The original Bioshock was an epic masterpiece, rarely has there ever been a game so compelling, mysterious and atmospheric. It pushed all the boundaries of the first-person shooter genre and showed us just how good it really could be when people put exceptional talent and consideration into it. It also proved that a FPS can have a storyline of incredible depth. Bioshock pulled you into its universe with its rich environments, characters, atmosphere and history, and once it had its hooks in you it never let go. Everything about it was refreshing and unique. For me it produced my most memorable videogame moment of all time. I have never been so shocked by anything in my life than I was at the unforgettable twist within Bioshock, which I won’t spoil for those who have never played the original. Whoever wrote the script was a bonafide genius. If you’ve never played Bioshock go out right now and buy it, it’s a pretty dated game now so you should be able to find it at bargain price. I guarantee you that Rapture will be a place you never forget. It’s such a shame that returning to it in the sequel was such a big disappointment.
The problem with Bioshock 2 is very simple, it’s the same game as the first in every way. I know a lot of people say that this is in no way a bad thing, but I think it is especially since the sequel is nowhere near as good as it was the first time around. There have been certain changes to gameplay but they feel more like they’ve been put in solely to prove that this isn’t the same game. It doesn’t work, they seem more like an insult than anything. There is nothing fresh about the sequel, you won’t ever really see anything more than you already have. You take a slightly different journey through Rapture but even that doesn’t separate it from the original because unlike Bioshock the areas you explore don’t have that distinct individuality. It leaves you feeling like one area of Rapture is just the same as the rest and it only gets worse when you actually revisit areas from the first game. Three years separate the two games and it makes me wonder what 2K was actually doing during that time. It’s been speculated that the intention for the Bioshock series is to have a total of about seven games. As strange as that sounds if it’s true Bioshock is going to have to go in a completely different direction to succeed. If they continue returning to Rapture the series is just going to become like a bad joke. Going back a second time is bad enough.
The story of Bioshock 2 is a slight departure from the first, putting you in the role of a Big Daddy eight years after the events of the first game. The main theme of the story in this game focuses on family. You play as one of the first Big Daddies to come off the production line, a being known as ‘Subject Delta’ that has had its organs and skin grafted into a diving suit. In 1958, two years before the events of the first game, Sofia Lamb commands Subject Delta to commit suicide in front of his daughter Eleanor, the Little Sister he was paired with. Rather than die Subject Delta falls into a coma and a Vita Chamber revives him ten years later with no recollection of past events. He awakens in the now war-torn Rapture of the first game and is compelled to seek out his daughter Eleanor due to a fail-safe installed when he was turned into a Big Daddy which if he should stray too far from his Little Sister will kill him. What has changed in the eight years since the last game is that Sofia Lamb, originally brought to Rapture as a therapist to help people cope living in an underwater city, is now the self-appointed leader of the city. Under her rule the first generation of Little Sister’s have grown to adolescents and turned into Big Sisters which she sends to coastlines to abduct little girls to become new Little Sisters. As the game progresses it becomes apparent that Lamb will become responsible for the destruction of the city and Subject Delta sets out to overthrow her and her army.
In the original game Big Daddies were the enemy you faced when you stumbled upon one of the Little Sister’s, young girls who wandered Rapture harvesting ADAM from corpses. ADAM is a formula that enhances anyone that uses it via genetic manipulation and grant the player and enemies the use of special powers and abilities in the game. ADAM is also what has caused the downfall of Rapture, a secret underwater city created to be free of the shackles of a society that forced restrictions and morals on scientific progress. Bioshock introduced an incredibly unique, complex and rich history full of intrigue and mystery that you slowly began to understand as you progressed through the game and as you discovered audio diaries created by the key characters. It tells a story of division between the rich and poor, the chaos of allowing anyone access to incredible power within a virtually lawless society, the power struggle between leaders and the conflict that resulted in the city’s downfall. The city you enter into is the war-torn ruins of a once great city populated by the survivors known as Splicer’s who’s addiction to ADAM has led to their mental and physical degeneration and left them with only one compulsion and that is to scavenge the city for more by any means. You get unwillingly pulled into the battle between the leaders of the civil war who seem not to realize that the war has already been lost. Bioshock was amazingly atmospheric, designed to be a horror FPS. Rapture is a crumbling city, water pouring in through the cracks and dripping all around you as you walk through the dark, empty and haunted environments hearing the shouts of the insane splicer’s echo off the walls and observing the shadowy figures running about ahead of you in the firelight only to get ambushed by grotesque humans that come running for you out of the darkness… it is a game that can genuinely scare. You also face and come into contact with other remnants of the war, like insane plastic surgeons and artists, but most importantly the Big Daddies and the Little Sister’s that they protect. The reason I explain the story of the first game is because nothing has changed in the sequel, all of it is there, but a second time round the impact it has on you just isn’t the same. You’re just treading over the same old ground with slightly different characters and storyline, both of which fail to live up to the original in every way. Bioshock 2 is basically an epic anti-climax.
When Bioshock was originally released for the Xbox 360 the graphics were superb. Bioshock didn’t get a release on PS3 until a year later and by that time the graphics were outdated, especially since it was a direct port from the 360. Usually I would never judge or rate a game on graphics unless they are so bad it makes a game unplayable. Just because a game doesn’t have the greatest graphics doesn’t automatically make it any less of a great game. But with Bioshock 2 I have to make an exception. There are certain things you learn to expect from a sequel, especially when it is a sequel to a game as successful as Bioshock and definitely when there’s three years between the two games. An improvement in the graphics is one of those expectations. Bioshock 2 looks exactly like the original with no noticeable improvement at all and that only really adds to the feeling that you really are playing the same game a second time. The same goes for the art and design, nothing has changed and Rapture looks exactly the way it did three years ago. Bioshock had some amazing set-pieces that sent a tingle right through my body, the introduction to Rapture in particular. After the plane you are traveling in crashes into the sea at night, as the only survivor surrounded by a wall of burning wreckage you swim to a mysterious lighthouse in the middle of nowhere as the plane tail starts to sink beside you. It has the sort of impact on you the first episode of the TV series Lost had. As you enter the lighthouse the door slams shut behind you, soft music begins to play and the lights begin to turn on one-by-one as you pass giving you your first tantalizing glimpses of some of the propaganda Rapture’s creator Andrew Ryan has commissioned, something you will see again and again in the city itself. With nowhere else to go and no other option you enter the bathysphere for the first time, a kind of underwater elevator. The game makes you face the window and you begin to descend underwater, sign posts counting down the fathoms as you go. Brilliantly the game then blocks your view of the window with a projector screen and a propaganda video begins to play. Andrew Ryan begins to speak of the way society places restrictions on people and what he did to break away. “I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose… Rapture.” At that moment the screen falls away and gives you a breathtaking view of this surreal underwater city, towering skyscrapers surrounded by sea-life as you travel through it, filling you with awe. It is simply one of the best introductions to a game I have ever seen, and that feeling it gives you is present through the whole game. It isn’t something you can really achieve a second time. It’s like someone told you the same joke twice and expects you to laugh both times. It doesn’t stop Bioshock 2 from trying though, but the attempt inevitably fails to have any real impact.
Likewise the sound is the same. Rapture is a fallen city so despite being set eight years after the original it has stayed in exactly the same 1940’s era as the first. The music is the same, the sound effects are the same. But what worked in the original doesn’t work here. It felt bland and generic rather than atmospheric this time round. The voice acting for the enemies is limited to the same people who did it in the original. The audio diaries once again play a big part in the game although both the stories and characters portrayed in them are nowhere near as interesting or well-done as they were in Bioshock.
The only noticeable change at all is in the gameplay since this time round it is from the perspective of a Big Daddy, but as I mentioned earlier this seems more of an insult than an improvement. As a default you have the Big Daddies drill for a weapon, although this can be swapped to equip other weapons, such as the rivet gun and spear gun. The weapons of Bioshock 2 are slightly different but that doesn’t really add any improvement and you can still find the ‘Power To The People’ stations to upgrade them. Similarly, the Plasmids and Tonics are back with a bit more variation although it left me feeling that the new types had originally been rejects from the original game rather than created specifically for the sequel. The U-Invent stations have been removed although they weren’t especially useful in the original anyway. You will still find loot everywhere you turn and hidden Plasmids and Tonics which was one of the aspects that made the original so good but again feels dull a second time round. What has been changed for the better is the hacking mini-game but since it was so awkward in the first game that doesn’t really make it seem like much of an achievement. Instead of rearranging pipes you get a segmented bar at the bottom of the screen with an arrow that moves from side-to-side and all that is required is for you to stop it on the appropriate colored segment, blue or green. Hitting the green will allow you to succeed in the hack attempt, hitting the harder blue segments will also allow you to succeed but will give you an additional benefit like a free item. Enemy research has also seen a slight improvement. Rather than take pictures the camera will now record an enemy and give you a limited time to do as much damage as possible. You are then awarded points dependent upon style and damage done that goes towards the research of that enemy. Like the original you will be awarded special abilities as you gain new research levels such as increased damage to specific enemies. You are also now able to dual-wield both weapon and plasmid so that you don’t need to alternate between the two. All of these are genuine improvements but don’t really seem to add anything different to the game.