‘Bioshock 2’ more rehash than sequel

A new scary monster in Rapture, the Big Sister. It’s important to qualify my following complaints about Bioshock 2 by saying that I loved Bioshock and played it through no fewer than three times.

For a sequel, Bioshock 2 does a lot of things right. It recaptures the feel of the first game while presenting new locations and a storyline that moves in interesting directions. It improves on some of the more annoying aspects of the original in organic ways that make sense.

So I loved it for a lot of reasons. I played it zealously because the tone and story are as engaging as they were in the first iteration of the game. And the gameplay, while largely the same, is just as fun as it was in the first game as well. It isn’t broken, so publisher 2K Marin hasn’t bothered to try to fix it much.

Set 10 years after the first Bioshock, the game takes players back to Rapture, the city built by laissez-faire-touting billionaire Andrew Ryan to be a haven for science, art and business uninhibited by pesky morals, society or gross poor people.

Along the way, Rapture’s scientists discovered Adam, a substance that lets people rewrite their DNA, and suddenly the economy of the city turned from oxygen and food to splicing, or using Adam to make people better-looking or give them special abilities – like telekinesis or the ability to throw lightning bolts.

Splicing drove Rapture-ites insane, and Adam became the most precious commodity in the place. People were dying, and the Adam in their bodies was going to waste.

So the guys running Rapture made some monsters: Little Sisters, who can reclaim Adam from dead bodies, and Big Daddies, who protect Little Sisters.

Enter Subject Delta, one of the first-ever Big Daddies. He was killed and his Little Sister was stolen back from him by her mother, psychiatrist Sofia Lamb.

You wake up as Delta 10 years later with a burning desire to find your Little Sister, Eleanor. Because if you don’t, the psychological conditioning the scientists implanted in your brain will make you slip into a coma and die. Nevermind just yet how Delta happens to be alive right now. It’s time to smash your way through Rapture and find Eleanor.

Unfortunately, the whole game could stand to be creepier, like this Little Sister's doll. My major problems with Bioshock 2 are that it fails to go far enough. The story, while still cool, is far less engaging than that of the first game. Instead of a stunning revelation with a backdrop of discovery – finding out how a city built beneath the ocean fell into utter murderous chaos – 2 is much more “do this, do that, because you have to.” The first game imparted a sense of moral obligation to you for much of the game; you were looking to escape and you were helping allies to do the same. Now, you’re hunting Eleanor because that’s what you do, The End.

And you’re supposed to be a Big Daddy – essentially an unthinking Frankenstein monster whose sole function is to kill things that threaten the Little Sister.

It might be difficult to make the player feel like a brainless zombie, but Bioshock 2 doesn’t even really try to do so. Stylistically, tonally and thematically, this is virtually the same game as the first iteration. The bummer of that is, for people who’ve already played Bioshock, there’s not a whole lot new going on here.

The other thing that’s always bothered me about Bioshock, and which is therefore a problem in 2, is that the horrors that descended on Rapture don’t seem to affect the player’s character. You spend all of both games splicing up more than most of Rapture’s denizens, hitting people with lightning, fire, even bees that come out of a hive created in your forearm. Yet the player receives no abnormal effects: no homicidal mania, no deformed face, no hallucinations. I wish 2K had chosen to push the envelope further.

Bioshock 2 makes playing the game a little easier and a little more fun – you can use Plasmids, your gene weapons, at the same time as firearms, instead of switching between lightning and shotgun as in the first game. This dual-wield action lets you pull off some nasty combos and suit your weapons to the situation a lot better than in the previous game. Basically, it makes the game easier and more fun to play.

The multiplayer mode puts you in the shoes of a splicer during Rapture's civil war. The big change for the sequel is the addition of a multiplayer mode, which, like all first-person shooters, lets you murder other players over the Internet. Bioshock 2 has the added benefit of letting you use telekinesis, pyrokinesis, lightning and the like to do it.

That doesn’t really make Bioshock 2’s multiplayer all that different from that of any other game.

All the standard bases are covered – team-based combat, free-for-all modes, a keep-away mode and a territory mode. This is all standard fare in a game of this type and nothing about Bioshock stands out.

It’s the reward system that makes the multiplayer worth playing. The more you play, the more bad guys you kill, the stronger your character becomes and the more access your character has to better Plasmids, gene therapy and weapons.

And Bioshock rewards you for doing random other things too – like hacking machines, collecting vials of Adam scattered around each level, capturing Little Sisters, even performing “research” on dead enemies to get a damage boost against them – which is nice, because every game you play in, regardless of whether you play poorly, lets you advance your rank and eventually earn new stuff.

It’s fun – that’s important to remember – but a whole new installment of what is largely the same game is tough to swallow. Bioshock 2 does have a lot of the original’s greatness, and with some friends on board the multiplayer can be a good time, but for players who don’t intend to make a big commitment to the game, this is a rental that can be completed in a little less than a week.