2K’s original Bioshock existed in some truly rarefied air, and was one of the most deserving critical and commercial successes in the entire history of videogames. As well as being a ripping first-person action game, it also took a dazzlingly varnished, almost novelistic approach to storytelling. The lost city of Rapture was an instantly engaging world, but the aural sketches of that world – drip-fed to players via some outstandingly well-written and performed audio journals – brought both a human slant and a chilling feasibility.
Well-crafted stories told without the aid of cutscenes are nothing new – Valve’s first Half Life sequel honed one to perfection 6 years ago – but Bioshock’s technique, of releasing story increments sequentially throughout the game (whilst players were busy playing it) was a masterful gratuity for both its chilly, isolated atmosphere, and its ability to covertly engage. In an era in which lethargic and unskippable cinematics continue to reign and bludgeon, it felt, and continues to feel, like the admirable path for this medium to be taking.
Not five minutes into Bioshock 2, and the eagle-eyed will be listening to the game’s second discoverable audio log. In it, a gruff, audibly irate woman berates her husband for his addiction to gene tonics, which be binges on to create the illusion of physical fitness, enabling him to spend the majority of his day indulging in a ferocious addiction to radio drama serials. The clip ends with the woman slyly suggesting that she may, “slip some brain boost into his daily tonic” one day very soon. Not only is this clip a brilliantly conceived mini-masterpiece of sheer atmosphere, it also draws yet another compelling and all-too-plausible picture of how Rapture’s population descended into utter madness in the first place.
So once again, by infusing its story with an almost kitchen-sink degree of detail, it becomes very easy to obsess over the details, and inhabitants, of Rapture. But discussing Bioshock 2 in any real detail involves the disclosure of some pretty damaging plot AND gameplay spoilers, because the sequel has some pretty bold and playful moves up it’s sleeve that every gamer should really experience first hand.
Bioshock 2 is the perfect epitome of what a sequel should be, giving fans access to the world of Rapture once again, but toying with enough elements to completely differentiate it from its predecessor at the same time. The original game’s core appeal was always very difficult to summarise, but the constant need to use strategy – largely thanks to the hefty number of weapons, each with its own shrewdly fluctuating level of ammunition – was a sizable factor. That aspect is heightened here, as plasmids and weapons can be brandished at the same time, minimising combat downtime in the heat of battle.
The only other notable changes constitute a couple of crowd-pleasing refinements. The original’s hacking mini-game has been simplified, never getting a chance to become a chore in the same way that the original did. And most pleasingly, in this sequel you’ll never once be welcomed into the circus of value.
There is also a new online multiplayer component. Fans initially feared the worst, but it has turned out to be a seriously nifty and enjoyable romp that, with mucho DLC mooted, looks like something that’ll be played for quite some time to come. With the truly daunting number of established multiplayer FPS contenders that exist in the world at this moment, those really aren’t small potatoes.
However, although you’ll stay for the multiplayer, everyone comes for the single, and what a time you will have. There aren’t any two ways about it – this is a seriously superior sequel. For gamers who love nothing more than to simply get lost in a world of pure imagination, then Rapture still has no significant competition.
Watch the Bioshock 2 trailer here…
Bioshock 2: Rapture Edition is a UK exclusive only available at zavvi.com and includes the game and a hardcover book “Deco Devolution – The Art of Bioshock 2″.