When the city of Rapture was first unveiled, it was an underwater dystopia ravaged by civil war and self-destructive genetic manipulation. This strange and unforgettable world was also one of awe and wonder. Set nearly a decade after the events of its precursor, BioShock 2's Rapture is just as haunting and atmospheric the second time around (and perhaps even more so), but the sunken tomb of Rapture has lost much of the mystery that made it so memorable. Everything seems a bit too familiar, and the story that accompanies your journey is not as impressive or shocking as the original. Despite this, BioShock 2 plays host to several enhancements over the first, including an expanded set of moral dilemmas, improved shooter mechanics, and a surprisingly fun and engaging multiplayer mode. Whether or not you've experienced Rapture before, BioShock 2 is an all at once beautiful, disturbing, and thought-provoking experience that stays with you after you've shut it off.
"Fallen, fallen is Babylon." Scrawled across the wall above a board covered with photographs, these words greet you in the waterlogged, decaying opulence of Adonis Spa after you awaken. Ten years have passed since the surprising events of BioShock 2's opening cinematic, and you're a man with a mission: to find your Little Sister. As Subject Delta, one of the original Big Daddy protectors first introduced in BioShock, you were pair-bonded with a Little Sister named Eleanor Lamb through a love that could literally kill you. Your mutual desire is to be reunited, but Eleanor is now being held captive by her mother, Sofia Lamb, the new master of Rapture. As an altruist and collectivist, Lamb is the diametric opposite of Andrew Ryan, the wealthy industrialist who founded Rapture as a place where mankind could be unfettered by petty morals, the hand of government, or the word of God. As an antagonist, she lacks Ryan's charisma and larger-than-life presence, but her personal philosophy and particular brand of madness nonetheless provides an interesting, if heavy-handed, alternative to his.
Though it is essentially a first-person shooter, the key component of BioShock 2 is its story, and while it features a powerful and compelling narrative with a satisfying conclusion, it is not without its issues. Whereas much of the first game focused on the city of Rapture and the mystery of how it fell from grace, BioShock 2 barely touches on these aspects, and as a result, prior knowledge is required to fully understand what is happening. There is supplemental reading on the big details buried within the menus for those who need it, but unfortunately, this isn't effectively brought to your attention. Furthermore, there are a number of inconsistencies present that are never satisfactorily explained. These range from small, nagging issues with the way certain story-based gameplay elements or characters from BioShock were grandfathered in, to larger problems with your very existence as a Big Daddy. It never becomes clear why you alone among the Big Daddies can use plasmids, for example. And while your pair-bond with Eleanor lightly manifests throughout the game, there is never any emotional connection there to latch hold of--the only reason you have to pursue her is that you're explicitly told you need to find her.
Standing between you and your Little Sister is The Family, Lamb's semireligious cult of splicers, or former citizens of Rapture whose years of abusing a genetically enhancing drug called ADAM has granted them superhuman powers at the cost of their sanity. The years have not been kind to the splicers, who are far more warped and disfigured than ever before. They're also more dangerous now, having spent the last ten years honing and refining their predatory skills and abilities. Most of the splicers you encounter, such as creepy wall-climbing spiders and teleporting houdinis, are recognizable from the first game, but they’re now joined by brutes, who can ruin your day with a charging tackle or a thrown piece of concrete. To keep up with these dangerous freaks, you have no choice but to splice up yourself to increase your potential and unlock new abilities. This means you need ADAM of your own, which is where things get interesting.
As a Big Daddy, you're only too familiar with the way that ADAM is obtained: the Little Sisters. Making regular rounds in Rapture, the adorable but intensely creepy Little Sisters seek out ADAM-rich corpses (which they lovingly refer to as "angels") to drain with their wicked-looking needles. Each Little Sister is guarded by a Big Daddy, and unfortunately, there's no secret handshake that will get a Big Daddy to part willingly with his tiny charge--you've got to put him down. Once the two have been separated, it's up to you to decide what to do with the little girl, who cries in mourning of her surrogate father. As a Big Daddy yourself, you can lift her lovingly onto one shoulder and become her new guardian, or you can ruthlessly slaughter her for ADAM on the spot--an act made all the more cruel and unforgivable by your circumstances. By choosing the former, you can help your adopted Little Sister continue her rounds, earning a nice ADAM bonus in the process, but you're really only delaying the big decision. Do you choose to be selfish and harvest her? Or will you choose to be selfless and rescue her from her ghoulish condition? Each choice offers a different degree of ADAM as reward, but no matter what you decide, sooner or later Big Sister is going to catch up with you. These grown-up Little Sisters have been retrofitted with armor inspired by their guardians, and they are fast, powerful, and angry at you for messing with their pseudo siblings.
With enough ADAM at your disposal, you can spend it splicing up your DNA with plasmids to gain access to psychokinetic powers, such as the ability to throw fireballs, generate decoys that draw enemy fire, or shoot bees from your hands. You can also purchase gene tonics to enhance yourself with a wide variety of passive traits like faster movement speed, immunity to electrical damage, or quieter footsteps. Your combat options aren't strictly limited to genetic mutations, however, because there is an extensive arsenal of more traditional projectile weaponry for you to find as well. Each gun you find can dish out some serious damage to marauding splicers, from the bolt-launching rivet gun and the shoulder-mounted launcher to the .50 caliber machine gun and the deadly spear gun. Each gun also has multiple types of ammunition that you can switch between depending on the situation. As you journey deeper into Rapture, you'll have opportunities to upgrade both your guns and your plasmids, and there's a much greater sense of improvement this time around. Plasmids gain secondary and tertiary abilities, and weapons receive bonuses, such as the power to zap and stun foes with electricity.
Much like its predecessor, BioShock 2 is slower and more methodical than your average shooter, but combat feels much more natural and effective than it ever did before. Most noticeably, you now duel-wield plasmids and guns, which allows you to dish out damage using both simultaneously or keep up an active defense with one hand and an offense with the other. Though setting traps was a useful tactic in BioShock, there are more compelling reasons to do so now because many more high-profile encounters are player initiated. Setting down an adopted Little Sister to guzzle ADAM, for example, summons a horde of splicers looking for a fix, and fortifying your position with proximity mines or trap rivets can take you a long way toward weathering the storm. When dealing with roving packs of splicers, there are often a number of ways to approach each battle. If you're short of patience and have plenty of health, you can rush in guns blazing and hope for the best. If you're a bit stealthier, you can catch your foes unawares and take them out before they even realize it. You can also promote infighting with the security command and hypnotize plasmids or even hack security cameras or sentry turrets for extra help (the Pipe Dream hacking minigame is gone and replaced by a much more streamlined version). Finally, the research camera returns in video recorder format--simply set the camera rolling and eliminate your enemies on tape to learn new abilities over time all while experimenting with different attack combinations to keep things fresh. This new setup is easier to use than the previous method, but you've got to juggle your weapons around because the camera must be temporarily equipped in place of a gun to activate it, which can be distracting during a firefight.
Rapture is an underwater city full of wonder and amazement that is steeped heavily in the architectural styling of the art deco movement. The entire city is a monument to the ego--specifically Andrew Ryan's ego--which is a notion so contradictory to the guiding principles of Lamb and her Family that they find it necessary to desecrate it at every turn. The cryptic messages about rebirth and their accompanying butterfly motifs that are found everywhere greatly add to the haunting atmosphere of Rapture. At the other end of the spectrum are the bright and cheery crayon-drawn messages that Eleanor leaves you like a trail of breadcrumbs, each of which warms the heart. But when you see them in the context of their surroundings, they are creepy and disturbing. Rapture is a dark, dismal world that envelopes you with a blanket of isolation--excellent art direction, a great soundtrack, and a fantastic voice cast all team up with a powerful story to create an atmosphere so thick and intense that it is at times downright chilling.
Besides its 10-to-12 hour-long single-player campaign, BioShock 2 also features a fun and entertaining story-based multiplayer mode set during the fall of Rapture. As one of a handful of pre-insanity splicers, you've joined the Sinclair Solutions Consumer Rewards Program for self-defense to test experimental weapons and plasmids in the war between Andrew Ryan and his archenemy Atlus. Most multiplayer matches support up to 10 players, and they're much faster paced than the single-player game--so much so that it'll likely take you a while to get accustomed to it. With maps set in familiar, albeit less ruined, locales from the first BioShock, multiplayer features seven game modes that are takes on standard shooter multiplayer types. Capture the Sister, for example, involves carrying around a crying, screaming, and angry Little Sister for as long as possible before you're killed and she's kidnapped by another player. In other modes, you can become a lumbering Big Daddy if you happen to find a suit lying around or are picked at random. Multiplayer matches are fun and challenging, and this unorthodox addition to BioShock 2 can breathe additional longevity into the game.
All players have a persistent rank based on the amount of ADAM they've earned by winning matches and completing secondary objectives like hacking turrets, booby-trapping vending machines, or taking creeper photos of the bodies of their fallen enemies (which has the side effect of granting you a damage bonus against that player). Your rank determines which weapons, plasmids, and gene tonics are accessible, and you organize these into one of three loadouts you can select before a match begins or between respawns. Loadouts can and should be customized for different situations, and while you're dead, it's possible to check out what combinations the other players are using. Reaching certain ranks also earns you new voice recordings left by the multiplayer characters themselves, which provide their intriguing insights into the civil war and their downfall into madness.
Andrew Ryan dreamt of a world where his fellow man could endlessly pursue self-happiness and self-fulfillment, so he chose the impossible--a city beneath the oceans. When given the opportunity, the citizens of Rapture chose self-destruction in their selfish and twisted pursuits of his ideals. Precisely what you choose to do when you are beholden only to yourself and your own moral constraints is the backbone of BioShock 2. Rapture may not be as mysterious and intriguing this second time around, but it is nonetheless host to a powerful and moving tale that allows you to better realize--or pervert--Ryan's principles at your own discretion. Regardless of whether or not this is a return visit to paradise lost, there is plenty to be found here to make it a worthwhile, meaningful, and compelling one.