I've been meaning to play this for some time but my Xbox 360 crapped out so I was forced to put it off until I got a new one. It's destined for being uploaded into Xbox One via Backwards Compatibility but I didn't want to wait to play. Bioshock 2 gets something of a bad rap, being a cash-in title created two extremely well-done, extremely-well-written, and (let's face it) somewhat pretensions philosophical works.
And that's me saying it, the king of "Video Games are DEEP, man."
Honestly, I think Bioshock 2's reputation is unfair because my opinion of the game is extremely positive. It's weighed down by a number of factors I'll get into but I think the developers included a lot of extremely good ideas which, if it had been allowed to develop them a bit more, would have made a game I probably enjoyed more than the original.
|So cute and terrifying.|
I'm a big fan of father-daughter narratives in these kinds of stories so I'm going to give them props for making your distressed damsel into a child rather than a girlfriend. I also am going to say how much I enjoy Eleanor, who proves to be a much more helpful and interesting character than her position might have warranted. There's some definite holes in the above story which only get vaguely explained latter and strike me as a result of a committee writing the plot rather than any single writer. "How does he survive ten years with a bullet in his head?" "It doesn't matter! Big Daddy's can for some reason."
|Rapture is creepy and beautiful as always.|
So what's good and what's bad?
Well, the biggest benefit of the game is also it's biggest weakness as Bioshock 2 really is a second helping of Bioshock. The gameplay is damned near identical and the setting is just a different section of Bioshock, which is good because both were awesome. I don't mind reusing assets as long as they're good in the first place and, personally, think this is a good thing for Triple A gaming. It's fun to shoot Splicers, kill them with Power Drills, set them on fire, and otherwise forget they're not zombies but a bunch of human drug addicts.
|Big Sisters are a great but disturbing concept.|
It also causes some serious plot holes by suggesting Andrew Ryan would ever let someone with that ideology live in his paradise when he was established as crucifying people for resistance by the end. The audio logs explain most of these inconsistencies away but I can't help but think it might have been better for Sofia Lamb to be a newcomer to Rapture--perhaps drawn by rumors of the city and organizing the aftereffects.
Even so, I don't think we've got quite the level of Deconstruction to Collectivism as we got in Bioshock with Objectivism. The basic idea the game is going for is, "if you forget about the individual in the name of the group, then you have lost all moral decency because groups are collections of individuals." It's not a bad idea at all but too much is spent on Andrew Ryan's period as ruler of Rapture so we don't get a sense of just how crazy Sofia Lamb's collectivist urges really get.
Thankfully, we do have Eleanor to serve as a focus for our outrage as it's made clear Sofia is perfectly willing to torture and abuse her own daughter because she sees no reason why said child should be anymore important than anyone else. Interestingly, I think Sofia Lamb works best as showing how Andrew Ryan's brutality and cruelty set the stage for a reactionary Anti-Objectivist movement. The culture to grow Sofia Lamb's crazy cult is purely the product of Andrew Ryan's greed, megalomania, and cruelty.
|Eleanor is a lovely character. Sort of a proto-Elizabeth.|
This is actually a funny joke if you know anything about Objectivism and I'm not sure if it's intentional or not but if it is, kudos. Basically, one of Ayn Rand's principle works of fiction is the Fountainhead which is all about an architect struggling against a society that ruined and perverted his designs.
The Big Sisters are excellent enemies but confuse me and make me wonder about their origins. It wouldn't have taken long to just say, "Okay, you didn't rescue all of the Little Sisters the last time" but the game never does that so I was left wondering if some of Jack's kids had come back to Rapture out of a perverse sense of Stockholm Syndrome.
I couldn't help but think a Little Sister doing that would have been more interesting in some respects than Sofia Lamb herself. There's also a lengthy subplot about Mark Meltzer, a man chasing his daughter to Rapture, which I thought would have been an excellent backstory about Subject Delta (i.e. the Protagonist) but turns out to be just random background flavor.
|Sofia Lamb is one of the highlights of the game even if she just the Anti-Ryan.|
Ultimately, Bioshock 2 feels more like an expansion ala Dragon Age: Awakening or other DLC than it does a wholly separate game in itself. If you want to go visit Rapture again, then this is probably your best bet vs. Burial at Sea as it's a helluva lot less likely to make you want to hurl the controller at the wall. It's also got likable characters, an okay if plot-hole filled story, and fun gameplay. Could they have done better? Yeah, probably, but I'm not going to say they did poorly either.