New Tonic: Reverberations From Bioshock 2

Eurogamer editor Tom “Tom Bramwell” Bramwell has been delving into Bioshock 2, and – following a trip to 2K Marin – he’s been kind enough to unload some of his head-meat into our blog. Read on for hot diggity.

Hello, Role-Playing Shooters! Remember BioShock? They’re making another one. Seeing as I’m a bit of a regular in Rapture, Jim asked me if I’d be willing to write something about it on my next trip to the surface, and I said I’d be delighted. Either that or I got drunk and offered. I can’t remember, and it doesn’t matter.

BioShock 2 appears to be working very well. All that stuff about the Big Sister that they said in April? Misdirection. The big baddy in BioShock 2 is a woman called Sophia Lamb – a former political adversary of Andrew Ryan and a staunch collectivist. The Big Sisters are her chief henchwomen – dainty monsters who turn up to give you a thrashing if you ever harvest a Little Sister or help one of them escape from the world. Whatever Lamb’s up to, it depends on keeping the ADAM ecology turning over, which means splicers splicing, Little Sisters ripping out their ADAM, and you not interfering.

Pretty simple stuff by BioShock’s standards, but of course it gets more complicated. There’s Augustus Sinclair, for example, an opportunistic man who plays the Fontaine role, absent the quest for world-domination. He’s your guide in the sections I’ve seen and played, Atlassing it up on the radio. There’s Dr Tenenbaum, who apparently left Rapture then came back once Lamb had gotten in and started rebooting the Little Sister system that Tenenbaum had worked so hard to dismantle with Jack.

Then there’s Andrew Ryan, reaching from beyond the grave, filling you in about Lamb and all the rest of it through audio logs and sometimes elsewhere. In the rather enjoyable Ryan Amusements level I got to play, for example, he booms out of museum exhibits which have been built to showcase the various tenets of objectivism to Rapture-born children, who might otherwise fancy going to the surface one day.

Your quest in the game, as the prototype Big Daddy unveiled earlier this year, is to cross Rapture and locate the Little Sister who you were bonded to 10 years ago. She’ll be in her teens now (or possibly more, considering Jack), and half the population we’ve seen so far appears to worship her. Her name is Eleanor, incidentally. “Poetic.”

2K Marin’s creative director Jordan Thomas told me that he wants to replicate the ideological tension that was the core of the first game. Good start. From everything I’ve seen and heard from the man, in person and over the internet, he seems to get what this BioShock lark is all about. (Of course, we all thought he might, given Fort Frolic, but there’s always suspicion when the developer name changes from original to sequel, innit.) He says lots of things which sound right: “I find sympathetic villains far more interesting”, “BioShock is a game that doesn’t judge”, “I think that it’s a mistake to say that because something is of the id, that it is not deep”.

On the fools-you-drop and what-guns-does-it-have front, it’s a bit more sequel-y. You can wield plasmids at the same time as guns, as you know, and that’s pretty cool, and there are all sorts of combinations you can do by experimenting. Geysers, which thrust splicers into the air, can be iced so that the splicers get frosted on the way up and smash to pieces when they come back down. Different ammo types really change up each gun’s abilities, too. In general there seems to be more of an emphasis on those “make preparations and get sieged” bits from the first game, whether it’s taking on a Big Daddy, protecting a Little Sister while she harvests, or fending off a Big Sister. And no, the protecting-the-Little-Sister bits are nothing like BS1’s escort mission.

They’ve also ditched the Pipe Mania stuff in favour of a sort of “hacking gun”, which is simpler (just press a button when a needle hovers over a certain colour on a little handheld gizmo) and doesn’t take you out of the game. Hacking fans can also get a new tonic that allows them to lay down waypoints for sentry bots. Hot.

What else? There’s a new Big Daddy, the Rumbler. He tries to control his immediate environment with turrets and long-range explosives. There’s also a Brute splicer, who moves like a gorilla and packs as much of a wallop as some of the original Big Daddies, I reckon. Altogether, it feels like BioShock 1 with a different story and “1.5” systems. So not that exciting? Well, the funny thing is, I went into all this assuming we make greater demands developers that aspire to The Looking Glass Thing than we might do of those with lesser ambitions, but on the other side of it I realise I’m actually happier to make concessions, because this sort of game comes around so infrequently. If you offered me BioShock again with a different cast of characters, motivations and influences, and a few tweaked systems, I’d take it.

Perhaps that’s because, when it comes to BioShock, significant narrative growth may be less bullet-pointy and perceptible than Some More Guns, but it’s a fitting evolution for the game, the sub-genre and indeed the form. Or perhaps I’m just soft. Whatever the answer, BioShock 2’s very much on my must-play list for 2010.

And, as I had really wanted to write in my Uncharted 2 review on Eurogamer but couldn’t due to house rules, “even the multiplayer isn’t shit”.

As John Galt would say, ” Hot diggity.”


  1. Psychopomp says:

    As much as I adored Bioshock, I can’t help but feel completely indifferent towards the sequel.

  2. Vinraith says:

    Intriguing, any word yet on whether we’ll have a repeat of the god-awful DRM on the first game? I ended up waiting til it was removed and picked the game up for $15.

  3. crumbsucker says:

    Yeah, they really needed to simplify that incedibly complex hacking mini-game.

  4. qrter says:

    I’m just hoping this one has an actual ending.

    • phil says:

      SPOILERS EVERYONE KNOWS BUT, In what way was either creating a nuclear seige state or achieving a happy ever after with a family you never had before not a proper ending? It’s hardly KOTOR 2. Even the big bad was actually both big and bad, if a tad predictable.

    • Benjamin Finkel says:

      It’s that the big bad was incredibly anticlimactic and un-fun, and that the latter third of the storyline was incredibly unmotivated compared to the first two thirds. The ending cutscenes themselves weren’t too bad, but the game did not have an exciting finale in the slightest.


  5. Schadenfreude says:

    Role-Playing Shooters


    • Bhazor says:

      It gave you just as much narrative freedom as System Shock 2.

    • Magnus says:

      SS2 did allow you to pick from three “classes” and advance certain stats/skills/psy-abilities to a far greater degree than bioshocks tonics/plasmids.

      Mind you, the original SS had far more options, I especially liked the different difficulty sliders.

  6. Rob says:

    I do enjoy the flood of positivity in this comments section. Almost overwhelming.

    I’ve been looking forward to Bioshock 2 since I heard Jordan Thomas was in creative control; he gets games I feel, and this preview seems to suggest he’s got plenty of ideas left.

  7. Old Jokes says:

    Tom Bramwell? In my games blog?

  8. EBass says:

    Liked Bioshock, didn’t worship it with the same adulation some did though. I’m not one of the ZP freaks, though I like Yahtzee I feel hes often well off the mark. For Bioshock though I thought it was one of his few reviews where he was fair and right on the money with his criticisms.

    Anyway, can’t help but feel somewhat ambiguous about this. Rapture’s a fairly closed society yet we’re supposed to believe we just happened not to hear of Sophia Lamb or Augustus Sinclair in the prequal, who are supposedly major characters. Not to mention Tenembaum et all must have also created Big Sisters just never mentioned them at all.

    And as far as I’ve seen they haven’t improved the combat a vast amount and Bioshock was never better than average as a shooter.

    • Psychopomp says:

      On the subject of Yahtzee’s review, I love when the Bioshock haters say his review was spot on, and completely forget the fact that he said it was still Game of the Year material despite all his complaints.

    • qrter says:

      One of the things I really liked about BioShock was the combat, trying out all the combinations between weapons and plasmids. I’m the kind of player who keeps trying stuff out, I don’t go for the ‘best combo’ and keep using that. So on that front the sequel sounds pretty good to me.

    • kyrieee says:

      I didn’t like it that much. Or, I like it less and less as I played it and eventually I quite disliked it. Not that I though it was bad game but I found most things about it unappealing. I didn’t like the guns, the artsyle or the enemies (talk about repetitive), and the System Shock 2 complaint is a valid one. I love SS2 though so I suppose it comes down to how much you’re drawn into the world.

      Howeve, it struck me how there’s a distinct lack of narrative in the present. There is a story but it’s already happened. I found the events in the present totally uninteresting and as such they didn’t do anything to drive me through the game

  9. Aftershock says:

    I thought this was going to be a prequel?

  10. teo says:

    Stop picking on KotOR 2
    There’s nothing wrong with its ending just because it’s not a climax

    • phil says:

      I’m sure KOTOR 2 had an exceptional ending, bringing closure to everyone’s plot lines and providing a nail biting hard won victory against a cateclysmic evil – unfortunately time pressure meant that ending was hacked in tiny, insubstanial bits and the remains shoved in a sausage skin of random dialogue to provide a vile nonsensical hotdog of an ending with magic light sabres as the last boss.

    • kyrieee says:

      There’s more there than you seem to think
      It doesn’t give you a 30 minute epilogue spelling everything out for you, but I’m fine with that

      I think people’s confusion with the ending lies with them misunderstanding what the story was actually about, because it’s not about saving the world or killing the bad guy

    • phil says:

      I’m all for avoiding stereotypical whizz bang fisty cuffs with giant blobby creatures in my end games, but if you look at all the brilliant character work and climactic confrontations that were jettisoned from end of KOTOR2 (especially confrontations between your NPCs, hence actually carrying some emotional weight), combined with the exile flying off in the world shortest cut scene, it’s clear it’s been butchered. I’m aware of what its tying to do (and what it did do so well earlier in the game), which makes it doubly annoying.

    • kyrieee says:

      I’m not arguing that the ending was unfinished. I know about those scenes that got cut, but I’m arguing against the claim of there being no closure.

      The first time I played the game I also came away confused from the ending, but that went away with subsequent playthroughs. I’m curious to hear specifically which questions you think were left unanswered. No, the future of your character isn’t revealed, but there has to be more than that to the seeming consensus that the ending sucks. I’ve found that most of the answers actually are in the game, you just have to dig really deep to find them. That’s not for everyone, but I loved it

    • kyrieee says:

      Sorry, that’s a “wasn’t” not a “was”

  11. The Sombrero Kid says:

    the only thing wrong with bioshock and the only thing they need to fix was the world, the linear structure was not system shock or system shock 2.
    Linear narrative sure, but in system shock you were given reasons to backtrack, needed healing, most of the medical tools are in the medical bay. This made it feel like a real environment that went to shit. Bioshock was split loosely into corridors and big daddy arenas with the big daddy arenas having a good supply of everything you needed for some reason, this made it feel like a world built to fight big daddys in.

  12. Clovis says:

    Hmm… a few new weapons, a few new bad guys, some new voicework, and some new maps. Yeah, pretty much sounds like it should be an expansion pack right? </sarcasm>

  13. Count Zero says:

    I liked the first Bioshock a lot, especially because of the story. They went for some themes you don’t normally see in a shooter, and they handled them well, so I’m curious to see where they take this one. Mostly I want to see how they would justify the fact that Rapture is still standing, even though it was mostly destroyed in the first game.

  14. UK_John says:

    Bioshock was the shooter equivalent of System Shock 2. I always disagreed with the ‘RPG-Shooter’ moniker, seeing it just like a shooter. (In today’s market I think even the Medal of Honour games would be called RPG-Shooters because you could use different weapons!) Bioshock had multiple weapons, just because some were plasmids did not make it an RPG!

    As to Bioshock 2 – well I can’t get attached to a game where a world was dying and people were not going to last much longer and then in the follow-up you get even larger groups of enemies! Between the multiple enemies and the way they have simplified hacking, this to me will be a shooter that will have little immersion for me.

    The trend from real RPG to RPG-shooter to Shooter is very worrying for me. Are we seeing yet another non FPS genre disappear? We know 12-15 hour linear shooters are easier and cheaper to make for the publishers, but if we end up with just an FPS (and variation thereof) genre, can we still have a viable gaming market?

    Unless your a shooter fan, the only option you have more and more is to just play your older games. Is this why, maybe, Retro gaming is growing so fast? (5 million plus DOSBox downloads, for example?)

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      It’s difficult to argue that the FPSRPG market is disappearing when we’ve just had the biggest release in it since forever.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      ehh you must be smoking something, because it’s going the other way, find me a pure shooter in the modern market and i’ll tell you you’re looking at a serious sam or painkiller remake, there’s still rpg’s ala dragon age, there’s rpg shooters ala borderlands but there’s virtually no pure shooters, the closest thing we had, wolfenstien got universally destroyed for being too traditional.

  15. EBass says:

    Well Wolfenstein got universally destroyed for being pretty generic and uninspired, theres a difference between generic and traditional.

    Though you’re right, there are very few “pure” shooters left and for my mind thats not an entirely bad thing. Still though some of the biggest names around are pretty pure, Half Life for one, Call of Duty for another. Total liniarity, little significant interaction with NPCs (In a gameplay sense not necceserily a story sense, yes Alyx was ever present in Episodes and many friendly NPCs in CoD but I don’t recall ever changing my playstyle at all because of them, you always need to be at the front for the game to progress anyway), no RPG elements etc.

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      Bah, what exactly is generic about Nazi super-science, particle cannons and the occult? Wolfenstein invented it. The complaints about Wolfenstein and generally vague nebulous nonsense as far as I’m concerned. What exactly was it generic and uninspired in comparison to? How about we compare it to it’s predecessor? It had a larger variety of weapons than RTCW, the entire Veil power system and Veil sight which I do not recall being a particularly common FPS mechanic. Hub world, also not all that common yet (though getting more so), upgradeable weapons and a cash system (also not all that common in FPS). What was generic? Someone explain this to me. I’ve yet to read a review that can actually nail down what is so generic and uninspired about the game beyond it’s shitty multiplayer.

      Maybe PC gamers have just forgotten what good old-school shooter fun is, lord knows we haven’t had enough of it lately.

  16. Sagan says:

    This article put Bioshock 2 a little higher in my list of games I am interested in. For some reason I wasn’t particularly interested in a sequel to Bioshock. It was a great game, but for some reason it wasn’t something that I wanted more of. But somehow this has awakened my interest again. It’s a little hard for me to say why, as I can’t even point out why I wasn’t interested in the first place. But I think it is, that the new characters seem interesting again. And that Rapture is now a changed place. I guess had it been a prequel, I would not have been interested, as I already know that world.

  17. Freudian Trip says:

    First Bioshock won’t play sound on my PC. On the menu it will and then suddenly disappears about 3 minutes into the game. So I packed it in. Maybe I’ll go back one day, maybe I won’t.

    • Atalanta says:

      Do you have Vista? I had the same problem, but the fix is super easy — just run it in XP compatibility mode.

  18. Frye says:

    I, for one, enjoy the new Wolfenstein so far, actually. And i very much doubt it would have gotten the 6 to 7 ratings if it were made by some indy company. Nothing wrong with games coming out that ARENT refreshing, original and whatnot. Expectations were a little too high because of the history of the Wolfenstein name imo. At least it plays well, looks okay and is bug-free. Add to that the satisfaction of killing npc’s and I am quite content. I really got what i paid for: the next generation single player fps game.

    As for Bioshock 2, it won’t ever be the hit the first game was: that was truly a next-gen game in it’s day, one of the first UT3-engine based games as far as i know. I remember looking at the water and have my jaw drop. That was reason enough to buy it back then.

  19. wm says:

    Damn you literary RPS-readers! Will none bite and say, “Who is John Galt?”

  20. MajorManiac says:

    I’m with you. I can’t wait for this to come out.

    I think people always seem to forget the best part of Bioshock…the game play and atmosphere. If they can re-create that, I’m sold.

  21. Pantsman says:

    I started off excited for MW2, but the more I hear about it the less interested I get. It’s nice to have a game for which the exact opposite process is taking place.

  22. Lagmint says:

    Am I the only one who doesn’t even remember the general atmosphere of Bioshock? I remember thinking the layout of levels didn’t make any sense, the hacking was so annoying I didn’t bother by the end, and I just ran around with the ice wrench because I never felt in danger at all. The big daddy fights were basically just walk backwards/sideways and lure them into tripwires (since there was almost literally no other use for them.)

  23. A-Scale says:

    You had me at collectivism. More radical ideology in games. This article changed my opinion on the game. I am now excited again.

  24. Atlas says:

    /me shrugs

  25. Gpig says:

    I wish they’d release an SDK for Bioshock when Bioshock 2 comes out.

  26. dagny taggart says:

    @wm …and he traced in space the sign of the dollar…