Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review: Bioshock 2

Adam, Eve, Big Daddies, Little Sisters and all manner of genetically altered ‘splicers’ in one submerged dystopia can only mean one thing. It’s time to return to Rapture…

Bioshock 2 is set ten years after the original Andrew Ryan-inspired nightmare, in which time Rapture has become more of a dilapidated hell hole than it previously was. Rather than assuming a human role in the latest outing, control is instead shifted into the hands of a Big Daddy prototype, referred to as ‘Subject Delta’. Due to the limitations of the cumbersome and slow paced nature of the Big Daddies, it’s obviously apparent why you won’t be playing as a fully-fledged incarnation of the overtly protective behemoths.

As the sequel to a best-selling and multi award winning title, it’s fair to say that 2K Marin have opted to stick to an already proven formula in favour of further bold experimentation. This is evident in both the gameplay and narrative driven structure of Bioshock 2.

The antagonistic (and now deceased) Andrew Ryan is relieved from his sinister, over-seeing role by Sofia Lamb, who along with her fellow, ever untrustworthy cast of characters is in constant radio contact throughout proceedings. This familiar set up to fans of the first game instigates a series of linear objectives through Rapture’s confined corridors (inevitable plot twists aside), primarily to rescue Subject Delta’s bonded ‘daughter’ from the entrapment of the nefarious Lamb.

The bizarre and often clichéd cast of Bioshock 2 play second fiddle, as arguably they did in the first outing, to the submerged city itself. Rapture is still as foreboding and disconcerting, yet beautifully realised as ever, if not more so in the sequel. Graphically the game is a sharper, more defined affair than previously. The neon lighting and aquatic backdrops clash bewitchingly, yet brilliantly with the morbid sense of doom laden claustrophobia of your surroundings.

When passing through a glass tunnel for example and taking in the sea-life, coral and Rapture’s crumbling walls and skyscrapers, it’s truly possible to imagine it as the utopic vision that was originally intended before its downfall, adding to the immersive nature of the game world. This is complimented by the musical score throughout that lends itself appropriately to differing set pieces, be it 1950’s style pop music or an adrenaline fuelled orchestral piece during combat sequences.

It can be correctly argued that these are all praises bestowed upon the first Bioshock, and as such, demonstrates a lack of ambition to push the boundaries of an already original franchise. True indeed, Bioshock 2 is really not attempting to make any wholesale gameplay changes to the inspired original, but then again, that was a title correctly lauded as one of the most ground-breaking FPS’s of all time. It would be hard to alter the sequel too radically for fear of eliminating the true essence of what made Bioshock so good in the first place. Granted, the developers have played it safe but not without well founded reason.

This notion extends itself into combat. The basic mechanic of having a left hand for plasmids and the right for firepower is still intact, only this time there are some well-conceived Big Daddy ready inclusions to the arsenal. The most notable of these being the splicer severing drill, which requires fuel but is destructive to soft skinned foes at close range. Other inclusions include the rivet gun, heavy machine gun, spear gun and of course the ever reliable shotgun returns, all of which can again be upgraded at the Power to the People stations throughout the city, often turning a simple piece of weaponry into a devious and deadly trap laying device. Thankfully the arduous pipe connecting hacking mini-games have been ousted in favour of precisely timed button press events, which are more tolerable if not still an overly common occurrence.

The core plasmids; Telekinesis, Electric Bolt and Inferno all make a return as well as some new faces including; Decoy, Scout and Cyclone Trap, each of which are initially intriguing to experiment with, but more often than not it’s the tried and tested plasmids that are the most useful when overrun by enemies. Although both Bioshock games often promote tactical forethought and diversity of attack, in the midst of a heated battle, all gunz blazing, sticking to one or two plasmids and making sure you have plenty of health and eve is normally enough to see you through.

As with the guns, plasmids can be found, or alternatively purchased at Gatherers Garden outlets and subsequently upgraded provided that you have sufficient Adam for the transaction. Gene tonics can be applied which will affect various characteristics of Delta, from the speed he moves to the ease of hacking a desired object. Again, if you’ve played the first title, these are all very familiar yet proven gameplay concepts.

However, there are some minor inclusions to the formula that certainly add an element of variety. Rather than simply being given the option to ‘harvest’ or ‘rescue’ the little sisters in order to gain Adam, this time around you can adopt one prior to her guiding you to corpses to begin the extraction process. This is essentially an exercise in defence; the splicers and later on the fearsome Alpha Series opponents will relentlessly attack you and the gathering sister until the sequence is complete.

It’s these instances where forethought genuinely does reap rewards as you are granted time for preparation. Laying the ground with trap rivets, proximity mines and mini-turrets before the onslaught starts will undoubtedly aid you and the little sister’s chances of survival and therefore of stockpiling the Adam at stake. After accomplishing this process twice and you’ve taken her to a vent, the ‘rescue’ or ‘harvest’ question presents itself, the latter yielding more Adam, the consequence being however that you will miss out on useful and powerful gifts from the little sisters in the future.

One of the most fearsome new enemies is without a doubt the ‘Big Sister’. Incredibly powerful, strong and lightning quick, they’ll eat through your health and ammunition before taking a fall. When the words “A Big Sister Is Coming – Prepare Yourself” appear on the screen you’ll be frantically scrutinizing your inventory of guns and plasmids, praying that you have enough firepower to hold her off. To say that these formidable beasts make the Big Daddies look tame is an understatement, yet there is an immense amount of satisfaction to be garnered from their eventual elimination.

Somewhat annoyingly, the Big Sisters will attack regardless if you save or harvest the little sisters, which isn’t really in keeping with the storyline. Instead, it would have been far more sensible to have to endure a forced encounter when harvesting only, as the lucrative amount of Adam gained from doing so should in-turn be punished by being confronted by such a powerful assailant.

The rather drawn out conclusion aside, Bioshock 2 is a worthy yet unambitious addition to the franchise. There’s plenty for Bioshock fans to love here but they certainly won’t be blown away by any wildly innovative new inclusions. There is a fairly standard multi-player mode (Deathmatch/Capture The Flag variants) to briefly mention, but being nearly nine months old as well as facing stiff competition from the ever dominant Modern Warfare 2, it’s pretty much vanished from the online radar.

However, retailing at around £10-15 these days, Bioshock 2 is a worthy inclusion to any gamer’s library, but be advised, if you took issue with the first game, there’s nothing that will sway your opinion here.

The few snippets we’ve been drip fed of Bioshock Infinite certainly look to be as bold and brave as the original back in 2007. Fingers crossed.