STAFF REVIEW of BioShock 2 (Xbox 360)

Monday, February 15, 2010.
by Adam Dileva

BioShock 2 Box art The ending of the first Bioshock didn?t seem like it left much room for a sequel that could hold its own weight but it seems like Rapture has a few more stories about its lore and inhabitants that need to be told. Bioshock was unlike anything we?ve seen before which is partly why it did so well, so having a sequel made me wonder what could be done new to avoid becoming stale.

We know from what happened in the original Bioshock that Andrew Ryan was the mastermind behind the underwater city of Rapture and how the uncovering of ADAM eventually led to its demise and the overrun of Splicers. Bioshock 2 takes place 10 years after the first game finished and you are no longer learning about Ryan or playing a simple human.

You take the role as one of the first Big Daddy?s codenamed Delta who suddenly awakes after ten years only to find his Little Sister has been abducted by someone named Lamb. A lot has happened in ten years since the fall of Ryan and now Dr Sophia Lamb has taken over the ruined and exploited utopia that is Rapture.

Lamb is the new antagonist and you learn of her kidnapping little girls from the Atlantic coast that are will be turned into Little Sisters because they need to replace all the ones you rescued or ?took care of? in the first game. The story takes a much more straightforward approach this time around with less plot twists yet still keeps pace and interesting once you get past the half way mark.

Big Daddy?s stole the spotlight of the original Bioshock and has been the main presence and staple of the series since. Knowing this, 2K did something unexpected and put players in the boot of one of these huge beasts and plays off the encompassing theme of the whole game; the relationship between them and Little Sisters. Controlling a Big Daddy this time around is a very different experience to play when comparing it to the previous installment. We all remember how much fear we felt fighting Big Daddy?s in the first game and now we have that power at our disposal?most of the time.

We all know how the relationship works between the Big Daddy?s and Little Sisters in regards to them gathering ADAM. Even as a Big Daddy yourself, a Little Sister?s guardian is not going to part with her for anything just because you have the same ?job?. Much like the first game, you will need to dispose of these new types of Big Daddy?s if you wish to take their Little Sister.

Once you?ve taken care of their previous Daddy, the same moral choices you made in the first Bioshock come into play; do you rescue or harvest? Should you choose to rescue, she will sit on your shoulder as you go about your business. If you hold down the ?X? button, your Little Sister will guide you towards a specific Splicer?s corpse that is rich with ADAM ready to be harvested by her.

Should you decide to take this route instead of taking the quicker and easier choice of harvesting her right away means you are going to have to defend your Little Sister while she uses her obscenely large needle to extract the much wanted ADAM. Every time you tell her to gather though, you will face a challenging defense sequence where you?ll be fighting off waves of Splicers trying to get your Little Sister.

Once you?re Little Sisters have done their rounds (2 gathers), you need to boost them up to the iconic vent for them to escape (this saving them), or then kill them for even more ADAM. It?s the same moral choice?s you faced in the first game and while it still works, I just didn?t find it as hard to decide this time around. You?ll most likely just save or harvest all of them, there?s no reason to do both (as there is an achievement based on this).

Deal with all the Little Sisters in the level and you are going to have a show down with a Big Sister. Because of how nimble and agile they are, I?d much rather deal with a Big Daddy any day as these grown up Sisters are extremely mean and can make quick work of you even in your armor.

So let?s go through what?s really new in this sequel; the research camera for one makes a return but with a much welcomed improvement. As you take your picture of an enemy, it will actually be a film reel and record how you attack and kill them (this giving you the bonus for it later on). The more you research the more bonuses? you?ll gain against certain enemy types as you progress.

Hacking this time around has also been greatly improved. All hacking is a mini-game that has a needle going back and forth that needs to be stopped in the green or blue areas to succeed. If you stop in the white section you?ll take a small shock but if you stop the needle in the red the alarm is triggered and bots will come after you.

You even gain a weapon that is able to shoot a Hack Dart from long range and can remotely hack a device to be used as an enemy trap or if it?s too dangerous to go into a specific room. Do a harder hack (landing the needle in the blue) and you?ll get bonus items from the vending machines or even stronger bots if the enemies trip the alarms.

The weapons and plasmids have also undergone a slight overhaul but unfortunately the famous wrench will not be returning in this sequel. Because you are a Big Daddy you have no need for a wrench, instead you have your spinning drill that can take care of almost any enemy quite quickly. The only issue I had with the drill is that it takes fuel as ammo and has to be sparingly used because of it. If you are out of fuel you can?t use the drill as its spinning nor do your devastating dashes with it.

All of the weapons you gain throughout the game can be upgraded up to three times each. The third and final upgrade will also unlock a special power or feature specific to that gun (such as your rivet gun gaining fire properties or your drill that will reflect projectiles back unto your enemies). It?s a shame that there are very few upgrade stations throughout Rapture as you?ll need a do a few playthroughs to try out all the fully upgraded weapons.

Ammo is very scarce throughout Rapture and you?ll be wasting a lot of time looting every corpse and drawer trying to find more. Sometimes you?ll even be forced to use your drill simply from not having any ammo left for your weapons of choice.

There are new plasmids as well to be found and bought during your adventure. Most of the favorites return like Ignite, Freeze and Shock, but now you are able to rank these skills up three times just like the weapons and will do more damage or add new effects like area attacks. There are even some new and very interesting plasmids such as being able to summon bots whenever you like which add for some more personalization.

The biggest change to combat though is the new-found ability to deal-wield weapons and plasmids simultaneously. This makes for some interesting combinations of weapons and plasmids and making combos that work well together become very easy to pull off.

Enemies in Bioshock 1 were basically the Splicers and Big Daddy?s, but in part two there are of course some new resistance to stop you on your quest. There are now Brute Splicers that are basically Tanks (from Left 4 Dead), new types of Big Daddy?s that can even launch mini-turret?s to fight you, and of course the meanest of all; the Big Sisters.

Big Sisters are the new Big Daddy?s; they drive that fear into you because you know you are about to get beat down and you?re going to have to do everything you can to survive this single fight. Not only is she able to leap and jump all around you with ease, but she also has telekinetic powers to hurl items at you and can even use Splicer corpses to regain health of you let her. When you hear that distinct Big Sister wail, you better get yourself ready for a fight to the death.

The biggest addition to the anticipated sequel though is the addition of multiplayer which I was very unsure of when it was announced. Luckily it was developed by the talent that brought us some of the Unreal games, though to be honest I was almost ready to write it off from what was show pre-release.

Most surprisingly is the inclusion of a story behind the multiplayer. Set years before the events of Bioshock 1, all of this multiplayer battling is during the fall of Rapture when there was a civil war (which explains why Splicers are fighting each other). As you progress you unlock more story and cinematics and was not something I was expecting at all, though welcomed.

Obviously acknowledging how popular and addicting the whole online mechanic of Modern Warfare has been, Bioshock 2 uses the same leveling system which replaces XP points with ADAM. As you gain ADAM you will also gain new levels and unlock weapons, plasmids and tonics (perks). There are quite a few weapons and plasmids that are unique to multipayer and you can save up to 3 preset loadouts to coincide with whatever mode you are playing online.

There?s also an interesting mechanic in multiplayer that uses your research camera. When you stand over a dead corpse you are able to snap a picture of it which will net you a damage bonus to that person (until they kill you). It takes a few moments to snap the picture but the damage increase you gain against that player is well worth it; just remember that people will be doing the same with your corpses as well.

There is a hefty amount of modes that range from Survival of the Fittest (free for all), Last Splicer Standing (only one life and last man/team standing wins), Capture the Sister (capture the flag but the flag being a Little Sister), and other standard game types as well.

In every mode other than Capture the Sister, there will be a Big Daddy suit that spawns in random locations in the map that can be found and worn by whatever player finds it first. Doing so dawns you the power of being one and can greatly shift the outcome of a match. By wearing the suit though you give up your use of plasmids; but the trade off is well worth it as you gain an extremely powerful rivet gun, can throw proximity grenades, and even stomp to stun nearby foes.

Pay the premium and you can own the special Collector edition that comes in quite the large sized box that has a whole bunch of goodies any collector would enjoy. Inside you will find the Bioshock 2 orchestral score on CD, a 164 page hardcover art book (that was actually better quality than most books I?ve seen), posters much like flyers you would see on the walls in Rapture, and the main special item being the 180g vinyl record of Bioshock 1?s orchestral score.

I find the inclusion of a record nowadays an interesting choice, it does make sense in a way since one of Bioshock?s greatest assets is the sound design; I just don?t know many people that will be able to enjoy the record itself though. Honestly, I would have rathered a Big Sister statue to go along with my Big Daddy statue from the collector edition of the first game though.

While the visuals of Bioshock may take the front seat in most peoples mind with Rapture being shown so vividly, the sound and audio should not be overlooked. Garry Schyman returns to do the orchestral score for a perfectly fitting audio experience on your journey. The voice acting is just as great as the first game and everyone does an extremely believable job at sounding like they truly are from then war-torn Rapture.

I?ve purposely left out telling much of what and why the Big Sisters are the way they are as I found that the most interesting part of the tale this time around and don?t want to spoil anything. While fighting them (and in a few of the bigger fights) there was some very minor slow down that did occur though.

The length of the single player tale is your standard 8-12 hours or so depending on how much you explore and if you decide to rescue and defend all the Little Sisters. You are buying Bioshock 2 to continue the story from the first game and while it may take a few hours to start to truly get interesting and for all the pieces to fall in place; it was enjoyable to play but still left me wanting more.

Obviously it?s going to be impossible to recreate that sense of mystery the first time we journeyed through the hostile halls of Rapture and while this entry of the city?s tale may gain a pass, Bioshock 3 is going to have to somehow figure out a way to bring back that feeling of exploring and mystery that we all loved the first game for.

Being a Big Daddy is quite the experience though at times you may forget you are one as you have free will and make your own decisions. If you enjoyed the first Bioshock, 2 will feel similar and more of the same. With the multiplayer addition now included, it?ll stay in your 360 for a longer amount of time due to the addictive progressive element.

Something major is going to have to be changed should players return to Rapture to avoid from becoming stale as it is good but more of the same. To me it felt like an old friend you haven?t seen in a few years; you take some time to catch up on what?s been going on since you last saw each other but after that you still know everything else about them. It?s hard to fault the game for doing what worked the first time but I definitely didn?t feel the same sense of awe and wonder while slowly stumbling through Rapture this time in my encumbering suit.

Overall: 8.7 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.8 / 10
Sound: 9.6 / 10


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