Bioshock, an ambitious title from 2K Games mixing shooting, strategy and RPG elements, was arguably the landmark title of 2007.
The journey to the subaquatic dystopia of Rapture was a refreshing one from the identikit first-person shooters that came before it. For instance, wandering through the decaying art deco locales of one man’s dream gone horribly wrong, encountering and fending off the physically – and mentally – twisted Splicer population and the occasional monstrous Big Daddy.
It was fresh and invigorating. The gunplay was perfectly complemented by the range of plasmids you could augment yourself with, combining straight-up shooting with an elemental twist, along with the numerous traps you could set for your frenzied foes. Its frantic action and wonderfully emergent storytelling cemented its place as one of the finest games of this generation.
The announcement of a sequel, Bioshock 2, was roundly met with reservations: was there really a need for a second tale set in Rapture and if so, how could it possibly outdo, let alone match the brilliance of the original tale? Worrying is futile, though, as 2K have created a title that is thrilling, emotional and most importantly worthy of the Bioshock name.
Eight years have passed since protagonist Jack liberated the underwater hell that is Rapture (for better or worse). The reins, formally held by Andrew Ryan, have transferred from one tyrant to another with Sofia Lamb, an equality fanatic, instigating a regime change from extreme capitalism to extreme communism. Subject Delta, the first Big Daddy successfully bonded with an ADAM-collecting Little Sister, has awoken from a coma. The coma was induced by Lamb as she abducted his owner, Eleanor, almost a decade ago. In order to save Eleanor (and redeem himself in the process), Delta must come to her rescue and finish Sofia Lamb and her oppressive regime once and for all.
After a rather impressive opening cutscene (in which you violently stomp a splicer’s head), you’ll begin exploring new areas of Rapture, getting used to wielding weapons and plasmids simultaneously while drilling holes in Splicers. You’ll be having a great deal of fun, although you’ll be haunted by the nagging feeling that you’ve played all this before.
The storytelling, the greatest feather in the original’s cap, soon begins to kick in. You’ll quickly be reunited with Brigid Tennanbaum, still furiously attempting to save the Little Sisters from their dreadful fate, before meeting Sinclair, your new host and greatest ally in your quest to rescue Eleanor.
Once again, you’ll stumble across personal diaries scattered throughout the dystopia that reveal the background behind some of the city’s key events. The concept of finding diaries is a gaming cliché nowadays, but Bioshock started the trend and still proves to be the ‘big daddy’ when it comes to drip-feeding players a captivating and frightening story.
Moral choices make their reappearance; the majority of them once again concerning Little Sisters. After defeating a Big Daddy, you can ‘adopt’ their Little Sister, taking her to an ADAM-filled corpse and thus protecting her from the depraved Splicers. Afterwards, you can either save her, giving her a chance of a normal life, or violently taking all the essence from her body and killing her in the process. These moral choices, along with other decisions, have stronger implications this time, affecting the latter part of the story and determines the ending you will receive.
However, no matter how you deal with the Sisters, you’ll attract the attention of the ferocious Big Sisters – the female counterparts to the Big Daddy golems. The Big Sisters are the strongest, most agile and most dangerous foes in all of Rapture. Skirmishes with them are intense, resourcefully draining affairs, making the euphoria and relief that follows their defeat a suitable reward for winning the encounter and one of the high points of the title.
Like most current games, Bioshock 2 features a multiplayer mode which, rather than being an unappealing, tacked-on last-minute affair to increase longevity, is actually a surprisingly playable addition.
Inspiringly set in a civil war preceding the events of the original, you’re free to explore your apartment and customise your player and weapon choices before embarking out into one of several game modes (such as Capture the Sister and ADAM Grab).
Although the shooting mechanics are solid with a range of weapons and plasmids to be unlocked, there’s nothing new on offer to match the multiplayer of other titles. Though there is some great attention to detail, such as diary entries for the individual characters and your visual appearance becoming more spliced and horrific as you level up. Your mileage may vary, but you’re guaranteed to get at least a little fun out of the online element.
Nothing can recapture the feeling of exploring it for the first time, but nevertheless Rapture retains its status as one of the most astounding game environments of the last few years. It plays host to a variety of eerie characters, some frantically creative battles and a fantastic story. Bioshock 2 incorporates a pulse-pounding mad dash to the conclusion, offering possibly the most horrifying and disturbing set-pieces to ever feature in a videogame.
So should Bioshock 2 even exist? The answer is a resounding yes. A worthy sequel to such an influential title, where Rapture failed, Bioshock 2 doesn’t.