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Back to Rapture
The original Bioshock was a critical smash hit which managed to combine an engrossing story with some clever game mechanics. It was an achievement that is rarely accomplished in the first-person shooter genre and the game deservedly built a huge fan base. It comes as no surprise then to find the sequel hitting stores.
Bioshock 2 is set ten years after the original game and casts you in the role of a Big Daddy. The gameplay has been refined, there is another twisting plot to uncover and the production values remain high. The sense of originality and the wonder of exploration may have waned with familiarity but this is still an excellent FPS game. And they’ve added a multiplayer mode.
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There is always a fear if something is successful that too much tweaking will alienate the fans. That definitely seems to apply to Bioshock 2, which retains exactly the same sort of gameplay as the first game. Once again you have a mixture of weaponry, plasmids and tonics to help you in your task. Once again you use Little Sisters to harvest ADAM, although this time it makes even more sense since you are a Big Daddy. Once again there is a twisting plot which meanders through the city as you battle splicers to complete each objective.
The developer has listened to the feedback and the tweaks that have been made are all about streamlining the experience and making it as accessible as possible. It is easier to flip between your plasmids, you can beef up your fairly limited weapon set with alternate ammunition and upgrades, and the hacking game has been simplified. If you haven’t played the first game it won’t be any real impediment to your progress here. Anyone who did play Bioshock will feel instantly at home.
Once again the game is about searching your environment for useful pick ups, which are littered everywhere. The progression is actually more linear this time around so there is less back tracking through the same levels. Each section plays out like a contained whole, usually with its own sub-boss. There are some new enemies to face down but you’re a Big Daddy now and you don’t need to fear anyone. As your thudding boots clump around and you fire up that massive drill it is easy to feel invincible and if you play the game on easy, you’ll find you pretty much are.
Best not to spoil the plot but needless to say it struggles to reach the heights of the original. The problem is not the quality of the writing, art or design but rather the simple fact that it is all familiar. The world of Rapture is beautifully realised but we have seen it all before and the characters at play here don’t grab your imagination quite as tightly as the original cast did. Having said that, the single player game is excellent, absorbing and enjoyable to play, enough to keep you entertained for several hours.
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The visual design of Bioshock 2 is terrific and the strangely antiquated style combined with the futuristic technology makes for a fascinating backdrop. The dieselpunk art style was so well delivered in the original game that the sequel can only build gently upon it. This is very much the same Rapture you’ll remember and even the new characters fit in as though they were always there. The standard of the environment art is excellent and the maps are generously full of things to find with plenty of nooks and crannies to search. The characters are also well modelled and animated and this decaying city is always an interesting place to explore.
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The production values are high throughout and the sound department is no exception. The music offers gameplay cues which work very nicely and it helps to build the right mood. The ambient sound effects are superb and they really give Rapture a palpable atmosphere. The the voice acting quality is extremely high: characters are brought to life convincingly and the performances are very natural.
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This plot heavy FPS features plenty of exploration and so it doesn’t lend itself to a multiplayer mode, or so you may think. Actually the multiplayer has a little story of its own and is set long before the single player story during the period of the initial breakdown in Rapture. The character select and intro are superbly handled and make for a stylish introduction.
The actual multiplayer game has the usual batch of modes including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag (or in this case Little Sister) and a few more besides. None of them stand out as original but they are quite fun. The multiplayer maps are quite well designed and the ranking system and bonus extras make the game a fairly chaotic but comical experience. On the other hand the weapons don’t really lend themselves to a good multiplayer experience and you have to rank up before you can get your hands on the goodies that make it fun to play.
The single player is worth the price of admission alone so you can view the multiplayer as an added bonus. It won’t be competing with Modern Warfare 2 or Left 4 Dead 2 even although it has borrowed a few well established mechanics, but it is worth a wee blast.
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It was inevitable that Bioshock 2 wouldn’t be able to weigh in with the same impact as the original game, which oozed originality from every facet of the environment. The changes that have been developed are generally positive steps though, and in terms of action this game offers a slicker, more action-packed experience. The story doesn’t reach the same heights and familiarity can make it feel a little tired in places, but it is so well made that it feels churlish to criticise. Bioshock 2 is a very enjoyable game with a fun multiplayer component and it offers a satisfying alternative to usual military FPS styling.