Nothing like a little Rapture under the sea.
Bigger, better and bitter
The story of Bioshock 2 starts where the first left off. You're the 'first' Big Daddy in Rapture. You were trying to save your little sister when someone named Sofia Lamb ruined it all. Lamb made you shoot yourself and your life should have ended there. Thankfully, you wake up confused and brutal and on the hunt for Lamb. Lamb won't go so quietly, so on your way to find Lamb you run into a slew of her 'experiments' and 'followers'. You also run into little sisters and other daddies of the world of Rapture.
I generally don't start with the storylines in games, but I think I want to with this one. The one big thing that concerned me about the sequel to Bioshock was how the stories were going to gel. If you had played through the first one then you would have seen a definitive ending one way or another. Bringing back any characters from the first would be completely unacceptable. Thankfully, the good folks at 2K knew what they wanted and put together another intriguing story that will grasp you from the beginning and not let go, even after it's all said and done. That's the genius of this game because anyone could make a creepy first-person shooter, but it takes a lot about to create a good atmosphere through a good story.
Story aside, let me start talking about gameplay. The gameplay is essentially the same as it was with the first Bioshock as you'll have a weapon and a power. The big deal this time around is that each hand carries a weapon. Your left hand is your plasmid, which controls your freezing, electric, fire and other form of elemental abilities. It's really useful when you're using it and your 'actual' weapon in the right hand simultaneously. For example, towards the end of the game I was having fun with the freeze plasmid. It would give me the ability to freeze my enemies (including Big Daddies) and then use some sort of weapon to wear them down. It was almost too easy to use this combination because it worked so effectively. In my opinion, the freeze plasmid is the best one you can get. I stormed through the game once I obtained freeze and it pretty much drove my progress up until the end. Sure it's a bit unfair, but so is throwing tons and tons of enemies at you in waves.
As for the other weapon, I didn't have as much fun with those as I thought I would. 2K Games did a spectacular job in increasing the amount of weapons you can use in the game. You have a machine gun, rivet gun, shotgun, spear gun and the upgradable drill (my favorite). The neat thing about these weapons is that most come with three different types of ammo. For example, the machine gun, rivet gun, spear gun and launcher allow for powerful to medium to really powerful ammo. The machine gun comes with regular .50 caliber ammo and also armor piercing ammo. So that variety is nice and changing ammo during a heated fight is pretty darn easy (you need only to use your directional pad (up, left, down) to switch between different types). In hindsight it's impressive to have this many weapons at your disposal. My issue is that the ammo/drill fuel runs out so darn quick. I know, I know, as a gamer I should be use to that Resident Evil-esque situation where I should save my ammo, but there are so many enemies that you have little choice when it comes to using all available weapons. Anyway, my more specify gripe is that I just didn't get to enjoy the weapons because they went in such small spurts. It feels lame to complain about this, but I'm just being honest.
Shifting back to plasmids for a bit, there are points in the game where you'll need to purchase plasmid and gene tonic spots. Let me pull back a second, if you're not familiar with gene tonics they're like plasmids, but they help you with your skills such as moving faster or having the ability to repair machines. Okay, now the spots that you have on your personal self for gene tonics and plasmid are restrictive. You'll need to get those spots open to carry more abilities and plasmid weapons. Doing that isn't very easy, but there is a machine called the Gene Bank that allows you to swap out gene tonics and plasmid. So, if you want to drop the ability to repair for the ability to run faster then you can do it at the Gene Bank. For me it seems like a 'plan B' for the game and it's welcome. I just wish they had made more spots readily available for more gene tonic and plasmids.
So you might wonder how it feels playing the Big Daddy role. Well, it feels clunky and restrictive and quite frankly I wouldn't have it any other way. If you've played the game before than you understand the movement of the Big Daddy. They are slow, they are very robotic and their movement is restricted. For me, I think that portraying that clunkiness is the best way to handle it. If you're going to suck the gamer into the story than you have to mimic what you've told them. Having this restricted, slow-paced movement makes the gamer (or at least me) feel like I needed to be cautious and very aware of my environment. If I'm in small quarters then I need to plan how I can get out and what obstacles are in my way. This sort of gameplay forces the gamer to look at everything. It's almost as exciting thinking about this as it was playing it. For me, I think that's a huge plus. I know some reviewers were unhappy with the star of the game, but I felt like it was a great decision. Anyway, the second part of this equation is feeling restricted. Sure you get the near 180-degree viewpoint for the Big Daddy, but the helmet he's sporting actually restricts your view a bit. There were times when a splicer (those are the enemies if you're not familiar) would sneak up on me and just plainly didn't see it coming. It has been a while since I was scared during a game and it's quite refreshing in a sick way. This viewpoint that our big boy carries will keep you on the edge of your seat while you're playing. Of course, the restricted environments that are very well self-contained help it along.
Speaking of restrictive, the hacking system in the game has improved greatly. While playing Pipe Dreams was fun for an entire game, 2K have gone a different direction with the 'hacking' portion of the game. This time around you skills of stopping needle on a meter are required. When you go to hack a machine (be it a health machine or a weapon machine or a safe or whatever can be hacked) a small meter comes up that looks like something you would find on a pressure cooker. There are various colors on the meter that can be big to small. The needle in the meter will move left to right and you must hit the X button on the green or blue portion of the meter to successfully hack whatever it is you're hacking. If you get the needle in the blue area you get an extra goodie with whatever you're hacking (with a weapons machine you get more ammo, with a health machine you get something health related). If you get in the green you only successfully hack the machine. If you miss these colors completely you get a wonderful flying drone to come shoot you up. This hacking makes more sense than moving water through a series of messed up pipes. It's quick and easy and it works well. My only issue with the 'hacking' system is that realism creeps into it. What I mean by this is that when you're hacking a turret that is firing on you (so you can change it to a friendly turret) it will continue to fire on you as you're hacking. So, you'll have to pay attention to your health as you're paying attention to a moving needle. Does it sound like a bag of fun? It is a bag of fun, but it's frustrating to die for nothing.
On a side note, 2K has added a remote hacking device in the game (used as a weapon) that allows you to hack without getting hit, but it simply doesn't work as well as they planned. I was shot up more with the remote device, mainly because I had to aim it from a distance as I was getting shot and the screen was vibrating at each hit, than if I just went up to the device and hacked it up close (and yes I realized that was a run-on sentence, but I could careless). Use the hacking device as need be, but understand that you'll have better luck if you're up close.
Let's talk about visuals for a little bit. The visuals in this game weren't vastly improved over the first. I guess I am fine with that, but somewhere deep inside I feel a bit disappointed. Maybe it's the fact that there has been time to improve the visuals, maybe it's the fact that I played the Heavy Rain demo prior to finishing Bioshock 2. I can't pinpoint it, but the visuals are acceptable, but I think they could have been so much better. The environments are huge and pretty (in an ugly way) and the shadows and lights have improved dramatically, but the character models and the way splicers die is very uncreative. For example, if I'm using a drill on someone and have them pinned in a corner, shouldn't the results be something messy? Instead all you get is a bunch of blood flying, but the body is virtually intact. For me, that's just lazy development. The visuals have had a year or so to get better and simply put they didn't really improve. The surroundings and the effects did, but the character models and the enemy reaction to particular weapons didn't really move forward.
Now, a real positive for the game was the audio improvement. I'm not sure what changed, but hearing creepy voices around you shouting random things makes the atmosphere that much better. Also, the music has improved during gameplay by tenfold. I really like the atmosphere, even the changeovers when enemies are about to kick your ass. I'm still very much in love with the 20s/30s soundtrack that is sported between loading areas. It's old fashion and really quite creepy; in other words, I love it.
So is the game fun and is it worth it? The game is quite fun, as you'll want to continue the story after each stop after a completed level. The story is the key to all of this and it doesn't disappoint. Each boss you run into during the game has their own piece of the puzzle and personality. The neat part about this game is the decision making. You'll have moments where you get the choice to kill a boss or to kill a little sister. With each choice you make the story shifts and changes. The game will force you to think about the ramifications of your decisions and that makes it fun. For me, i couldn't kill the little sisters in the game. Although I know there is some sick bastard out there that is enjoying the onslaught of children in the game, it's simply not for me. I understand that my decisions in the first game to be a good guy put me on a tougher path, but this time around it was certainly worth it. The fun comes from the story and the action is the sideshow.
Finally, speaking of action, I know that the multiplayer portion of the game is a big reason why people are going to purchase it. The multiplayer portion of the game is unique during its setup. You get to choose what type of person you're going to be and pretty much personalize, to an extent, how you're going to look and act. When you get into the actual multiplayer portion of the game you're going to be brought down to earth a bit. While there are a variety of games to play in the multiplayer portion of Bioshock 2 it's still more of the same. I will say that it's fun and the environments are huge (not as detailed as a MAG or Halo), so there's something there. I just think it's a few DLCs away from being something truly special. You'll enjoy it nonetheless.