BioShock 2 // PS3

February 17, 2010

There has been a trend over the last six months for sequels to take the promising first stab at a new franchise and improve upon it very successfully, whether that be Assassin’s Creed 2 taking an original premise mired in repetition and creating a wonderfully varied, long adventure out of it; or Uncharted 2 taking the very solid and slick Drake’s Fortune and turning the dial up to 11 for Among Thieves, improving upon it in every way. BioShock 2 then, was always going to have its work cut out – the original foray into Rapture was a stunning game, one lavished with universal acclaim, Game Of The Year awards and even a BAFTA. It was the shock of the new that elevated BioShock to it’s lofty critical perch; total immersion in a city like no other the player had ever experienced. Shorn of that surprise, would a return to Andrew Ryan’s ‘utopia’ deliver the same highs in Rapture’s dark depths as its predecessor?

“Rapture is a body…”

Despite this familiarity with Rapture (if you played the original, of course) it cannot be overstated just how special this underwater city is as a gameworld. In an over-saturated genre obsessed with crumbling bricks, gun-metal grey spaceships and apocalyptic wastelands, the lavish, stylised corridors of Rapture are a sensory delight, even if the city is falling apart, leaking from scores of cracks and chips in its glass tunnels. Decked out in neon, inspired by art deco sensibilities and ringing with the echoes of 1950’s-era music, Rapture is the undoubted star in BioShock 2, just as it was in the original. 2K Marin flex their own creative muscles a little, notably by allowing the player to (slightly) roam around on the ocean bed, but by and large stick to the blueprint laid down by their predecessors. Fontaine Futuristics, an area the player visits later on in the game, is a particular highlight, lorded over by the fractious ramblings of ‘Alex The Great’.

As mentioned in my First Impressions, the presentation of Rapture this time around lacks some of the visual polish that blessed the original. Some textures are extremely blocky, and the environments don’t quite measure up in terms of variety – the amount of tunnels, secret rooms and little story dioramas presented in hidden areas are cut back by some margin here, replaced by larger, but more generic maps. Despite this, Rapture is still an astonishingly fun playground to run amok in, and the scope is still there to expand its limits in a third game in the franchise.

“…I am the voice…”

A constant accompaniment on your campaign, via a portable radio (again), is the altruistic ramblings of Sofia Lamb, your new nemesis. Much like Andrew Ryan from the first game, Lamb has fervent philosophical ideals, but preaches a different doctrine than Ryan, espousing the virtues of the collective, or ‘The Rapture Family’ as she has dubbed it, over the self. This conflict of beliefs sets up many of the clashes between Ryan and Lamb in the audio diaries scattered around Rapture, a welcome return for a mechanic that helps flesh out the story and introduce other characters into the game before you come across them yourself. The voice acting is again of a very high quality, although Augustus Sinclair’s drawl tends to irritate much more than Atlas’ Irish accent ever did in the first game. Although none of the characters have quite the same air of menace as the deranged and unhinged Dr. Steinman from BioShock, special mention should go to the performance of Grace Holloway, one of Lamb’s lieutenants who taunts the player with “Tin Daddy” jibes when arriving in Pauper’s Drop on the Atlantic Express train.

BioShock’s most memorable creations from the first game, the Big Daddies and Little Sisters, again play a key role. You yourself take control of one of the prototype Big Daddies, named Delta, and as such wield a drill for an arm from the very start of the game. Powered by fuel, it’s not uncommon for the drill to run out of juice very frequently, but just swinging its immense weight into a splicer is still enough to pack some major damage. This time around, Little Sisters are dealt with a little differently. Once you defeat her Big Daddy you have the option to harvest her for ADAM – as in the first game – or adopt her. If you choose the latter option, she clambers up onto your shoulder and directs you to nearby corpses that are full of ADAM. Set her down to do her business, enormous syringe in hand, and she will begin a Gather. A splicer onslaught will quickly follow, and it’s in the player’s best interest to lay down a lot of defensive measures before beginning a Gather, in the form of trap rivets, mini-turrets and a variety of supporting plasmids. Each Little Sister can perform a maximum of two Gathers before you have to get her to her signature vent. Once there, you have one final chance to harvest her or rescue her. There are pros and cons to each option, but I won’t spoil what they are here.

“… and Big Sister is the hand.”

BioShock 2’s major additions to the franchise come in the form of some souped-up new enemies, the most deadly of which is the Big Sister. Essentially a slimmer and faster version of a Big Daddy, the Big Sister assaults you at scripted moments, usually once you have dealt with all the Little Sisters in each area, and often when you are low on pretty much everything you’ll need to defeat her – health, EVE and ammo. Her imminent arrival is preceded by on-screen warnings and a banshee-like wail that you’ll quickly grow to dread. She is a tough nut to crack, and oftentimes you’ll be left with a sliver a health and only a handful bullets to your name, but the loot she drops makes it all worth it in the end.

Other additions, while not as spectacular as the Big Sisters, are nonetheless very welcome. The hacking metagame has been completely re-thought, this time executed with a moving needle which requires you to stop it in a certain section of the gauge. Landing the needle in a blue section reaps extra rewards but to balance that, orange sections set off alarms and security bots. Another thoughful iteration is the ability to dual wield plasmids with firearms, a combination so obvious and satisfying that it’s a wonder that it wasn’t implemented in the original. The number of plasmids and tonics is much greater now also, almost overhwelmingly so, and truly allows you to develop your own style. I pretty much stuck with the maxed-out Incinerate plasmid and the machine gun – an unoriginal, but effective combination.

“If the world were reborn in your image, would it be paradise, or perdition?”

Lamb’s question to Delta is an apt enquiry to make of BioShock 2. 2K Marin’s take on the Rapture created by 2K Boston is one that largely sticks to same trail that was blazed three years ago. With a few cautious improvements thrown into the mix, but a loss of some of the gloss, it can be argued that BioShock 2 disappoints with its lack of invention, with its unwillingness to take larger strides with the franchise, but that would be unkind. It is still a fantastic game, a solid shooter couched in the most imaginative, well-realised gameworld ever created but the truth is it fails to emerge from the shadow of its older brother. BioShock is an essential purchase, one of only a handful of titles that every enthusiast needs to have in their collection, but the same cant quite be said of this sequel. If you loved the original and want more of the same, BioShock 2 will still deliver. But your first steps in Rapture will ultimately still be the ones you remember most.

82/100

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