Midway through the game, when you are learning to use your camera, which comes in handy in researching your enemies and upgrading your skills, your guide through the game, Augustus Sinclair, gives you this advice:
“Using that camera's a bit like telling a joke. Each time you tell it the same way it gets a little more stale, so you gotta change it up to keep it fresh.”
That's a very good advice. I believe game creators could use that advice as well, because making a game is like a joke as well, and if you tell it the same way for the second time, it won't feel as great as the first time, and you sure gotta change it to keep it fresh. Unfortunately, the developers of Bioshock 2 didn't heed their own advice. The gameplay is directly a copy of the first game. No, adding a multiplayer section doesn't justify using the single player gameplay of an older game. This is the fatal error of Bioshock 2. A game that could've easily been a masterpiece, but it's now only a very good game.
Before talking about the game itself, I need to point out an important thing about the first game. I'm a big fan of Bioshock and its spiritual predecessors System Shock games. Bioshock was a masterpiece in every aspect but something from one bad thing, which was not its own fault. The whole point of the game was to put you in a hard situation by having to either slaughter innocent, lovely, and beautiful Little Sisters to achieve the substance ADAM needed to upgrade your abilities, or make do with a little ADAM and face hardships along the way. If the creators could make the game the way they wanted to it would be a towering achievement in all history of gaming industry. But a little problem occurred.
Some people forgot that this is 21st century, the year 2007, when some things called democracy and freedom of speech are valued, and censorship is bad thing. They forgot that that, regressed to early age of human intellect, and went medieval on Bioshock's neck. They came screaming on the top of their lungs “THEY'RE KILLING CHILDREN IN VIDEO GAMES!” and used every means in their disposal to prevent the game. Well, the creators budged, and turned Little Sisters into monsters that look uglier than zombie kids in the first Silent Hill. Everything was spoiled. The game had suffered a powerful blow. Did I say the problem of the first game was not its creators' fault? I take it back. Have some artistic integrity damn it. Look at Rockstar. Learn something.
Anyway, the good news is, this time it's back for real. Little Sisters look like human beings. And they are really cute. They look cute, talk cute, walk cute, and climb those vents cute. You would probably wish you had a daughter in the real life, for the sheer joy you feel when they call you “daddy”. You would have to have a heart of stone to kill these darlings. However, the game is very hard (and that is advantage) and if you choose to rescue little sisters your life is considerably harder. What the first game should've been. That's hardly a compliment, though.
Most of all, I'm disappointed with the gameplay. It's that old joke that I told you about. You need to splice your genes to gain abilities and upgrades. You should use weapons and gene plasmids to defeat your enemies and advance through levels. To do these you need ADAM, as mentioned above, and ADAM is a pain to get. You should purchase gene tonics that increase a special ability, and finally, you can use a limited number of plasmids and tonics. Therefore you should manage them thoughtfully. Although this game has never been called an RPG, I think these are all RPG levels. The limit of plasmids and tonics you can purchase are limited. Also, you can carry a limited amount, and you can only swap them in a gene bank. You can upgrade your weapons in machines called Power to People, but these machines are very rare, and they shut down after each upgrade, so again, you should tread carefully. All these create a unique gameplay which is action, adventure, FPS, and RPG at the same time.
But the problem is the gameplay is exactly the same as the first one. For example; these are the plasmids you find in the first game: Cyclone Trap, Electro Bolt, Enrage, Hypnotize Big Daddy, Incinerate!, Insect Swarm, Security Bullseye, Sonic Boom, Target Dummy, Telekinesis, and Winter Blast. Among these 11 plasmids, 6 are exactly repeated: Cyclone Trap, Electro Bolt, Incinerate!, Insect Swarm, Telekinesis, and Winter Blast, while two others are the same with different names: Hypnotize and Enrage, and Security Command and Security Bullseye, are the same. Scout is the only new plasmid you get to use in this game (with the exception of another plasmid which is plot related and I won't spoil it).
The difference (or sameness) of the plasmids shows the whole problem of the gameplay: it's not deeper, more challenging, and it has not improved. A gameplay that was great in 2007 is now OK, but there are many similar games now and they can look you gameplay look pale.
Well, in the previous game, you were a normal human, while in this one, you are a Big Daddy. You have a new drill, you have a remote hack dart, and you should do Big Daddy duties as well, such as taking Little Sisters to dead bodies and collecting ADAM. But these are all trivial elements; they don't improve the gameplay. Maybe I'm meticulous, but even you will object the change in hacking. The pipe mania of the previous game, an innovative minigame, has given its place to a simple boring pointer moving across a screen while you should hit the green zone. You'll miss pipe mania, and what substitutes it is lame.
A multiplayer mode is added to the game. There are many modes that are Survival of the Fittest, a mode similar to Death Match in which you should kill more than others, Civil War which is equivalent to Team Death Match, Last Splicer Standing, in which you won't respawn after being killed, Capture the Sister which is equivalent to capture the flag, ADAM Grab, Team ADAM grab and Turf War. Normal multiplayer with Bioshock mood, which is fun to play.
I have to admit, if you don't compare the gameplay with the first one, it would be great. But about other points? For everything else I have one word: perfect.
A classic story. A masterpiece. Even better than the previous game. I would advise you to play this game and replay it just to enjoy this fantastic story.
Like the first game, this game is deeply philosophical. While the first game targeted Objectivism and the evils that could come out of this ideology; the second game targets utilitarian philosophy. Sofia Lamb, the main antagonist of the game, is the most radical possible utilitarian possible. We can watch this game as a philosophical treatise on what logical extremes of utilitarianism would look like.
The way that Sofia brings up Eleanor is very similar to the way James Mill used to bring up his genius son John Stuart Mill. I have seen a common mistake among gamers that compare Lamb with John Stuart Mill, who wasn't a radical utilitarian, was a liberal, and today libertarians look up to him as a founding figure. To John Stuart Mill a tyranny was a worst evil, and it would be sure he would oppose Lamb. But Lamb is similar to his father, and a little bit similar to Jeremy Bentham, although it's no copy. To me, Sofia Lamb is a great fictional philosopher.
The story is not cliche. The enemies are very horrifying, but unlike video game villains have good intentions. I think we can view Bioshock 2 as a great critique of tyranny and dictatorship, and therefore the game is a liberal game. What makes it great is that the game is correct; it shows the birth and rise of tyrannies accurately.
Thankfully, unlike the first game, there are emotional elements as well. This time feel sympathy towards the ever silent hero but more towards Eleanor, and therefore like a good work of art you use both your brain and heart.
If only the game had improved the gameplay as much as the story…
Originally published at Gamefaqs.com