My love for the original BioShock game is stronger than Superman’s ability to arm wrestle. I wrote a whole post about it. Even though it’s a grim setting, the world of BioShock charms me to no end. I love immersing myself in the universe and lore, and for those of you wondering, I even love BioShock Infinite.
As most gamers who have played BioShock will say, the weakest link in my BioShock adoration chain is BioShock 2. When asked about whether or not I liked the sequel, I have always just shrugged and said, “It was okay. Not amazing, but not bad.”
Well, after trying to replay BioShock 2 a few months ago (key phrase is “trying to”), my opinion has definitively changed.
I really don’t like BioShock 2.
As a gamer who likes to see games through to the end no matter my level of enjoyment, I found myself becoming more and more indifferent to finishing BioShock 2 until I eventually dropped it in favor of playing endless rounds of Risk of Rain 2.
Side note: Expect a future post about Risk of Rain 2. I just want to try out the multiplayer component before I type up a review/gush-a-athon.
If you have never played BioShock, this post might not mean much to you. I mean, why should you care why its sequel is such a disappointment if you’ve never played it? But if you’ve ever played a role-playing game (RPG) at some point, you’ll be able to understand my grievances well enough.
The first thing that works against BioShock 2 is that the wonder of the world of Rapture begins to fade.
In the original game, Rapture is an engrossing environment. It’s an underwater city that was meant to house artists, inventors, businessmen, and entrepreneurs in a world that functions like Ayn Rand’s wet dreams. However, as anyone who has read Atlas Shrugged and learned about the pitfalls of Objectivism knows, you can clearly see why everything went to shit. When exploring the world in the first BioShock, you’re just captivated by how terribly everything fell apart and the nuances of how a society like this could ever have functioned.
The second game takes place in Rapture as well, but there is nothing new about the principles of the place. It is still a decrepit underwater city that failed due to its selfish societal dictates. So the fascination with its downfall is lessened somewhat. In addition to that, since BioShock 2 attempts to incorporate new enemy types and environmental hazards in a world that has already established a history, every new aspect feels like a forced add-on.
The original BioShock was a crisp and unique monument. BioShock 2 added unwieldy lumps of clay to that monument.
The second thing that brings BioShock 2 down a notch from its predecessor is its premise. You play as a Big Daddy trying to reunite with his “daughter.”
Now, in the first BioShock, Big Daddies were the ultimate enemy types that a player could face. Hulking behemoths in gargantuan old-timey wetsuits that take lumbering steps that shake the floor (and your controller) as they protect their Little Sister charges, all the while moaning and groaning in a metallic fashion.
Big Daddies were the stuff of nightmares.They were a terrifying and ominous threat that you took on at your own peril.
In BioShock 2, you play as one of them, and while that might sound cool, it significantly lessens the vibe of what it means to be a Big Daddy.
Well, because suddenly, Splicers, the lowest form of enemies you can face in the BioShock franchise, can attack you with relative impunity.
It’d be as if you were playing a Lord of the Rings game, and suddenly Hobbits were giving trouble to the Ringwraiths.
However, that’s not where BioShock 2 fails the most.
The biggest turn-off for me while playing had to do with its RPG elements.
Now, the BioShock series features very light RPG elements in that you can upgrade your skill set throughout the game, slowly getting stronger, getting access to better weapons, and improving those weapons over time.
The first game handled these aspects well. You slowly built up your store of powers and gained weapon upgrades incrementally. Everything felt perfectly spaced out. Personally, I was always pumped whenever I got some ADAM so that I could upgrade my powers. And the new weapons were handed to me in unforgettable sequences that allowed me to try them out.
The second game, in my incredibly Below Average opinion, totally fudged this up.
Let me explain to you how the upgrade system works in BioShock 2.
As a Big Daddy, you need ADAM to upgrade and gain new abilities. ADAM is found in corpses scattered around Rapture, and the only ones capable of extracting it are the hideous Little Sisters. And even though you’re technically a Big Daddy, you can’t just summon up a Little Sister to follow and protect. No, you have to steal them from other Big Daddies. Once you’ve defeated a Big Daddy, you “adopt” his Little Sister, and she can lead you to corpses filled with ADAM.
Side note: Yes, the concept of taking red DNA juice from dead bodies is gross, but that’s part of BioShock’s charm.
However, it’s no small task for your newfound Little Sister to collect ADAM. For some reason, setting her down to suck up that sweet, sweet ADAM sounds a clarion call for every Splicer in a mile-wide radius to come attack you. Once you assign a corpse to a Little Sister for collection, BioShock 2 initiates this kind of defense sequence where you have to stop anyone from getting to her.
So collecting ADAM and upgrading your character becomes a long, drawn-out process that contributes nothing to the story. And to make matters worse, BioShock 2’s placement of Big Daddies and Little Sisters is super rushed.
For instance, at one point in the game, I have to confront a Father Wales. He’s this religious nut that has created a cult of followers in a section of Rapture called Siren Alley. Wales is stopping me and my character from reaching our pseudo-daughter, so he has to be dealt with. I enter Siren Alley with every intention of dealing with Wales immediately. His voice mocks me on the intercom, and I’m prepared to defeat yet another video game’s psychotic religious leader.
However, as I enter the beginning portions of Siren Alley, I see a Big Daddy leading a Little Sister along.
Any RPG player worth their salt knows that upgrading skills and gear is of paramount importance. You always tackle upgrades before diving into the story because you don’t know if and when a story mission might take you away from a place you could have gotten some much-needed skill improvements.
So what do I do?
I prepare for a Big Daddy showdown.
After defeating this other Big Daddy and taking his Little Sister, I have her lead me to as many ADAM-filled corpses as she can. Each time we find one, I prepare for the imminent onslaught of Splicers before setting her down. I lay out some traps at different entry points, buy a few health kits, and hunker down for the attack. Finally, after she’s gotten me all the ADAM she can and I’ve killed a city’s worth of Splicers protecting her, I drop her off at a vent and prepare to continue my quest to stop Father Wales.
But then my controller starts to shake and I hear the giggles of a Little Sister. Turning the corner, I see another Big Daddy and Little Sister in this very same area. I sigh, gear up for another unsatisfying Big Daddy showdown, and take his Little Sister when I’m done.
I take her to the corpses she can find me and engage in more defend-this-ADAM-collecting-machine segments of gameplay, and after two hours of playtime in Siren Alley, I have not progressed an inch in terms of advancing the story. I’m in the very same section of plaza that I was when I entered this area.
And so, after some listless slogging, I finally dropped my replay of BioShock 2.
I’m currently enjoying Risk of Rain 2 to no end.