BioShock 2 Reader Review
Bioshock 2ís tale is a sobering one to behold. A product of the 2K Boston dynasty and the younger sibling of one of the most revered, refreshing takes on the FPS genre in recent years, it certainly comes from noble stock.
But thereís a slight problem. Unlike the original Bioshock, Bioshock 2 bears the burden of being an illegitimate child. Call it a gross miscarriage of social injustice if you like, but that wonít change the fact that, whilst its predecessor was an unmistakeable product of Ken Levineís hallowed semen, Bioshock 2 is the unfortunate result of Mrs. Levineís unfaithful act of promiscuity with the local milkman.
Naturally, Mr. Levine wasnít best pleased when Mrs. Levine womb expanded and the first signs of developing life emerged from Bioshock 2ís ultrasound scans. He was, however, a merciful man, one without the heart to see a young child abandoned and uncared for, and, besides, this new little sprog bore an almost uncanny resemblance to its older brother, albeit without the look of fresh-faced vigour that his first begotten son displayed so prominently.
And, so, after what seemed like months of deliberation, Mr. Levine decided that Bioshock 2 could take up residence at Bioshock Castle. Such acceptance came at a price, however. While the original Bioshock would take pride of place as the Crown Prince of Levineís empire and dine on the most exquisite international cuisine, Bioshock 2 would have to play more of a background role, sitting at the childrenís table and feasting on a staple diet of Wotsits and sausage rolls until it reached adulthood and presumably ran away and joined the circus.
To make matters even worse for poor Bioshock 2, it always harboured a genuine desire to gain acceptance from its estranged stepfather. Although it was never allowed to associate freely with the true heir to the Bioshock throne, Bioshock 2ís admiration for its infinitely more privileged half-brother knew no bounds, prompting Bioshock 2 to groom and model itself on its predecessor in as much cosmetic detail as it possibly could. It bought the same clothes, sported a similar hairstyle and even attempted to artificially recreate the same scars and blemishes as its brother, all in the hope that it might, one day, be seen in a similar light. It was an admirable ambition, borne no doubt out of the best of intentions, but, alas, it was never going to work.
In its quest to emulate the original Bioshock, Bioshock 2 merely ends up accentuating many of the formerís weaknesses without bringing anything new to the table, shrouding it further underneath the imposing shadow cast by its forerunner. Herein, then, lies the most important and fundamental factor behind Bioshock 2ís failure to resonate with the gaming community to the same extent as the original. Bioshock 2 looks the same, sounds the same and butters its bread in the same way as its big brother before it, but, in its clamour to reverse the trend of unrequited love with its father, it lacks the one all-important ingredient that truly set the first Bioshock title apart from its peers.
I speak, of course, of that spine-tingling sense of discovery that engulfed our minds and tantalised our lust for exploration and adventure that was present in such vast quantities during Bioshockís hugely impactful opening sequences. Whether it was the harrowing spiel of socio-political rhetoric of Andrew Ryan, the first gameís primary antagonist, the rich blend of colour and environmental vibrancy as your bathysphere emerged into the curious depths of the underwater city of Rapture or the unforgettable first glimpse of an angry, wrench-wielding Splicer hammering maniacally on the outside of your entrance pod, Bioshock grabbed you by the proverbial testicles from the very get-go, maintaining its firm grip for hours until you relented and submitted to its compelling aura.
Thatís not quite the case with Bioshock 2, Iím afraid. Yes, youíre back in Rapture and, yes, the Splicers, vending machines and charming 1960s ambience are back, but the unfortunate truth is that weíve seen it all before. In jive speak, itís been done, son. Bioshock 2ís scenery and artistic style, whilst still undeniably impressive front both a visual and atmospheric standpoint, feels so much tamer and more familiar this time round, and its impact on oneís sense of immersion in the game world cannot be understated. Whereas in the first game, you truly felt like an outsider stranded in a backwards, mysterious world to which you didnít belong, Bioshock 2 has you feeling like a returning tourist on the newly-created Rapture package tour. Whereas an enemy springing out from under the woodwork would once have prompted you to flinch in surprise, a similar turn of events will now probably garner a reaction reminiscent of the last time you discovered a stray cat on your front lawn. The boat has, it would seem, passed on Raptureís capacity to engage and bewilder us, and it isnít likely to return.
Perhaps this wouldnít have been such an issue if Bioshock 2 could have matched the originalís propensity for consistent, involving storytelling. But it couldnít. Replacing Andrew Ryan in the villainís chair is Sofia Lamb, a lady possessing all of the heinous volatility but little of the entrancing charisma of the infinitely more complex and multi-layered Ryan. Sheís hell-bent on kidnapping young girls and moulding them into merciless killing machines devoid of humanity to help her spread her warped ideals throughout the underwater dystopia. You know, a bit like Ryanís aims promoting his own political ideology and forcing them upon the rest of humanity. The difference, however, is that Ryanís motives conveyed at least a shred of benevolence and positive intent, regardless of how unlikely it was that his vision would ever come to fruition. Lamb, on the other hand, merely comes across as being evil, a prototypical sneering villain for us to despise and never sympathise with. Perhaps criticising the game for failing to deliver a refreshing new take on the typical characterisation of an antagonist is a little harsh, especially considering the slew of two-dimensional baddies that populate the realms of many other action games. In this case, though, Bioshock 2 once again suffers from the precedents set by the seriesí original title, and the minor differences between the villains of each game serve to highlight the fine line between subtlety and clichť of which Bioshock 2 falls agonisingly on the wrong side.
Oh, and do you remember the Big Daddies from the first game? You know what I mean; they were those large fellows who lumbered around in those oversized diving suits and kept trying to thwart your efforts to slaughter young girls. Well, perhaps I should have mentioned that you play as one this time round, only you get to use Plasmids, those snazzy genetic alterations from the first game that provided you with a substantial variety of ridiculous superpowers. Unlike the other Big Daddies, you can also run at a regular speed, which inevitably begs the question as to how youíre a Big Daddy at all. OK, so weíre nitpicking once again; forcing us to amble along at snailís pace and removing the Plasmids from the equation would make for an experience as exciting as indoor bowls at a model aeroplane convention, but there really seems to be no method to the madness. In reality, enthusiasts of the first game will only question the logic behind putting the player in the shoes of a character so far removed from its counterparts, whilst anyone knew to the Bioshock lore probably wouldnít be drawn in by the incentive of playing as a Big Daddy in a game that just so happens to be presented from a first-perosn viewpoint, meaning that even the cosmetic differences in your appearance go completely unnoticed.
Joining the returning cast of stars are the Little Sisters, a demonic legion of young lasses essential for the provision of Adam, the in-game currency used for the purchasing of new Plasmids. Once again, Bioshockís wafer-thin moral choice system comes into play, with players being given the choice of either cleansing the Little Sisters of the dark taint that lies within their troubled souls or snapping their necks and extracting the precious Adam from their lifeless corpses. This time round, though, saving them has become a tad more complicated. Instead of embracing them in your caressing arms and using your zen-like powers to revert them back to their old state, would-be saviours are now forced to set traps and fend off frantic waves of Splicers as the Little Sister obtains a modest source of Adam from one of the men or women you happened to shoot moments earlier. The attempt to add a layer of depth to proceedings is admittedly admirable, but it also adds an unwanted dimension of tediousness to the theatre of conflict. Itís effectively a straight choice between ruthless efficiency and a lengthy escort mission, turning what ought to have been a gut-wrenching moral quandary into a test of patience.
Somewhere along the line, Bioshock 2 came to the realisation that it would never fit in as a carbon copy of its brother, leading to a rare act of rebellious defiance against the status quo outlined by its father. Bioshock 2 decided to break the taboo on which its family prided itself; it was going to join the cool gang and try its hand at the art of online multiplayer.
It really shouldnít have bothered. Donít tell Mr. Levine I said this in case he takes offence, but Bioshock wasnít the perfect example of FPS magnificence, nor was it the stalwart embodiment of RPG splendour. Put together the gameís fairly bog-standard shooting mechanics and undeveloped weapon and attribute development and youíd get an uninspiring deathmatch romp with nothing to distinguish it from the rest of the online rabble. Add in a lack of dedicated server support, frequent lag and a striking lack of weapon balance and youíd have a fragmented mess whose community would soon resemble a ghost town. Itís quite easy to see why such a mode never made it into the original, then, but Bioshock 2 just had to go and fiddle around in foreign territory. Itís OK, Bioshock 2; we understand why you thought it might be a good idea. Just donít do it again or weíll tell on you.
As if Bioshock 2ís plight wasnít bad enough, a third child in the Bioshock family line is on the way. Itís going to be called Bioshock Infinite, and Mr. Levine is already grooming it as the rightful successor to the throne of Bioshock Castle. In fact, heís so sure that Bioshock Infinite is truly his own offspring that heís already chosen the wallpaper for its room and installed the motor on its first go-kart. Sadly for Bioshock 2, the new arrival will mean another traumatic period of being pushed aside, neglected and eventually forgotten as the 2K train rolls on towards global dominance. Itís actually quite upsetting because Bioshock 2 is no fool, offering a smattering of entertaining set-pieces and a few twists and turns along the way. And between you and me, its new Plasmids and weapon upgrades actually mean that its gunplay is marginally better than that of its predecessor. In the eyes of the masses, however, it all counts for very little as Bioshock 2 is, and always will be, seen as the unwanted bastard son of studio with excessively high standards and expectations.
Whether you feel like giving Bioshock 2 a whirl probably depends on whether youíre the sort of person who used to take pity on loners on the school playground and invite them round to tea or the kind of callous individual that would laugh when the school bullies poured lime mortar down his trousers. Perhaps youíll find that it makes for reasonably enjoyable company during the dark hours of the night, but donít be surprised if you canít escape the feeling that youíd have more fun hanging around with someone else. That, ladies and gentleman, is a moral choice system thatís manifested itself into the real world, and itís more thought-provoking than most of what Bioshock 2 ever serves up.