I've gotta admit, I was a bit nervous about Bioshock 2. I loved the original, but when I had heard that it was being handed over to a new developer and that, gasp, on-line multiplayer was going to be added to the mix - well, I feared the worst. It turns out my fears were unfounded, mostly.
Bioshock 2 returns to rapture about 10 years after the original. This time, you play a big daddy, those lumbering brutes from the first game that protected the little sisters. However, your little sister was stolen from you and you were left for dead. Now you've returned with the mission to retrieve her.
Of course, there is more to it than that. Once again you are thrust into the middle of the power struggles in the crumbling underwater city of Rapture. This time the chief antagonist is one Sofia Lamb. Like Andrew Ryan from the first game, Lamb's ideology is absolute in her quest to make Rapture a utopia. However, where Ryan believed in the strength of the individual unfettered by the constraints of government and religion, Lamb believes in the power of the collective - the family.
The story unfolds using the same mechanisms as the first game. There are very few cut scenes (with the ones you have being first person). The narrative unfolds through your interaction with other characters and your discovery of audio diaries left scattered about - again, just like the first game. The world of Rapture feels the same. Graphically, it may have been stepped up a bit, but Rapture is still that damp, moldy, art deco hell that it always was. The atmosphere is once again perfect, intense, creepy, but not overpoweringly so.
Game play is, well - this is becoming a familiar refrain - just like the first game. Indeed, that would be my chief knock of the game. It almost seems like the developers were afraid to change too much and pretty much followed the same formula. Okay, you can now go two fisted with plasma powers in your left hand and weapons in your right, but really, is this much of a change? You could always switch from plasmas to weapons so fast that giving you both at the same time barely changes game play at all. The plasma powers have been more tweaked than rewritten. The new weapons and ammo types all work well and are very satisfying to use.
What is different is the way in which you harvest adam, the gene altering substance that gives you your powers. Before you wrestled with a big daddy and then took your adam from the little sister it was protecting. Now you have the option to adopte said little sister and cart her around looking for dead bodies - "angles" - for her to harvest. While she's sucking out the adam, it is your job to protect her from the horde of splicers (the adam junkies that populate Rapture) that will be coming. This new element is fun, especially with powers and weapons having a more trap options than before. Also new are the big sisters. These are former little sisters that have been genetically modified by Lamb and are out to stop you. They pop up once per level and generally make the big daddies look like wusses. The big sisters are fast and powerful, and fun to fight.
The campaign feels shorter than the first. I would guess it took me about 20 hours of playing, though I'm a complete scrounge and other could likely finish in about a dozen hours. Although brief, the pacing feels about right. If it were much longer, I think the familiarity of it would begin to drag it down. There is also multiplayer - the usual fair of capture the flag, territories, and the like, with a Rapture twist of course. This kind of thing doesn't really float my boat so I didn't give it a whirl. I can't see it dragging too many people away from Halo or Modern Warfare.
Overall, if you like the first you will likely enjoy this one too, though the overall familiarity and shorter campaign makes it feel more like large expansion pack as opposed to a stand alone game.
Game Play: 4