Review: BioShock 2

Review: BioShock 2

Format: 360 (version tested), PC, PS3
Release: Out now
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: 2K Marin/Digital Extremes

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From the moment of conception, BioShock 2 had its work cut out, the popular line suggesting it was a sequel to a game that didn’t need one. It follows a work that exposed FPS convention before being brought down by it, a cast and narrative singlehandedly responsible for the biggest rush on Ayn Rand’s Wikipedia page in history, and a world that left those who played it with a tangible sense of place. So, among many achievements, BioShock 2’s big one is this: it is its own game.

But this is still Rapture, of course. Familiar posters and adverts decorate the walls, plasmids and weapons are revisited, the overall aesthetic is an evolution of tone rather than a change in substance, and there are even tribute sequences that a cynic might call retreads. It is, however, free of the anxiety of influence. Realising that a straightfaced attempt to recapture the original’s magic was a potential disaster, this is instead an exaggeration of the science-fiction and a move towards horror. Ten years on from the fall of Andrew Ryan, Rapture is a rancid hole, its inhabitants scrofulous and spliced beyond hope in their efforts to survive, its society no longer worthy of the label. Forget the fallen utopia – this is full-on dystopia, everything remaining struggling to stay alive.

You’re no exception. Lumped rather inelegantly into a new role by a lengthy cutscene, you’re prodded back and forth on little errands to get a feel for things before your first glimpse of Rapture proper – a vista of unusual beauty. From these encrusted beginnings the true nature of BioShock 2 emerges: a violent scavenger hunt. You check every corpse, search every container, and look carefully in every dark corner for ammo, cash, food and chunks of story in the form of audio diaries or hurried scrawls. And, every so often, you get into a massive fight.

Combat is the beating heart of BioShock 2, and it improves on the original’s template while holding on to a few of the bad bits. Splicers still aren’t that much fun to shoot: they’re now capable of taking cover, though often leave themselves exposed, and retain that predictable movement and rubbery ragdoll quality that makes isolated faceoffs irritating rather than exhilarating. You get an amazing-looking machine-gun that, for all the impact it has, feels like it must be firing dried rice. On the other hand, Spider Splicers are vastly improved by a new melee attack, and larger enemies come into play that are similarly unafraid of bringing the battle right up to your face. It’s in the mix that it all begins to work.

BioShock 2’s structure isn’t particularly interesting, but its one big idea – and it’s a good one – is to allow time to prepare for a fight and then throw everything it can in your general direction. Since you’re a Big Daddy, when you bag a Little Sister you can set her down to gather Adam from particular corpses, attracting the attention of groups of enemies. Splicers might be irritating gnats on their own, but a swarm of them surrounding the more troubling enemies is a different proposition – fail to thin out their numbers and you’ll fall quickly under a hail of bullets and pipes, bludgeoned by heavies and peppered from a distance by the thrown ice hooks of Spider Splicers.

So you learn to make the environment work to your advantage. You cram narrow corridors leading to the battlefield with trap rivets, and fill wider spaces with cyclone traps. The ground is mined in preparation for deploying a decoy. Oil spills and pools of water are noted, and plasmids prepared. Then you set the girl down to do her thing.

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