It's one of those rare times that I actually buy a multi-platform title at release time, but after liking the late-to-the-party, PlayStation 3 version of the first BioShock (and the extra downloadable content), I felt somewhat obligated to pick up this long awaited, for some, sequel. Did it exceed my expectations from the first game? Or could we all have done without this sequel? Read on to find out!
Note, while this review is based solely on my playthrough of the PS3 version, it's content should pretty much apply to the Xbox 360 and PC versions of the game as well.
The story of BioShock 2 is quite a bit different from that of the first game. Where the first game had you playing as an unnamed man in 1960 who eventually turns out to be a puppet in a much bigger plot, the sequel opens up in a somewhat horrifying scene in 1958, and soon starts gameplay in 1968, but this time you play as a 'prototype' Big Daddy name Subject Delta. And because it's set eight years after the first game, the Rapture you once knew is different this time around; for one, you don't go back to any of the first game's areas, which is nice (Rapture is a full-blown city after all), and the place is much more beat up than it used be, and two, since Andrew Ryan's death it's now run by Sophia Lamb, a woman with a much different view than Ryan's.
At first, I felt the game was playing bit like the first game, except all the supporting characters were women, but then it all changed. To put it the best way, if the first game started great but had a so-so ending, BioShock 2 does the opposite by starting out so-so, but finishing in a stellar fashion. If you play this game, and you're just not 'feeling it' at first, I highly suggest you go all the way regardless, because you would be missing out on one of the few thought-provoking, well written, and touching first-person games out there.
Much as Rapture is different, so is the gameplay, mainly in part due to the fact that you're now playing as a prototype Big Daddy. Now, I want to get something out of the way here first; in a lot of the reviews I've read from the 'big sites' there's been complaining that despite being a Big Daddy, it doesn't feel like you're playing as a Big Daddy, what with the swift movement and easy damage. After finishing the game, I feel that those other reviewers didn't even finish the game, because there was similar Big Daddies like yours that you'll fight towards the end of the game that are just as agile as the Splicers.
Anyways, since you're a Big Daddy, much of the weapons from the first game won't return; which bothered me because I really missed the pistol... but once I had this game's shotgun I was happy. Instead you'll have the infamous drill for melee combat, rivet guns, and more heavy weapons, and now you can even dual-wield weapons with plasmids, for a much more satisfying combat system. The way you upgrade these is also different too, as instead of just making the weapons/plasmids stronger, you'll also add new capabilities to them, i.e. the occassional rivet will set Splicers ablaze, or the freezing plasmid lets you turn Splicers into ice cubes. It really makes the game all the much more fun.
New actions like adopting Little Sisters to collect ADAM while you fend off Splicers, a much better research camera (now video), streamlined hacking, and even the overall impact of your choices to not harvest Little Sisters or kill/leave certain people in the game makes the overall experience of the sequel a bit more satisfying, even if everything else isn't as 'new' feeling.
Here's another part that wasn't in the first game at all, online multiplayer. Oddly enough, this part of the game has it's own story separate from the single player game. Here, it's 1959, and there's a civil war between Team Atlus and Team Ryan, and you are a citizen of Rapture recruited for Plasmid Testing. So, because you're human, there's no dual-wielding of guns and plasmids like in the single player, but otherwise it's still BioShock. But, there's a slim chance you can find a Big Daddy suit, and then it will play similarly to 2, until you're killed.
There are seven game modes here, which range from death matches, to king of the hill, and capture the flag, but they're adapted to the world of Rapture, i.e. Capture the Little Sister, etc. At least on the PSN I found most players were in the team deathmatch mode, as it was much harder to find a game to play otherwise. I've already put in a few hours in the multiplayer, and I have to say it's surprisingly really fun. But if you have games like Uncharted 2 or Modern Warfare, chances are you won't come back to Rapture's multiplayer very often.
Graphically BioShock 2 is pretty much exactly like the first game. The style may not seem as fresh, since you've seen it before, and because you're not playing as a human, there are no well-rendered man-hands constantly in view. But otherwise the game still looks great, the textures are nice, there's nice damage effects, and the character models, especially on the Big Sisters is really nice. My most favorite parts of the games are where you get to walk underwater, or when a place you're in floods, as the water effects and change in physics are really nice, and being alone underwater is beautifully desolate.
The sound aspect of BioShock 2 is interesting... interesting in that I can't remember any of the game's original score, however, the old-timey licensed tracks that were used at parts in the game I remember quite well, and somehow I even enjoyed them. Otherwise, the Little Sisters still sound creepily innocent, the Big Daddies (and the new Brute Splicers) are broodingly scary, and the new Big Sisters might make you shit yourself when they show up, and you have the great sound design of Rapture to thank for that new lump in the back of your pants,
As an overall experience, I think people are going to remember the first BioShock over this sequel, not because this game is bad (because it definitely is not) but because it's just not as fresh. It really bothered me in other reviews how people complained that this game returned to Rapture, and I honestly don't get that complaint, because if you took the underwater element away from BioShock, it wouldn't be BioShock anymore. Sure, it's not as unique/memorable as the first game, that's ultimately the fate of any sequel set in the same setting as its predecessor; but BioShock 2 is a fantastic game with a fantastic ending that shouldn't be missed by any self-respecting gamer.
Overall Score: 9/10