Rapture failed… We will not.
Developer: 2K Marin
Publisher: 2K Games
Reviewed for : PS4
Played: 20 hours across two playthroughs.
“If the modern world were a patient in my care… I would diagnose it suicidal.”
– Dr. Sofia Lamb
I played through Bioshock 2 all the way back when the game launched in 2010, in what was a simpler time for video games. Like a lot of people did, I enjoyed the title. The game actually reviewed shockingly well, despite a lot of fans marking it as the weakest entry in the series these days. But even the black sheep of the Bioshock series is still an unforgettable experience, in my opinion. From a narrative point of view, it wasn’t as memorable as the original Bioshock, but it’s gameplay had been honed to a razor edge, with smart improvements to almost every core aspect. Fast forward to 2018. I had picked up the Bioshock Collection (which really just gives Bioshock 1 & 2 a visual upgrade and comes packaged with all DLC) in a sale over the holidays, and on a whim I fired up second title one rainy weekend, and I’m so glad i did.
BioShock 2, like its predecessor, takes place in the nightmarish underwater city of Rapture. Founded by a libertarian industrialist named Andrew Ryan, Rapture was meant to be a place where the most brilliant minds of the age could study and work freely without fear of persecution or judgement. The city of Rapture itself really is the most compelling character in the series, as cliche as that may be, and I couldn’t get enough of it, I spent an inordinate amount of time exploring its hallways and leaking plaza’s.
And it’s shortly after the city tears itself apart in an orgy of violence that the BioShock games take place. In fact BioShock 2 takes place even further removed from the idyllic time of Raptures glory days, 8 years after the events of the original BioShock. You play as Subject Delta, a prototype Big Daddy, which is kind of indicative of how this game feels compared to the first.
In the original, you played as essentially a regular man that spliced himself to heck and back, and killed Big Daddy’s to reach the coveted Little Sisters, and the stores of precious Adam contained within. In Bioshock 2, as a Big Daddy yourself, you must protect the Little Sisters from rabid Splicers as they gather Adam from the corpse of less fortunate Splicers.
And this all plays into an exceedingly satisfying gameplay loop, one of attack and defend. A first person shooter by definition, but the Bioshock games really feel like something special as combat always feels particularly intimate, and brutal. In addition to to scores of mutated Splicers, you encounter several Big Daddy’s in each of the games large, semi-open environments (which are quite varied and pleasingly vertical), and they act as one facet of the games mini boss encounters. Most of the regular Splicers you engage can be shrugged off, but a Big Daddy encounter is always something I had to take seriously, and that feeling doesn’t change from the first level to the last. Armored and incredibly aggressive, these fights always leave the player battered, bloody and seriously low on ammunition and medkits. But if you do emerge victorious, the newly orphaned Little Sister is your reward, which leads to encounters that I felt were some of the best in the game.
Taking the place of the Daddy you just bested, you lead the Little Sister to sources of Adam, and play the part of protector in defense missions that allow the player to use all of Bioshock 2’s devious trap mechanics like some kind of demented dungeon master. I would line corridors with trap rivets and proximity bombs to thin out the horde of Splicers trying to prevent the Little Sister from doing her grisly work. Cyclone traps placed under doorways would result in broken necks, and any that made it too close would be met with the signature Big Daddy drill arm (my favorite weapon) and an assortment of offensive Plasmids, like the trusty Electro Bolt and fan favorite Insect Swarm.
Once completed, you can either harvest the Little Sister (for a large amount of Adam) or free her (less Adam in the short term, but more over the course of the game, plus access to some unique Plasmids). These choices affect not only gameplay, but determine what ending you will receive, along with what characters survive the game. I really don’t know why you would devour the Little Sisters, aside from wanting the games bad ending, but that just isn’t how I roll.
Which leads us to the OTHER facet of Bioshock 2’s mini boss encounters, although I suppose they could be considered fully fledged boss encounters, except they are somewhat optional… The Big Sisters. Oh yes, all this harvesting of Little Sisters and slaying of Big Daddy’s has not gone unnoticed. Announced by otherworldly screaming that get closer and closer, the arrival of a Big Sister always had me desperately trying to find some sort of defensible position, praying to whatever gaming gods might be listening. Unbelievably fast, and outfitted with same Plasmid’s as the Player, I died more than a few times in these encounters. The Big Sister will hunt you relentlessly, unless you can make it to the bulkhead that leads to the next area (which I had to do at least once, completely devoid of resources and gibbering like a madman). Defeating them will reward you with precious Adam, which is always worthwhile, but will cost you dearly in resources. Another impressive enemy, that always got my blood pumping, and truly a highlight of this entry in the series.
And I suppose we should talk about the games narrative, as I found it to be surprisingly engaging. A lot of people maligned Bioshock 2, because they felt it narrative didn’t live up to the lofty example set by the original Bioshock (Conveniently forgetting, in my opinion, that the original games narrative fell off a cliff after the infamous “would you kindly” scene). The plot of Bioshock 2 mostly revolves around the machinations of Sofia Lamb, who is Andrew Ryan’s ideological polar opposite. A collectivist, opposed entirely to Ryan’s hard-line individualist philosophy… Lamb is the radical left to Ryan’s alt-right, to put things in 2018 terminology. And she sets things off with a bang, literally, forcing the player to commit suicide via mind control in the opening cinematic.
Andrew Ryan: White is not black, Doctor Lamb. Down is not up, and straw is not gold. Look around you. Rapture is no miracle, it is a product of reason, impossible unless one and one are two, and A equates to A.
Dr. Sofia Lamb: And yet… alone, each man is a prisoner to bias. Dream, delusion, or the pain of a phantom limb. To one man, they are as real as rain. Reality is consensus… and the people are losing faith. Take a walk Andrew. It is raining in Rapture… and you have simply chosen not to notice.
From here the story follows the player, Project Delta, an amnesiac Big Daddy literally back from the dead, revived by a special Little Sister named Eleanor. Eleanor and Delta share a bond that is unique to the prototype Big Daddy’s, causing the death of one or the other if they are separated for too long. Lamb, for reasons that are revealed over the course of the 10 or so long hour campaign, very much does not want to see the two reunited. During the course of the quest, Delta encounters several characters that reveal more of his own back story, and the tragic history of Rapture itself. In all I was pretty happy to learn more about the Little Sisters and the Big Daddy’s themselves, which is pretty central to the story this time around.
Included in the Bioshock Collection is Minerva’s Den, widely considered by many to be some of the best DLC ever released. After playing through it, I have to say I was a little disapointed, but maybe my expectations were set a little too high. A totally self contained story that deals with the A.I. systems that power Rapture and the predictably insane scientists that created them, Minerva’s Den is really just a microcosm of the main game: it features the same gameplay loops, but feels a little too separate. Totally fun, and all of the above gameplay conceits are present, so I was happy this content was included, I suppose I just bought into the hype a little too hard.
Bioshock 2 might just be the best game in the series, and is criminally underrated by the gaming community at large. It takes all of the fantastic gameplay mechanics of the first game, and refines them to their purest form. And while it doesn’t have a single standout narrative moment like the original, Bioshock 2’s narrative is more consistent, and explores more of the lore surrounding the forsaken city of Rapture. It captures the essence of the series, the horror and the majesty, and marries the two in way that makes Bioshock 2 unique, and worth returning to Rapture to relive once again.