BioShock 2 (Available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC)
ESRB Rating: M
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: 2K Marin/Digital Extremes
Release Date: February 9, 2010
I’ve never been guiltier of enjoying the stapling of my enemies to a game world’s set pieces. If 2010 ended right now and COE voted on a Greatest Guilty Pleasure, I think BioShock 2 would be the runaway winner. There’s just something about firing your spear gun and watching the projectile pierce a splicer’s cranium, only to further witness it carry said victim through the air until an obstacle is met. I’m especially thankful for such moments too, because they create a sense of originality that 2K Games’ latest foray into Rapture sadly lacks. Fortunately, an all-too-familiar atmosphere and action doesn’t lead to a guilty verdict, but I believe that 2K was less interested in risk-taking, and more in pleasuring its wallet.
Methinks also that the seemingly inevitable BioShock 3 will have you playing as a Big Sister, perhaps Eleanor, and I prayerfully hope that doesn’t happen. Suiting up as a Big Daddy in a decade later return to Andrew Ryan’s befallen underwater utopia never feels like it should. The character is intimidating and powerful in the predecessor, but you take and deal damage no differently than Ryan’s prodigal son did. For all the ammo, Eve and explosives that we expended to take down the over-sized villains last time, I expected all the pitiful splicers to have to suffer through the very same. That isn’t the case, thus BioShock 2 comes off as nothing more than an excuse for 2K to put you in the diving gear just so both hands can be simultaneously active, not to mention make you drag your feet.
Did you know BioShock 2 is fun as well? I figured that’s important since it probably seems like you’ve been reading a rant so far. That’s the case though, because everything we did to dethrone Ryan and Frank Fontaine is merely carbon-copied into different areas of Rapture. I’m surprised that the city lasted in its state for another ten years, but it’s admittedly nice to see a different side. At the onset, a cutscene shows you (Daddy) escorting young Eleanor (a Little Sister) as she makes such a girl’s usual rounds of sucking Adam out of especially potent corpses. Things go awry when you encounter splicers engaging her performing a harvest, and Doctor Sofia Lamb not only takes her away, but manipulates you into a less-than-beneficial act of self-violation.
Despite what appears to have been your certain death, young Eleanor manages to revive you from a semi-comatose state. Your goal is to track her down, and obliterate anyone and anything that steps in the way. Early on you bump into a memorable friendly face from BioShock, Brigid Tenenbaum, who puts our protagonist into contact with Augustus Sinclair, a man battling some personal demons. The journey takes you to three significant locations in Rapture, and each has you deal with a personality linked to Sofia Lamb’s objective of using Eleanor to revive the once prosperous city.
Morality returns as well to decide what ending you’re treated to, and how you’re spoken to in general. The Little Sisters can once again be ‘rescued’ or harvested, but it’s more advantageous to ‘adopt’ them after their current Big Daddy is removed from the equation. You don’t have to mess with the girls at all, but most of the many entertaining plasmids and gene tonics will stay put in the Gatherer’s Garden otherwise. Plus, the majority of the interesting action takes place when you set a Sister down to harvest Adam. It’s another guilty pleasure to place traps that can comprise trap rivets, proximity mines, mini-turrets, and hacked health machines/turrets/security cameras to fend off the inevitable swarm of splicers. It’s pretty wild to sit back and watch the chaos ensue, and there’s nothing stopping you from popping off a shotgun shell or two, or some machine gun rounds to especially defend the girl. The plasmids and tonics are also helpful of course, and luckily letting some Electro Bolt, Incinerate, Winter Blast, Cyclone, etc, just doesn’t grow old. The ability to shoot and spew at the same time makes these battles further enjoyable. This is BioShock through and through, but with different weapons, new plasmids and tonics and a couple additional splicers. It’s a repeated gameplay formula (no final boss either strangely enough), yet still fun.
The audio also packs a similar attitude. I didn’t pay much attention to the music, but it carries an appropriate tone and works well, and all the effects are spot-on. I’m glad that the developers removed the “Welcome to the Circus of Values!” tune from the various vending machines; that didn’t take long to annoy in the first game. (Hacking them isn’t a Pipe Dream mini-game anymore either, but a better ‘land the needle’ sort of deal.) The dialogue is also well-done, especially Eleanor’s and Sinclair’s, though I thought the splicers’ uninhibited cursing was a bit overkill. I’m not surprised by it considering their drug-dominated minds, but the Brute splicer especially has nothing but ‘f bombs’ to drop. The visuals exhibit the same anticipated quality, with some noticeable subtle improvements. The splicers’ faces are particularly telling of what failed genetic engineering can do to someone, and the underwater sequences are pure eye candy. This Rapture is the same decrepit metropolis that we remember, but no less appealing.
Finally, if you can manage to peel away from Modern Warfare 2, Halo 3/ODST, or whatever other shooter you may be addicted to online, BioShock 2’s ten-player support isn’t too shabby. You may have heard the gaming market’s collective groans when it was revealed that Digital Extremes was contracted to design the offering, because no one thought multiplayer belonged in the franchise. I still don’t honestly, but can’t deny that running around campaign-inspired maps with all the weapons and plasmids is an intriguing distraction. It’s even tied to the BioShock lore. The campaign is a sequel as already described, but the multiplayer serves as a prequel of sorts, revealing pieces about how Rapture collapsed to begin with. You’re even assigned a personal Rapture apartment before participating in any of the modes, and it lets you customize weapon/plasmid loadouts, change your avatar and its visual appearance, and manage the unlocked plot content. The modes range from free-for-all and the team deathmatch Civil War, to those inspired by the franchise in which teams battle for possession of a Little Sister. The matchmaking isn’t bad either, though I spotted a couple players more than 20 ranks higher than everyone else sneaking in for their selfish ambitions. Do those people seriously have nothing better to do with their lives?
I would categorize BioShock 2 as a good romp, yet underwhelming sequel. It’s one of those games that I want to fault for not doing much different, but I can’t sacrifice my journalistic integrity. BioShock laid a wonderful framework, so 2K would’ve had to be plain stupid to screw up a sequel. Write a new story, design more toys and enemies, drag and drop it all into the engine, and include multiplayer. That’s 2K’s latest for you: an amusing 15 hour or so campaign, and a decent multiplayer that will survive for as long as those who don’t play Call of Duty and Halo choose to remain active. The game probably won’t blow your mind, but an excellent product is an excellent product. Don’t think about it too much, and have fun.
Overall: 9 (not an average)