Review: Little sister, don't you do what your big sister's done
Sequels to video games aren't an uncommon concept ? almost every successful game eventually gets a new installment sooner or later. However, it seems that BioShock 2 has become the torch-bearer for the ?why a sequel?? movement. There's many understandable reasons for this mindset ? the original developers over at Irrational Games are barely involved, with the development reins handed to 2K Marin, the internal developer that handled with PlayStation 3 port of the original BioShock and the minds behind the excellent PS3-only BioShock Challenge Rooms. Also, BioShock lacked an open-ended finale; the self-contained story didn't really lend itself to a continuation of the events you participated in. However... Rapture still stands, and Rapture itself is arguably the real star of the franchise, and you have to wonder... what exactly happened down there after Jack escaped from the place (if that ending is indeed the canon conclusion)? So yes, BioShock doesn't technically need a sequel, but Rapture does, just to see the remnants of a bloody civil war. BioShock 2 is the continuing tale of an underwater utopia that quickly descended into a hellish nightmare, a place where a sane mind wouldn't be welcome.
BioShock 2 takes place nearly ten years after the original game. With Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine both dead (at your hands, mind you), the power struggle over the underwater city of Rapture is over. However, with no ?leader? and a horde of spliced-up psychos roaming what's left of the city, Sofia Lamb has somehow united them under a cult-like movement known as The Family that is all about the collective rather than the individual ? a complete opposite from the beliefs of Ryan. In addition, Lamb has been sending her ?Big Sisters? - which are really teenage Little Sisters who have become violent and unstable from years of ADAM gathering ? to the surface to ?acquire? new adolescent girls to make new Little Sisters, assuring the problems that ruined Rapture in the first place would continue. While all this is going on, Subject Delta ? the original Big Daddy prototype ? awakens from a ten-year slumber with one goal in mind: reconnect with his designated Little Sister, who is calling out for him. However, getting there will require dealing with even more violent splicers, new Big Daddies, and Sofia Lamb herself, who has a very hearty grudge against this hulking brute. The game spends very little (if any) time recapping the events of the original game ? if you haven't played BioShock, many names and events won't mean anything. In short, play that first (a good idea since the game is still one of the best of the generation) and then come back... it's for the best.
Though the protagonist goes from a ?normal? human to a genetically altered and mentally conditioned Big Daddy, BioShock 2 doesn't stray far from the mechanics and elements introduced in the first game. The new ability that separates the games is dual-wielding both plasmids and regular weapons. Rather than switching from plasmids to weapons, Subject Delta carries a plasmid in his left hand, and by default a powerful drill in his right, allowing for more maneuverability in combat. It's a necessary change, as BioShock 2 is way more combat-heavy than the original, explained in the plot by being #1 on Lamb's Most Wanted - the splicers are always gunning for you and come in packs quite often. Delta's weapons are varied and usually pretty awesome; the default drill is the equivalent of the wrench in that you can stick with the Lightning Bolt + melee attack for most of the generic splicers, though the new wrinkle is the ability to ?drill? enemies to death, a violently bloody end. The only downer is using the drill in this fashion drains oil which you then have to find scattered about or in vending machines. The Big Daddy default Rivet Gun is a flexible and fun weapon that probably will be your default gun, though the new spear gun ? which lets you pin enemies to the wall ? is a useful tool too. In addition, familiar tools like the machine gun and grenade launcher return, and can be fully upgraded at the Power to the People machines scattered about.
Many other elements of BioShock have been refined, with improved results. Rather than plasmid tonic ?tracks? that can only hold certain tonics, you have a huge pool of them ? 30 total if you buy all the slots ? to customize your loadout any way you want. Almost all the plasmids and tonics are returning favorites, though there's a few new ones that are specific to new things in the game, and a few are from the Xbox 360 DLC that came out a bit after the game released in 2007. Also greatly improved is the hacking mini-game. Fans of the original surely recall the unwieldy and annoying mini-game that was more enjoyable if you had auto-hack tools or just bought them out with Ryanbucks. Now, the game is as simple as pressing a button when a needle goes over a specific area (though you can buy them out if you're in a hurry). While you can just walk up to a safe or a camera or a turret to hack, Delta gets his hands on a remote hacking tool that fires both regular and automatic hacking darts which are essential for security weapons in the distance, or to bust open doors by shooting one into an otherwise locked room. All this happens on the fly as well ? there's no break in the action so that means Delta can be attacked by enemies during the process.
As a Big Daddy, you're not seen as a threat by the Little Sisters, which changes up the mechanic of dealing with them. Like BioShock, you get the option to ?interrupt? the gathering process by killing the Big Daddy assigned to the Sister. These fights are way more complex than the original game ? much more difficult and require a lot more trickery. Once the Big Daddy is kaput, you can either harvest the Sister for her ADAM or ?adopt? her, as she'll just see another friendly Mr. Bubbles despite witnessing you killing her previous guardian. With the Little Sister under your protection, you can immediately take her to one of the vents and perform the same ?rescue? tactic as the original game to return them to normal, or for better results, take your new friend around the stage and stand guard while she gathers from the ?angels? lying around dead. These sequences are perhaps the biggest non-boss challenges in the game; once the Little Sister gets to work, the splicers will come out of nowhere to attack you and the Sister until she is finished. These intense sequences require a bit of strategy, which is why you can even the odds by setting up traps, turrets, and, if you have them around, security bots. Doing all this nets you the largest amount of possible ADAM... a necessary evil for getting the most plasmids and tonics.
However, it comes at a cost ? dealing with the Big Sisters. If you ignore all the Little Sisters roaming about, they won't bother you. However, if you are harvesting or saving them, the Big Sis will appear when all the Sisters in a level are dealt with. These boss battles are very intense and challenging ? Big Sisters are fast and cunning, requiring a lot of trickery to get them stationary to inflict damage upon them. Defeating them nets you even more ADAM, so they're worth fighting. The only bummer is how they were altered over the development of the game. Originally it appeared that there was just one Big Sister that stalked you like Nemesis from Resident Evil 3, but it was changed to many, and they aren't the indestructible forces they initially were made out to be. More vital, you need to find a specific audio diary to explain their origins ? otherwise they kind of seem like out-of-place enemies designed to be a scarier, more agile version of Big Daddy. Still, in a more combat-heavy game like BioShock 2, they are the real tests of your combat skills.