FEATURE | Rapturous Verbatim: Defending BioShock 2

by Sean Evans

After a good dozen-or-so hours of intense face-drilling and constant DNA abuse, my second journey through the annals of Andrew Ryan’s dilapidated Rapture has finally come to a conclusion. Let me preface all this by saying that I found the experience to be very enjoyable. The action felt more pronounced, thanks to tuned shooting mechanics and some smart location-based set-pieces.

Whilst not to the calibre of the city’s creator, nor the villainous Frank Fontaine, added characters such as Sofia Lamb and Augustus Sinclair were likeable enough, adding to Rapture’s general mythos. And even if it’s not entirely ‘new’, the moody and harrowing atmosphere of a broken down underwater upotia is still a pleasurable if endlessly ominous setting to explore.

Okay, I admit, the story was a little less interesting by comparison to the first game’s unexpected plot-twist revelations, but being able to learn more about the societal failings of such a fascinating virtual inhabitance kept me engaged regardless. Honestly, how often do you say that whilst playing any number of rote action games on the market these days?

With all that said, as the game’s release came closer and closer, that hype-induced sense of insufferable waiting and bowel-spewing excitement that comes parceled with most big-name titles never came to fruition for me with BioShock 2. My feelings of ambivalence prior to playing were never based on any disapproval of the sequel’s existence, but more of mere ignorance regarding what to expect from a sequel to such a well thought-out and insular single-player adventure.

Two and a half years later, however, and in the face of staunch defiance, BioShock 2 has released to favourable critical appraisal; and it looks like much of the previously indignant are enjoying it, too. Rewind a few months back and the story was significantly different. Admittedly, this was largely because there were several points of contention stacked against the game’s favour:

  • The original BioShock is heralded as one of most rich and unique gaming experiences of the last decade. That’s quite a legacy to live up to. This is especially the case when the majority of the game’s fans agreed that its focused narrative structure deserved to be left alone in singularity; untouched by any money-driven intentions the publisher may have (even though we all know that, naturally, business companies of all kinds like to stack their cheese the best ways they can).
  • A delay of a few months, pushing it from late 2009 to early 2010, caused raise for concern. Not too long of a split in the grand scheme of things, but seemingly long enough to instil greater doubt in the minds of the already-dubious.
  • As time went on, it was revealed that multiple developers at different 2K studios were working on the project…
  • …as well a separate developer working on – gasp – a multiplayer component.
  • And finally, Ken Levine – the creative powerhouse behind BioShock – stated that he would have absolutely no involvement with the sequel’s development, conceptually or otherwise.

Whether you individually think these reasons for lambasting 2K are justified or not, it was incredibly interesting to observe the fiercely negative mentality behind those who actively disavowed the game’s right to even exist. This stance was built on both the substantial critical and fan acclaim that the original enjoyed back in 2007, something that I’m pretty sure 2K Marin (and the seventeen other developers who worked on the game) were very much aware of.

Of all these bullet points, let me just say as a footnote that I cannot subjectively provide insight into the quality of the game’s multiplayer modes, simply because I am currently incapable of getting my console online to check it out. I’ve heard good things about it, but it’s best I ignore that debate altogether.

What I can say quite definitively is that BioShock 2 is a single-player experience worth playing. It builds on the world that the original established with suitable stories of intrigue patched into the framework that tied together the first game’s events, even if they are not as memorable here. The same can also be said for the setting of Rapture itself – it isn’t as wondrous and bewildering of a place to step into the second time round, but why would it be? If you’ve played the original, you’ve been there before and you’re aware of what challenges inhibit Rapture’s remains (with some exception).

BioShock 2 features moments of pure analogue intensity that the first game’s poorer aspects failed to delivery in a totally satisfactory way. This is clearly a good thing, because after all, it’s not as if the original was a point-and-click adventure game or something other than an FPS at its core, irrospective of how good or bad of an FPS it was. Being resourceful with EVE and applying a viable strategy with available plasmids was something you always had to do before, and it was all under the applications of a shooter.

As a result, the most noticable difference with the sequel manifests in the refinement of the shooting and plasmid action. To that end, the weapons still don’t have the pin-point accuracy of say, Modern Warfare 2, but that’s not drawing negatives by any stretch of the imagination. The pacing is still slow yet frantic, retaining the awesome one-two punch of plasmids and heavy weaponry (that can now be used in tandem), as well as the tactile methods needed to make progress. Ignoring deficits like the over-powered wrench, combining powers in inventive ways was a successful and fun approach to playing BioShock, and that’s a notion empowered to greater extent by the sequel’s mechanical improvements.

Although, seeing as how BioShock’s most lauded dinstinciton wasn’t its shooiting mechanics, why should you return if the more revered parts of the original – like its narrative and characters – aren’t as interesting? Simply because Rapture is still a uniquely sheltered and dense environment to roam around in that deserves your attention as a BioShock fan. It probably won’t re-birth that familiar feeling of awe at a new surrounding; nor the unabated compulsion to unravel the mystery that lies ahead, but I never felt like that was BioShock 2’s intent.

Not only that, but the atmosphere is still absolutely dead-on. The menacing presence of a Big Daddy plodding through the halls of Rapture’s elegant art deco wreckage is still fantastically terrifying. Even playing as a Bid Daddy prototype, I still felt so low down on the low chain that fighting to adopt my first Little Sister felt absorbing to a point where it still felt like nothing I have played recently. Encountering the sight of this dominant protector transition from slow and docile to quick and aggressive at the zap of a plasmid remains to be one of the most visually impressive enemy creations I’ve seen in a game. Even now, just hearing a Big Daddy’s echoing groan from the next room is as effective at being frightening as it is making you openly blurt out, “Holy shit, that’s cool.”

So call it a sequel, call it a ‘side-story’ – call it whatever you want. For me, BioShock 2 is a worthy successor that provided enough incentive to reach this chapter’s finale and enjoy my time getting there. If Rapture was a place you enjoyed fighting through before, then there is little reason why you won’t like this game on some level.  Hell, I’m enticed enough to see yet another installment in 2K’s striking universe. But, whether that third visit should continue amongst the ruins of Rapture as the crumbled city we know is difficult to say.

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