Since BioShock Infinite still isn’t out yet, and I have almost zero faith in the possibility that the March 26 release date will actually hold up (please prove me wrong, Irrational), I figured it might be a nice time to step away from Ni No Kuni’s post-game monster hunting and revisit an old favorite of this generation. So, just in case there’s one person around these parts who hasn’t played BioShock 2 yet, here’s my review upon revisiting the game several years after release.
The world of Rapture is a fascinating place. Particularly for me, the idea of an underwater city just seems like a fantastic setting: One which I believe peaks the natural curiosities within the average person’s mind. I mean just think about it, wouldn’t it be awesome to live underwater? Or what about colonizing out in space? These ideas are far from new, but the original BioShock did an outstanding job of making these imaginings realistically presentable. Now that the sequel has been released, I find myself torn between wanting to give in to all the hype surrounding the game as well as taking a step back and trying to make my expectations more feasible. While the second installment makes noticeable improvements, it still falls short of being the story-driven epic it has the potential to be. What makes the sequel a must-have for fans and newcomers alike? Well, it’s time to put on your Big Daddy and Little Sister replica wetsuits and find out.
BioShock 2 starts off with a bang, literally. While I’ll refrain from any major plot spoilers, it’s far from being a secret that the sequel allows players to become the original games most feared resident of Rapture, the Big Daddy. These monstrous behemoths walk around Rapture protecting their “Little Sisters” from harm, equipped with powerful guns and a drill attached to one arm, should anyone be dumb enough to get up close and personal. Their awesome power left players of the original game quaking in the fetal position, so what must it feel like to finally have the power and ferocity that comes with your Big Daddy boots? Underwhelming, that’s what. The first thing I wanted to do as a Big Daddy was run up to some pesky little splicer and shove my drill through his face. (Umm… wow, there’s really no better way to phrase that, is there? Oh well.) It’s too bad that four or five pistol shots are enough for any splicer to bring you to your knees. I realize that making your Big Daddy invincible would, you know, be kind of game breaking; yet at the same time, what’s the point of having this awesome power if every small encounter could result in game over?
The answer: Balance. Now I’m willing to give credit where credit is due, and if I had to choose one word to describe the gameplay of BioShock 2, I would call it balanced. It will always have an element of survival horror to it, that’s just the nature of the beast, and I’m willing to accept limited ammo capacities and health that doesn’t regenerate so long as I’m given proper reason to believe I will eventually be able to feel like a capable hero; which is exactly the feeling BioShock 2 allows you to have should you desire to press further through the story. As you progress through the beautifully detailed locations, learning plenty of rich narrative points along the way, there are plenty of weapon upgrade stations; not to mention the awesome new toys you’re given as a Big Daddy, such as the portable mini-turret. Once you gather up enough Adam and find a handful of upgrade stations, your Big Daddy really does transform into the powerhouse you always wanted him to be. Which brings me to combat.
Not much has changed in the way you approach combat. You’ll still want to mix up a variety of status effect plasmids, either using ice abilities to stop enemies in their tracks or using fire to light up oil puddles as a way of effectively clearing out a room. What has changed is the tools with which you can wreak havoc upon the nonsense-spewing splicers and still-menacing rival Big Daddies that are on the hunt for lost Little Sisters. Some of the new weapons and plasmids BioShock 2 introduces add a welcome layer of strategic depth to the gameplay. Not really feeling that room full of splicers? Roll out a mini turret and use a plasmid to summon a Bot, then watch as your mechanical minions do battle for you. Like getting in the way of true love? Well then, you little devil you, whip out your spear gun (wow, I don’t even… I apologize, folks. I’m not doing it on purpose) and shoot the female splicer just as the male splicer is trying to make his move. There are about a million and one ways (editor’s note: not an actual statistic) to combat enemies this time around, and every one of them feels fresh and engaging thanks to an upgrade system that actually improves your weapons. If you really get attached to your grenade launcher, as I did, you’ll want to upgrade that bad boy all the way. The final upgrade for it allows the ricocheting debris from the initial blast to explode a second time, turning your single grenade blast into a minefield of agony for anyone in the room. But combat wouldn’t be as exciting if the enemies you were bringing down didn’t look and react realistically, and the improved A.I. is another one of BioShock 2’s strong suits.
The enemies this time around are faster, stronger and smarter than ever. They will chase you down if you try to run, get behind cover and try to flank you, and even try to blast through the makeshift cover you hide behind. One of the most impressive showcases of A.I. is during the newly introduced “gather” sequences, in which the Little Sister you adopt will, well, gather Adam from specific dead splicers on the ground. Doing this of course attracts a small legion of splicers to your position and it’s your job as the Big Daddy to protect the little one during the ensuing battle. I found the best approach is to lay some traps and hack any nearby devices so that they work with you and not against you. During my playthrough, one of the greatest, yet most frustrating moments was when I laid out a series of trap rivets on the ground at the edge of a doorway and, to my surprise, rather than just running right on top of it the splicer stopped at the door and shot me from there. Of course, with a dozen guys running at the same time trying to stop on a dime, someone eventually gets shoved and the trap rivet doesn’t go entirely to waste, but it was impressive nonetheless to see enemies that adapt to your tactics. Doing these gathers and saving, or harvesting if you’re a heartless bastard, the Little Sisters will eventually garner the attention of the Big Sisters, new enemies that make Big Daddies seem like Big Teddies. These creeptastical darklings are fast, agile, and oh so powerful. Fortunately, you know when one is approaching by the screech they let out… and by the fact that the corners of the screen turn blood red, just as an early warning letting you know that sweet death, she is a comin’. If you’re smart, you’ll use the precious moments before her arrival to hack any nearby turrets, summon a bot, or reload your anti-armor rounds; because it will be an adrenaline-infused thrill ride until that beast is finally slain. Oh, and don’t forgot to set up your camera to film the experience (The in-game one, not your real camera. I mean whatever, if that’s what you’re in to) because fully researching Big Sisters results in a sweet gene tonic reward.
The most intriguing addition to the world of BioShock is the multiplayer aspect. Now, don’t get too excited and throw out you Call of Duty disc or anything, because even standard deathmatches in BioShock aren’t exactly a fast paced extravaganza. Since the gameplay relies more on tactics, the best part of online matches are the strategic or team based match types like “Adam Grab” and “Capture the Sister”. These modes are the equivalent of traditional capture-the flag, territory, and what I’ll call capture-and-secure (holding a Sister for as long as you can) match types that online gamers are familiar with. The ranking system will assuredly keep some folks addicted for months to come, but honestly the online should wear off for the general crowd within a week or two of play.
Another tweak to the sequel is the new and sort-of improved hacking system. Instead of rearranging pipes, gamers will know have to focus their rhythm and timing skills. The way this works is that a bar appears on the bottom of the screen and will mostly contain red and white spaces, which should be avoided, and blue and green spaces, which are safe zones. The blue spaces are the ideal safe zones because they net extra rewards for the hack, while red spaces are the worst because they trip alarms and summon bots to attack you. While this system is far less strenuous on the mind and much easier to master, I have a tiny, eensy weensy problem with it. I’m COLOR BLIND. No, not like “oh gracious me, why is everything in black and white.” color blind, I’m what’s commonly known as “red-green color blind”; which means unless I’m standing a foot away from my television screen, I can’t tell the difference between the red zone and the green zone. That also means that every time I want to hack something, like say a turret, camera, vending machine, ammo machine, or bot, I have to get up off the couch and crouch right next to my screen. Yeah, thanks 2K games for reminding me how deficient my eyes are, your color choices are a real boost to my self-esteem. While it still didn’t deter me from enjoying the game, it frustrates me and leaves me wondering how such a rather large problem could have slipped through the cracks. And while we’re on the topic of aesthetics, now would be the perfect time to discuss the graphics and sounds offered up inside the wonderful world of Rapture.
BioShock 2 still looks great… even if there are parts of it that I can’t see. (Yeah I’m just going to keep whining about that for the rest of this review. Luckily, it’s almost done) The new locations offer both an authentically Rapture approach to design (look at the posters on the wall and all will be revealed!) as well as a fresh take on locations previously inaccessible to players in the original game. The attention to detail is much appreciated, and the end result is an environment that is realistically affected by your actions. Smack a window and the glass will crack, scorch an enemy and the burn marks on the ground will leave a trail to follow. The best part of the adventure is the score, a set of musical pieces that really know how to play with your emotions; somehow managing to find a balance between incredibly eerie and relaxingly smooth. Add to that a stellar voice-acting job, both during game sequences and audio diaries, and those splicers that are always babbling about something in the background, and you have yourself an underwater city that really does come to life right before your eyes. While the story didn’t seem as epic in scale this time around, which I attribute to the fact that the adventure is much more personal in the sequel, the characters were still memorable. Though not as memorable as the intriguing characters of the original, I’ll admit. I really didn’t have any kind of attachment to any of the antagonists or your radio contact this time around, but for what it offers, the story comes full circle and feels very satisfying.
If you never played the original BioShock then first off, got off your butt and buy it, then sit back down and play it, and second, don’t worry. This adventure is totally stand-alone and won’t leave you feeling cheated in any way. Still, the more you know about the previous game, the better your appreciation and understanding of Rapture will be. The combat is still great, and noticeable improvements have made it even better than before. The sounds and sights still deliver an impressive display even if you’ve been to Rapture before. While the online is no CoD killer, it certainly stands on its own as a more strategic shooter than tradition run-and-gun. This is definitely a must-play, and I would call it a must-buy as well. If you’re at all interested in the idea behind the game, check it out. I highly doubt you’ll be disappointed. Unless your color blind.
I’m thinking about making “Relevant Revisiting” a reoccurring segment for playing old games in the months before their sequels arrive. If you think it’s a worthy endeavor, and something you’d be interested in reading, let me know in the comments below. I’d also consider doing retro game reviews, but I feel like everyone with a YouTube account is doing that these days, so I wanted to keep the games semi-current. Either way, your opinions and feedback are appreciated.