One of the things I deal with when reviewing a game is my bias for or against a game. It's impossible to be completely neutral about something and even the best reviewers have their own pre-set opinions of a title before playing it. So when I tell if you had told me last year that I would have liked BioShock 2 as much as I did I would have called you a liar. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the first game (especially the final third of the game) making a sequel to the game felt like a cheap way to cash in on game with a strong brand. For me the story of Rapture and Andrew Ryan had been told and it was time to move on to greener pastures.
Just to forewarn you this review covers only the single player side of the game. We received a gold copy of the game and I did not get a chance to play the game online with other people.
Fortunately the folks at 2K Games didn't share my option as they realized that are more stories to mine from the undersea world, it's just a matter of looking at Rapture in a different way. Sure you've got a lot of the same components as the first game (Plasmids, Splicers, Big Daddies, Little Sisters, etc) but BioShock 2 has a few new things that change your perception of the world a bit. I can't talk about some of these elements as the folks at 2K Games sent a long list of things we can't talk about (spoiling large sections of the game before it even arrived) but I can tell you that the game matches the first in every way and even exceeds it in some areas.
The first game focused on Andrew Ryan's (the founder and builder of Rapture) belief in the individual, that a man was entitled to the sweat of his brow without being taxed to support others. In short self sufficiency FTW. BioShock 2 shifts the paradigm to Sofia Lamb's beliefs that the group is more important than the individual and that it's important to sacrifice yourself for the betterment of the group. Along the way she points out the folly of Ryan and how her plan is better but it doesn't come across as well as the message from the first game. The real fun now is figuring out which political set the third BioShock game will follow because you know it's coming.
Picking up a decade after the first game, you play Delta, a very special Big Daddy who can not only wield the heavy hardware of the leviathans from BioShock but can also use plasmids to boot. The game fleshes out the relationship between the Little Sisters and Big Daddies a bit and it turns out that Big Daddies are genetically bound to their Little Sister. Since you're a "special" Big Daddy you're bound to your Little Sister even more so. This means that the goal of the game isn't just to escape Rapture but to find your specific Little Sister and escape with her as you'll die without her.
Like its predecessor, BioShock 2's story is told through conversations with characters in the game and through audio clues that you find scattered throughout the game. The mechanisms still works but feels a little less original now although it's the quality has been upped a notch. There are a few moments of tension and horror created through some of these but given how much the mechanic has been copied by other games it doesn't feel as fresh as it once did.
Delta is unique in that you can use both weapons and plasmids at the same time which allows for some fun combos. For example you could freeze an enemy and then shatter them with a shotgun blast or you could do what I did which was to electrify a bunch of bad guys and then mow them down with a machine gun while they do the electric shuffle. You also get a few fun extras like portable turrets and proximity mines which can be helpful in creating some interesting trap areas. The reason you need all these things is because you'll be fighting larger quantities of Splicers, Big Daddies/Sisters, and a few other foes.
Most of the weapons are a lot of fun to use but for some reason the game really wants you to use the drill weapon. It's rare that a FPS game can make effective use of melee weapons and BioShock 2 is not one of those games. You can level the drill up to block ranged attacks as well as a fun rush attack with the drill but other than the few parts where the drill is required to solve a puzzle or two it's a weapon of last resort at best.
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