If the creation of a dystopian sewer-world can ever be labelled an “up hill battle”, then that is clearly the case for BioShock 2. Set in the submerged alternate-history city of Rapture, this first-person shooter is seen through the eyes of half-human protector, a Big Daddy, a being which has been reactivated without recollection of the decade-long aftermath and cultural watershed that was the original BioShock. But will this newly awakened hero capture the same nightmarish imagery, and dreamlike success of its nearly unreal predecessor?
Well for starters, the visual style of BioShock 2 fantastically recaptures all of the dilapidated Art Deco splendour of Rapture, the experimental town which was torn apart by civil war and over indulgence. Despite a decade of degradation, the city still retains many aspects of its former greatness, such as its large glass walls and its makeshift mix of metal and wood, but it is tempered with mildewed opulence and a sense of menacing squalor.
Despite the deliciously dank and deceptively dark visuals, the story is the shining star of this game. It not only manages to cleverly revisit to Rapture, but in doing so it also gives the player a clearly devised purpose for fighting through masses of mutated enemies.
In BioShock 2, the individualist leader Andrew Ryan is dead, and in his place stands the utilitarian revolutionary Sophia Lamb, Ryan’s political and philosophical opponent. In Lamb’s world, the collective is valued over the self, and the deformed citizens of Rapture have been unified under The Family, a quasi-religion of brutal morals and savage allegiance.
It is against this backdrop that Delta, a prototype Big Daddy, must try to save Eleanor Lamb, the daughter of the Big Bad, and the first Little Sister successfully bonded to a Big Daddy. And as the narrative unfolds, the players learn the reasons behind Rapture’s collapse, and how even the noblest of political intentions can be sunk into the deadly undertow of moral objectivity.
Again, for an underwater shooter game, BioShock 2 reaches for some deep ideas. The principles of Rapture, and its inhabitants, play heavily into the gameplay. As the half-human Delta, the players are forced to make some difficult moral choices, like whether or not to save the Little Sisters (the innocent, but twisted girls of Rapture), or to decide the fate of key citizens who unwittingly orchestrated the collapse of this once-great city. Each choice the player makes, and the consequences of those personal decisions, impacts the outcome of the game. In fact, one of the vast improvements from the original BioShock is the depth and scope of these ethical dilemmas – many of which are given a significant amount of back story, which help to highlight the detailed and conflicted motivations behind Rapture’s rotting landscape.
Although the story is richly told, there are a few pressing issues that distract from the overall cohesion of BioShock 2. The first of which is why a few characters like Sinclair and Dr. Lamb appear to be mysteriously unaltered by Rapture, and continue to survive the perilous war-torn landscape that has obviously altered so many others. The second issue has to do with the scattered diaries that have inexplicably escaped permanent damaged by the rampaging enemies or encroaching elements. But in all honesty, these are minor nitpicks in an otherwise well-constructed imaginary package.
As far as combat goes, these sequences are far less cumbersome than the original. The new choices of weaponry (which include the use of addictive, gene-modifying Plasmids) provide BioShock 2 with an increasingly complex and frequently fluid fighting style which encourages and rewards experimentation. For examples, a coordinated attack between ice-power weaponry and strong but traditional firearms will often lead to the shattering of otherwise difficult opponents.
As a Big Daddy, the player is given the ability to maintain a giant arsenal of potentially deadly goodies. Of course, the game begins promisingly enough with the use of Delta’s massive drill, which conveniently ploughs though enemies, although has a maddening tendency to overheat. But luckily enough, Delta picks up a wide variety of weapons along the way, including an effective array of Gatling, rivet, and spear guns. Every one of these armaments has multiple firing methods, which allows for challenging gun-specific traps, and when matched up with a healthy mix of heavy and light ammo, Delta is well suited to tackle nearly every deadly nemesis that Sophia Lamb and Rapture can muster.
The multiplayer of BioShock 2 is another unexpected success of the series. Where the original BioShock was limited by its lack of multi-player capabilities, the second possesses well-integrated multi-player formats, like Civil War or Capture the Sister, which provides a desirable diversion from this narrative-rich sequel. Yet with all these innovations, it is difficult to gauge the long-term success of these online elements.
Overall, BioShock 2 is a vast improvement in both visuals and gameplay. Combat scenes have never felt so easy to get into and so intuitive to experiment with. The story seems more focused, and the ending avoids the same disappointing pitfalls of the first BioShock