Return to Rapture in ‘Bioshock 2’

February 25, 2010

by Robert Wilson

Ten years have passed since Jack escaped the underwater dystopia of Rapture in “Bioshock.” Now, 2K Games is returning to the deep and dark in the follow-up to their award-winning franchise with “Bioshock 2.”

The game, released Feb. 9, puts players in the suit of a Big Daddy known as Subject Delta, a member of the Alpha Series.

The story of “Bioshock 2” begins in 1958, shortly before Rapture crumbles as a result of the bloody civil wars for access to ADAM, a substance that alters DNA to imbue users with special powers.

Andrew Ryan, the late founder and former-leader of Rapture, has been replaced by Sofia Lamb, a powerful psychologist who has constructed a “family” out of the Splicers, citizens who have gone crazy from too much ADAM use. Lamb’s daughter Eleanor is a Little Sister, a young girl brainwashed to retrieve ADAM from dead bodies, and is bonded with Delta. In an unforgettable opening sequence, Lamb forces the two to tragically separate, and Delta is placed into a coma. Ten years later, Delta awakens and begins a hell-or-bust search for his lost treasure.

“Bioshock 2” successfully takes the religious, political and psychological themes of the first game and twists them, adding a new dimension and broader scope to the mythology of Ryan’s failed experiment.

The game also possesses a sense of heart; from the opening cinematic of Delta taking care of Eleanor to Lamb’s horribly well-meant plan for her daughter, “Bioshock 2” beckons players to empathize with Delta in his fight.

The heralded morality undercurrent of the first game returns, albeit less starkly black and white. Secondary-character comments help throw situations into a gray area, with consequences that will follow you until the end.

Along with a well-developed story is an improved combat system. As one of the first Big Daddies, Delta has the ability to dual-wield Plasmids and weapons. Players can also adopt Little Sisters and use them to gather extra ADAM from corpses; however, they will need to be defended from Splicers while they gather.

Successful gathering may require hacking turrets and cameras, a system that has changed from the tube-shifting mini-game to a quick-time event. This system can, of course, be modified via gene tonics, which have been combined into one group of 18 slots instead of different skill sets.

Of course, nothing is perfect. With so many returning components, “Bioshock 2” does feel, for the most part, like the first.

However, while it still possesses the haunting spirit and gloomy atmosphere of the original, it lacks the free-range feel of the first game.

Delta goes to each area on a train, so once you leave, there is no going back. Even the ocean-floor walking segments, though tranquil and beautiful, feel linear and constricting.

One of my biggest disappointments with the game was the Big Sister. I had expected the Big Sister to be the primary antagonist of “Bioshock 2,” and with her enhanced combat skills, looked forward to multiple encounters with her leading to a climactic final battle. However, the Big Sister was instead multiplied and relegated to being a boss once each area’s Little Sisters are rescued. With only some occasional ADAM or supplies as a reward, she’s little more than a nuisance.

Also, the amount of health kits that can be carried has been cut in half, making the first several gathering missions very frustrating unless traps are set and good cover is available. It’s amazing how susceptible Delta is to damage in the first few hours when every other Big Daddy takes a small army to kill.

By the game’s last few hours, however, Delta is strong enough to take out swarms of enemies in a single fight, and there’s a mind-blowing sequence that shows exactly what those Little Sisters have been babbling about the entire time. Unlike the original’s lackluster ending, “Bioshock 2” ends on an upswing with a climax that fits right in with the build-up, a positive that negates the previous complaints.

“Bioshock 2” fixes what was broken and leaves the rest untouched, for better or worse. However, while the astonishment of Rapture may be gone this time around, 2K proves there can still be brilliance in the shadows.