Short Version: BioShock 2 is an excellent game – mostly because it’s exactly like the first BioShock. For every minor improvement 2K Marin made to the sequel there’s a missed opportunity that could have made the game even better.
Game Rant reviews BioShock 2
The original BioShock was an incredible experience: an engrossing title that provided a number of fresh takes on the first person action genre, as well as drew from a number of literary and philosophical texts – resulting in one of the most engrossing stories in videogame history. The extraordinary mix of story-telling, immersive exploration, and enjoyable combat made playing the original BioShock a unique as well as rewarding journey.
For a franchise built on originality, almost everything in BioShock’s sequel is too familiar. In BioShock 2, the greatest strengths of the original title are still present — but they haven’t evolved in any significant way. In terms of the visual aesthetics, enemy types, and core gameplay, the campaign portion of the sequel could be mistaken for a lengthy DLC add-on episode.
That’s not to say the title isn’t worthy of a retail disc, because there is plenty of content to justify the price. It’s just that the game doesn’t look or play particularly different. Which, for some players, may not be a bad thing. The bottom line is this — if you enjoyed the first BioShock, you’re likely to enjoy the sequel. It’s got all the strengths of the first title, with a few minor improvements, but also a few questionable changes.
2K Marin has made sure to provide the franchise with a satisfactory evolution in the story; however, a story that doesn’t really get going until the latter half of the game. That said, the developer didn’t do much in the way of evolving the gameplay — the first BioShock wasn’t perfect and there are definitely some missed opportunities in the sequel.
The gunplay still lacks the kind of precision players have come to expect from first person shooters. It’s not that the targeting is a total mess — but it is imprecise. BioShock 2 does add damage bonuses for location dependent shooting (headshots, etc) but in the last couple years, many developers have already taken this concept several steps further (i.e. shooting off a foot disables but doesn’t kill an enemy). As a result, BioShock 2’s lack of evolution in this regard is confusing — especially considering 2K Marin’s inclusion of a multiplayer component.
Additionally, the title utilizes fewer opportunities for exploration – favoring a more streamlined approach. Players are no longer allowed to go back and search for audio diaries or “Power to the People” stations you may have missed. While this definitely prevents players from having to backtrack through massive empty levels, it also deprives players the opportunity to take in the atmosphere once the dust has settled – somewhat lowering the replay value.
As a trade-off, the game offers brief moments where the player is allowed to walk around the sea floor — outside of the city. But, these moments add almost nothing to the game. They’re beautiful, but there’s no underwater combat or puzzle solving. They occur, predominantly, as interludes between levels.
The most notable change, however, and the one that 2K Marin has been touting the most, is the protagonist. In BioShock 2, you play as Delta, one of the original Big Daddies. Delta was put out of commission prior to the fall of Rapture and players assume control of the character ten years later – when Delta suddenly reawakes.
Like many things in BioShock 2, this “change” doesn’t have particularly large implications — save for one. Where the story in BioShock was mainly about the fall of Rapture, most of the story in BioShock 2 revolves around the relationship between Big Daddies and Little Sisters.
As a result, 2K Marin decided to make sure that relationship is evident in the gameplay. The choice to “Harvest” or “Rescue” a Little Sister isn’t quite as cut and dry this round. In order to get more substantial amounts of ADAM, and subsequently plasmids, the player is now encouraged to protect each Little Sister twice, while she harvests ADAM from pre-determined corpses. As soon as Delta sets the girl down to harvest, Splicers will be drawn from the environment, and the player must protect the Little Sister until the harvest is complete (about a minute). Once the girl has drained all of the ADAM from two corpses – the player is then allowed to rescue or harvest her for the ADAM (you can always harvest a Little Sister outright, and skip the protection missions, but you’ll receive significantly less ADAM).
The game-mechanic is challenging at first — hacking machines and setting up traps beforehand offers the same type of strategy needed to take down Big Daddies in the earlier portions of the original BioShock. That said, there are simply too many Little Sisters in the game, and the placement of the harvest points aren’t particularly unique (meaning, individually, they don’t usually challenge players in a different way). If 2K Marin didn’t want to cut down on the amount of Little Sisters, then they could have at least diversified the amount of ADAM harvests each girl needed to take part in — i.e. this Little Sister needs to harvest from two corpses, while this girl only needs to harvest from one.
As a result, a significant chunk of the campaign is not taken up by story-driven objectives; instead, players spend a lot of time on a series of goals that reappear each level – i.e. fight a Big Daddy, protect a Little Sister twice, fight a Big Daddy, protect that Little Sister twice, fight the third Big Daddy in the level, protect another Little Sister twice, then fight a Big Sister (more on her in a bit).