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Archive for February 27, 2010

Ronin’s Gaming Reviews: Bioshock II

“Daddy won’t you please come home…”

Bioshock 2
Bioshock 2

Available on the PS3 and Xbox 360
Preferred platform: Whatever’s your fancy.

Notable tropes:
Videogame Caring Potential
Videogame Cruelty Potential

Whenever I ask someone why they play videogames, a very common answer is because “it’s an escape from reality.” I for one agree with this answer. Although a strangeness occurs whenever you are placed into a reality and your character is looking to escape. We leave our world and become engrossed in a new realm, whether it be a wasteland, dystopia, or other abominable setting that any sane person would want to leave immediately, and yet we want to stay as long as we can. Rapture is one of these places. The hidden, underwater world of Andrew Ryan welcomes all to its arm with the promise of unlocking true potential without the hands of the government or church holding us back. That is, before SCIENCE! went rampant and genetic modification forced its residents to risk their sanity for progress and survival. Forced Social Darwinism is a bitch.

But then again, anyone who played the first Bioshock knows this. When Bioshock 2 was announced, needless to say the palms of many fans began to sweat. Will it live up to the first? Is it being handled differently? Will it trade storytelling prowess for a multiplayer mode? Everyone who played the original can remember their first contact with Rapture’s disfigured splicers, the hulking Big Daddies, the seemingly innocent Little Sisters, and other enigmatic characters. Ask anyone that has completed Bioshock the meaning of “Would you kindly…” and instantly they are able to answer you, as if the phrase had been permanently etched into the walls of their mind. People were left wondering if a return to Rapture would be able to recapture the rapture of Rapture. ( >_> ). My experience with Bioshock 2 left me just as entertained as the first game, although for different reasons.

In the first game you played as the silent protagonist Jack, seeking answers for why he had arrived in a mysterious setting. In the second game you play as Subject Delta, the original Big Daddy on a search for his lost daughter. Some saw this as an odd change in the format of characters. Previously, a human thrown into an unfamiliar world and now a seasoned, lumbering powerhouse? The fact is that Delta is just as relatable a character for the gamer, and a natural progressing exists between the two character. Originally I thought of the two characters as representing a slave and a master, but upon further reflection I’ve come up with another conclusion. In Bioshock, you play the part of the child. In Bioshock 2, you play the part of the father.

(Bioshock 1 plot spoilers follow (even though you should now this already) and end at the next paragraph).
In the first game, you found yourself (unknowingly) being lead around, force to comply with your master. You were just recently brought into this world, and forced to rely on a more powerful figure in order to survive. In order to grow more powerful, you need only be selfish and reap your rewards, or be selfless and wait for mother to reward you. In the second game, you found yourself in a familiar world. You know the evils that plague this world, you set your own goals, and you must sacrifice. In order to progress you must adopt the Little Sisters, look after them, and protect them.

Generally speaking, Bioshock 2 is much of the same that was the in the original, but mostly, every gameplay aspect has improved by some degree. Depending on who you are this can be a good or bad thing. If you were expecting something completely different in the sequel, you may be disappointed. Andrew Ryan, the believer in the greater individual, is replaced with Sofia Lamb, the believer in the greater society. Weapons are new, but each one ultimately possess the same function as its similar counterpart from the original. The original plasmids return, but they have been overhauled with new functions and ranks. The best news is that you can dual wield weapons and plasmids so you no longer have to switch between the two. Combat is rebalanced so that there isn’t as much dissonance between overpowered and underpowered plasmids like the first one.

The thing I think I liked the most was the handling of the return to Rapture. I’ll be the first to admit that the first Bioshock was certainly a frightful experienced. I’m not ashamed to say that I was damn hesitant on leaving the bathysphere you use to first arrive in the original game. It is only natural however, that some of that fear is gone in the second game if you are a returning player. You’ve experienced the dark and wet corridors, you’ve battled splicers and Big Daddies, you seen the antics warranted in any horror game. It was a challenge posed to the developers to make sure that anyone returning to Rapture wouldn’t find themselves totally desensitized to the mysterious locale. The immediate answer is to simply throw in as many horror clichés as you can. Things popping around corners, shadowy figures speeding across your view, and other cheap frights. But the way it was handled in Bioshock 2 was completely relevant and involved in the world that nothing seemed out of place.

The problem with reviewing a sequel is that you must account for people who haven’t yet played the first game. Bioshock 2 is a game that is perfectly fine played alone, from a gameplay and story standpoint. But when it comes to personal satisfaction I couldn’t recommend both games hard enough. Bioshock can be picked up for $20.00 or lower, so if you had to choose between the two, I would recommend playing the original Bioshock first, then pick up the second whenever you have the time and/or money. These two games are much a part of the same experience and should be played in their entirety.

Verdict: This is one of those games that I feel is genuinely good. Not one of those games that I feel you need to have a certain mindset, or genre appreciation to enjoy. While there may not be any mindset needed to enjoy Bioshock 2, there are some mindsets that may prevent enjoyment. And that isn’t completely not a total non-contradiction. This is definitely a product that can be hampered by over-hype and high expectations. The breakdown is this: If you like the first game, you will probably like the second. If you really, really like the first one, there’s a chance you won’t like the second one. If you didn’t like the first one, there’s a chance you’ll like the second one. If you really, really didn’t like the first one, you probably won’t like the second one.

Hell and I didn’t even talk about the multiplayer. Oh yeah, I forgot that existed. Oh, not because it isn’t very good or anything, but because I was completely overwhelmed by the single player mode just like the first one. Did you hear that online community? Adding multiplayer doesn’t not automatically make a game worse because “now they’ll just be diverting time and resources.” *rabble rabble*