by Stefanie Fogel
reviewed on X360
There is an early moment in BioShock 2 where you are standing on the ocean floor. Tables and chairs serenely float around you as you lumber past strange, yet lovely, ocean life and get a glimpse through a window of a Big Daddy defending his Little Sister from a pack of splicers. Then, after walking through a short cave, you see the glowing skyline of Andrew Ryan's failed utopia, the music swells, and a decaying billboard in front of you reads, "Welcome to Rapture." You can't help but stare in wonder for a few moments before continuing your journey through 2K Marin's followup to 2007's Game of the Year.
Unfortunately, that sense of wonder quickly fades and a "been-there-done-that" sense of familiarity sets in. The crumbling art deco city of Rapture is as weirdly atmospheric and interesting as ever, but much of the mystery, shock, and fear of the original game is gone. Instead, players have been given a more emotional storyline that explores the relationship between parent and child, an improved combat experience, and a heavier emphasis on moral choice.
Ten years have passed since the events of the original BioShock and the developers assume that you are familiar with the backstory of Rapture and Andrew Ryan. Although references to those events are peppered throughout the game, it makes no effort to clue in the uninitiated, who just might wonder what all the fuss is about. After a somewhat shocking opening cinematic, you wake up in a puddle of water as a prototype Big Daddy called Subject Delta. Although your existence is a bit of a mystery at first, your mission is clear: find Eleanor, your Little Sister. Since the two of you share a symbiotic relationship, your life literally depends on it. But standing in the way of your reunion is Sophia Lamb, the new leader of Rapture.
Lamb and her horde of religiously fanatical splicers, dubbed "The Family," are a foil to Andrew Ryan's Randian philosophy of Objectivism presented in the first game. Where Ryan believed in the freedom of the individual above all, Sophia Lamb is a Collectivist and believes in putting the good of the community above the individual. This new philosophy, and how it is written into the already established canon, is interesting but feels a little tacked on. The storyline feels more like an addendum than a true sequel, especially when released so closely behind BioWare's masterful epic, Mass Effect 2. Although it might be unfair to compare them, you can't help but look at one and feel that something more could have been done with the other.
Besides Sophia Lamb, BioShock 2 introduces you to a whole new cast of colorful characters and brings back one familiar face as well. The audio diaries and radio messages also make a comeback and the voice-acting is still very well done. Sound is really a standout in this game. You will find yourself pausing often to listen to the hokey music that plays during loading screens, to the mad rantings of the splicers, or to just the tinny sound of water falling onto your diving helmet.
A great deal has been made over the fact that, this time around, you are playing as one of Rapture's big, armored badasses – the Big Daddy. The first weapon you receive in the game is the iconic drill arm. Goring a splicer with it is pretty satisfying… until you look at your fuel gauge and realize it sucks up more fuel than a 747. Luckily, 2K has given you a whole arsenal to play around with.
Improved combat; excellent sound; Rapture is still one of the most interesting settings ever made...
... but the mystery and fear are gone; story and multiplayer feel slightly tacked on