splicer, the Little Sister will cower before Delta while begging for mercy in an attempt to convince the player that she is “good girl.” As a result of these expanded game play elements, 2K Marin has successfully created a game system that palpably conveys a sense of weight to the player’s moral decisions, putting to the test their capacity to show compassion.
Rapture is a mysterious and perilous wonder that has fallen into greater disrepair since we last visited in the original game. As a city which has surrendered its fate to being consumed by the sea, florescent ocean flora and fauna have taken residence throughout Rapture, making BioShock 2 more colorful and visually brilliant than its predecessor. Unfortunately, textures appear muddy when viewed up close and texture draw-in latency issues abound, even with the game installed to the Xbox 360 hard drive. Story exposition is primarily communicated via eerie tape recordings strewn around the environment and radio transmissions which are all made believable by strong vocal delivery performed by a talented voice cast. Although character models appear more proportionately realistic, animations are still stiff and lip-syncing is poorly implemented, contradicting the believability of the vocal performances. Pertaining to the game’s overall presentation, BioShock 2 may by a game burdened by its own technical issues and limitations, but it still manages to produce a stunning and immersive virtual reality thanks to the foundation of its creative art design and high production values.
2K Marin did a commendable job in keeping faithful to the paradigm established by Irrational Game’s classic original, while managing to evolve the combat and morality mechanics to the next level. The narrative in BioShock 2 is filled with eccentric and deranged characters; a narrative that gives fans the opportunity to experience being a Big Daddy, and to literally see the crazy, chaotic world of Rapture through the eyes of a Little Sister. As a stand-alone product, BioShock 2 is an excellent title that would make a great entry point for those new to the mythos. Many gamers may have been bemused by the announcement and release of BioShock 2, and many may have never wanted it to happen, yet 2K Marin has crafted a worthy entry into the venerable franchise that should not be overlooked or dismissed.