Bioshock 2 is the sequel to the critically acclaimed Bioshock from 2K games, and the twice removed cousin of the famous System Shock series. Once again you are thrust into Rapture, but this time not as a guest. Rather, you are one of the original inhabitants of this thriving social experiment under the sea. This time round you enter the sizable shoes of one of the first (specifically, the fourth) Big Daddy’s, Delta. After a long sleep, you awaken 10 years after the events of the first game. Your primary focus rests on finding your personal little sister, to which you were bonded so long ago. To do so, you must venture through the evolved, yet dying world of Rapture once again.
Bioshock was praised for its beautiful presentation, fascinating world and dynamic storyline, that lead you through the dystopian vision that Andrew Ryan had brought to life. While the game set a new level for creative design and narrative structure, it also suffered from black and white moral choices, and a semi predictable storyline. The simple choice of harvesting or saving the Little Sisters resulted in an interesting structure for the game – finally changing how players should look upon the retrofitted Big Daddy’s interactions with the Little Sisters in the events leading up to the conclusion, but offered no leeway between right and wrong. Only upon facing the true dilemma created in Rapture after playing through two thirds of the game, could players really understand the implications of their choices. Even if they changed their mind about the Little Sisters, it was too late to change the ending.
Bioshock 2 does little to extend these moral lines, still coming down to a choice of two options that will result in only two possible endings. Once again, the shades of grey are washed away. However, when breaking down the structure of the story and the new Rapture, there is plenty to think about before you hit the credits.
As previously mentioned, Rapture has changed since the fall of Andrew Ryan and his rival Frank Fontaine. Psychologist Sophia Lamb has taken control of this once Capitalist free market and changed it into a family orientated socialist wet dream (unintentional pun, sorry). Where once the people of Rapture sought to use their creative genius to expand their own horizons and receive the benefit of their work for themselves, Sophia has swayed the minds of the people into using their skills and knowledge to benefit the people of Rapture as a whole. Even if this ideal could become a possibility, the madness of the idea, considering the decimation that the city has suffered since the Splicer revolution, is unfathomable (damn puns!). On top of all this it would appear that little girls are disappearing from the surface world and turning up in Rapture, a further mystery for you to solve or stumble upon as you progress through the game. Sophia Lamb is a direct opposite of the previous antagonist, changing Rapture to her will with an almost cult like status and this time has a personal involvement from the get go in your affairs.
This time through Rapture seems a whole lot more real, with areas and social structure within the city explained and deeply explored. Ryan Amusement Park, for example, features early on the list of locations and is a prime example of filling out the world around you with more dignity than the first game; taking its time to explain things to you rather than just shocking you with a world under the sea. People’s attitudes towards the surface world are no longer simply the ramblings of mad men and morally questionable scientists. This time, they are so much more. Audio tapes reveal the stigmas and fears that these inhabitants feel they are escaping; explaining why this world around them is so much more than just an escape from governmental figure and oppressive laws. Even with the world around you in a state of disrepair innumerably worse than the previous games’ locations, the city has never felt more alive.
Being a Big Daddy is a design choice which other developers have vocally spoken out against claiming ‘Gameplay vs. Narrative disconnection’. In some respects, they are right, but in others they couldn’t be further from the truth. The iconic cover boy of the first game, the image of the big daddy represents the biggest and nastiest thing to find in the world of Rapture. By granting this role to the player, to create dynamic tension in the gameplay, there must be enemies that pose a threat. Therefore, splicers come at you bigger and nastier then ever before. The role of the Big Daddy has lessened within an already established world. Adding new creatures that have since appeared over the course of the 10 years of plot, disenfranchises the whole reason for being a Big Daddy in the first place, other than to give reason to the plot while sacrificing established in game narrative.
This aside, Bioshock 2 gives light to new moral and ethical decisions which mirror those that Jack made as the protagonist of the first game. In the first game you had the choice of saving the Little Sisters as your only real option for a person with freewill. Everything else was controlled by Fontaine’s voice commands. Upon saving the Little Sisters, you became a pseudo father figure when you eventually donned the big daddy suit. Alternatively, had you sacrificed the girls, upon becoming the big daddy, you represent the will to use those around you to complete your goal, becoming a bigger monster than either of the two antagonists at the end. In Bioshock 2 the same decision is available to you, but with a different twist on the moral implications. Save the girls and prove yourself to be more than just a mindless beast attached to one girl and actually free yourself from the genetic boundaries that the scientist of Rapture put upon you. Harvest the Sisters and prove that you will do anything to reach the girl you so badly wish to protect, but through your actions prove that you are not fit to be a father figure to her at all. The act of choosing between these offers similar issues to the first, using your power and exploiting those around you made you like Fontaine and Ryan, where as this time saving the Little Sisters is much like creating the family that Lamb promotes. Rather than fighting against the system, this time you have the choice to make the system work.
Much like Jack, you seem to be with and without freewill. While it is quite obvious that you are linked to your personal little sister, unlike the other Big Daddies you seem capable of rational and personal choice, operating outside of basic parameters. Every person that you meet in the world seems to offer you a choice and asks for your help in completing their goals. Without freewill you would be unable to make these decisions for yourself. The game seems to remind you constantly that there is a thinking human being under all the gear, while the visual and sound elements of the game do their best to remind you that you are anything but. While characters plea for your assistance, the leaking water pings off the metal of your helmet, creating an empty echo that reminds you of how disconnected from these people you truly are.
Your freedom all hinges upon getting to your little sister and escaping the world that bore you, however in having to do so you have no freedom at all. Without your little sister you are bound to roam Rapture forever, but you have no freedom to be without her should you choose. Unlike Jacks obvious predicament and solution, you are bound to carry out your task and discover possibilities and solutions at a later date. Not far into the game one of these solutions presents itself in the form of Sinclair. A man who still believes in the power of money and capitalism, Sinclair wishes to enlist your help to escape Rapture with its technology and sell, bringing him untold millions. With this money he offers to find a cure for your predicament, once again a dilemma of morals. Do you actually care for your little sister, in which case why would you want to be free of the bond that keeps you together? From the get go it’s quite obvious that she loves you. The question is, how much do you care for her and what are you willing to take from others?
Playing the Big Daddy is not much of a different affair from the previous game, which adds to the argument that the narrative that held these creatures in high regard is now flawed. Movement is a tad slower and your vision is partially blocked by the edges of the helmet (which is used to great effect with 3D Nvidia graphics cards). Other than that, new and bigger guns come into play, but produce about the same damage that their spiritual counterparts did in the last game. Plasmids come in a variety of styles, but no longer act as a visual representation of your self mutilation to gain power – you’re already a monster.
The graphics have had a slight overhaul, but remain very similar to the experience of the first game. Items will now float in water, but will descend down a preordained path creating a lovely ripple effect, while your giant footsteps create absolutely nothing at all. Some new special effects with underwater sections are very pretty on a high end PC, while the ragdoll still has a tendency to throw corpses several feet in the air after death. The most noticeable enhancement over the previous is in the sound quality and effect. The previously mentioned pattering of leaking water upon your character is creepy on surround sound speakers, while the echo of voices through corridors becomes more audible as you decrease the amount of objects between you and the inevitable Splicer.
While there is variation in the enemies now, the combat still feels exactly the same and weapon upgrades feel more like making your gun work properly rather than making them cooler. Big Sisters are possibly the most disappointing opponent in the game for something that I wasn’t keen upon anyway. Using the classic Duke Nukem boss circle strafe technique and a high powered weapon, all you need to do to avoid damage is throw out a lightning plasmid every now and again to stop her moves even on the hardest difficulty.
While Bioshock 2’s gameplay hasn’t changed much from its predecessor, the complications within the plot have, and should you look deep enough, the ripple you create can have far more meaning than most are willing to see (intentionally this time). If you even mildly enjoyed the first, then returning to Rapture won’t be a chore, but if you actually look into the decisions you are making with the whole situation firmly locked in your mind, you might find something buried within Rapture’s second coming. Not the greatest game in the world, but certainly one of the most intresting stories.