In 2007, a game by the name of Bioshock was released onto the Xbox 360 and PC to incredible, widespread critical acclaim. Most gamers now consider it one of their favorite games of all time. But recently, 2K Marin decided it was up to the challenge of creating a sequel to this legendary game. But does the sequel stack up to the original, or is it clearly just a way for the creators to make more money on an already well-respected franchise?
The answer, actually, is a little of both.
Arguably, one of the biggest changes in Bioshock 2 is the ability to actually play as a Big Daddy, the fearsome guardians of the Little Sisters that roamed the dilapidated ruins of Rapture in the first game. But you play as not only a Big Daddy, but the very first Big Daddy, named Subject Delta. After a violent and depressing opening involving the near-death of Subject Delta, you wake up in a Rapture that is even more ruined than before. The sequel places you into the dead city 10 years after the original game, where new leadership has risen in the form of Sofia Lamb, a woman whose ideals, while also extreme, differ drastically from those of the previous leader, Andrew Ryan.
While Lamb will constantly insert bits of radio chatter into the game, most of it revolves around Subject Delta’s quest to be reunited with his Little Sister, Eleanor.
The story, while not even close to the caliber of the story in the first game, is actually excellent. Most of the characters are very fleshed out (at least, if you bother to pick up audio logs that are scattered about just as they were in the first game) and the way it all folds together in the end gave me a solid impression that this wasn’t just a sequel for the sake of a sequel, but that the creators really had somewhere to go with it.
However, this is not to say the story is without its flaws. Despite being a great one, I personally felt as though 80% of the interesting part of the story lay within the last 3 hours of Bioshock 2. These last 3 hours are a roller coaster ride that, without a doubt, live up to the title of the original game. But the 9 hours before that, at least in the story department, are a bit lacking.
In fact, almost all of the first three quarters of the game is taken up by roadblocks on your way to finding Eleanor. Many of these roadblocks are interesting, allowing you to explore a new environment and getting to know an insane new character, and often having to make a moral decision or two along the way. However, they simply have the feel of sequences thrown in there just for the sake of extending the game’s length. One might argue that the original game had some of those too (for example, the sequence where Jack meets up with crazed artist Sander Cohen). But those sequences were unbelievably fleshed out and unique, bringing so many interesting themes and set pieces into the picture. In Bioshock 2, these distractions are still fun, but honestly start to blend together very quickly.
This probably wouldn’t be such a big deal if this were the first game again, but it’s not. We’ve seen Rapture before, and have played this game before. The first 9 hours of the game are very similar to the previous game, to the point where they are almost hard to distinguish except for a few new things.
You are now given the ability to dual wield, with a weapon in one hand and a plasmid in another, and while this is a good idea, it’s not an enormous change, but rather just makes the combat more streamlined. The hacking mini game is also different, and way better. Instead of having to construct a pipe maze, the player now just has to stop a moving needle on the correct zone as it moves back and forth. This is much quicker, and much more fun than having to stop and constantly maneuver pipes.
Probably the most significant change is the interaction with the Little Sisters. You can now choose to either Harvest them (like in the first game) or Adopt them, in which you hoist them on your shoulder and take them to corpses where they can extract ADAM. Once they are dropped, enemies start coming at you until she finishes extracting, so it is your job to fend them off and protect the Little Sister. It’s nothing you haven’t seen in a game before, but it’s a nice addition to the sequel. Also, upgrades to plasmids actually do a LOT more now, and are very interesting compared to how they were in the first game.
Other than these few differences (and a few new tools and items), there is very little to distinguish between this game and the previous one until the last few hours. Once you hit those few hours, with your plasmids and weapons fully upgraded, you will feel like a tour du force that can take out nearly anything, and this is incredibly satisfying, and what it should have been the entire game. Because the Big Daddies in the first game were very difficult to take down, but in the beginning of this one a few well-placed shots will send Subject Delta tumbling.
Conclusion? Despite that a large chunk of the game is very similar to the first game, that does not in any way make it bad – just more of the same. And once the player hits that last section, the game becomes an incredible thrill that almost makes up for its less interesting beginning and middle. It’s for this reason, though, that I think Bioshock 2 would have better served as an expansion pack for Bioshock rather than a full retail game. Why not give players the few truly interesting hours with less exposition? Honestly, probably because they wanted to make more money off of it. This should not turn anybody off from buying the game now (Most places now sell it for about $40, sometimes $30), but just be forewarned that you’re going to start feeling a lot of deja vu.