The original Bioshock may have successfully blended first-person shooting with RPG-style character advancement, but it was its plot and setting that really blew us away. The undersea city of Rapture is among the most imaginative and evocative locations ever to feature in a videogame. Its faded grandeur and art deco styling perfectly matched the game’s storyline of big philosophical ideas in a utopia gone to hell.
That puts Bioshock 2 in a very difficult situation, and the developers have chosen bravely to revisit Rapture in this sequel. We’re happy to be back, but nothing is quite as exciting the second time around. Set ten years on, the plot revolves around the relationship between Little Sisters and Big Daddies. The former are genetically altered children tasked with harvesting the valuable ADAM serum that provides Rapture’s inhabitants, the Splicers, with their fantastical powers; while the latter are single-minded armoured leviathans tasked with protecting them.
As a prototype Big Daddy, you set out to rescue your own Little Sister, who also happens to be the daughter of the game’s new protagonist. Sofia Lamb, in the tradition of Bioshock baddies, takes a strong view on the nature of human existence. She espouses collectivist ideals in opposition to the self-sufficiency promoted by Rapture’s creator Andrew Ryan. Such ideologies are debated in audio logs and brought to life in locations like Ryan’s ‘Journey to the Surface’ theme park, but fail to chime with the plot and gameplay as they did in the first game.
Intellectual posturing aside, there’s plenty of game to get your teeth into. The basic format hasn’t changed from the first game. In fact except for a slightly tweaked armoury, there’s little gameplay effect from taking on the mantle of a Big Daddy. You can venture outside occasionally, but the underwater sections are combat-free and merely act as plot devices. There are still hordes of insane inhabitants to incinerate, electrocute or freeze using your ADAM-derived special abilities (called plasmids). You can still pick and choose from a wide range of such powers and perks, and upgrade the ones you prefer. Gaining ADAM for this purpose forms the backbone of the more ambush-based gameplay.
The plot guides through a series of imaginative locations, each with its own objectives, but also home to a handful of Little Sisters. Their Big Daddy protectors won’t attack you unprovoked, thankfully, which gives you plenty of time to set up traps to assist your attack. Once liberated you can take charge of the Sister, guide her to an ADAM-rich corpse and set her to work for your benefit. Unfortunately this will bring hordes of Splicers down upon you, so again you’ll need to be prepared.
Fortunately your arsenal includes a number of appropriate gizmos. Your rivet gun can fire trap rivets which attach to any surface and act as mini land mines. The Cyclone Trap plasmid can be set to fling enemies into the air and further enhanced by unleashing fire, ice or electricity into the tornado created.
Another option is to enlist Rapture’s own security systems. As in the first game you can hack the gun turrets and security drones you encounter. What’s new is the Hack Tool, which lets you perform this sabotage at a distance using Hack Darts – plus it can launch short-lived mini gun turrets to assist you. The hacking puzzle game has been replaced by a fast-moving needle that must be stopped in a variety of shaded sections to succeed; the game no longer pauses while hacking, making you vulnerable to attack while you tinker.