The original Bioshock is considered to be a marvel of game design, a true revolution of its genre that took its ideas in a whole new direction. There of course is great reason for this, Bioshock was all of that and even more, it was for a good reason that we fell in love with the game originally and by extension highly anticipated the sequel. However one of the reasons many disliked its sequel was because they expected the wheel to be reinvented and history to repeat itself, this of course never happened with Bioshock 2 but yet I would say I enjoyed Bioshock 2 more than the original.
Bioshock 2 starts us in 1958 approximately two years before Rapture completely collapsed, we play as Subject Delta an Alpha series model Big Daddy bound to one little sister for life. As Delta we are bound to a young girl named Eleanor Lamb who is quickly revealed to be the daughter of this games antagonist Sofia Lamb, in order to separate Delta and Eleanor Sofia orders Delta to put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.
Ten years pass and it is now 1968 and suddenly Delta is reawakened, the questions start here as we are forced to wonder what happened? Where are we? Why are we alive? These questions are of course answered as we proceed in the story but this acts as a nice opening leading you through the opening stage. The major part of the story is essentially Delta’s bond with Eleanor and his desperate struggle to get back to her, this was the most I needed to be drawn to the story and it became really deep and interesting the further I went.
The big thing that sets Bioshock 2 apart from the original game is in its story, while I appreciated and enjoyed the more subtle elements of the previous games story I felt Bioshock 2 was better constructed. To initially lure players into the game it does rely on asking questions in order to discover answers (many of which are answered the further we delve), but it is the overarching plot-line of Delta and Eleanor that really acts as the game’s biggest draw and actually plays into some of the gameplay. The way the story uses the pasts and presents of these two characters really drew me through Rapture as I felt the emotional weight of these characters and the real depth of their bond, of father and daughter.
Of course to stop this Sofia Lamb does use her power to halt Delta, I will admit Sofia Lamb is no Andrew Ryan but this helps set the game apart again in fact I thought she was an interesting antagonist in her own right. Her constant goal throughout the story is seemingly to urge you to do what monsters do, she wants you to prove to the world that you are a thoughtless and heartless monster and not realize your own humanity that has been awakened. Quite often she actually feels like a companion to me albeit a bad one, throughout your journey Sofia is always watching and uses her psychological knowledge to try to urge your decisions.
Beyond this factor however is a much more noble although stupid premise, Sofia’s goal is to unite the Rapture family to help the city be reborn as one group essentially placing her as the anti-Andrew Ryan. In her actions she proved to be a really interesting character who I honestly felt bad for, for as much as I grew to care about Eleanor I felt like Sofia was a caring mother who had lost her daughter and could never get her back which was heartbreaking. All of Sofia’s ambitions surround Eleanor and she blames Delta for actions out of his control, it is the dynamic of these three characters that I found to be truly interesting as we explored the story and Sofia’s soft-spoken ideals.
Bioshock 2 brings us some really memorable characters outside of the Delta and Sofia feud, from a personal standpoint much like I have said about Sofia being a constant companion you do get two others essentially. The first of these I should note is Sinclair, throughout most of Rapture he is your guide and because of Bioshock I was initially weary of this character, by his nature he is a businessman looking to get whatever he can although he did grow on me as the story continued. Secondly Eleanor herself is a constant companion, while not physically present she and Delta have some kind of psychic link where she occasionally provides presents and other thoughts for the player. This bond really helps to cement the relationship between the two characters and not make it feel forced at the end because she has always been there watching us, this in turn provided me with a great sense of character development.
Rapture is still an incredible playground in Bioshock 2, this game never tries to re-tread old paths and create a new mystery in the city which I really appreciated. Instead, Bioshock 2 continues to explore the lore of the city and even expand upon Raptures downfall by offering new stories, most of this explores the arcs of new characters such as Augustus Sinclair and Sofia Lamb and how the story fits them. Also scattered throughout the city we get to find new stories from Frank Fontaine and Andrew Ryan to offer more of their thoughts and further backstory, just as a fan of the original game it was great to receive additional information no matter how minor. Each audio diary we find in this game is just as interesting as the last and is incredible to explain some of the deeper story elements and new ideas while I focused on my overall goal of getting to Eleanor.
Also in itself Rapture is still an amazing place to explore, this game never re-tread’s old paths from the first game and instead it has an entirely new section of Rapture that we are asked to explore. In fact Bioshock 2 has us exploring more of the darker locations of Rapture which show the acts of poverty that affected the city. Both in terms of gameplay and story being brought to these locations was interesting to understand the true nature of Rapture and see the parts that Andrew Ryan likely would not have noted.
The bigger part of Bioshock 2 that I found to be truly appealing was the focus on morality, this was a topic that was slightly tackled in the original Bioshock, in the last game this was strictly focused on your decisions regarding the little sisters. This element has continued into Bioshock 2 but has been evolved both in terms of long term effects as well as further developments that really force you to think. Little Sisters remain the same in this game (but with further additions which I’ll get to shortly), you still get the choice of power verses life which is still a truly powerful choice, however I feel Bioshock 2 asks this question to a much wider extent.
In Bioshock 2 you really are trying to survive against all odds to get to Eleanor and so you are told it is your survival and the best way to survive is to harvest the Little Sisters for all their ADAM. However the game really makes you question this thought process, both as a Big Daddy who has regained human thought and as a parent you can be forced to question right and wrong. The big question that always ran through my head at every turn was is my survival worth sacrificing my morality and sense of self? What is the point of survival if you have to sacrifice your values, but of course that was how I saw it and the game allows for you to be a man or a monster depending on your own play style and thought process.
Additionally the moral focus of Bioshock 2’s story is built further in several choices found across the game, at specific points you do have to make a choice that details your humanity and really positions yourself as man or monster. The best part about these sequences is that the game allows you to freely choose your options and even provides you with all the facts to help give you a reason for both answers, these sections are truly deep and provide a lot of thought over making your decision.
These sections combined with the Little Sisters are all parts that build up in the game and determine the ending sequence, unlike Bioshock’s okay but limited sense of moral responsibility each of the sections in this game actually matter and you get a fulfilling ending that reflects your choices. I would even go so far as to say that because of the moral focus throughout the game it makes some of Bioshock 2’s endings some of the greatest I have encountered in a game to date, and in turn this knowledge actually causes you to think and reflect more upon your decisions.
Of course decisions still are not made lightly and Bioshock 2 does make things a lot trickier this time around, again in Bioshock we decided on the spot with a Little Sister what we would do with them, here this becomes a lot deeper. In Bioshock 2 we have the ability to adopt each Little Sister that we encounter all because of our Big Daddy status, in these moments we assume responsibility for the girls and become their protector, I don’t know about anybody else but this just adds a lot of weight to the decision. When we adopt the girls we then use them to help harvest ADAM from specific dead bodies or “the angels” as they so adorably say, and in these moments there is a real feeling of desperation as Splicers come running from everywhere to take what she is collecting.
Often these fights become overwhelming and trying to keep your Little Sister safe while also managing ammunition, EVE, and your own survival is a real struggle. To make matters worse we can have each Little Sister do this twice and the battles become increasingly tougher the further in the game we get, and protecting her and yourself is quite a challenge. After this responsibility I really grew attached to my charge, I could really feel the father and daughter relationship that was born and the need to protect my helpless child in times of emergency. This really raises the stakes of your decisions regarding them as they are not just random little girls like Bioshock, they have a personality, you protected them, you sacrificed and you most definitely endured, the real weight of this choice rests on your shoulders and it is tough.
I still have to note that I still hate having to save the Little Sisters but this does fall down to two reasons, for starters the battle with Big Daddies are nightmares these hulking Goliaths are tough and put up a really good fight but sadly this battle is fun but it also kills me inside. I noted this in Bioshock that taking down a Big Daddy upset me, they were simply a person who had been forced to be slaves and re-purposed to simply protect these children. It was upsetting taking them down every time, and this never helped seeing the sad looks in the girls faces, the tears were and still are truly heartbreaking and made me cry and feel guilty for my actions, but Bioshock 2 makes this choice even worse.
In this game we get to explore what it is like being a Big Daddy and understanding the bonds that tie together these goliaths to their charge, I can honestly say I felt this bond that was shared between Delta and Eleanor and I sympathized with every Big Daddy I met. This bond and understanding makes each battle that much tougher, it makes being forced to engage this enemy to benefit myself and the girls a combination of daunting and heartbreaking in its own right. These battles are great and offer some of Bioshock 2’s greatest challenges but both battling them and in the end result I felt like a monster every time. What was I really doing, was I being helpful or simply taking a life for my own end, the deeper understanding offered by this game makes Big Daddy’s more relatable but does offer new debates for the determination of a monster.
One of the big additions to Bioshock 2 is a new threat, while Big Daddies are certainly daunting a new version is now around. This is the Big Sister, and if you thought a Big Daddy was scary like I did this new threat is absolutely terrifying, these creatures are a lot slimmer and a whole lot quicker than the hulking beasts we are familiar with. Essentially Big Sisters are explained as the evolution of the Little Sisters to where they become a certain age and they become gatherers of ADAM in a small manner but also serious guardians for the Little Sisters. These ones show up at least once in most levels and appear after you deal with the Little Sisters in the area, these are truly terrifying and I was glad that when they are coming we get warned to have time to prepare.
Big Sisters arrive with a terrifying bird cry and can be absolute nightmares to take down, they are often quicker than we are and move around constantly. Just hearing the standard cry was enough to send fear through me and this never helps that we encounter one of these enemies in the first hour of the game and they are extremely hard to take down. But again I also felt guilty when I was forced to take down these creatures, unlike Big Daddies which give you the choice Big Sisters are ruthless and will fight without mercy, but knowing it’s a brainwashed person just doing a job just adds to how heartbreaking Bioshock 2 is.
A serious improvement has been made to Bioshock 2 which did annoy many in the original game, this is the use of weapons and Plasmids. In the original Bioshock you were only able to use your weapon or your Plasmids at a single point forcing you to have to adjust to which ability you were using, this made the game become a juggling act of balancing your attacks and knowing which one you needed, luckily this problem has been eradicated in Bioshock 2. The juggling act is no longer around in this game but rather you can now use both Plasmids and weapons at the same time because both hands are always available, this really helps to speed up the flow of the gameplay and really made it more enjoyable. It helped to be able to stun an enemy with lighting then quickly fire my weapon or smack them with my drill.
This improvement helps with everything across the entire game especially some of the bigger battles, I can’t honestly say how many times this improvement saved my characters life but it was frequent. Another point where this was helpful was that it meant that I never actually forgot about my Plasmids like I did so often in Bioshock, the fact the marker was always on the screen along with both hands really assisted the gameplay mechanics.
A further improvement has also been made to the Plasmid system, in this game the system has been streamlined to make it easier to use and almost customize our abilities. The biggest improvement is given to the tonic slots which are now a lot easier to use and more personal, rather than certain abilities being restricted to specific skill trees our tonic plasmids now fit in a standard space which gives you plenty of options for how you want to be specialized. This really made the game easier to understand and enjoy which really helps Bioshock 2 in a big way and adds a lot to the gameplay.
Bioshock 2 is not revolutionary like its older sibling it never tries to do anything new, nor does it ever seem to want to instead the game plays it safe in almost every way but this just made things more enjoyable. Rather than focusing on trying to reinvent Rapture this game expands upon the story, lore and world of the original game doing justice to Bioshock while also creating its own truly meaningful experience. The improvements to the gameplay along with the expansion of the story and world are big reasons why I really liked Bioshock 2 more than the original, this game is simply beautiful and one that it hard for me to forget.