Originally published in The Daily Toreador.
“Bioshock 2″ is in an interesting place as far as sequels go. Not only does it have to live up to the enormous acclaim the original game garnered, it is also a sequel nobody really asked for or wanted.
The original “Bioshock” was big for a few reasons. One was the setting. The failed underwater utopia of Rapture provided a brilliant backdrop for both gameplay and narrative, and the developers made it even better with some of the most realistic water effects ever seen at the time. The old-timey appeal of 1950s aesthetics and music drove the effect home.
Another, lesser reason was the gameplay. The game was solid, though fairly standard as first-person shooters go. You could of course shoot guns and wield powers via the game’s “plasmids,” and using the two in unique ways was pretty entertaining.
But the real reason the game struck gold was because of its brilliant story and fantastic narrative delivery. Players learned much about the fall of Rapture through well-acted audio logs found throughout the crumbling city. The plot was extremely philosophical in nature, borrowing heavily from the works of Ayn Rand (an influence nodded to by a character named Atlas) and other famous thinkers. It made a strong argument for the idea that video game plots could provide the kind of depth found in a novel.
It also contained one of the most memorable plot twists in video game history.
But the story wrapped up nicely, and people were satisfied with the package as a whole. No one asked for a sequel.
So when “Bioshock 2″ was announced, it actually was met with more groans than cheers.
It was almost met with the same sort of disgust as when “Watchmen” fans are presented with an idea to their beloved graphic novel. You just shouldn’t do it.
Everybody assumed publisher 2K just wanted to capitalize on the commercial success on the first game. Ken Levine, the mastermind behind the original “Bioshock,” wasn’t even heavily involved with the sequel. It wasn’t his baby. They were also going to add a multiplayer component, which seemed to make very little sense. As such, most fans &- myself include &- were pessimistic about the idea of a sequel.
I’m happy to say, though, we were wrong.
As a game, there’s no doubt “Bioshock 2″ is a huge improvement. I’ll be honest, while I loved the original game, its gameplay was far from its shining gem. I played “Bioshock” every chance I got in order to move forward in its story, not to shoot more enemy splicers.
But “Bioshock 2″ is different. I actually enjoyed playing it as a game. It’s a very pleasing change.
Because the gameplay is such an improvement, it turns out the multiplayer mode is also quite good. This is also a surprise, and one I’m extremely happy with. The multiplayer uses a similar progression system to the extremely popular “Modern Warfare 2,” where you gain Adam (the “Bioshock” equivalent of experience points) for playing games, and as you level up you gain access to new weapons and abilities. It makes for a very addictive experience and one I’ve enjoyed playing.
The multiplayer actually serves as a prequel to the original “Bioshock.” This solves an important narrative issue, as the “Bioshock” games are known for their often lonely, creepy atmosphere as you wander around the abandoned underwater city. It also provides some fun insight into the fall of Rapture, giving fans a little glimpse into where everything went so wrong in Rapture.
But like the original, the game was going to rise or fall based on its story. And I’m happy to say that it doesn’t disappoint.
It’s interesting, though. There’s no huge “holy crap” twist as in the first game, and diving into Rapture doesn’t quite have the same impact as it did the first time you did it. However, the plot feels a lot more focused this time around, providing a very solid narrative.
You play as Subject Delta, a prototype “Big Daddy,” one of the most interesting enemy types in the first game. Going into too much more detail would potentially ruin some of the experience for players, but Delta spends the better part of the game trying to find a specific “Little Sister,” also a trademark character of the original “Bioshock.”
As a result of the narrative focus, the story ends up being extremely interesting, and it will almost certainly keep you going to find out what happens next. It has a lot of moments fans of the first game will love.
However, I can’t help but feel this sequel doesn’t quite reach the height of the original, purely because it doesn’t feel as important. “Bioshock” was a huge event, heavily hyped and talked about for months after it was released. “Bioshock 2,” while a better game, simply may not have that impact.
All that said, “Bioshock 2″ is an extremely solid package with no real flaws I can think of, and it trumps the first game in terms of pure gameplay. I highly recommend it to fans of the original, despite any preconceptions they may have about it. If you haven’t played the original, however, don’t play this sequel until you have. You’ll miss out on far too much.