When Andrew Ryan first made his presence felt over the loudspeaker in the original Bioshock, we knew we were in for a treat. A damaged and tortured underwater city was in front of us to explore, and with great caution, we were introduced to plasmids and other unique weaponry, along with crazed Splicers, Big Daddies and Little Sisters. More than two years since the first Bioshock was released, these terms are familiar now, as is the beautifully disastrous world of Rapture; needless to say, we were excited to be invited back for another visit, and it's led to Bioshock 2 being one of the most anticipated sequels in quite some time.
10 years have passed in-game since the first visit, and this time, rather than playing as somebody completely oblivious to the mysterious city, you play as a Big Daddy code-named Delta, who is on a something of a rescue mission. Searching for the Little Sister that you were originally bonded with, Eleanor Lamb, who is telepathically communicating to you and trying to assist you in your mission to save her. You have more free-will than the Big Daddies you regularly encounter throughout the game, who are mere bodyguards to the numerous Little Sisters that roam the city, still injecting needles into corpses to try and extract as much Adam as possible (the city's most valuable resource). It's not as easy as that, of course; you'll have Sofia Lamb (Eleanor's mother) who has a strange cult-like control over the Splicers that roam the city. They're stronger and smarter, and led by Sofia Lamb, have a drive to keep you from achieving your goal and preventing you from uncovering the dark secrets about your past and the city of Rapture itself.
As a Big Daddy, you have access to far more powerful weaponry including the massive drill which can be used to destroy enemies at close range, and a hydraulic spear gun which is not only incredibly effective, but also useful for pinning enemies to the walls for a creepy-yet-comical effect. Of course, you'll have access to a variety of plasmids as well, which can now be dual-wielded with your weapons so that you can easily interchange between your attacks; the more memorable ones remain from the first game such as Electro Shock, Incinerate and Hypnotize, along with some new fun ones that we won't spoil here. Experimenting with the plasmids throughout the course of Bioshock 2 is one of the most entertaining parts, playing around with strategies and skills to try and kill your enemies as inventively as possible.
It's not all about killing Splicers of course (as fun as it is); much like the first game, Big Daddies still roam around with their Little Sisters, and to effectively progress and get stronger, you'll need to use the Little Sisters to gain Adam; rather than the simple moral decision from the first game either requiring you to save them or harvest them on the spot, this time around as a Big Daddy, you'll be able to adopt the Little Sister and then go and collect Adam from corpses that have been left lying around the city. When the Little Sister begins to collect however, you'll have to defend her from numerous Splicers which will come fast and furious to get to her and to kill you. The reward for this is of course is much greater as you will inevitably collect more Adam this way, which can be used for upgrades - and if you still feel like being morally 'bad', you can still choose to harvest the Little Sister after you've used them to collect the goods. And yes, these moral decisions will ultimately effect the outcome of the game.
However you choose to deal with the Little Sisters, the games newest and most disturbing enemy is definitely the Big Sister; and one of these characters is easily the hardest to defeat, and the creepiest you'll come across. After choosing to save or harvest a Little Sister, you run the risk of the Big Sister coming to try and take you down. You'll hear it shrieking from a distance and a warning comes up on the screen just to let you know that she is on the way, and it creates one of the more intense moments of gameplay as you wonder desperately which angle it's going to attack from. They add an important sense of dread which, combined with Rapture's general state of madness and disarray, keep the vibe being spooky, which is otherwise lost somewhat based on the fact that you're playing as a much more physically intimidating character yourself. The Big Sisters are stronger than a Big Daddy, but also incredibly agile to the point where they will be bouncing off the walls, firing at you with plasmids the whole time. Certainly not to be messed with unprepared, because she won't hesitate to rip you a new one!
While the gameplay has certainly been refined and is more fluid this time around (plasmids and weapons can be used simultaneously and hacking is a much more simple and much less frustrating and disruptive process), if there is one thing to be said negatively about Bioshock 2, it's that the game world of Rapture does come off as being slightly less impressive this time around, more like visiting somewhere familiar rather than somewhere strange and unknown. Players of the first game will find that traversing certain areas and collecting plasmids comes off as 'going through the motions', and is less memorable and exciting. The game world that has been created is still amazing, and for those who somehow missed the original Bioshock, we can imagine the experience would be a totally different one. The graphics are impressive, and the vision of an underwater city in ruins still gave us 'wow' moments as we stopped to enjoy the scenery.
Water leaking through the walls and dripping from the roof, corpses thrown about the place and mixed messages written frantically all over the environment all add to the atmosphere. Splicers themselves also seem to have gotten even more deformed over the years, but will still take the time to converse with each other and partake in dancing with one another when not on alert. The sound has also been ramped up; from the shriek of a Big Sister to the familiar sound of triggered security bots and alarm bells, all with a classic soundtrack that has been ripped straight out of the 40's. There is a lot to love about the core design of Bioshock 2, which is the very reason why Rapture was such a marvellous place to visit in the first place, and while it may feel awfully familiar, it certainly doesn't change it from being one of the most impressively realised game worlds that has ever been created.
For those who finish up the single player campaign (which will take some serious time to get through, especially those who make the effort to hunt down every Little Sister) and are wondering what to do next, there is also a multiplayer aspect included this time around. Set before the original Bioshock, you'll be able to battle one another online using a combination of plasmids and weapons as provided. It includes a levelling system reminiscent of the Call of Duty franchise, and while it might not necessarily be enough to entice a brand new group of gamers to the franchise, it is a bit of icing on what is a fairly delicious single-player cake, and we're glad it's been included for something a bit different and for those who can't get enough of the Bioshock experience.
Being a sequel to one of the biggest games of this generation so far meant that Bioshock 2 had a lot to live up to. Critically and commercially acclaimed, there were some pretty big shoes to fill, and we're happy to say that Bioshock 2 improves on the original in almost every way. The gameplay is better, the visuals are tighter and the entire project at many times can be compared to a fine artwork when it comes to the amount of mystique and sheer nervous excitement that oozes out of Rapture on a regular basis. Whether it's the strange messages found on the audio tapes littered throughout the game or the over-the-top ramblings of Sofia Lamb repeatedly being preached, or even just the amount of time you can spend experimenting with the multiple plasmids and weapons that are, quite simply, pure and utter fun; Bioshock 2 is a must-play game, and a very worthy sequel.