I no longer feel like a tourist in Rapture. Once wondrous and foreboding, this underwater society now has the familiarity of a local shopping mall. Audio recordings of Andrew Ryan detail the need for rational selfishness in a controlled world, Big Daddies moan dejectedly in every corridor, and the biggest decision we are faced with is to save or harvest a Little Sister. For roughly 10 hours, BioShock 2 follows directly in its forefather’s footsteps, too fearful to inject anything new into this twisted world.
The developer’s stubbornness to not veer off of the beaten path clashes with the game’s premise. In this installment, players assume the role of the first Big Daddy. Had the game not made this abundantly clear within the introductory cutscene, I would have thought I was playing as a character similar to the original game’s protagonist. Because the Big Daddy’s suit appears to be made of cotton, splicers pose just as great of a threat to your Big Daddy as they did to BioShock’s human lead. Shouldn’t I be just as big of a threat as the other Big Daddies in the world? Apparently not.
This inconsistency in BioShock’s lore stretches into the realm of the absurd when your Big Daddy’s drill is in play. Yes, this violent device turns splicers into satisfying smears, but it guzzles gas faster than a Hummer. After just a few uses, it runs out of fuel. When this happens, its role is demoted to that of a whacking tool…like a wrench.
With writer/director Ken Levine and his team at Irrational Games not returning for this sequel, 2K Marin (and four additional development teams) took on the task of continuing the BioShock franchise. For the majority of this experience, these developers seem to be spinning their creative wheels, and the tiny bits of new content feel tacked on. The Big Sister is the most noticeable mistake. Early in the adventure, her role seems to be similar to Resident Evil’s Nemesis – dropping in unannounced to wreak havoc. Her combat prowess dwarfs yours to a degree that you immediately think, “I’ll never be able to take her down.” As imposing as she is initially, you end up defeating her within the first hour of play. As the game progresses, her class type becomes a reoccurring boss (usually confronting you at the end of each level). Given the potential she exhibits in the first hour of the game, I’ll never understand why 2K Marin opted to change her from a unique antagonist (the original plan and reason why the game was delayed) to a faceless enemy type.
Another odd addition is the hack tool. Remember how tricky it could be to navigate rooms with cameras and turrets? With the hack tool, which fires just like a gun, you can take control of stationary targets from a safe distance. Why even have them in the game if you are going to demote their role to being mild nuisances? Would a Big Daddy really use the stealthy approach? When I played as the Big Daddy in the first BioShock, I thought it was an underdeveloped section of the game. I get the same feeling from BioShock 2.
Eventually this disappointing adventure does turn a corner. It takes 10 hours to get there, but the final two acts (lasting approximately three hours) are brilliant. One plot twist in particular shows you a side of this world that you never thought you’d see. Don’t worry, it isn’t a spin on “would you kindly.” It comes out of nowhere and helps this game find unique footing. The twist gives reason to plow through the rest of the game, and rewards players with a fantastic conclusion.
This crucial turning point also brings on new gameplay dynamics. When your plasmids are leveled to the max, when the final weapon is obtained, and when your Big Daddy finally realizes he can run fast, the Adam hits the fan. You become a cold-blooded murderer capable of downing multiple splicers, Big Daddies, and Big Sisters in one fight. The pacing gets a welcome shot of urgency, and you finally feel like…well…a Big Daddy.
When this game recognizes its true potential, it shines. It’s just a shame that it wanders misguidedly for so long. The first 10 hours are not bad or forgettable, they just don’t branch out from the safe confines of the first BioShock. The controls are just as tight as they are in the first game, and the explosive plasmid play once again makes brutality against splicer nation an undeniable blast.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of this game’s multiplayer component. I love that it has a deep leveling and reward system, but the weapon functionally doesn’t feel right, and limiting plasmids to just two per loadout limits the strategies you can concoct on the fly. Using Little Sisters, who are kicking and screaming the entire time, as alternatives to flags is an ingenious move, but outside of this laugh, most of my time with multiplayer was spent complaining about the gunplay and map designs. If you can live with these faults (which I could never do), reaching the level 40 cap will take a significant amount of time.
If your interest lies solely with the single-player experience – and let’s be frank, this is why we counted down the days until BioShock 2’s release – I walked away from it pleased, but also unfulfilled. BioShock 2 eventually becomes the sequel I hoped for, but spends too much time getting there.