This set of Bioshock retro reviews has been inspired by the recently released Bioshock collection, in which the first two games were purported to have received a remaster on PC. Unfortunately, in my review of Bioshock I had to set aside a fairly lengthy section covering the problems that these 'remasters' have shipped with on PC so to avoid duplication please check that review for a rundown of the specific issues. Needless to say, that Bioshock 2 while looking slightly higher resolution has also been shipped with the same problems including game crashes.
Please note, this review by definition will contain massive spoilers for the original game and thus I strongly urge you to run away screaming right now if you haven't played Bioshock. However, if you are one of the five people who has enjoyed the original game and is now desperately seeking a solid review for the sequel then my fine chums: you're in luck.
You've got something to prove, your overall concept has already been used and fans of the original will rip you into bloody pieces if you bugger it up: who would want to be a sequel? Good sequels have been done mind: Aliens, Half Life 2 and Terror from the Deep all showed this rare achievement is possible. So when Irrational Games hit a home run with Bioshock the chances were the next instalment would never deliver the same feels as the original. Now some six years since release let us take another trip to Rapture and see how this sequel stands up.
Bioshock 2 is set ten years after the events of the first game and the wheels of Rapture are still turning. This time around you step into the boots of the unfortunate soul known as Subject Delta, a prototype for the Big Daddy's we fought against on our first visit. The opening cut scene introduces you back into the game world in good fashion and shows how you have been bonded with a Little Sister called Eleanor. This games antagonist, Sofia Lamb, has taken umbrage with this joining and promptly forces you to blow your brains out. However, that is not where the story ends for Delta as you awake ten years later and must set out to find Eleanor.
You know the drill
As you take control of Delta the first thing you will notice is that he feels somewhat more nimble than the other Big Daddy's you have seen. I am sure this was an early decision not to make you move at the speed of the original clomping Giants. However I always did think the original character did feel like he had a box of spanners in his pocket, so the slightly stompy feel in this game doesn't feel all too different. Delta can now use weapons and Plasmids simultaneously which is great and now makes combat feel a little more punchy. On the weapons side of things most have been redesigned in looks but fill a similar role as with the first game, so your rivet gun is your pistol; assault rifle is the Tommy gun etc. Old favourites like the grenade launcher and shotgun also find their way into your arsenal but what Big Daddy would be complete without is old Black and Decker drill.
Of course, plasmids make a return and they are as awesome as ever but to keep things fresh these little beauties come with a twist. Each plasmid can now be upgraded to different tiers. The basic incinerate does what it always did but tier two now sets many foes alight. Tier three actually lets you erupt molten fire from your fingertips - which is always going to be a crowd pleaser. These various tiers have some fantastic possibilities: such as the tier three Cyclone Trap which can be put on walls/ceilings: knocking splicers around like test dummies. With tier three telekinesis you can actually pick man-sized enemies up while they are still alive and then sending them to a local destination minus the in-flight meal.
Tonics still add abilities to your skill set and while most carry over from Bioshock in some form, there are plenty of new ideas here to. One will improve your drill, for example, letting it deflect incoming bullets when spinning. My favourite has to be the Fountain of Youth tonic which actually lets you recharge health and ADAM when stood in a water. Many of these tonics you find but the best are actually unlocked with a similar research mechanism from the first game. Again not wanting to just copy it over this time around you choose a subject and record footage as you fight, the more varied the kills the better the score. Hacking systems is still something you must to but the tedious pipe game has now being replaced by a far more accessible mini game where you must simply stop the moving dial on the right colour. Hit red you will set the alarms off, green is a win and blue will give you a bonus (turrets will do more damage etc).
Obviously, Big Daddy's are synonymous with the ADAM factories of Rapture: the Little Sisters. The general progression via ADAM and gathered gardens have been kept the same but then the design team have once again made an interesting riff on the original system of fighting Big Daddy's. Now each area will have a number of Big Daddy/Little Sister pairs and as before you must best the protector to get access to the Sister. Sure you can harvest the girl straight away or you can take a far more interesting path and actually adopt her. This choice will then let you seek out ADAM filled corpses across the level and let the little lady do her thing. Once the collection starts, Splicers detect this and will attack in droves so it's wise to set up traps and a defensive perimeter to fend them off. These sections of the game are where you can a lot of fun testing out the new systems, for example, now you can fuse cyclone traps with other plasmids like incinerate or the killer bees. There are even trap rivets and mini turrets you can deploy.
Each little Sister can harvest up to two bodies and then it's decision time again. You can either harvest her for the maximum amount of ADAM or save her by returning her back to a normal little girl. So while the loop works the same the method has been tweaked to fit these circumstances and this also adds some of the best fun in the game.
Once you have harvested the ADAM (by whatever method you choose) one of the games new adversaries will show up with the intent on sending you back to Big Daddy heaven. The Big Sisters are former Little Sisters who have been placed in suits that resemble Big Daddy's: only far more slender and agile. These spry adversaries will leap around the levels, hitting you with various attacks including plasmids and some kind of psychic scream. Like the scraps with Big Daddy's, these fights proved a tough challenge due to the speed they drain your health and ADAM reserves. Big Sisters are visually well designed and certainly move around with cat-like grace, however, I do think the confrontations could have been a little bit more fleshed out. Instead, you end up employing the same tactics from fight to fight with little incentive to step out of the shock and shoot we used in the first game. I also think the story of the Big Sisters is barely touched other than one section of the game, however, there sometimes have to be sacrifices that end up on the editing floor. Maybe one day we will see a game where you play as a big sister?
So how does the second visit to Rapture pony up when it comes to visuals and level design? Well, I have to say I love the overall look in Bioshock 2. Everywhere you look there is water cascading down hallways, pouring from vents and trickling from the ceiling above. The game world did get a slight visual overhaul and so looks noticeably better. With that said I do think the actual personality of the various areas in the first game is far more memorable and ultimately more enjoyable to play through. The Little Sisters have also had a slight redesign and are better animated with superior visuals and yet for some reason, I prefer the original look. Again, it is hard to tell if this is simply because my subconscious is making a preference simply because I love the original so much.
The remaster seems to have made fewer improvements to this game that the original, which were never a vast amount to start with. Bioshock 2 does have a few tricks up its sleeve and one of my favourites is that now you much occasionally step outside the city into the ocean itself. Many times we have seen the Big Daddy's lumbering about in the murky depths with no regard to the vast ocean around them and I am really glad we got to try this for ourselves. These small segments don't offer anything in terms of combat but it is very serene to walk across the ocean floor seeing Rapture from a new perspective and I love the fact you can grab some sea slugs along the way for extra ADAM.
So as it turns out most of the people who founded Rapture were self-serving dicks and the biggest of them all was Andrew Ryan. As you ventilated his head with a gold club in the first game Sofia Lamb now steps up as this games diabolical antagonist. It is a shame that she was never mentioned in the first game because this robs her of any real grounding in the story of Rapture. You don't get off to the best start with Lamb and after she forces you to put a bullet into your egg salad she carries on the Little Sister program. Now lacking a supply of young girls inside Rapture, Lamb has started stealing them from the surface and taking them back to the sunken city to become little sisters. As you progress through the game the little sister you were paired with is now all grown up and contacts you intermittently: it turns out Eleanor is actually Sofia Lamb's daughter.
Ultimately Lamb was never going to fill the shoes of Ryan and this is certainly one of the games weakest links. However, I do think the overall idea and execution for this games story is very good and the fact it doesn't reach the same highs as the first bothers me nought. In the end, there are some mildly interesting characters along the way, it's just a shame the best of these have a very small part to play.
So as I have detailed, pretty much every gameplay system in Bioshock 2 has been tweaked and improved: from the tiered Plasmids, improved hacking mechanics and an overall better gameplay experience. We also get to see more of Rapture and while lacking in the character of the first games areas I still loved exploring these new sights: we even get to see the world from a Big Daddy and Little Sisters perspective along the way.
As I look at the various forums and comments sections more often than not I am now seeing gamer's coming full circle with Bioshock 2. When it first released I remember it seemed like nobody was entirely happy with it: whereas now most comments are more akin to 'hey, I actually like Bioshock 2'. Expectations can often play a big part in how we receive a game and after the impression Bioshock left on the gaming world the sequel was almost certain to fall short of this legacy. This is a shame because Bioshock 2 is (and was at the time) an excellent chapter of the Story of Rapture and one which I heartily recommend you take.
Thank you for reading my retro review of Bioshock 2 on PC. This review is part of a series covering the entire Bioshock journey so please return soon to catch the review for Bioshock Infinite. You can also find me on Twitter @Riggedforepic