First off all we’ll just say you can read this review without worrying about plot spoilers for this game and its predecessor because we’re not cruel / stupid and can’t encourage you enough to go and play through the first classic game to fully enjoy this one. So there’s no need to read with one eye open from behind the sofa.
All you really need to know is that in the first game the player found themselves at the hidden underwater city of Rapture after a plane crash. Unfortunately everything had gone completely mental as all the citizens had been busy messing around with Plasmids that altered them genetically, giving them superhuman abilities.
After taking it overboard, the Utopia fell before coming into fruition leaving its citizens wrecked of body and mind as they became known as the Splicers. Horrifically the city’s little girls, later dubbed the Little Sisters, were put into a trance and forced to collect Adam (Plasmid currency) from corpses. Players could choose to liberate them from this haunting nightmare or murder them to get extra Adam supplies. Well, after you disposed of their guardian first, the ominous Big Daddies.
The story now resumes ten years later but the Little Sisters and their lumbering protectors are still found wandering Rapture’s art deco halls, constantly wary of the threat of the Splicers. This time around you find yourself in a different part of Rapture and in some very different shoes. The huge boots of the first Big Daddy no less, who has been awakened to try and help… well, I said no spoilers.
Like the last game, the story is mainly told via radio transmissions and audio logs scattered around the ruined city. These logs consist of bits of conversation or diaries that predate the city’s fall, but with ominous early warning signs for what was coming. Or even during it (to chilling effect) or maybe afterwards. So still no real cut-scenes to speak of and you’re a mute character again. Rather than a negative point, it once again roots you into the boots of the character. However with so many of these recordings being non-essential to the main story you need to remind yourself to listen intently because every now and then they’ll drop a major plot point on you while you’re rooting in a bin for medkits or something.
Exploring is always worthwhile as there are plenty of extra audio logs, gun upgrades, money, Tonics and Plasmids to find. You really lose yourself for hours at a time just rummaging around the expansive areas that make up each of the ‘levels’ or chapters.
Some Big Shoes to Fill
As a Big Daddy you can adopt any little Little Sister, but you’ll have to dispatch her current guardian first. It might just break your heart seeing her sobbing at his side after you’ve just burnt him to death in front of her. They see the Big Daddies as being linked together though so are happy to join you, seemingly glad just not to be left to the splicers who’d rip her apart for Adam supplies.
The most memorable part of the first game was how the player could decide the fate of the Little Sisters. Originally the character designers were told to design them as something “pathetic that would break the player’s heart.” They nailed it first time around, and players who made things difficult for themselves by saving them were suitably rewarded.
Now you can get your little one to harvest some extra Adam from corpses before deciding whether to free or harvest her. This adds a new gameplay mechanic for the series where it is your turn to watch over her while she drains a corpse. Splicers will come out of nowhere to try and kill you both. Thankfully you can set up traps with laser-activated rivet shots, mini-rivet turrets, trip-wires and mines. It’s seriously tense, thrilling stuff, hampered only by the way that Splicers will appear behind you from an area you know is clear with no other entrance to it, meaning trying to get through a battle unscathed can be a nightmare even with dozens of traps set everywhere. It’s a minor blip though to be honest.
A strange incident occurred when there were two Little Sisters in the same area. One of mine, harvesting a corpse while I was fending off splicers and the other cowering behind a Daddy I accidentally pissed off (thus had to kill) during the shoot-out. Yep, I picked up the wrong one and didn’t realise for an hour. After dropping off my free-loader I made my way back to the area where I’d lost the first one and felt genuine guilt when she emerged from the shadows and ran over cheering “I knew you wouldn’t leave me behind.”
Dealing with the Enemy
Enemies have gotten a bit sharper over the last ten years in Rapture as they never miss a shot and won’t be snuck up upon easily. Good thing they’ll still run onto a mine for you though eh?
New enemies include the beefed-up and stupid Brute Splicers, and the lithe and smart Big Sisters. The latter are much tougher to defeat than the Big Daddies. As well as being nimble and quick they’re loaded with plasmid skills. The way they screech deafeningly before arrival is a neat panic-inducing trick too as you back into a corner cowering and waiting. You’ll need keep an eye on your health because despite all the armour you have on, you’re pretty weak, with even small-arms fire and melee strikes from Splicers doing considerable damage. ‘Researching’ enemies returns to earn extra perks but with a video camera instead of photos. You start a short recording before attacking and are awarded points for dispatching them with as much variety as possible.
You play as a fast moving Rosie-type model rather than the enormous Bouncers, but you come equipped with the devastating iconic giant drill attached to your arm. It’s a good thing you need to top it up with oil otherwise you’d just run through the while game ploughing through everyone in a meaty mess. It’s more effective than the guns, even against armoured opponents.
Plasmid attacks return but firing guns and plasmids together is a much smoother affair now. The Plasmids haven’t really changed much, with the best ones still being fire, lightning and telekinesis. Or if you like your crazy in the morning, a swarm of bees. The supporting Tonic skills have all been grouped together now which makes picking your favourites much less restrictive.
Old, But Classic…
So yes, it’s set in Rapture again but there are no recycled locations which is a relief, but the game still retains the art deco stylings that made the original city such a sight to behold. The main difference is that locations are a little more battered and leaking even more sea water. It’s all about atmosphere in Bioshock 2, with the sound in particular being excellent throughout. This could be the overheard conversations of two squabbling Splicers, the 50’s music or the string sections for the game’s more emotional moments.
The use of shadows is once again to be applauded as you see eerie silhouettes around the corner, unaware of your presence or there are the darting glimpses leading you into trouble and keeping your nerves on edge. The torch-lit sections are well-timed too.
…Yet Too Familiar?
There’s quite a lot of familiarity to Bioshock 2. Perhaps a little too much. There aren’t a lot of new Plasmids and the weapons haven’t changed much despite being a bit bigger to be handled by a Daddy. As well as the same menus and heads-up display, the in-game graphics don’t seem to have progressed since three years ago. It’s a good job then it was a really nice looking game back then, isn’t it? Even so, an upgrade would have been nice.
There’s an enchanting story buried in here but some players could be put off by them having to get it by picking up hidden tapes everywhere. Some of it slips into a touch too much heavy-handed ideological philosophy at times too, but you have to stay alert amongst it to not miss important plot details.
A Unique Experience
It can be forgiven for these faults though, because the game just has so much personality and a rich sense of history that is slowly revealed throughout at a well-timed pace. At around 15 hours, you’ll probably be able to discover most of the game’s secrets, but multiple endings, future DLC and the sense of there may well be more to see in the darkest corners of Rapture will keep you under the sea for a bit longer. All that and we haven’t even mentioned the new multiplayer modes; we’ll have a separate review for that when the servers have been active for a while.
As well as the Little Sisters surprising me throughout, there were other strange unique moments that made me realise the Bioshock brand is out there on its own. Such as coming into a room unnoticed and seeing two Splicers doing a slow dance in each other’s arms, to an old record, in a scene particularly touching amongst all the violence. Do you shoot them as they’d surely come after you if you’re seen? Or do you try to slip by unnoticed? As always in Rapture, it’s all about choice.