Welcome back to Rapture, the Objectivist dystopia where one of the best stories in video game history takes place. Every since Bioshock changed the way people viewed FPS games, fans have anxiously awaited the sequel. The wait is over, and patience has paid off for those who wanted more.
Bioshock 2 takes place 8 years after the events of the first game. Industrialist Andrew Ryan, the founder of Rapture, is dead, as is his arch-nemesis Frank Fontaine, whose scheming brings about a civil war that caused the city’s infrastructure to collapse. In the time since the war ended, the remaining citizens have continued their decent into complete madness, made worse by the complete isolation and continued abuse of the gene-altering drug known as ADAM. ADAM grants users special abilities, but can easily be abused, resulting in a loss of sanity.
The story begins two years prior to the events of the first game, with the player as a “Big Daddy” one of the super-strong brainwashed warriors decked out in a scuba suit/battle armor. As a mindless soldier, the player only watches as they slowly lurch through Rapture guarding a “Little Sister,” a genetically modified and brainwashed child tasked with extracting ADAM from dead bodies throughout the city. While defending the girl from “splicers,” ADAM addicts whose minds have been ravaged by prolonged abuse, you are interrupted by Dr. Sophia Lamb, a psychiatrist causing a stir within Rapture. It turns out your “little sister” is Eleanor Lamb, Sophia’s daughter. Wanting her daughter back, Dr. Lamb uses mind control to force you to kill you yourself.
Ten years later, you suddenly awaken… alive, with your mind and free will restored. Eleanor, now a teenager, sends you a message as her “father.” In the ten years since your death, Lamb has risen to a position of near absolute power in Rapture and has been using Eleanor as part of a horrible experiment in creating utopia. It’s now up to you to save your “daughter” as you struggle to reconnect with the humanity you lost long ago. But the remaining Rapture residents have turned into a religious cult with Lamb as their leader, so you have your work cut out for you.
Like the first game, Bioshock 2 has an elaborate back story in which a player can become emerged. Audio diaries scattered throughout the game reveal subplots and character backgrounds adding significant details to the gaming experience. And in a refreshing shift, the plot is more than a simple continuation of the last game. Unlike Andrew Ryan, who saw unbridled self-interest and the free market as a path to utopia, Dr. Lamb seeks to create a society where people have no regard for the self whatsoever. The themes explored vary greatly from those in the original, but build off of the the same atmosphere that made the first game as amazing as it is.
The gameplay itself is very similar, but with a few new perks. As a Big Daddy, your primary weapon in a gas-powered drill, but over time you collect the usual array of firearms. Players can now wield a weapon and a plasmid (magic granted by using ADAM) at the same time, and you’ll need it. Splicers have gotten stronger in the 8 years since we last saw them, and there are even bigger ones roaming the halls. Mindless Big Daddies continue protecting other little sisters, while an new threat, the Big Sister stalks you as you progress. By adding only a few new enemies, the game keeps most of the combat feel as the original while growing in ways that make the game more enjoyable.
The game’s hacking system has been modified drastically from the previous entry. Instead of freezing time to play a “pipe dream”-like mini game, players must time button presses while the world (and your enemies) continue to move around you. The new setup is slightly more challenging, mostly because you have to worry about being attacked while hacking, but the change is a welcome one.
One slightly disappointing aspect of the new game is the very linear story. The first time around, players could explore nearly all levels up until the very end. This time around, once you leave an area you cannot return, making backtracking to find missed upgrades and audio diaries (and the corresponding achievements/trophies) impossible. And while the story is still engrossing and a refreshing take on the ideas presented in the first game, it feels less personal and has no massive twist like the first. Overall though, the story of Bioshock 2 is it still very enjoyable from start to finish and the game looks and plays great. If you are only interested in playing the single player campaign you will not be disappointed.
The only major drawback to Bioshock 2 is the addition of the multiplayer mode. Almost immediately upon release the message boards were aflame with negative feedback about the multiplayer setup. But being the first venture into Bioshock multiplayer, there were bound to be some issues, and there are several. First though, the basics. The setup is similar to most other FPS multiplayer games, with variations of deathmatch, capture the flag, and territory control games taking place in altered settings from the first game. The weapon selection is fairly balanced and players can hack turrets like the ones in single player to fight for them. Players can also “research” the bodies of their fallen enemies to gain a damage bonus against them. Players earn ADAM (exp) through kills, hacking, completing objectives and trials (the Bioshock equivalent of Call of Duty achievements) and collecting the occasional vial of ADAM left at random points in the levels. As you level up, you gain access to new weapons, plasmids and tonics, which give you new or improved abilities to chose from. In certain game modes, a Big Daddy suit will occasionally appear, allowing one player to become the Big Daddy until they are killed.
Sound pretty cool right? In concept it is. So where are the drawbacks? For starters, games have been consistently laggy and unstable since launch. As of the writing of this review, there is no system in place for host migration either, so if the host quits, game over for everyone (and all your points are lost.) Likewise, the game lobby has a 60 second downtime between matches… which may not seem like much, but it gets old fast, especially since the timer resets if numerous players leave the room at any point between matches. Supposedly the matchmaking system is designed to put you against people with similar ranks so noobs don’t get slaughtered by a team level 40 veterans right out of the gate, but so far the results have been spotty at best. As you level up, the emblem next to your name changes from bronze to silver to gold to platinum, and you might think this is how the matchmaking is divided, but that does not seem to be the case.
Many trophy/achievement whores were complaining before the game was even released that online play was required to unlock everything, even though it does not affect the single player game in any way. If you own a PS3 and want the Bioshock 2 Platinum trophy, you have to play online. Unlike the other issues that have enraged some players, this one is bunk. It only seems to bother people who play games just to increase their trophy count/gamer score, and if that is case, sorry, but you have to work for this one. Additionally, the online achievements are not difficult, just time consuming. The ones for accomplishing certain tasks such as winning a game or capturing a little sister in “capture the sister” are fairly easy and quick to do, but reaching level 40 takes a long time. This has frustrated some players who just want to “get it over with” so they can have their trophy/points and move on. However, unlike Call of Duty, Bioshock online does not have a prestige system that allows players to reset their level in exchange for a symbol of.. well, prestige. Once you reach level 40 (50 with the DLC pack) that’s it. You cannot reset your level, ever. So while people playing just for the achievements may hate the time they have to put in for this one, the alternative would be a multiplayer mode where everyone would be maxed out on day one. If that were the case, what would be the point of having leveling at all?
But perhaps the biggest drawback to the multiplayer mode is that it exists at all. Given the largely negative reception it has gotten, many gamers would likely trade the mode for a longer, more expansive single player mode. I know I would.
Single Player: A
Multiplayer: C- (for now, some patches could seriously improve things)