Rescue your daughter from the ruins of Rapture.
PC Release: February 9, 2010
By Ian Coppock
I may have suffered a slight lapse in professionalism with my review of Yar’s Revenge, but I think part of the issue was going from my favorite game to one of the worst I’ve ever played. No descent that steep is going to be pretty, but then again, I talked about pretty much all there was to Yar’s Revenge. To balance myself out, I’ve decided to return to the setting of my favorite game with its sequel, BioShock 2.
As sequels often go, BioShock 2 is a bit of a sophomore slump. Actually, that’s a misnomer, because BioShock creator Ken Levine had nothing to do with this title. On its own, the game is a fantastic and intricate first-person shooter, but it can’t not be compared to its predecessor, in which case several shortfalls arise. Allow me to elaborate.
BioShock 2 takes place in 1968, eight years after the first game. Having collapsed into a wonderdrug-fueled anarchy, Rapture is all but destroyed. In the first game, you learned that the city’s inhabitants became hooked on Plasmids, superpower drugs that change your DNA. The resultant splicing turned the populace into mutant freaks, and the city tore itself apart.
The first game also introduced the Little Sisters and the Big Daddies; the Sisters are brainwashed little girls trained to gather Plasmid juice from corpses, and the Big Daddies are their golem-like protectors, sealed away inside armored diving suits. Your player character, Subject Delta, is a Big Daddy. Reactivated after 10 years’ dormancy by a mysterious voice on the radio, Delta stumbles into action.
Delta learns that in the eight years since Rapture’s collapse, the city has been taken over by Sofia Lamb, a smarmy psychiatrist who wants to turn Rapture into Andrew Ryan’s sworn enemy: a spiritual-communist utopia. Lamb is holding Delta’s former little sister Eleanor hostage, and Delta must rescue her if the two hope to escape Rapture alive. As it turns out, Eleanor is Sofia Lamb’s biological daughter, and the subject of the doctor’s top-secret experiment. Eleanor and Delta are bonded together from their time as a Daddy-Sister pair; if one dies, so does the other, hastening Delta’s rescue.
As with BioShock‘s Jack, Delta is a silent protagonist, but he’ll still emit the whale-like roars and hums all Big Daddies do. BioShock 2 also features a diverse cast of NPCs who will hinder or help your attempt to rescue Eleanor, including quirky business tycoon August Sinclair, who wants to sell Rapture’s tech on the surface and live like a king. Delta also encounters Brigid Tenanbaum, the repentant scientist from the first game, as well as a jaded jazz singer, a cowardly news reporter, and a mad scientist.
BioShock 2‘s premise is certainly epic enough, but a closer examination of the game reveals a few shortfalls and inconsistencies. Player character Subject Delta is cast as the prototype of all Big Daddies, yet he can use Plasmids and is significantly more agile than his fellows. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the prototype to be more advanced than the… um… “type”, I guess we’ll call it.
There’s a gameplay inconsistency to this conundrum as well. Because Big Daddies are essentially walking tanks with a bad temper, I was expecting to control a colossus. Delta feels more like a tin can; even with armor upgrades, it takes only a few hits for your health to be in critical danger. Jack was sturdier than this, and his only armor was a sweater vest. What the hell?
As with BioShock, your story’s outcome depends on how you treat the Little Sisters. The cool thing is that, upon killing the Big Daddies, you can take a Little Sister as your own and have her gather Plasmid power for you.
So long as you can defeat the waves of Splicers coming after you, that is. You can then kill the Sister for more juice or free her from her torment.
BioShock 2‘s level design lacks the intense atmosphere and detail of the first game. Whereas Rapture once felt inviting and intriguing, this game’s rendition of the fallen city just feels tired. Over and over you’ll be expected to explore wide open areas that are scant on detail, featuring lots of floor space with comparatively few features. There are a few really awesome sections where you get to go outside and traverse the ocean floor, and these areas had a lot to look at.
The city interior, though, was noticeably less alive than in BioShock. There was one incredibly awesome level in which the sea life and art deco architecture had fused into an alien-like landscape. A heavier presence of this motif would have made the game more interesting.
While we’re on the subject of detail, I felt that the city of Rapture was way too intact for eight years of war, leaks, and chaos. The game’s initial areas are in a state of utter decay, but the game gradually gives way to fully-lit, clean areas. It broke immersion quite readily, because the game can’t seem to decide between decay and cleanliness.
I might have bought it if this was Rapture after, say, three years of decay. On top of that, there were only corpses and no skeletons. That right there is the pettiest gripe I’ve ever indulged, but corpses don’t stay intact for eight years. I notice these things. It is my curse.
The story of BioShock 2 is still worth glimpsing through these problems. Like the first game, BioShock 2 features audio diaries left behind by the citizens of Rapture, who discuss life within the city and interactions with other characters. The game uses this device to bring back Andrew Ryan, and introduce a previously unseen conflict with Sofia Lamb. A few critics call it retconning, but I call it clever. Through audio diaries, Ryan tells tales of a psychiatrist he invited to Rapture, who became one of his greatest nemeses.
While BioShock 2 lacks the philosophical and plot-twist heavyweights of the first game, Sofia Lamb proves a cold, cunning antagonist, who constantly peppers you with conundrums as Andrew Ryan once did. Her devotion to her cause is nothing short of zealous, and, just like Ryan, she sees you as an enemy to good, not just to herself.
Because Lamb is Eleanor’s actual mother, and Delta her “father”, the two’s score is much more personal than that between Jack and Andrew Ryan. To usher in the city’s new age of communist utopia, Lamb is in charge of the Rapture Family, a cult of splicers who revere Eleanor as the Lamb of God (I see what you did there, 2K) and Delta as a demon.
While Subject Delta is not the most interesting character I’ve ever played, he’s certainly the most tragic. Big Daddies are mostly machine, but their human components were taken from unwilling captives and dissidents. Delta’s own transformation was an accident and against his will, and BioShock 2 contains that horrifically sad element of tragedy throughout the production. He can’t speak, but the recesses of Rapture speak his story for him. I was actually moved to tears at the very end of the game, so I’ll give it credit for that.
The game also gets progressively scarier. Splicers will jump out at you and lights will suddenly go out, forcing you to use your wits. While not true horror, parts of the game were quite suspenseful. Prepare accordingly!
I would also recommend that those of you out to get BioShock 2 consider Minerva’s Den, the story-driven DLC that follows Subject Sigma, a different Big Daddy. Sequestered in what was once Rapture’s heart of computing, Sigma must work to ensure that an old supercomputer reaches the surface. It carries the psychological punch that the main game missed, as well as a few new game mechanics that make for a lot of fun. If you’re getting BioShock 2, give this DLC a go as well.
BioShock 2 feels very different from the first game. It has some design, story and gameplay issues that keep it from living up to the first game, or to BioShock Infinite. Despite some juvenile mistakes in these departments, the game is still quite good. It’s obviously an attempt to cash in on a great IP, but it’s one of those cash-ins that might be worth your time. So, if you have some time and money, give it a go. If not, no big deal. I stand by my urging you to try the first one, though.
You can buy BioShock 2 here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.