Bioshock 2 (Xbox 360) Review – I was not much of a fan of the original Bioshock. I thought that the story was interesting enough but I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that I wasn’t actually enjoying playing the game. Add to that that I was never invested in the plight of the characters and I had an experience that I just pushed through for the sake of it – to say I had -rather than because I was having a good time. The world of Rapture was a fascinating and interesting place to be in an explore, it just sucked that I had no compelling reason to enjoy my time there.
Going in to Bioshock 2, set almost a decade after the events of the first game, I wasn’t expecting to be grabbed by the balls and pulled through Rapture once again by an amazing story. And for the most part I wasn’t – the story felt like a ‘tales of Bioshock’ pulp novel and never really came together as a cohesive narrative. Because the first game had slammed home the ‘unreliable narrator’ thing it was almost impossible to trust anyone on their word in Bioshock 2 meaning that deceptions that otherwise may have made for a couple of interesting moments were easy to just take in your stride. Combined, it made Bioshock 2 feel derivative, from a narrative sense, of the original game. An over reliance on audio journals did little to soften the blow as it becames pretty clear that the broader world of Rapture is more interesting than the one you’re in. The Journey to the Surface amusement park ride was a particular highlight, showing just how deluded Rapture’s founder Andrew Ryan actually is. Unfortunately ‘the past‘ is the only real narrative highlight in the game. Even significant story beats felt rather lacklustre, resulting in a game that felt like it was searching for a reason to exist and just not coming up trumps in the process. But I did nonetheless have my balls grabbed from a very unexpected place.
Luckily playing as a Big Daddy, in this case Subject Delta, saves the game from its narrative shortcomings and makes Bioshock 2 actually a game worth playing. Subject Delta, like Jack in the first game, has control of both conventional weaponry and plasmids both of which can be upgraded over the course of your play through. The dual wield mechanic improves using both in conjunction much easier by mapping plasmids to the left trigger and weapons on the right, making the old ‘electrocute melee’ routine much easier to pull off. The weapons are pretty diverse too and you’ll find yourself using all of them equally throughout the course of the game. Toward the end of the game though I found that I was so powerful with the drill that I wasn’t using anything else, even against the boss-like Big Sister characters. Either way whatever course you take in upgrading your character, you will be sure to find a combination of plasmids and weapons that will suit your play style. The upgrades to the combat from Bioshock to this game make are sensible and make Bioshock 2 on the whole a much better game to actually play. It is just unfortunate that all of the killing and being all super badass and what not wasn’t driving toward a better punchline.
So I didn’t come away loving Bioshock 2. The world of Rapture was still as interesting as it was the first time around. The design, the ambiance and architecture of the world made for an interesting and cohesive setting for the game, even if it isn’t entirely believable. Despite not being the most technically brilliant game in the world, the art style and direction make Bioshock 2 one of the most stunning games of the generation. What surprises me the most is how much I enjoyed the combat in Bioshock 2. Everything felt smoother and more refined than the first game, and I never felt I was in a situation that I didn’t have the tools to approach. Where the game did falter unfortunately though was its narrative. It wasn’t abhorrent but I wish that they’d found a better way to explore the many failures of Rapture. Weaving the protagonist into the story of Rapture again felt a little contrived and I just couldn’t shake the feeling that in some ways I’d rather have played a character who was just an innocent bystander experiencing the madness of Rapture. At least then there may have been time for sightseeing.