The triumph of the ego versus the power of the collective. A ruined underwater city packed with murderous, genetically enhanced freaks. A clash of ideals and an unbreakable, if creepy, bond between father and daughter.
Admit it—it’s not exactly the stuff you expect to find in your standard-issue save-the-world shooter game. Then again, the Bioshock series was never standard-issue—and neither is installment two, which proves as unsettling and unforgettable as its predecessor.
Set 10 years after the horrific events of the first game, you’re now viewing the wreckage of Rapture from behind the glass faceplate of the recently reawakened Subject Delta, one of the earliest efforts to create the Big Daddy, the diving-suit clad monsters that stalked the halls of Rapture.
And things are worse than ever. Andrew Ryan, the industrialist who created this would-be underwater utopia, was an unapologetic objectivist, a man who believed in unfettered profit and the triumph of the self. Now that his misguided social experiment has imploded in a bloody mess of greed, mutation and murder (is anyone really surprised?) he’s been supplanted by the icy psychologist Dr. Sofia Lamb, a woman who wields a brutal and Orwellian collectivism. Oh, and her army of Big Sisters, lithe and deadly killing machines who don’t like being crossed.
If high-minded social philosophy forms Bioshock 2’s backbone, it’s the emotional kick that lingers. Everything hinges on the mysterious bond between Big Daddies (in this case, you) and Rapture’s Little Sisters, the creepy girls who harvesting the gene-boosting ADAM from corpses. You don’t learn your identity, or even your name, until very late in the game, but you know one thing right away—you’ve been separated from your Little Sister and you have to find her…even if she also happens to be Dr. Lamb’s daughter.
The fact that you can now adopt other Little Sisters you encounter and defend them as they happily harvest ADAM makes the inevitable, soul-scarring choice from the first game even harsher: Will you set them free and sacrifice the ADAM they carry, or kill them and fast-track your way to a new set of plasmid powers?
Rapture itself is as deadly and vibrant as it ever was, and you get to see even more of its neon, art-deco sheen this time around. Several sequences—looking up into the Rapture skyline and seeing schools of fish swirling, taking a tour through Rapture’s history in the underwater amusement park—will take your breath away.
As amazing an experience as it is, not all the rivets in Bioshock 2 are as tight as they should be. As a Big Daddy, you ought to be nigh-unstoppable; instead, you’re oddly underpowered through most of the game’s first acts. The massive drill that resides where your right hand should be sure looks menacing, but it runs out of gas faster than a Hummer with a leaky tank. Splicers, those citizens of Rapture who’ve sacrificed their sanity and beauty to countless ADAM hits, can take you out with one or two melee swipes. Good thing there’s a resuscitating Vita-Chamber around every corner—this is adventure worth coming back from the dead to experience.