|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: 2K Marin, 2K Australia, Digital Extremes, and 2K China||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: 2K Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Feb 9, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-10||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Few gamers that played BioShock didn't immediately fall in love with it. The Art Deco style, the Plasmid-enhanced shooter gameplay, and the utterly compelling story made it an instant classic; one that will be remembered as a generation-defining gaming experience. Of course, original hits are hard for publishers to come by, so a sequel was inevitable.
While the second entry in a proven franchise typically greatly improves upon the framework already put in place by its predecessor, BioShock 2 is more of a mildly refined experience. Rather than incorporating anything groundbreaking or entirely original, the development teams behind the game decided to leave well enough alone. While this will undoubtedly please many fans, I couldn't help but feel I was playing through essentially the same game I played on the Xbox 360 in 2007 and then again on the PS3 in 2008. Sure, taking control of a Big Daddy in all new environments seems like an important new direction for the series, but in the end, the novelty wears thin quickly and you're left with more of the same.
That doesn't mean BioShock 2 isn't a great game. In fact, I sat down and plowed through the single-player portion in just two sessions. Players will still find all the bits of gameplay they so enjoyed the first time through, and the story is every bit as interesting and well detailed. Just know that the devs really played it safe, resulting in a been-there-done-that feeling I just couldn't seem to shake. Still, diving back into Rapture certainly was no chore, and I've come away with an even greater appreciation for just how amazing the first game was.
BioShock 2 takes place about ten years after the events that transpired in BioShock. This time players will take control of one of the first few Big Daddies ever created. Actually, you are the first successfully bonded Big Daddy; far more reliable than the failed, single-minded Alpha models. Unfortunately, you were bonded to Eleanor Lamb, the daughter of Sofia Lamb, and you soon go from revered Rapture citizen to the infamous Subject Delta.
The game's antagonist, Sofia Lamb, is an expert psychiatrist hired by Andrew Ryan, creator of the underwater city of Rapture, to quell unrest among the citizenry. This was a massive blunder by Ryan, however. You see, Sofia Lamb is a collectivist progressive, a viewpoint that is in stark contrast to the city's founding principles of the sanctity of capitalism and the individual. As Lamb settles in, rather than resolving the issues that abound, she subverts the status quo and shapes the people to her vision, instantly becoming a power-player in Rapture. Soon, Andrew Ryan finds himself on the wrong end of a mounting civil war.
With this as a backdrop, it's easy to see that the plot in BioShock 2 is heady, but it has the same cerebral attraction and intrigue a television series such as Lost has. As such, players will definitely want to scour the world looking for the umpteen diary recordings to reveal all of the juicy tidbits in order to piece the story together. By the same token, all the details are essentially filler. All you really need to know is that there is a new adversary in town and you're here to foil her best laid plans with a whole lot of whoop-ass!
Once again, the genetically-enhanced Plasmid powers that you'll accumulate are awesome. They really make the BioShock series standout from the crowd. For the uninitiated, you'll traipse around Rapture collecting a gene-altering element called ADAM that can be used in concert with Plasmids and Gene Tonics to give you superhuman abilities in the palm of your hand. Electrocuting unwary Splicers standing in a pool of water and then freezing a Brute or an Alpha into a solid block of ice and shattering the foe with your massive drill is incredibly satisfying. There is a host of new Plasmids to purchase too, so you'll have even more ways to unleash fury.
The only problem with Plasmids is that a few are far more powerful than others - so there's no real incentive to unlock all of them. In fact, you're best served concentrating on a handful of Plasmid powers and maxing out their potential rather than being a jack-of-all-trades. Of course, neglecting some of the lesser abilities will take some of the strategy out of fights later on. Nevertheless, whichever power progression you decide on, you're bound to have a bunch of fun, so there's no real wrong way to level your character.
Speaking of power leveling, there's a camera recording system in BioShock 2, which is an interesting way to perfect your character. Each enemy type can be recorded with the camera, allowing you to "research" that enemy. The better, more interesting ways you kill them the higher your grade will be. Accumulate enough high marks and eventually you'll unlock bonuses against those enemy types. Each enemy has its own research gauge with four levels of improvement, and you're able to see which boon you'll get at each level. Best of all, each gauge culminates in a powerful Gene Tonic, some stronger than others, that make researching worth the effort. That being said, it does feel a bit awkward and time-consuming to activate the camera. This is especially the case when you're surrounded by Splicers and Alpha Daddies. So, it's likely you won't fill each and every gauge unless you make a concerted effort to do so. Despite the awkwardness, it's a quality leveling mechanic.
There are also a lot more engaging weapons to wield in BioShock 2. Handguns and Tommy Guns are useless for a Big Daddy, so you'll be packing heat in the form of machine guns, shotguns, and grenade launchers. Like the original, each gun makes use of three different kinds of ammunition, some rarer than others, which you can switch to immediately via the D-pad. Having access to this more powerful arsenal is great, but I took a particular shine to boring holes into the bellies of Splicers with the drill appendage. The drill, like the other weapons, can be upgraded and enhanced up to three times with killer properties. Eventually, you'll be able to deal extra damage, deflect incoming bullets, freeze enemies in place, etc. with your tricked out weaponry.