First Impressions: BioShock 2

February 11, 2010

Set in the submerged, dystopian city of Rapture and championing the power of the self over the collective, the original BioShock proved that game developers could take literature as its chief inspiration and still craft a fun but mature game based on its premise. The works of author Ayn Rand, particularly The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, played a crucial part in forging the atmosphere and underlying ethos of Rapture, and was the primary reason why I stuck with BioShock through to the bitter end when the gameplay mechanics had grown a little repetitive. Two and a half years later, I was keen to find out whether the narrative of its successor, BioShock 2, was the game’s saving grace or one of many highlights.

I was planning a playthrough of BioShock in order to revive my memories of Rapture before this sequel released, but within an hour of installing the game (which took forever, by the way) it was clear that I hadn’t needed to after all. The environments are instantly familiar but at a stroke very unique – the underwater, art deco world of Rapture is a one-of-a-kind place and the undoubted star of the BioShock experience. I’ll never forget the opening moments of the first game – emerging on an island after a plane crash at sea and the descent in the Bathysphere with Andrew Ryan’s voice espousing the strengths and solidarity of his subterranean city. BioShock 2 puts you back into Rapture ten years later, this time as one of the first Big Daddys, subject Delta. Although familiar, Rapture is still a disturbing place. Disfigured splicers still run amok screaming, and are set against a 1950s soundtrack that lends a surreal, unsettling counterpoint to the foreboding darkness, leaking roofs and slogans scrawled on the rusted walls. Make no mistake, Rapture is a city in decay.

With such an iconic, unique setting, it is a shame that it is not always realised with total conviction. The game isn’t the graphical marvel that I remember thinking of its predecessor, with some textures actually looking truly awful and last generation. Some animated effects, like using your first plasmid – Electro – on a pool of water, produce lacklustre results, again suffering from more low-res textures. The splashing of drops of water in a pool also feels out of sync with the rate of the water, which sometimes tarnishes the realism of the world around you. But, as you can tell, these are minor and perhaps pedantic gripes, and do little to detract from the overarching sense of faded glamour that Rapture evokes.

Already, with only a few hours of the game under my belt, I’ve struggled with the shooting mechanics. With an insane amount of my time given over to the tight but fluid controls of Modern Warfare 2 in recent months, BioShock 2 feels a little archaic in comparison. There is not option to hold a shoulder button to temporarily aim your weapon; instead a click of the right stick switches you into aim mode permanently, until you switch it back. That said, the ‘dual-wield’ of plasmid and gun is an improvement over the either/or approach from the first game, resulting in some truly satisfying ‘shock-and-drop’ tactics with the Electro plasmid and the Rivet Gun – the first goodies the game presents you with.

It’s far too early for me to make sweeping statements as to whether BioShock 2 lives up to the astonishing precedent set by the original, but the first impressions point to a very similar experience. Minor graphical blemishes and unfamiliarity with the shooting mechanics aside, the feel of the game is still intact. As long as the narrative emerges and engages as I progress, and fits seamlessly into that ‘feel’, then BioShock 2 will be the triumph I’m hoping it to be.

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