When Bioshock 2 was first announced I let out a groan of dismay. There was absolutely no reason to provide a sequel to Bioshock 1. It stands as a superbly paced and immersive game that doesnâ€™t need any further embellishment at all.
Onlyâ€¦well, itâ€™s virtually impossible to resist the lure of a return visit to Rapture. As rusting leaky crumbling undersea dystopias go, Rapture has it all and I convinced myself at the start of my play through that I wouldnâ€™t let my disappointment get the better of me. If nothing else, Iâ€™d enjoy being a virtual tourist in Andrew Ryanâ€™s twisted undersea kingdom once again.
With no pomp or ceremony you find yourself once again emerging into a barnacle-encrusted world of decay and human debasement, only this time rather than being a fleet-of-foot mystery man, youâ€™re cast as a lumbering Big Daddy. Clad in your armoured diving suit with all the grace and flexibility of an arthritic hippo, you may feel a little encumbered at the start of the game and extremely frustrated that just about everything left in Rapture can kill you with inherent ease.
Thankfully those of you who played through the first game will know that Bioshock doesnâ€™t leave you defenceless for long, and Bioshock 2 doesnâ€™t either. Soon you will gain your first plasmid powers (with various items common with the first game, plus a few new ones to keep you on your toes). Your main armament at first is the Big Daddy arm-drill, but eventually youâ€™ll find other weapons dotted around the rotting corridors and access tubes of Rapture, and again like the first game these weapons can all be upgraded turning you from Splicer-fodder into a hefty killing machine.
Iâ€™m purposely avoiding giving too much away plot wise, because I know how annoyed Iâ€™d be if I read a review that spoiled plot and gameplay elements too much. Suffice to say that Bioshock 2 is very much more a shoot-em-up fanâ€™s game, eschewing the intelligent character interaction and puzzle solving of the first game and focussing more on fighting your way out of trouble. On the â€œnormalâ€ difficulty level, I found the game unjustly punishing and seemed to spend way too much of my time staring at the glass doors of a revival booth.
Ammo seems to be scarcer than the first game, though you can spend a lot of time searching nooks and crannies, and various containers as well as dead bodies for useful items.
New characters and locations abound in the previously unexplored sections of Rapture and itâ€™s these that make the game worth playing, even though youâ€™ll probably play the entire game just waiting for that inevitable twist in the tale (again Iâ€™ll emphasize, no spoilers here, go and play it and youâ€™ll know what Iâ€™m talking about). Your character seems easy to empathize with and like the hero of the first game, a character thatâ€™s been used and abused by nefarious villains in positions of power amongst Raptureâ€™s higher echelons. But expect the unexpected. I will say no more than that.
Reiterating the point that Bioshock 2 is more for first person shooter fans than RPG fanatics, thereâ€™s a tacked-on multiplayer mode to compliment the single player stuff. I say â€œtacked onâ€ because despite having some superb alternatives to the usual standard multiplayer â€œcapture the flagâ€ or â€œteam deathmatchâ€ fare, there are several custom modes that bond firmly with the gameâ€™s core elements. Adam hunt is one such mode, tasking players with gathering more Adam than their competitors. Of course it goes without saying that plasmid powers feature heavily in multiplayer too, and at times the gameplay is fast and frenetic. But it still feels like an entire game mode that wasnâ€™t really necessary, and was just thrown into the mix to keep FPS fans sweet.
All told, Bioshock 2 suffers from having extremely large shoes to fill (and you donâ€™t get larger shoes than those lead-lined clompers the Big Daddies wear). So much is carried over from the first game without much enhancement or change, and though thatâ€™s not necessarily a bad thing it feels a lot like the minimum effort was put in. That said, technically there are some superb spot effects and some impressive set pieces, particularly when your character gets trapped in a rapidly flooding chamber. The way the scene swiftly changes to a submerged particle-filled room full of floating debris is indeed extremely impressive.
Inventory and plasmid handling is much the same as in Bioshock 1, as are the weapons and upgrades and of course the moral choice of helping or harvesting Little Sisters, though this time you can escort the little darlings around to gain even more Adam for your own means.
The tedious pipe-puzzle hacking elements have been replaced with an equally tedious swinging needle â€œgameâ€ (which incidentally could end up being nigh on impossible if youâ€™re colourblind). Other than that, there are minor changes to some of the HUD graphics and a tighter look and feel to the game engine. Rather nicely, you also have the option on consoles to lock the framerates (sacrificing a little visual clarity here and there).
The star of the game though is undoubtedly the setting, and though I’ve enjoyed Bioshock 2 a lot less than the first game I am pretty sure that if 2K have got a third game in mind, I’ll be unable to resist the temptation to go back to Rapture once more.