BioShock 2

Kombo’s Review Policy: Our reviews are written for you. Our goal is to write honest, to-the-point reviews that don’t waste your time. This is why we’ve split our reviews into four sections: What the Game’s About, What’s Hot, What’s Not and Final Word, so that you can easily find the information you want from our reviews.

What the Game’s About
If you’re one of the few naysayers of the first, or never got the chance to traverse the city of Rapture back in 2007, then BioShock 2 will be an esoteric dystopia you won’t witness in any other game this year. In fact, you probably won’t find another videogame with such a fleshed out universe – be it on land or underwater – that one-ups 2K Marin’s magnum opus. If you were one of the not so few Rapture-rabid fanatics that raved and ranted at how pivotal the first BioShock was, then the sequel is a ten-year fast forward in the history of the sanity-deprived and desensitized underwater utopia-gone-wrong (phew!).

You play as Subject Delta, the first Big Daddy created among the Alpha Series of these mechanical, prototyped protectors. You wake up from a Sleeping Beauty-esque slumber due to reasons unknown in the beginning, but then are quickly shoved into the chaos once again to scour for your long lost Little Sister, Eleanor.

What’s Hot
First off, the narrative pacing in BioShock 2 is bar none one of the best that the current generation has to offer. You might’ve heard otherwise, but how the story paces itself carefully, then crescendos as you reach the halfway mark really ups the ante for the genre it’s competing in. If you’re unfamiliar with the BioShock series, most of the story is told through audio diaries, all of which are found via exploration. Like digging for golden pieces of storytelling nuggets, you’ll want to find these recordings just to dig deeper and uncover the rich history of Rapture.

The game isn’t afraid to throw red herrings at you with these diaries either; they’ll flip what you thought before into a completely different reality later on. Audio diaries not only share much of the culture and heritage of Rapture, but they also provide the town’s history for the past ten years. If clearing a room full of splicers, finding an audio diary, and sitting one’s self in a dark corner just to hear more of “what actually happened” sums up how 2K wanted to tell their backstory, they’ve succeeded.

The set pieces, including new settings you didn’t see in the original, are both grandiose and unique. If there’s a particular selling point for BioShock 2, it’s the game’s fascinating art direction. Tackled with the gusto and vigor like only the 2K team can, every major setting – from Dionysus Park, Siren’s Alley and Ryan Amusements – all look distinctly different, yet similarly bleak. While the first seemed enclosed to the confinements of underwater buildings, BioShock 2 takes you for a trip down to the actual depths of the ocean. What’s truly exuberant in its awesomeness though is that while the character models can look a little outdated, the lighting, uses of neon colors, and decaying textures interweave like magic… or plasmids.

Again, in exchange for practically nothing that I miss from the first, Subject Delta can dual wield a plasmid-injected hand and a heavy gun at the same time. Not only does this mean more firepower simultaneously, the combat mechanic now allows for more aggressive combat as opposed to the “duck and weave” and totally-pussy thing that you did in the first. Plasmids, tonics, its subsequent upgrades, heavy grenade launchers, hacking darts and spear guns are among the plethora of artillery at your Big Daddy disposal. Then there are the ammo types, ranging from trap rivets, mini-turrets, to exploding shotgun shells. Oh and then there’s the damn Big Daddy drill. You’re basically a big badass in BioShock 2, and it does feel good.

To counter this feeling of being overpowered, 2K Marin has thrown in a few fresh faces to the mix to switch things up. There are your Brute Splicers (ie. Tank from Left 4 Dead) and yep, the Big Sisters. These battles – once encountered – are always intense, whether you’re prepared or caught off guard. The inclusion of these “new” and varied enemies are definitely welcome and add to the intensity of exploration.

Last but not least – because you’re now a Big Daddy – you have the option of adopting a Little Sister if you decide to put her giant protector to sleep for good. Once adopted, you can use her to scour for extra ADAM. Once she does her freaky stab-the-corpse-with-a-syringe thing, it’s go time. There will be endless waves of enemies coming at you, ready to steal and slow the process of your Little Sister’s harvesting session. Your job’s to defend your ground until she’s done; so any bit of trap, bot-hacking and preparation is encouraged. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the main objectives, and it never hurts to collect more ADAM. It’s actually quite a sight to behold once you place your fireworks-resembling traps and position yourself for one of these “battles.” It resembles an impressive – albeit violent – music concert as lights go on and off, and you’ll feel good about yourself once your traps go off according to your plan.

What’s Not
The second trip to Rapture doesn’t do a whole lot wrong, as stated by the numerous improvements and changes. Despite this, there will still be those fans that’ll be unimpressed by the sight of the city again. Part of the first’s appeal was that Rapture was a mysterious and eerily daunting place to be in. In the second game, the “magic” expectedly wears off. You’re no longer being wowed by the settings as much, because there is a feeling of “been there, done that” as you wander around Rapture. The old shadow-lurking-in-the-dark trick is back and more prevalent than ever. Unfortunately, it gets old fast.

Rapture is Rapture. If you were mainly impressed with the first because of its setting, you should expect to be a little underwhelmed in the second visit. After all, it is the same city, only you’re going to a different part of it. Rapture’s still better than anything out there, but there definitely isn’t the mind-blowing sense of discovery the first provided. Moreover, the graphics engine does look a little outdated when you look at the character models in close-up, especially compared to fellow first quarter sequel Mass Effect 2.

Final Word
BioShock 2 is a compelling and ever so enigmatic experience, through and through. No matter how greatly touted the original is, this adventure still stands exemplary among the generic FPS genre. Sure, collecting ADAM can get tedious, and the whole “I stand in awe of Rapture” thing isn’t there anymore, but let’s not ignore all the quality changes they’ve made this time around.

The combat is more intuitive, the narrative exceeds almost all in its genre, the plasmid and gun customizations are richer, the multiplayer certainly stands on its own, and the nods to the first game is undoubtedly valued. Hell, I even bought both the orchestral and in-game soundtrack via iTunes to attest to the game’s impeccable, atmospheric Jazz numbers.

BioShock 2 is one of the most gripping, chilling, darkly gruesome and memorably charming experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing this side of the millennium. Yeah, you can quote me on that, because I wholeheartedly believe in what I just said. Sequel, please?