Back in 2007, BioShock delivered what many look back on as the finest single-player experience of this generation. A chilling survival horror first-person shooter set in the failed underwater metropolis of Rapture, BioShock’s immersive qualities were unparalleled. It also posed a rather refreshing take on the first-person shooter: since your enemies were typically rather powerful, the usual run-and-gun or cover-based shooter tactics were ineffective; instead, the player was forced to set traps or even turn enemies against each other in order to make any headway.
The sequel is set a further 10 years after the events of Bioshock. The remains of the dystopian Rapture have experienced even further decay, and the drug-addled Splicers continue to run rampant. This time around, though, you assume the role of Delta, the original Big Daddy (the lumbering behemoths from the first game that you were occasionally forced to do battle with). As a free-willed prototype, you’re smaller, faster and more intelligent than the other Big Daddies that populate the halls of Rapture. However, this also means that you’re more vulnerable and can’t take as much punishment, so you’ll have to employ similar trap-setting tactics to those used in the first game.
The biggest and most noticeable difference is that you can now make use of both weapons and plasmids simultaneously. This is a most welcome addition; where previously the player had to clumsily cycle between weapons and plasmids, you can now effortlessly use both at once.
As a Big Daddy, you can also now make use of their trademark (and devastating) arm-drill attachment for melee attacks. A newly added rivet gun fires trap rivets that act as proximity mines when deployed on either the walls or the floor (essential for confrontations with otherwise overwhelming odds). And there’s the new spear gun, which allows you to pin Splicers against the wall. Best of all, you can salvage your spears, sending the impaled Splicers to the floor with a satisfying ‘thud’.
Hacking, which allows you to turn Rapture’s security cameras, bots and turrets against your foes, has been streamlined for the better in BioShock 2. Instead of the time-consuming Pipe Dream-style game from last time, there’s a ‘gauge’ type game where well-timed button presses stop a moving lever in the appropriate area (a la the ‘swing’ mechanic from golf games) and render the mechanism under your control. There’s also a new hacking dart gun that will allow you to hack objects from a distance.
There are new enemies, such as the Brute Splicer – a bulky and suitably stronger version of the regular Splicers – and, of course, the Big Sisters. You’ll catch glimpses of Big Sisters as you explore Rapture, but as you free (or harvest) Little Sisters, one of them will actually seek you out. Both agile and powerful, the Big Sisters take some punishment (and certainly dish some out) before finally going down, so careful planning is encouraged before you take one on.
There’s also a newly added multiplayer mode. How does it play? I’m afraid I can’t answer that; there was simply no existing online community at the time of writing. It sure sounds promising, though; the multiplayer component actually serves as a prequel to the original game, set during the civil war that caused Rapture to erode into a flooded underwater dystopia.
BioShock 2 doesn’t flip the coin entirely on the classic gameplay mechanics established in the first. Rather, it hones in on the first game’s strengths and improves on some of the flaws. However, the world of Rapture itself isn’t quite as striking or jaw-dropping on the second encounter. It’s still the same great game – a better game in many ways – but some of the impact of its predecessor has been lost. It’s still essential gaming – just don’t go expecting something as revolutionary as BioShock.