Game Review: 'Bioshock 2'

The Big Daddy crumpled to the ground, his diving suit charred from the battering I had given him with my Incinerate Plasmid. I turned towards the Little Sister he had been guarding, eager to reap what precious Adam that I could from her. She huddled next to the still-smoldering corpse of her monstrous chaperone, wailing in fright and confusion. “Mr. Bubbles,” she cried, “please get up!” I took a step towards her, ready to do what I had to...when she looked up at me with glowing eyes and asked sweetly “Will we be together again, Daddy?”  I scooped her up into my arms, where she lovingly touched the visor of my diving helmet before we set forward in search of more Adam.

It’s the interesting new wrinkle that developer 2K Marin (taking over from original Bioshock developers 2K Boston/2K Australia) has added to Bioshock 2, placing you in the monstrous boots of the franchise’s iconic Big Daddies.  However, is a change of wardrobe into a Jules Vernian diving suit enough reason to return to Rapture?

The recasting of the main character as a Big Daddy, to be completely frank, brings very little new to the table.  While you have a new weapons loadout, including the amazingly cathartic arm-mounted drill, your character doesn’t feel particularly Big Daddy-like.  While I’m certain that this was handled the way that it was to balance out the challenge, your Delta unit (the class of Daddy you represent) doesn’t feel much more powerful than the hordes of genetically-altered Splicers that you face, let alone the other Daddies whom you will battle for custody of a Little Sister.

In fact, the only major difference, gameplay wise, is how the game now handles Little Sisters.  They have been elevated from the one-shot moral choice of the previous game to a whole separate game within a game.  If you choose to adopt the mutated children, you then go on the hunt for more Adam contained within the corpses littered around Rapture. When you locate them (an event punctuated by some creepily innocent lines from your Little Sister) and you set the girl down to harvest, you then have to face a gauntlet of crazed Splicers vying for the Adam that she’s extracting.   These encounters are simultaneously strategic and frantic, relying on both covering chokepoints in the area with traps and turrets as well as your speed in dealing with the enemy as they break through to harm your Little Sister.  It’s a testament to the game that you really start to become concerned for them, despite their freakish outward appearance (as much as it’s been toned down from Bioshock).  Their running commentary when I’m defending them is disturbingly cute (Their elated squeal of “He’s dancing!” as I pepper an enemy with 50-caliber rounds always elicits a chuckle) and their terrified shriek when a Splicer breaks through your well-placed defenses shoots your paternal instincts through the roof.

It’s too bad that the rest of the cast, let alone your own character, can’t affect a similar response from the player.  The plot feels exactly like the original Bioshock in its execution, which makes the sequel feel more like a mod or a DLC pack than a full-blown sequel. 

Once again your voiceless, faceless character is being led by the nose through the decrepit halls of a fallen utopia by a series of radio-squawking taskmasters, building up your plasmid collection on the way towards your own self-actualization in a role outside of what you were programmed for.  I understand the need for familiarity in an attempt to recreate an experience, but Bioshock 2 forges almost no new ground in its attempts.

The only other major change made from the first title is the addition of multiplayer to the mix, set during the fall of Rapture.  Here, extraneous attempts at characterization (your various player skins have irrelevant back stories) and a thin shred of story attempt to bring an interesting wrinkle to a handful of play modes that you’ve gone through a million times before in countless other games. The addition of a ranking system that ensures that you’ll stay in a not-too-daunting comfort zone and hacking of in-level vending machines into deadly traps elevate it to more entertaining fare than its initial blandness would have you think, but it still feels like a forced addition to add value.

Despite its faults, Bioshock 2 is still a competent successor.  It’s fun, beautiful, and thoughtful in its execution, but it doesn’t have nearly the impact that the first title did.