There’s a moment in Bioshock 2 where you wander under a leaking ceiling and stop. The water pitter patters against your brass helmet and you hear the tic toc of water echo through your headphones.* More droplets drip down across the screen; water running down the window you’re looking through. It’s no secret that Bioshock 2 starts you out playing as the Big Daddy, so you’ve got the giant Brass Helmet from the get-go and the game makes full use of it as immersion.
Bioshock 2 is filled with moments like this. Vignettes of quiet distress juxtaposed against pulse pounding combat. It’s a game that tells its story through the way it allows the player to explore the world, through the nook and crannies of the underwater metropolis, the scattered audio logs of long dead citizens and the careful placement of architecture and art through the level. It is raining in Rapture, and you simply have to notice.
Bioshock 2 is in almost every way what Bioshock 1 should have been.
The biggest flaw of Bioshock 2 is that it is a sequel. The shock and wonderment of discovering a city build by Objectivism and its eventual downfall has already been explored. The Art Deco juxtaposition of Steampunk and Dystopia is no longer as unique as it once was. Yet, because it is a sequel, it doesn’t spend a lot of exposition on several of Rapture’s core concept. You should already know what a Big Daddy is, why Little Sisters are so important, Who Andrew Ryan is and the significance of project WYK. Bioshock 2 reintroduces a lot of these concepts, often with deeper insight. It’s a pleasure to once again partake in philosophical discussions, with guns.
Freed from the shackles of having to explain Rapture’s Origin, Bioshock 2 fully explores the underlying themes that build and eventually destroyed Rapture. Sofia Lamb is an altruist, the perfect antithesis to Ryan’s original Randian philosophy. Hers is the philosophy extreme you must combat, yet the game doesn’t stop there. It even takes the concept that Fontaine espouses and gives it polish. Rare is the game that allows capitalism to be the driving force of “good” against the extreme failures of “altruism”. It explores the concept of Rapture as well. What does it mean to have a city under the sea in disrepair? The game imagines this, and puts you squarely in that city. It’s more open than the first, its arenas more plausible, more lived in. It’s hard to explain with words how much better Rapture feels in Bioshock 2. You simply have to go there.
At its heart, Bioshock 2 is a more personal story. It involves you as the Bid Daddy into the story of the Little Sisters much more than the first one. The choices you make in Bioshock 2 are much more meaningful in how the game ends, and when it does, it does so with an explosive climax. Bioshock 2 manages the feat of having a climax be epic and personal all at once. A feat sadly missing in Mass Effect 2**. There’s meaning in the ending of Bioshock 2, because it draws from the entirety of your game. Your choices, your ending. Just perhaps not in the way you might expect.
As a game, it improves much over it’s predecessor as well. The movement and combat feel more solid. Perhaps it’s the heavy pounding of your Big Daddy boots as you stomp around the rubbles, more likely it’s the Drill and your ability to charge forward, smashing into a splicer’s face and spinning it. The combinative use of Plasmids and guns opens up tons of tactical combat decision and the playground concept of the combat arena allows you test them to your liking. The sound design* is just as solid. An upgraded shotgun sounds like a cannon, empty casings echo across the floor after being spat from the machine gun and the shriek of the big sisters will send shivers down your spine. Also, Mmm-Marshmellows!
I’m tempted to end with this old chestnut. If you loved the original Bioshock, then Bioshock 2 is a must play. If, on the other hand, you were ambivalent about it’s predecessor, Bioshock 2 might have a few surprises in store for you. Yet I rather you simply play Bioshock 2 and experience Rapture once again. There really is no place quite like it, and Bioshock 2 does an incredible job of bringing you there.
The story is pretty good too.
– Fidgit Interviews Lead Designer.
*You’re playing with headphones right? How can you not play this game with headphones?
** By Contrast, Mass Effect’s ending was stupendous. Mass Effect 2 ending was epic, but depending on how you played the game, lacked the same intimate feel that it’s Prequel and Bioshock 2 has. On the other hand, all these endings are infinitely better than Bioshock’s atrocious final confrontation.