Reviews: Bio Shock 2
The Chain's Greatest Link
Bioshock 2 has an extremely undeserved reputation. The gameplay is far superior to the other two, with easy use of both weapons and powers, and no limited inventory. Subject Delta is a rare breed in effective silent protagonists; from the very first scene, our knowledge of the setting is exploited to make us as connected to Eleanor as he is. We know he can't be her real father, we know their existence and their relationship to each other can be nothing short of tragedy from the start. As we see Eleanor's connection to him hold fast even after she's deprogrammed simply because she knows how terrible her mother is and she has no one else, we are put front and center to that tragedy. Even the bad endings are satisfying because they revolve around how that relationship turns out. Sofia Lamb is an effective antagonist: we never question her conviction and her more subdued personality compared to Fontaine gives her evil a more personal quality. Unlike the first game's cartoonishly absurd bad ending, the crux of every ending here is based on what kind of people Eleanor and Delta have become. More subtly, the plot does not go off the rails like the first game, especially, did. The emotional climax comes at the actual climax instead of several hours too early. This entry, like much Infinite, is hurt by Hype Backlash. The ultimate role the Big Sisters play in the plot, indeed, the very fact that there are more than one, is inferior to the original idea scrapped late in production. While Lamb proves to be a more interesting villain than the Big Sister-as-Big Bad would have been by virtue of having a face and a belief system to disagree with instead of just simple villainy, the Big Sisters are reduced to a Boss in Mook Clothing. Tennenbaum vanishes almost as quickly as she's introduced until Minerva's Den. Finally, while the endings may provide closure with reflection on the choices you've made, those actual moments of choice are downright banal and certainly do nothing to advance the concept of morality systems in games, a concept that was in serious need of advancing when this game came out and still now as of this writing. This is by far the strongest game in the trilogy, suffering from neither the first's pacing problems and clunky gameplay, or Infinite's undelivered promises and convoluted ending.
The worst kind of sequel.
Let me preface what I'm about to say with a very important opening statement—Bioshock 2 is a good game. If you take away all outside elements, and it's just you and this game in a vacuum, you're going to have a blast. The combat is intense and creative, the weapons are satisfying to use without feeling too powerful for the setting, the plasmids pair well with the weapon upgrades, and barring a few terrible mistakes (everything to do with the little sisters) the design could be considered stellar. With all that in mind, you are properly prepared for the news that Bioshock 2 is a crime against humanity. The problem is that, for all of its good design and gamefeel, the game has no reason to exist other than profit. The story of the first Bioshock was entirely self-contained—there was little to no room for a sequel. If you've played the first, many things from the second won't make sense. As the story wears on, you'll start to get a sense that your actions in the first weren't as destructive to Rapture as a whole as you were led to believe. Ultimately, any person who's played the first will realize at some point in the second that they are being exploited, served a sub-par story because they've demonstrated that the original concept was marketable. The developers do not respect you, they see you as a sort of walking wallet that likes to buy games. Thus, instead of focusing on building a new world and a new story, they took the existing one, skipped ahead a few years, and spent all of their effort on escalating the scale of the combat and visuals of the first in an effort to suck in more people to get more money. It is devoid of creativity, and has no reason to exist other than to give the gaming community a stellar example of how an abomination can hide in the skin of a work of art.
A definite improvement, but feels bland and samey by the end.
PROS: -Akimbo-style (left hand plasmid, right hand weapon) action, not to mention that you may reload one while firing (or reloading) the other, and vice-versa. -More enemy types. -A few problems that plagued the first game have been fixed. -Better graphics cues (you won't miss dropped weapons and objects so easily). -A lot of things look nicer than in the first game. CONS: -Feels bland and samey by the end. Experimenting with different plasmids is hampered by the lack of opportunities to gather EVE. -You move slowly as a result of your suit, however you are only marginally tougher at the beginning of the game. -Loads of copy-pasted content from Bioshock. -"Morality"-based choices feel cliched and almost pointless, as utilizing a Little Sister for awhile pays off much more than harvesting at any time. -Cheesy ending (if you were nice). I won't spoil it, but it ends with a cutscene either way.
In Defense of Bio Shock 2
Bio Shock 2 didn't garner the type of critical acclaim that the original did when it was released, with some people dismissing it as a soulless cash grab. But the original game was not perfect and the sequel wisely improves upon its faults to end up as a worthy game in own right. First off, nobody will be giving Bio Shock 2 any awards for originality. It plays out like a remake or reboot of its predecessor (though the pacing feels a bit tighter this time around). So a lot of credit for the success of Bioshock 2 is due to the creative team behind the first game. If you can forgive all that, Bio Shock 2 excels in some very particular ways. Combat is much more satisfying playing as a powerful big daddy. Though it may seem paradoxical that the now less challenging battles are more rewarding than the difficult encounters in the first game, not having to rely as much on the terribly cheap vita-chambers to bring down Rosies and Bouncers makes for a sense of greater triumph. Enemy variety is better too, bolstered by cool opponents like the Big Sister and Brute splicers. Yes, Big Bad Sophia Lamb is an (Opposite Day) Andrew Ryan clone but arguably outdoes him as a credibly evil threat. Whereas Ryan was ultimately a danger to no one but himself, Lamb's menace, directed at the player's strongest emotional connection, daughter Eleanor, keeps things centered and propels the story forward. If you liked the first one the game may feel familiar but its mostly good thing. Its a worthy sequel.