Format: Xbox 360 (also available on PS3 & PC)
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: 2K Marin
Expect to pay: £5 - £10
Bioshock 2 looks great, but then so did the original and this makes use of the same engine. While you do return to Rapture, time has moved on a little and so there are new plasmids (genetic enhancements that bestow you with super powers such as the ability to throw fireballs), splicers (denizens of Rapture who have screwed up their genetic make up, and are intent on killing you) and types of Big Daddy (the giant, diving-suit wearing protectors of the freaky Little Sisters, of which you are one). I especially like the combination of freezing somebody in ice and then smashing them to little pieces with a blast from the double barreled shotgun.
From time to time you will find yourself submersed underwater and stomping around amidst all the little fishies and other sea life. You don't have access to your weapons during these interludes, they're more there to add atmosphere to the game and give you a brief breather as you transition from one part of the city to the next. The story takes you through half a dozen or so locations from amusement parks through to shopping boardwalks and the like. The environments all look very nice but are quite self contained and feel just like levels of a video game, rather than a living breathing city (I'm told the segue from one section to the next was more subtle in the original game). All in all though, Bioshock 2 is definitely no slouch where the visuals are concerned.
Sound and Music: 8 out of 10
Bioshock 2 is also a solid performer in the audio stakes, from the voice over work, to the noise of the weapons, the shrieks of the Big Sisters, and the score. Armin Shimmerman (Quark, Principal Snyder) reprises his role of Andrew Ryan (albeit in the form of various recordings and automated amusement rides, as your character bumped him off in the first game). The English accent of the young Eleanor doesn't sound quite right in my opinion but this is pretty much the only problem I have with the audio.
Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
The first few chapters of the game ease you in gradually, reintroducing you to the concepts of plasmids, gene tonics, Big Daddies, Little Sisters and the like. Within a few chapters, you will have the ability to throw bolts of lightning (stunning splicers, or killing them outright if they happen to be standing in water) and set people on fire, as well as getting the rivet gun. As you proceed, more and more weapons are made available to you, and a wide array of active plasmid powers, and passive gene tonics and made available to you via special Gatherer's Garden vending machines. The currency used to buy new abilities isn't cash, but genetic material called Adam.
You can obtain this goop by finding another Big Daddy out in the wild with a Little Sister in tow, bumping him off and adopting her as your own. She will then sit on your shoulder, until you decide to send her out to find and extract Adam from corpses. The moment you set her down, you will be attacked by splicers until she is done, so it's best to set up defenses before you begin. You can use various methods to protect yourself, such as hacking any missile or machine gun turrets so that they fight for you, doing likewise to security cameras which then send out armed drones on your behalf, or setting down special "trap rivets" that stick to walls and ceilings and fill enemies with shrapnel the moment they activate them. Once the quota of Adam has been gathered, you can scoop up the Little Sister again and repeat the process one more time. After this, you have to decide whether to save the Little Sister, or do something nasty to her that yields more Adam, but definitely makes you a bad person.
This decision as well some others related to the objectives throughout the main storyline dictate which of several ending variations that you will get to see. It's a little bit of a binary choice but it at least gives you a reason to play through the game a second time to hear different reactions to your behaviour from the NPCs and see a different ending. On top of all this single player action this is a completely separate multiplayer mode which I dabbled in a little. It's pretty solid and appears to have a decent amount of people still playing it, but can't really compete against the likes of Call of Duty or Halo: Reach.
There are obviously a lot of clever ideas in Bioshock 2 but most of them originated from the original game, including the research camera that improves your skills against certain types of enemy the more you film them with it. The general consensus from people who have played both games is that the first one was better, but the second is still as worthwhile purchase fans.
Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10
As this blog is aimed at real gamers who spend their actual hard earned money on games, the fact that is game can currently be snapped up for a fiver means it scores pretty big in this category. As mentioned you can play the game at least twice to see the different story outcomes, and after that there's still a perfectly decent multiplayer mode to while away some time with.
Overall: 8 out of 10
I really enjoyed playing Bioshock 2, for the atmosphere, the action and the way you can pick and choose your plasmid/gene tonic load out to play the game the way you want to play it. I may well go back and play through the first game properly now, but it is still surprisingly expensive to pick up, compared to its sequel. I also look forward to the next game, Bioshock Infinite, which takes the franchise into the skies. Whether the story has any ties to the events in Rapture remains to be seen.