Developer: Blind Squirrel Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Format: PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One
Release Date: September 13, 2016
Copy obtained via GameFly
With the first BioShock often declared a masterpiece, it wouldn’t be surprising to have concerns over a sequel. Will it be as good as the first? What if it makes too many changes and doesn’t feel like a natural step forward? Worse yet, what if it’s just completely forgettable? Thankfully, you don’t have to worry with BioShock 2. This is one of the greatest sequels in any medium.
BioShock 2 takes place in 1968, which places it eight years after the original game.
This sequels returns players to the underwater city of Rapture. Although the first game already found the city in a broken state, it has now degraded even further. The drug addicted inhabitants still roam the city halls, the interiors are further scorched and crumbled, and a new era of evil has arisen. While several young girls (known as Little Sisters) were saved from the horrors of Rapture in the first game, a new mysterious cult leader has abducted a new batch of little ones from the surface in attempt to further progress the Little Sister program. This process turns innocent little girls into vessels for ADAM, a chemical that allows you to use abilities called Plasmids to alter your genetics to a wide array of effects. This time around, instead of playing as a vulnerable human, BioShock 2 places you in the oversized boots of a prototype Big Daddy, a protector of the Little Sisters. Your name is Delta. You share a strong bond with a specific Little Sister named Eleanor, and it’s your goal to find her, rescue her, and leave Rapture behind once and for all.
From the get-go, BioShock 2 sets itself up to be similar to the first.
You’re exploring Rapture, picking up audio diaries, and slowly receiving new weapons and abilities. Although you’ve already been in Rapture (assuming you played the first BioShock), there’s still a sense of awe and wonder as you poke around the failed utopia. However, it also adds several new features to the formula, several of which are incredible.
First and foremost is the Big Daddy/Little Sister dynamic.
It’s one of the most memorable and iconic aspects of the original game and it’s expanded upon here in the sequel. Playing as a Big Daddy this time around not only gives you access to a deadly melee weapon, it lets you actually play as a protector. The original game had you take on and kill the Big Daddies in order to receive ADAM from their Little Sisters, and while you still fight those bad boys in the sequel, the game takes an interesting step after defeating one. Instead of just harvesting or rescuing a Little Sister, you now have the option to “adopt” one. If you adopt a Little Sister, she will lead you to corpses that can be extracted for their ADAM. Harvesting from a corpse will attract waves of enemies to your position, so you’ll have to stand your ground and defend the Little Sister until she gets the job done. You got to see this interaction between these two types of characters in the first game, but it’s something else entirely to be actively playing it out.
Another big change comes in the form of the combat.
This time around, you can actually dual-wield, putting a Plasmid in one hand and a weapon in the other. There’s nothing quite like shooting lightning from one hand while you blow your enemies to bits with a shotgun in the other. Being able to use both your powers and weapons simultaneously also further encourages you to discover powerful combos. Some Plasmids work exceptionally well with your weapons, even stacking elemental damage in some scenarios. There’s also a wider variety of weapons this time around. While staples like a pistol, shotgun, and grenade launcher are all present, new weapons like the rivet gun allow you to cause a decent amount of damage from virtually any range. There’s also a spear gun which can pin enemies to walls, and a remote hack gun that allows you to hack devices from a safe distance. However, the best new weapon is easily the drill. As grotesque as it may be, there’s something extremely satisfying about charging into an enemy at full force with your drill and stopping them dead in their tracks. As you find upgrade machines throughout the game, you can even increase the power and functionality of your weapons. I loved upgrading my favorite weapons to give them bonus elemental abilities, such as basic ammo from the shotgun having the chance to be powered by electricity.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t as much variety in the Plasmids.
In fact, with the exception of one Plasmid (which I can’t discuss due to the huge spoiler related to it), there isn’t a single Plasmid in the game that wasn’t in the the original. This was my biggest disappointment, since playing with Plasmids is one of the best parts of the BioShock experience. Electrobolt, Incinerate, Hypnotize, and more are all still fun to wield, I just wish they would have added in some new ones. Thankfully, there’s a whole slew of new Tonics, which are passive abilities you can find or purchase throughout the game. Damage reduction, more powerful drill attacks, and bonuses to the Little Sister ADAM harvesting make for excellent ways to shape your playstyle how you want it.
Another improvement from the first is the updated research camera.
While the original game had you snapping photos of your enemies to learn their weaknesses, BioShock 2 uses a video camera. As you toggle it to record your encounter, you must mix and match different weapons and Plasmids to see which ones will increase your research score. Similar to the first game, you unlock damage bonuses and new abilities the more you research your enemies. It’s a little more deep than the research mechanic in the original, which I like. It adds an extra layer to the game that’s fun to mess around with.
However, my favorite part about BioShock 2 is its story.
The new antagonist, Sophia Lamb, is an interesting villain who abuses her power to make a cult that does her bidding. It’s an interesting story, and it’s delivered in a more straight forward manner than the original, and I actually preferred it more. As you set out to stop Lamb and rescue Eleanor, you’ll meet a cast of fascinating characters who all have incredibly interesting lore. Finding out how they play into the history of Rapture is neat, but it’s the choice given to you in each of their arcs that’s truly awesome. Each new character typically resides in a certain section of Rapture, and you end up being able to decide all of their fates. Whether they live or die is up to you, and the ending of the game can actually be altered based on the choices you make.
While the original release of the game is still wonderful, I did this playthrough via the recently released BioShock Collection. This version of BioShock 2 benefits from updated visuals, a smoother framerate, and the inclusion of all DLC (which I’ll be reviewing separately). While PC players will most likely already have experienced these visual/performance boosts (due to playing on a more powerful system), those who originally played the game on console will be able to play this more definitive edition. Rapture has never looked this good. From the stunning water effects, to the buttery-smooth framerate, this remaster of the game is a visual gem as well as just an all around great game.
While a majority of people let their love for the original eclipse their thoughts on the sequel, I actually consider BioShock 2 to be the best in the series. From it’s incredible story, fascinating new villain, and the way it uses the connection between the Big Daddies and Little Sisters as part of the gameplay, BioShock 2 is an incredibly solid sequel. The updated boost in both visuals and performance via the new collection is a nice touch as well, making it a complete treat to revisit this game for the first time in years. If you haven’t played BioShock 2, either pick up the new collection (if you have a powerful enough PC or current-gen console), track down a copy on an older console, or download the original version on Steam.
– Zack Burrows