BY ADAM BONANNI Playing the first Bioshock was a bit of a painful experience. I liken a playthrough of it to the plight of an English teacher grading the term paper of a promising student; to see a piece of work come so close to achieving what it set out to do, only to dock it for the little mistakes along the way really makes one meditate on what could have been. Unfortunately, you might have to flunk it anyway. The promise of discovering and unearthing the secrets of Rapture, an envisioned paradise of free thought and free will, built under the ocean so its citizens could escape preconceived rules and established ways of life, is one of those scenarios you could dream about for weeks. The setting is so rich, I could spend the rest of the review talking about the world and its inner workings, but there lies part of the problem; a struggle to reconcile a setting hellbent on engaging storytelling with the gameplay to match. So through all this, how did the second entry in the franchise fare? Read on to find out
New Years Eve, 1959. Up until that point, Rapture was thriving; the socialites set in their ways, fathoms under the ocean in their city, free from rule of a government and social constraints. New advances in technology broke through, and it was discovered that a new species of sea slug around the city could be harvested to rewrite genetic information. This rewriting of an individual’s genes, over time, mutated the citizens into stronger, more versatile individuals, but transformed them into drug addicts. Civil war broke out in Rapture between two warring factions attempting to feed the addictions of the citizens, effectively destroying the city. Big Daddies, the heavily armored gargantuan police force of the city, still escort their Little Sisters around to gather genetic material from the dead to keep the wheel of Rapture turning, but for all intents and purposes, you’ve arrived in a ghost town. For the second game, your character is one of those Big Daddies, and for the most part, this doesn’t dramatically change the way the shooting element is handled. As mentioned before, the citizens found a way to modify themselves genetically, and this gives your character a variety of plasmids, as they are called. He can shoot lightning, fire, and telekinesis from his hands, just to name a few of his powers. Some are a little weaker than others, and unfortunately you can find a combination early on that you would benefit from just taking through the whole campaign. For all the variety of weaponry you find, the game doesn’t offer much incentive to put all of it to full use.
Like the first game, the shooting is solid, but unimpressive. Bioshock 2 adds different types of ammo to the guns, but the lack of variety in enemies means you probably won’t put much of it to good use. Battles with the Big Daddies and Big Sisters are more common this time around, and trust me, you can make full use of everything you have to throw at them. This is where the combat shines the brightest, although, even though you’re a lightly armored hulking Big Daddy, this doesn’t feel all that different from Bioshock 1’s fleshy protagonist. Enemies will still run at you stupidly even though they are way outmatched, and you can take roughly the same amount of hits as the human main character from the first game.
There are some traits specific to the role of a Big Daddy that end up rocking. Of course, the entire reason they exist is to protect the Little Sisters as they gather genetic material from corpses from rabid splicers, so expect to be doing this a lot. As soon as you set your sister down, an endless wave of enemies will begin advancing for the time it takes her to finish her job. These scenarios are really tight, action packed shoot outs, and ended up being way better than I thought. They force the player to make use of traps and a bit more cunning than normal, something that was teased in the first Bioshock but never fully realized. Something else that is much more fully realized this time around is the bond between the Big Daddy and the Little Sister. Ferrying her around the level and being charged with her protection makes the player feel for the little girl, and just taking in the deplorable conditions that surround you two, there’s a sense of camaraderie that the two of you are all you have in this messed up city.
That is, if you’re playing the good way.
Also making a return from the first game are the themes of moral choice. You can go through the levels like a complete bastard, murdering the little girls and harvesting them for their full potential, or instead saving them, along with a handful of other choices the player has to make. The problem is that these feel like they have an artificial impact on how the game plays out. It feels like the implications of your decisions are shoehorned into a couple of dialogue quips and scripted events, and aren’t as severe as the game would like to make them out. This is something that had some great potential, and the developers stuck to the safe way they were handled in the first game. Not impressed.
My return to Rapture was a familiar one, mostly in part to how little the visuals have changed. It really isn’t a bad thing though; Bioshock set up a fantastic atmosphere of a waterlogged, destroyed paradise that had gorgeous fifty’s golden era feel to it. Water looks like it’s gotten a minor upgrade, and since this plays such a huge part to how Rapture looks now, it goes a long way. New is the ability to venture out into the ocean, and this offers a new perspective to the city, seeing it from the outside. Don’t expect anything revolutionary; the outside still is designed as cramped as the inside, but it gives a nice feel of spaciousness. Overall, it is an indisputably better and sharper looking game, but much of the “wow” factor is gone from the first. Level design is often a little scattershot as well. Some areas come off as looking a bit too cramped, and sometimes too much is going on visually, making it hard to take much of anything in. Few areas come off as memorable of some of the locales from the first game, and throughout the entire game, its unfortunate that you don’t stumble across any areas from the first. Just how big is this city? It made me feel like I was exploring a completely different Rapture. The score orchestrated by Garry Schyman, is used sparingly, but really hits moments of great emotional effect. Often feeling like it was lifted from a big blockbuster, it fits the mood quite well. To add to the ambiance, jukeboxes are scattered around the levels playing the oldies, which offered a good subtle reminder of the place that Rapture once was. No complaints about the sound effects, guns sound great, and voice acting is handled very convincingly.
Don’t bother. Elaborating on that a bit, the quick few rounds I played was an unbalanced, laggy, half baked mess of a mode that performed well within my expectations (which weren’t good). Setting the events as the civil war that brought about Rapture’s demise was a nice touch, and there are moments that really could have worked well, like the ranking system and unlockables. However, it remains fairly unpolished compared to better multiplayer offerings across any platform.
Yep, there’s alot. Blood, guts, and psychological horror, the game has it all. However, it never goes over the top just for **** sake, and it is fairly tastefully done. The ESRB rates Bioshock 2 M for Mature for Blood, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language
FINAL GRADE: B
Bioshock 2 retails for $59.99 for the Playstation 3, and Xbox 360, and $49.99 for the PC