Well, one of my best games of 2008 spawns a sequel which is released this year. BioShock held some of the most defining gaming moments for a First Person Shooter (FPS) that I think I have ever had the pleasure of playing, and I am not usually a FPS player. My gaming genre I think would gear more towards Strategy and Role Playing Games (RPG), but nonetheless I am still a long time gamer and I usually play those games that break boundaries, put new life into the industry, break barriers both in terms of gameplay and new ideas as well as holding and meshing a fantastic storyline within their virtual world. I am not an FPS lover, end of story. I do not want to analyse the pros and cons of the usual level of violence contained within many FPS game – I think the word hypocrisy might offer itself on a plate if I were to go into this. So I won’t. But there was something about the whole franchise of the BioShock world that kept me interested and after much deliberation I decided to purchase the sequel, even though Irrational Games, and most importantly, Ken Levine – the original creators of the first game – were not included in its sequel. This is a problem, not just within the gaming world, but also with film sequels too that I think, sometimes, makes them not as good as the original material. Is this because the powers that be see a successful original idea, for want of a more intelligent word, as ‘cash cows’ i.e something that can be ‘milked’ to still try and make a profit based on the success of its predecessor ? It is not my interest if this is the case – case closed. Creativity, talent and success – rather than an underlying profit motive should be the binding factor. But I digress.
However, after digesting several reviews, I brought BioShock 2. The whole story with the original game, the Andrew Ryan utopia, the whole Ann Randian perceptions of her ‘idealistic society’ formulated in her novel ‘Atlas Shrugged’ which Rapture was based around, have been brushed over this time. Rapture, the secret underwater city beneath the Atlantic Ocean which was set up post WW2 to include the crème of humankind, fell into disarray with the first game because of their discovery of a deep-sea species of slug that scientists found a way of altering peoples genetic code; ‘Adam’ and ‘Plasmids’ started to rule, a kind of drug which citizens used to ‘splice up’, causing many of them to go mad from its use –and this was the introduction into the first BioShock – an underwater city in ruins caused by increasing authoritarianism and rebellion against Andrew Ryan with ‘Splicers’ roaming around. See my review. BioShock 2 is set some eight years after the first game and this time your character is one of the Big Daddys, the ones used to protect the Little Sisters in the first game who go around collecting ‘Adam’ from dead citizens. You were the prototype Big Daddy, called Delta, who died ten years ago and is awakened from hibernation to rescue your daughter who is under control by Lamb. The underlying plot is that Andrew Ryan recruited a Psychologist, called Sofia Lamb, to help people cope with underwater life, who now ends up in control of Rapture after Andrew Ryan was killed in the first game. Whereas Ryan placed the individual as paramount importance in the first game, and used this philosophy to build and guide Rapture, Sofia Lamb rejects this ideology and placed an emphasis on the collective and community, and proceeded to start brainwashing her clients to join what is known as ‘The Family’, probably trying to give the Splicers some form of redemption and you uncover some of their stories as in the first game by listening to all the audio tapes found throughout the levels. The Little Sisters you encountered and (hopefully) saved in the first game are now grown up and have become ‘Big Sisters’, who start to kidnap people from the Atlantic coastlines, all under the control of Lamb. Again, we can see elements of System Shock 2 here, probably more so than the original – a survival horror FPS/RPG hybrid, mind control, scavenging, audio tapes, female adversary and so on. This is not a bad thing as SS2 has cult status amongst some sections of the gaming community.
A Big Sister. She ain’t happy.
Technically BioShock 2 improves over the first game, but not by a huge margin. Rapture still looks as impressive as ever and graphically both games still excel, being built on a heavily modified Unreal game engine. The biggest changes, apart from plot, are gameplay related. Splicers are more numerous in this game and work together, as well as fight against each other. Because you play the role of a Big Daddy, one of your tasks is to help protect the Little Sisters when they go on their Adam forages, and there are many many ways to set up traps and suchlike, making use of hacked security cameras etc, which makes battles much more interesting and dynamic. The game and gameplay appear to have become more refined, learning from what made BioShock so successful and improving and adding to the experience and we still are subjected to morality checks when it comes to dealing with, not just the Little Sisters, but also how we deal with people who you need to hunt down; you have choices to kill or save which has an impact on the end game, as in the first game because of the different endings depending on how you role-play (for what its worth I had the ‘Good’ ending after my run through because I saved all and everything that was saveable). Musically, the game still excels and improves, again with period music being played on the old gramophone players found in locations throughout Rapture, and this I believe added such a neat, cultural touch to both games. I will not be able to listen to Billie Holiday quite ever the same again.
In summery, BioShock 2 is as equally good as the original. The storyline behind this fictional undersea city is added and improved upon, much more so, as well as retaining the initial originality the first game had. However, my main gripes with it are that I think it has become much more shooter-orientated and the RPG elements are less than before but I suppose that this is balanced with an equally interesting and intelligent storyline, so that’s a bonus. There is talk of another game in the franchise, but considering the wreck that Rapture has become after two games, and the fact that it is hinted that it is close to discovery by the world, I cannot see how they can effectively build on it. I hope they can.