Plasmids are better, too. Although you’re given nearly the exact same selection of genetic superpowers as in the first game, you can level them up until they act entirely differently. “Hypnotize” convinces enemies to fight each other; “Hypnotize 2” convinces them to fight as your army. “Incinerate” sets a single target on fire; “Incinerate 3” transforms your hand into a temporary flamethrower, spewing red-hot flame in whatever direction you face. “Telekinesis” picks up forgotten debris; “Telekinesis 3” can lift still living enemies into the air, then throw them violently at their awed and frightened neighbors.
In fact, the closer you are to finishing BioShock 2, the stronger your desire for an immediate second or even third playthrough. The combat offers so many possibilities and permutations, you can’t help but wonder how the game would go if you had chosen to maximize a different plasmid, upgrade a different weapon or – most maddening – purchase a different set of gene tonics. Should you move faster, or walk quieter? Choose the electrifying shotgun or the bullet-reflecting drill? Set ambushes with proximity mines, motion-sensitive rivets or refrigerated cyclones? Learn to heal security bots, research boss weaknesses or teach Little Sisters to harvest more Adam in less time?
The first BioShock offered plenty of variety, but nothing like this. The magnitude of choice is a bit giddying and, at times, a bit overwhelming.
At this point, we know what you’re thinking. If the Big Daddy is so much bigger, and his weapons, plasmids, traps and tonics are so much better, what could possibly still be scary about BioShock 2?
That’s easy – everything. See, you’re not the only resident of Rapture who’s evolved in the eight years since BioShock 1 ended. Splicers, the submerged city’s drug-dependent, self-mutilating citizenry, have had plenty of time to gather supplies and further tinker with their genetic makeup. They’re now more likely to carry guns, throw grenades, teleport and team up to take you down, especially if you’re attempting to gather Adam with an adopted Little Sister. And those are just the normal ones. You’ll also encounter Brutes, supersized Splicers that hurl gigantic chunks of debris and charge like angry, frothing gorillas.
The other Big Daddies have new tricks as well, but the foe you’ll soon learn to fear – far above anyone else – is Big Sister.
Her hype is justified. She’s a terrifying nemesis, swift and agile enough to dodge your ammo, disappearing from the screen and popping up behind you before you can reload. She’s powerful enough to absorb your plasmids and return your elemental attacks with triple the force. And she’s resourceful, pulling in Splicers (breathing or not) and using her nauseating needle arm to suck their bodies dry for regenerated health.
You will dread encountering the Big Sisters (yes, plural) and the designers know it. Look out a window and you’ll often find her watching you – stalking you – through the dark water. Rescue or harvest a Little Sister and you enter yourself in a dangerous lottery. Sometimes, nothing will happen. Other times, randomly, an ear-piercing shriek that blurs your vision and shatters nearby glass will warn you that a Big Sister is coming – you’ll have several seconds to panic and prepare, but they’re rarely enough. These are some of the craziest, cruelest “oh shit” moments in the history of gaming.