13 Dec

BioShock 2

Filed under: PC Games 2 Responses

The familiar sights and sounds make it feel good to be back in Rapture.

The original BioShock was one of my favorite games of 2007. It was also a tremendous success, both commercially and critically. A sequel had to follow but it was hard to see how the writers could come up with a story that could live up to the original. One early idea was to make a prequel, detailing the events leading up to the disastrous New Year’s party of 1958 that marked the fall of the underwater city. This treatment excited me but I always knew it would be extremely difficult to pull off. Depicting Rapture in its heyday instead of its decline would have needed it to become more of an RPG than a shooter. So I was disappointed but not really surprised when this was dropped in favor of another story set 10 years after the end of the first game.

Following Jack Ryan’s rampage through the city in the first BioShock which left both Andrew Ryan and his greatest rival Frank Fontaine dead, Rapture has settled down into a state of equilibrium under the control of Sofia Lamb. A psychologist, Lamb was originally brought to Rapture to provide counseling for the populace who were beginning to miss life on the surface and such simple pleasures as the feeling of sunlight on their faces. However, Lamb espouses a philosophy that is diametrically opposite that of Ryan, promoting selflessness and altruism. She quickly forms a cult around her that threatens Ryan’s power, and now that he is gone for good, she becomes the de facto ruler of the decaying city.

As everyone has probably heard by now, you get to control a Big Daddy in the sequel. Unfortunately, you don’t get to be a Bouncer or a Rosie, but instead a prototype known as the Alpha-series. This means you can take a lot less punishment and have a much more human profile, but you can also use a wide variety of weapons and plasmids, plus can move around more quickly to boot. Appropriately enough, your primary motivation this time around is to be reunited with the Little Sister you were bonded with, whose real mother is none other than Sofia Lamb. This makes the story a more personal one, as opposed to the more epic scale of the original. But most shockingly at all, it also turns out to be one of the rare instances where a sequel surpasses the original in nearly every way, story included.

Once again, teams of a Big Daddy and a Little Sister going around the city harvesting ADAM from corpses is a familiar sight.

Let’s get the game mechanics out of the way first. BioShock 2 is still first and foremost a shooter, albeit one with a focus on smaller numbers of strong enemies rather than large numbers of weak ones. It’s also a game of resource management. You don’t get regenerating health or mana in this game. Instead, you need to find and expend items to recover health and EVE. Likewise, your ammunition count and carrying capacity is strictly limited. Even your melee weapon, the Drill, needs to burn fuel for its best attack. Coupled with the fact that enemies can respawn even in areas that you thought you cleared, it gives the game the familiar survival horror vibe of always being just one step short of death.

The variety of weapons pretty much remains the same. For example, the spear gun is clearly the analogue of the crossbow from the first game, just as the rivet gun you now get is just the Big Daddy version of the pistol. As before, there are a handful of different ammunition types for gun, such as the new and very handy Trap Rivets which embed a rivet on a surface that shoots out at any enemy that crosses its path. Combined with the Trap Spears which create a line that will electrocute any enemy that crosses it and the new plasmids, you now have many more tools for creating deadly trap spaces.

Unfortunately, you can no longer manufacture special ammunition and must either scrounge for them or buy them. You do still get the Power to the People stations which upgrade your weapons. All weapons now have two normal upgrades and a powerful final upgrade which can be purchased only if you got the first two. The final upgrade for the Rivet Gun for example, gives every rivet you shoot a chance to set the enemy on fire, which is amazingly helpful. You can no longer upgrade everything, so you need to pick and choose more carefully.

Step 1: Set them on fire. Step 2: Sic insects on them. Step 3: Pump full of holes. Those poor Splicers sure aren’t very durable, are they?

But the real improvements to the mechanics lie in the vastly expanded selection of plasmids. Yes, you basically do get the same ones again, but this time around, nearly every plasmid comes in three progressively more powerful versions and the upgraded ones have specific special effects. For example, Incinerate!  when fully upgraded lets you shoot a continuous stream of fire for as long as your EVE holds out, or to tap it to release and area of effect fireball. Insect Swarm not only targets multiple enemies, but also spawns new swarms from the corpses of killed enemies. One new plasmid line, Scout, lets you leave your body to move invisibly about a level and later even hack devices and use plasmids while in this form. This gives you an incredibly diverse toolset and makes for a compelling reason to replay the game once you’re done.

One area that the sequel suffers from is the variety of enemies. While there are plenty of enemy types, most of them come from the first game so you’ll never experience the frisson of dread that you felt when you faced a Spider Slicer for the first time or the confused shock of having to chase down a Houdini Splicer. That said, the Big Sister is a suitably terrifying new mini-boss who is guaranteed to kill you within 10 seconds of fighting her for the first time and there are new Big Daddy types that will necessitate a change of your usual tactics when you first meet them.

As one commentator on QT3, one the best things about BioShock is how perfectly it’s paced and it does this simply by giving the player a lot of control over the pacing. If you feel like doing something low intensity, you can just explore and scrounge for stuff. You still get combat, but only in controlled doses. When you feel up for something tougher, you go take down a Big Daddy. Even here, it’s up to the player where and when to engage them, allowing you to prepare the area in advance for the epic fight and to make full use of the environment. The sequel keeps all this but goes one better. Now you have ADAM gathering missions where you set down a Little Sister on a corpse. But this lures a small army of splicers to swarm your location, so you need to be ready to face them. Similarly, the dreaded Big Sisters only attack you after you’ve rescued or harvested a Little Sister, so you know what you’re going to be in for.

Being a Big Daddy isn’t so cool now that the Big Sister has made you completely obsolete.

Graphics-wise, Rapture looks much the same as it did the first time around, which isn’t that cool considering how much game technology has advanced in that time. Faces in particular look plasticky and are stiffly animated, making them painful to watch when the NPCs talk. Nevertheless, Rapture is as full of detail as always, and the level design has improved by leaps and bounds. The original game always felt more like it was set in a series of interconnected tunnels than a real city. BioShock 2 pulls off the illusion much more successfully, with its open spaces and multi-storey buildings.

Exploring the city is still a joy in of itself, though of course Rapture is no longer as fresh and exciting as it was when you saw it the first time. One reason why I took nearly 30 hours to complete my playthrough was because I insisted on visiting every nook and cranny of the city. As before, the game uses audio diaries to advance the story and there are lots of nice touches and tie-ins. I found it particularly sad for example to find a corpse of a Big Daddy with a rose nearby and learn about the whys and hows from the diaries. Similarly, the most personal nature of the storyline this time makes it more affecting. Throughout the game, you find clues about the Little Sister, Eleanor Lamb, you were bonded up, about how she grew up and became what she is now.

I’d say that the story is also much more deftly written in BioShock 2. The first one had a shocking mid-game twist that left everyone’s mouths gaping, but that also caused the game to peak early. The story here builds up slowly and consistently through the whole game with no need to call for cheap twists. Once again, it’s a story of discovering who you are, and how that affects Eleanor, but unlike the first game, it’s your actions that define you and rest assured that Eleanor is watching and learning all the time. Finally, one totally awesome sequence lets you see Rapture through the eyes of one of the most important player’s in the local ecosystem and it’s completely change the way you look at them.

The new Brute Splicers aren’t so big when you can drill them down to size.

It’s hard to find any serious faults in anything this good though I feel compelled to mention that the difficulty curve feels off. The game is cripplingly difficult at the beginning but becomes a complete cake-walk by the end of the game. While I appreciated that my character became super-powerful towards the end, it would be nice if I had some worthy opponents to use that power against. The final plasmid you get is just salt in the wound. If you use it, you barely need to do anything else to win even the toughest of fights at that point. I’d also have appreciated it if the game found reasons for the player to use a larger variety of weapons and plasmids. In my case, I settled down to using a few staples and saw no need to switch to anything else.

Overall, I’d say that this is the best game I’d played this year, beating out even Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age. The story and the sense of place are incredible, the philosophical fluff gets surprisingly deep and the gameplay is sublimely satisfying. It’s in fact so good that I’m definitely eager for the PC version of the single-player DLC to finally get released. It’s also so good that I almost wish that 2K Games weren’t working on its successor, BioShock Infinite. Surely nothing could possibly top this game? But then this was what I thought about the first game as well and 2K proved me wrong.

Written on December 13 2010 and is filed under PC Games. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “BioShock 2”


Yeah. I think this one got unfairly compared to the original. And there might be some bias in the fact that this is not an ‘Irrational Games’ Bioshock. For some reason, people were expecting something revolutionary.

I hear Minerva’s Den is something special. If you like this I think you should definitely keep an eye out for that.


This is one of the rare games that I managed to play the year it was released, though it was released very early in the year. I wonder if it’s going to show up on the best of the year lists.

And yeah, I definitely will looking out for Minerva’s Den, especially since it’s supposed to be free for the PC.

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