Ken Levine’s BioShock was a critical success upon its 2007 release. In an era when console games weren’t expected to have plots more advanced than what one would find in a B-movie, a mainstream release that regularly touched upon erudite themes stood out in the best way possible. Contrary to what a wary person not in tune with the medium would believe, Mr. Levine’s willingness to take his audience seriously paid off from a commercial standpoint as well. Fans and critics alike instantly recognized BioShock as a significant step forward for video game storytelling. This was a far cry from the reception System Shock 2 received wherein it wallowed in obscurity until it received recognition in various retrospectives several years after the fact. With a hit on their hands, the 2K Marin staff did what any developer would do under the circumstances: set out to make a sequel.
Helming this project was Jordan Thomas while series creator Ken Levine occasionally provided creative input. Given that the potential endings of BioShock provided airtight conclusions, the first concern Mr. Thomas found himself facing was the question of where they could possibly go from there.
“How do you bring people back to an experience and terrify them and shock them in a way that they’re not expecting, but also fulfill the many expectations they’re projecting onto it?”
Nonetheless, he decided that his game couldn’t truly be considered a sequel to BioShock unless he set it in the city of Rapture. Luckily for him, Mr. Levine had created a setting teeming with many unseen locations and untold stories that making a sequel would be viable. 2K Marin thus set out with a team of eight to create a new game, adding seventy-eight additional personnel during the peak phases of development.
Like Ken Levine before him, Jordan Thomas took a decidedly unusual approach to level design. Teams consisting of an environmental artist and a level designer worked together to design each area of the game. This was a stark contrast to the standard approach wherein developers would design the level first and hand their work over to the art teams so they could add further details. Level designer Steve Gaynor recalled in interviews that with their approach, they could ensure the environments felt like places once inhabited by people.
The public’s first exposure to this project’s existence came in the form of a teaser trailer included with the PlayStation 3 version, which was originally made available in 2008. Initial media reports suggested the title of this game would bear the subtitle Sea of Dreams. It was eventually clarified that “Sea of Dreams” only referred to the trailer and not the game itself. As the team quickly revealed, the game was to be simply titled BioShock 2. The first substantial details were revealed in the April 2009 edition of Game Informer magazine. Around this time, the marketing department launched the site “There’s Something in the Sea” as a means to virally spread word of BioShock 2. Demo footage debuted on the Spike TV show GameTrailers TV with Geoff Keighley, showcasing many features such as the ability to walk underwater.
Though BioShock was well received, certain circles criticized it for its lack of multiplayer. The first-person shooter scene had built part of its identity on multiplayer deathmatches. Quake was the game that could be said to have popularized them while Halo brought them to the console market. As a response to this criticism, 2K Marin contracted designers from Digital Extremes to produce a multiplayer component complete with its own scenario.
After much speculation, BioShock 2 was at last released worldwide in February of 2010. Like its predecessor, BioShock 2 received largely positive reviews. Mainstream outlets praised the game for ironing out the unpolished aspects of the original. At the same time, they lauded the story for building upon the foundation of its predecessor. Despite receiving universal praise, a particularly vocal subset originating from the independent circuit was a bit more skeptical. One prominent critic accused the game of being a cheap cash-in while another expressed that the multiplayer component cheapened the series’ strong narrative. Regardless, the game was a commercial success, moving three million units across all platforms by March of 2010. Despite this, Take-Two Interactive’s Chief Financial Officer noted that the game’s sales were lower than expected and also took a relatively short amount of time to slow down. Prior to its release, a Take-Two chairman stated that he expected the game to sell five million units. From this, it could be inferred that the overall reception to BioShock 2 was more mixed than an analysis of the scores it received across numerous publications would lead one to believe. Is BioShock 2 a worthy sequel or is it a transparent attempt to capitalize on its predecessor’s success?
Playing the Game
WARNING: This review will contain unmarked spoilers for BioShock 2 and the series thus far.
On New Year’s Eve of 1958, the protagonist of this game, a Big Daddy designated Subject Delta patrols Rapture with his Little Sister, Eleanor. She is quickly separated from her protector by her mother, Sofia Lamb, an ex-missionary and psychiatrist. Using a mind control Plasmid on Delta, Lamb orders him to shoot himself. The last thing Delta hears before his consciousness fades away into nothingness is the tearful protests of Eleanor.
Ten years later, he awakens in the company of Little Sisters under the control of Eleanor. Because Big Daddies are psychologically engineered to protect the Little Sisters with which they’ve bonded, Delta soon learns he needs to reunite with Eleanor. Should he fail, he will die a painful death. Rapture’s charismatic founder, Andrew Ryan, perished in 1960 during Frank Fontaine’s coup to take over the city. What remains of the once proud city is now under control of Sofia Lamb. Her ideals are antithetical to those of Ryan’s. Andrew Ryan believed in the genius of the individual, and that society’s best and brightest had carte blanche to do as they pleased without any ethical and moral compulsions. Lamb, on the other hand, believes in the power of the community, feeling Rapture’s failure is irrefutable proof that the “self” is the root of all evil and suffering.
By now, the first generation of Little Sisters has matured into adolescence. Big Sisters, as they are now known, are highly aggressive fighters under Lamb’s command. They can utilize Plasmids thanks to the generous amount of ADAM they gathered as children. Sending them out to the Atlantic coastlines, Lamb has kidnapped little girls, turning them into new Little Sisters. Knowing that what will happen should he fail to reunite with Eleanor, Delta ventures forth into the decayed city of Rapture, determined to stop Lamb’s plans from coming to pass.
BioShock 2 is a first-person shooter, though there are quite a few aspects that make it stand out as a particularly unconventional one compared to its contemporaries. The average player will notice these differences as soon as they see the interface for the first time and notice Delta has a health meter. It is the red bar located in the top-left corner. The blue bar just below it measures the amount of EVE Delta has. It’s best to think of EVE as a science-fiction analogue to mana; it is the power source from which people draw to use Plasmids. Through extensive research, Rapture’s scientists learned to alter one’s genes, allowing humans to perform incredible feats from telekinesis to shooting electricity. An outside observer could easily mistake them for superpowers.
Neither the health nor the EVE meters refill if you wait long enough; you have to proactively find methods of restoring them. When exploring Rapture, you have the option to search cabinets, containers, drawers, or any other storage units. As there is no inventory screen, Delta automatically takes anything he comes across when you allow it. As you do this, you may find food items, drinks, cigarettes, first-aid kits, or hypodermic needles containing EVE among other things.
Food items are automatically consumed upon discovering them; they restore a small amount of health. Drinks typically restore EVE. If they’re alcoholic in nature, they restore health, but decrease EVE. If you make him consume too much at once, Delta will stagger around for a few seconds. Cigarettes have the opposite effect, restoring EVE, but damaging Delta’s health.
Though there is a great variety of consumables to be found, chances are that you will be relying mostly on first-aid kits and EVE hypos to restore Delta’s health and EVE supply. Unlike food items, which are consumed immediately, Delta can hold onto a select number of first-aid kits and EVE hypos. How many he has is indicated by the numbers to the left of the respective meters. It should be noted that while Delta will automatically use a hypo if he runs low on EVE, you must manually use first-aid kits. Luckily, enemy attacks in this game rarely deal instantly fatal damage. You’re usually allotted just enough of a buffer when he is near death that getting the most out of your kits isn’t an issue. Then again, death isn’t a particularly pressing issue in BioShock 2 either. This is because if Delta falls in battle, his body will be reconstructed at the nearest Vita-Chamber.
Though you can scrounge ammunition and healing items from fallen enemies, your primary sources from which you will obtain them are going to be vending machines. There are various other machines in fixed locations that serve other purposes as well. Health Stations completely restore Delta’s health at a small cost, though enemies can use them too. If you visit a Gatherer’s Garden machine, you can expend ADAM, the volatile substance fundamental to rewriting genes, to purchase Plasmids, tonics, and other upgrades. Tonics provide passive bonuses to Delta, though he can only equip a set amount at a time. Should you wish to swap them out with the others you have collected, you can use a Gene Bank to perform this task.
If it sounds like I just described the gameplay of the original BioShock again, I can assure you it wasn’t an accident. Given that this game was finished three years after BioShock and built on the same engine, the similarities are prevalent. Because of this, one could get the impression that the only new thing BioShock 2 brings to the table is playing from the perspective of a Big Daddy. This feature could be difficult to appreciate given that Delta has roughly the same level of survivability as Jack. To be fair, Mr. Thomas and his team did pitch a quite a few new ideas – most of which succeed in polishing the gameplay of the original.
One for which I’m grateful is that the hacking minigame has been replaced with a timing puzzle. Whenever you choose to hack a machine now, a small window resembling a car’s speedometer appears onscreen. The needle moves back and forth, and your goal is to stop the needle in a green section. You must repeat the process until the machine is successfully hacked. You must be careful not to land the needle in a blank or red section. If it stops on a blank section, Delta will receive an electrical shock. Should it be unfortunate enough to stop in a red section, security robots will be activated and begin swarming you. Conversely, stopping the needle in a smaller blue section will grant you an additional service from the machine. For example, if you successfully hack a health station in such a manner, it will dispense a free first-aid kit.
On some level, I was a little disappointed that 2K eschewed the Pipe Mania-inspired minigame, but I ultimately believe it to be an improvement. Though I appreciated the hacking system in BioShock for relying more on skill than that of System Shock 2, it did lead to some pacing issues. This is because there was never a reason why you wouldn’t want to hack a machine. It didn’t matter whether you wanted to get a discount from a vending machine or save ammunition when dealing with turrets. Not only that, but it would be incredibly jarring fighting off enemies from all sides only to them to be rendered completely ineffectual when you attempted to hack a machine. In BioShock 2, attempting to hack a machine does not pause the action. This means the safest option is to deal with the enemies first.
Speaking of which, my favorite of the new items introduced is the remote hack tool. It does exactly what it says – you can use it to fire a dart at a machine. If it makes contact, you can attempt to hack it from a distance. As a measure of geniality, you can retrieve a dart from the wall if your aim is off. What is especially great about the tool is that you can collect darts capable of automatically hacking a machine upon striking it. Even better, it can place miniature turrets that automatically fire upon enemies. It’s such a simple concept, but I feel it adds a new layer of strategy to the game.
As a Big Daddy, Delta doesn’t settle for a mere wrench to use as an emergency melee weapon; the drill attached to his hand serves that purpose instead. The drill requires fuel for its conventional attack, but it can also be used to bludgeon enemies in a pinch. Rather than a pistol, Delta is given a Rivet Gun, which fires nails at high velocities. Like the Hack Tool, a majority of these weapons have three types of ammunition. The standard, common ammunition is the most plentiful, and Delta can typically carry more of it than the other two. In exchange, the uncommon and rare ammunitions tend to be marked improvements over the default varieties. By the end, Delta will find himself wielding a launcher capable of firing proximity mines and a rivet gun that can set up wire traps. Though the gameplay is similar, I do give credit to Mr. Thomas’s team credit for giving Delta a marginally different equipment loadout than Jack’s. It’s to the point where even returning weapons such as the Machine Gun are noticeably different in appearance and utilization.
It should be noted that Tonics are no longer divided into categories. With a total of eighteen slots available for them, there’s nothing stopping someone from using them all to enhance Delta’s combat capabilities. While it does discourage creating a diverse build, I like this change because it allows players to specialize Delta’s abilities. It made no sense in the original BioShock for Jack to be stuck with engineering Tonics for the final stages when they were all but useless by then. BioShock 2 doesn’t have this problem; with the simple use of a Gene Bank, you can swap out Tonics based on what the situation calls for.
Unfortunately, though the efforts to enhance the gameplay were admirable, I also have to say that quite a lot of the problems I had with BioShock exist in its sequel as well. The most notable flaw is the continued existence of Vita-Chambers. Once again, they effectively eliminate any semblance of challenge from the proceedings. There is something of an incentive for staying alive in that certain enemies can recover their health while Delta is predisposed, and the walk back to the point where he died gets tedious, but it’s still not a substantial setback – it’s not as though you lose resources by dying. That you don’t even need to activate them is rather amusing when you realize dying could potentially place Delta in an area you haven’t reached yet, effectively functioning as a shortcut – albeit a painful one.
A more general flaw with BioShock 2 is that it suffers from the same lack of polish as its predecessor. Even with the appropriate upgrades, enemies can tear through Delta’s health bar alarmingly fast. This is likely because enemies are far more maneuverable than Delta, and Splicers tend to swarm him whenever possible. It doesn’t help that the game has a bad habit of respawning enemies in areas he has already visited. Though it can be genuinely shocking, it mostly succeeds in making exploration tedious. None of these are particularly untoward design decisions by themselves, but the dank visuals brought on by the lack of natural light makes discerning what is going on in a large fight nearly impossible. Because enemies don’t drop enough ammunition to make up for the rounds you expended, you’ll find yourself buying more from vending machines during fights and making do with what you have when that’s not an option. It’s as though the true purpose of the Vita-Chambers is to make up for the minor issues the developers elected not to address.
Using the same engine and setting, that a lot of the smaller problems in BioShock manifested in its sequel is unsurprising. What is less forgivable, however, is that the developers ended up introducing new flaws. One of the biggest ones concerns dealing with the Little Sisters. Getting a Little Sister involves felling her Big Daddy guardian. While BioShock ended this process by allowing you to harvest the girl’s ADAM-producing sea slug or take just enough of the substance to return them to normal, BioShock 2 demands a bit more effort.
When you defeat a Big Daddy, you can choose to adopt his Little Sister. From here, you can lead them to ADAM-filled corpses. By setting her next to the corpse, she will begin gather ADAM. This action attracts the attention of any nearby Splicers, and it’s your goal to protect her at all costs until she is finished. In other words, the developers turned every interaction Delta has with a Little Sister into an escort mission. Thankfully, if you fail, the Little Sister will be waiting for you outside the Vita-Chamber when Delta revives. Moreover, the splicers are incapable of hurting the Little Sisters, though if they get too close, she won’t be able to extract ADAM. This is detrimental because Splicers respawn indefinitely until your Little Sister has gathered enough ADAM. Only when she has gathered ADAM from enough corpses can you lead her to a vent, which is incidentally where you can decide whether to harvest or rescue her. Though I can appreciate making players go the extra mile to do the right thing, this process only succeeds in slowing the pacing down to a crawl. It is somewhat merciful in that there aren’t as many Little Sisters in this game as there were in BioShock, but it still comes across as busywork.
A less pressing, though still irritating, issue with BioShock 2 is that you cannot backtrack. To be fair, there wasn’t much of a reason to backtrack in BioShock, and when the developers researched players’ habits, they found that an overwhelming majority of them didn’t bother doing so at any point. Taking away the ability wasn’t a terrible idea, but the problem is that each stage has a certain amount of weapon upgrade stations. There is no in-game indication to tell you how many there are in a given area, meaning if you discover their existence too late, you could potentially leave several behind. Considering there aren’t enough stations to fully upgrade each weapon, you do not want to miss a single one.
The interface for changing weapons is also a bit unwieldly. The camera from BioShock makes a reappearance, and it serves the same basic function. By capturing enemies on film, you can research them. By getting creative with your methods, the process will be expedited. In addition to providing you with hints on how to defeat them, you can also gain rewards for extensively researching them such as Tonics or new abilities. How the camera works is a bit different. While the camera in BioShock merely took pictures of enemies, the one in BioShock 2 films them. The good news is that the film never runs out and Delta automatically switches to the last weapon he was using before he began shooting. However, this only applies if you still need to research the enemy. If you miss an enemy or attempt to film one that has already been fully researched, you’re stuck with the camera, which can spell your doom if they’re bearing down on you. The latter can become a common occurrence because the dark visuals make it difficult to distinguish distant enemies at times.
More than anything, I think the biggest problem with the gameplay is the lack of balance. Though it’s not unusual for you to die multiple times in the first half, when powerful Plasmids become available, you will marvel at how much the difficulty sinks like a stone. The Incest Swarm Plasmid summons bees that not only disorient enemies, when fully upgraded, they can home in on multiple enemies at once, phase through walls, and infest corpses to repeat the process. Even better, the bees actually have tiny hitboxes, meaning they can stop fireballs and other large projectiles in their tracks. Combined with Plasmids that turn organic and mechanical foes against each other and a Tonic which restores Delta’s health when he stands in running water, you’ll be surprised you ever thought the game was challenging. It would be one thing if breaking the game involved a long, calculated set of actions you only knew about by reading a guide. As it stands, it’s so easy to break BioShock 2, I would believe it if some players claimed they did it by accident.
Analyzing the Story
Introducing elements whose existence weren’t even remotely hinted toward is one of the inherent challenges of writing a sequel to a work with an airtight ending. This brings us to the subject of Project Delta himself. One of the most iconic moments of the original BioShock was the first time Jack found himself facing off against a Big Daddy. Though these hulking monstrosities made it a habit not to cast the first stone, if you sufficiently provoked their wrath, you quickly learn they’re a step up from normal enemies. They could charge at you like a bull, draining your health in seconds. Knowing that these guardians required careful maneuvering and planning to defeat, the idea of playing as one in the sequel was a decidedly curious choice. Though not as durable as a standard Big Daddy, Delta more than makes up for this shortcoming with his human-level intelligence and ability to use Plasmids. Both of these traits allow him to dominate any Big Daddy with whom he crosses paths. Therefore, it’s strange from a pure logical standpoint that a prototype would be clearly superior to his successors.
Otherwise, I will admit Delta’s character is a solid idea. In a way, he serves as an antithesis to Jack from the original BioShock. Jack was a character who appeared to be a standard first-person shooter protagonist until around the halfway point when you learned of his mental conditioning. The reason he accomplishes his goals without question is because he had no free will of his own. This served as the impetus to deconstruct the very nature of linear gameplay. Delta, on the other hand, is a Big Daddy. With Rapture’s philosophy centering on Objectivism, the Big Daddies are engineered to mindlessly perform menial tasks dubbed beneath the common person. This is because menial laborers have no real worth in the Objectivists’ lens. Therefore, what allows Delta to exist as an effective counterpart to Jack is that by all logic, he should be a mindless automaton, yet he has much more agency than someone who appeared to be a normal human.
Things get particularly interesting when the character of Augustus Sinclair arrives on the scene and acts as Delta’s de facto mission control. Players fresh off of BioShock are doubtlessly expecting to Sinclair to betray Delta at some point. Indeed, unlike Atlas, the game doesn’t even try to hide Sinclair’s dubious past. The first few audio logs you receive strongly imply, if not outright state, that Sinclair is nothing more than a greedy con man. Furthermore, after adopting a Little Sister, he is the one who suggests harvesting them. Amusingly, Atlas’s character originally spoke with a Southern drawl, causing playtesters to distrust him and liken him to a “lecherous Colonel Sanders”. That Sinclair speaks with such an accent may have been an in-joke referencing the change.
Players going into the game might be shocked to eventually learn that the moment where he reveals he had played Delta and Eleanor like a fiddle and laughs manically never occurs. Technically speaking, he does betray Delta in the end, forcing the latter to kill him, but not willingly. Instead, what happens is that Sofia Lamb captures Sinclair, and transforms him into an Alpha Series Big Daddy – which is the line of which Delta is a prototype. Despite not being a great person, there is a surprising amount of pathos when he thanks you for ending his suffering.
The primary antagonists of BioShock, Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine, are a major reason why so many players found the narrative compelling in 2007. Though I would argue the narrative could have done a better job deconstructing Objectivism, the idea behind their characters was solid. Ryan imposed Objectivist values upon his society while Fontaine was intended to be the kind of evil that would thrive in such an environment.
Bearing this in mind, it is logical that in the wake of the Objectivists’ fall, someone representing the polar opposite philosophy would rise from the ashes, thus Sofia Lamb. While Ryan believed in the power of the individual, Lamb insists that free will is the cause of all strife in the world. Her dogmatic insistence that every person needs to fulfill their goal for society and complete lack of faith in humans to do the right thing without outside influences takes the idea of collectivism to a terrifying extreme. To achieve her twisted goals, she sees no problem kidnapping young girls, turning them into Big Sisters, and forcing people to commit atrocities against their will. Hers is a paradoxical philosophy. She believes every human as both indispensable and expendable for the sake of allowing her world to exist as she feels it should.
Though I think the concept behind her character is good, I have to admit that after Ryan and Fontaine, she’s a step down. Obviously, the biggest issue is establishing how she went the entire first game without being mentioned. The justification is that Ryan erased all information about her; coincidentally, it was just before Jack arrived in Rapture. Though such an action is hardly out of character for him, it’s a rather tenuous explanation. Given how many audio logs exist in Rapture that mention her or contain actual voice samples, it seems a little too convenient that Jack never happened upon one. It also doesn’t seem very likely that after Ryan’s death, Lamb had her lackeys strew the appropriate audio logs all over the place. Rapture’s downfall occurred just before the events of BioShock, and as the rusty emblem that adorns the game cover reinforces, it has been in ruin for eight years.
The bigger problem with Lamb is that she just isn’t a great villain. She lacks the charisma of her predecessors, and without an easy method of keeping Delta in check, the questions she proposes to him come across as the inane, cookie-cutter, high-class villain speeches the average media consumer has experienced countless times in the wake of Anthony Hopkins’s legendary performance as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Exacerbating matters is that the gameplay itself simply does not reinforce her as an effective villain. Given the Vita-Chambers’ existence, it’s only a matter of time before Delta comes knocking at her door. Only when Delta reaches Eleanor does Lamb think to use the pragmatic option by smothering her own daughter, albeit with the intent to place the Big Daddy in a coma rather than to kill him.
From a gameplay standpoint, the final chapters leave a bit to be desired. It mainly consists running around a slightly non-linear level, looking for switches to flip. This is followed up with a section in which you must defend an escape submarine. By this point in the game, you likely have more money than you know what to do with, incredibly powerful Plasmids, and plenty of ammunition, rendering the final wave of enemies trivial. Coupled with the aforementioned balance issues, finishing the game eventually becomes a formality. You do receive a Plasmid capable of summoning Eleanor, who is clad in the Big Sister armor by this point in the game, but it’s still anticlimactic.
Having said that, there are a few things about the ending I thought were quite clever. Just like in BioShock, which ending you get depends on how you dealt with the Little Sisters. Anyone who played BioShock will know this – the only question now is how rescuing or harvesting the Little Sisters impacts the ending. As it turns out, Delta’s connection to Eleanor is a two-way street. The actions Delta takes to reach Eleanor influence her personality. Electing to rescue the Little Sisters causes her to become an empathetic person. Alternatively, if you harvest the Little Sisters, she turns into a sadist who delights in the suffering of her enemies.
I appreciate the amount of nuance that went into the endings as well. There are three points in the game in which you must choose whether to show mercy on an enemy or execute them. You’re given compelling reasons to murder them in cold blood, and what you decide to do with them affects the fate of Sofia Lamb. Eleanor angrily confronts her mother at the end of the game, and if you execute at least one of the antagonists, she will kill her. Conversely, if you spare all of the antagonists, she lets her mother live. What makes this particularly intriguing is how the reasons why Eleanor sparing or killing Lamb change depending on your interactions with the Little Sisters. If you harvested all the Little Sisters, but spared the three villains, Eleanor showing mercy to Lamb has an air of extreme cruelty to it. She keeps Lamb alive so she can spend the rest of her life lamenting her failure. On the other hand, by saving all of the Little Sisters and executing the villains, Eleanor kills Lamb, saying that through her connection with Delta, she learned how justice should be applied.
Tragically, no matter what ending you get, Lamb’s final trap mortally wounds Delta. There are several games in which a scripted event killing the protagonist comes across as a cheap attempt at shock value. This is usually because these scenes run counter to the game mechanics. If a soldier could absorb half a clip of ammunition, why is a single shot from a pistol enough to take him down all of a sudden? Why can I not revive this dead character when I have before? However, for all of the problems BioShock 2 has, this development was well executed. Not only is Delta’s cause of death believable, what happens next ensures his efforts weren’t a waste of time. If he harvested all of the Little Sisters, Eleanor will forcefully steal Delta’s essence with the implication that an unstoppable monster is now unleashed upon the world. Rescuing all the Little Sisters naturally makes this scene much more heartwarming. Delta willfully gives up his essence to Eleanor, allowing him to live on as her conscience, always guiding her to do the right thing. While BioShock 2 may not have had a twist as impactful as that of its predecessor, Mr. Thomas’s easily surpassed Mr. Levine in the art of sticking the landing.
Drawing a Conclusion
I have to admit I was going into BioShock 2 not expecting much out of it. Although its reception was positive overall, independent accounts made it out to be an unambitious game that shouldn’t have been made. This interpretation only seemed to be reinforced when Ken Levine returned to the series and eventually excised the events of BioShock 2 from the canon |– or at least in some universes|. Though I can agree that BioShock 2 is a step down from its predecessor and it is indeed a token sequel in the strictest sense of the term, I think there’s a little more to it than fans give it credit for. It may have a comparatively underwhelming villain and go through many of the same motions, yet there are plenty of story beats I really enjoyed. Though they weren’t always successful, I could tell Mr. Thomas’s team sincerely wanted to build on the original game. This did mean that they introduced new, arguably out-of-place elements out of the blue to what was by all accounts a self-contained story. Even so, I think they played with the cards they were dealt fairly well.
So if BioShock 2 isn’t the black mark on the franchise certain fans believe it to be, some of you are probably wondering how it got such a bad reputation to begin with. Given the popularity of the auteur theory among independent critics, I can believe that they declared BioShock 2 to be a waste of time simply because Ken Levine wasn’t involved. Though I have admittedly seen a few franchises suffer without their original creator’s input, it’s not always a guarantee that the quality is going to slip. Sometimes, the new blood is more than capable of sustaining what makes a series so good. In fact, I’ve personally witnessed plenty of instances in which franchises improved after their creators left them to other people. The belief that only the creator is allowed to work on their franchises often leads to inaccurate assessments. Among other things, it ignores the reality that their presence is no guarantee that bad ideas won’t be implemented.
After everything has been said and done, the final question is where I stand when it comes to recommending it. I feel the answer boils down to how much you liked BioShock. If you found you couldn’t appreciate the narrative of the original due to its decidedly unpolished gameplay, I’ll just say right now that BioShock 2 has practically no chance of changing your mind. On the other hand, if you did enjoy BioShock, BioShock 2 is an easy recommendation – just go into it with the intent of forming your own opinion. Despite being rough around the edges, BioShock 2 is a decent sequel to BioShock, and it has quite a bit to offer those willing to give it a chance.
Final Score: 5.5/10