Friday, February 5, 2016

Bioshock 2 review

    I've been meaning to play this for some time but my Xbox 360 crapped out so I was forced to put it off until I got a new one. It's destined for being uploaded into Xbox One via Backwards Compatibility but I didn't want to wait to play. Bioshock 2 gets something of a bad rap, being a cash-in title created two extremely well-done, extremely-well-written, and (let's face it) somewhat pretensions philosophical works.

    And that's me saying it, the king of "Video Games are DEEP, man."

    Honestly, I think Bioshock 2's reputation is unfair because my opinion of the game is extremely positive. It's weighed down by a number of factors I'll get into but I think the developers included a lot of extremely good ideas which, if it had been allowed to develop them a bit more, would have made a game I probably enjoyed more than the original.

So cute and terrifying.
    The premise of Bioshock 2 is you're a Big Daddy, one of the semi-mindless humanoid abominations created by Andrew Ryan as a guardian of the Big Sisters. This is already a mixed blessing as while it provides an instant connection to an underdeveloped story, Big Daddy's are even less human your typical blank slate silent protagonist. One day, your Little Sister is kidnapped from you by Sofia Lamb, the Collectivist villain of the piece, and you are forced to commit suicide. Somehow, ten years pass and then you wake up pissed and wanting your mutant daughter back.

    I'm a big fan of father-daughter narratives in these kinds of stories so I'm going to give them props for making your distressed damsel into a child rather than a girlfriend. I also am going to say how much I enjoy Eleanor, who proves to be a much more helpful and interesting character than her position might have warranted. There's some definite holes in the above story which only get vaguely explained latter and strike me as a result of a committee writing the plot rather than any single writer. "How does he survive ten years with a bullet in his head?" "It doesn't matter! Big Daddy's can for some reason."

Rapture is creepy and beautiful as always.
    Either way, the game once more takes you through the crumbling ruins of Rapture which is even more of an insane hellhole than it was before. There, you will do battle with Big Sisters, the occasional Big Daddy, and Lamb's insane followers on a quest to recover Eleanor. You will also have the option of passing righteous or unrighteous judgement on the various citizens of Rapture. You will do this with Plasmids, a Power Drill, a Rivet Gun, a Machine Gun, and your superhuman Big Daddy strength.

    So what's good and what's bad?

    Well, the biggest benefit of the game is also it's biggest weakness as Bioshock 2 really is a second helping of Bioshock. The gameplay is damned near identical and the setting is just a different section of Bioshock, which is good because both were awesome. I don't mind reusing assets as long as they're good in the first place and, personally, think this is a good thing for Triple A gaming. It's fun to shoot Splicers, kill them with Power Drills, set them on fire, and otherwise forget they're not zombies but a bunch of human drug addicts.

Big Sisters are a great but disturbing concept.
    The game also has an extremely interesting villainess in Sofia Lamb. I don't think she has quite as strong an introduction as Andrew Ryan and it's a little too obvious they just went, "Okay, let's just take Andrew Ryan and completely reverse everything about him to the other extreme." Man, woman, Objectivist, Collectivist, businessman, charity head, dark, light and so on.

It also causes some serious plot holes by suggesting Andrew Ryan would ever let someone with that ideology live in his paradise when he was established as crucifying people for resistance by the end. The audio logs explain most of these inconsistencies away but I can't help but think it might have been better for Sofia Lamb to be a newcomer to Rapture--perhaps drawn by rumors of the city and organizing the aftereffects.

    Even so, I don't think we've got quite the level of Deconstruction to Collectivism as we got in Bioshock with Objectivism. The basic idea the game is going for is, "if you forget about the individual in the name of the group, then you have lost all moral decency because groups are collections of individuals." It's not a bad idea at all but too much is spent on Andrew Ryan's period as ruler of Rapture so we don't get a sense of just how crazy Sofia Lamb's collectivist urges really get.

    Thankfully, we do have Eleanor to serve as a focus for our outrage as it's made clear Sofia  is perfectly willing to torture and abuse her own daughter because she sees no reason why said child should be anymore important than anyone else. Interestingly, I think Sofia Lamb works best as showing how Andrew Ryan's brutality and cruelty set the stage for a reactionary Anti-Objectivist movement. The culture to grow Sofia Lamb's crazy cult is purely the product of Andrew Ryan's greed, megalomania, and cruelty.

Eleanor is a lovely character. Sort of a proto-Elizabeth.
    Indeed, I really liked the game's posthumous use of Andrew Ryan a great deal and wonder if the game developers really just wanted to do a prequel or concurrent story. One of my favorite bits from Bioshock 2 is Andrew Ryan's theme park. A man came to Rapture to create his own version of Disney World and have his dreams come true but Andrew Ryan warped the subject to fit his vision--essentially, giving Objectivist propaganda to children.

    This is actually a funny joke if you know anything about Objectivism and I'm not sure if it's intentional or not but if it is, kudos. Basically, one of Ayn Rand's principle works of fiction is the Fountainhead which is all about an architect struggling against a society that ruined and perverted his designs.

    The Big Sisters are excellent enemies but confuse me and make me wonder about their origins. It wouldn't have taken long to just say, "Okay, you didn't rescue all of the Little Sisters the last time" but the game never does that so I was left wondering if some of Jack's kids had come back to Rapture out of a perverse sense of Stockholm Syndrome.

    I couldn't help but think a Little Sister doing that would have been more interesting in some respects than Sofia Lamb herself. There's also a lengthy subplot about Mark Meltzer, a man chasing his daughter to Rapture, which I thought would have been an excellent backstory about Subject Delta (i.e. the Protagonist) but turns out to be just random background flavor.

Sofia Lamb is one of the highlights of the game even if she just the Anti-Ryan.
    I also give kudos to Eleanor's voice actress of Sarah Bolger (Once Upon a Time) who does a great job with establishing a bond to her character despite the briefness of your interactions. She reminded me of Angel in Borderlands and that's not a bad comparison to make. The fact she eventually comes to join you in combat is something which also contributes to making her a great character.

    Ultimately, Bioshock 2 feels more like an expansion ala Dragon Age: Awakening or other DLC than it does a wholly separate game in itself. If you want to go visit Rapture again, then this is probably your best bet vs. Burial at Sea as it's a helluva lot less likely to make you want to hurl the controller at the wall. It's also got likable characters, an okay if plot-hole filled story, and fun gameplay. Could they have done better? Yeah, probably, but I'm not going to say they did poorly either.



  1. Well, with the big sisters, they probably should have said "yeah, Jack didn't save all the little sisters", though it makes sesne. Rapture's a city, and quite possibly a very big one. Game worlds tend to be surprisingly small. There's possibly hundreds of little sisters in Rapture Jack never even saw.

  2. As for the rest of the game:
    I feel like this is a very underrated game.

    Gameplay-wise, I'd argue it's the best, but it does have one major problem of having you play a big-daddy, which kills half the horror element (you don't feel vulnerable enough).

    The world-building's a very good expansion on Rapture. While having Lamb be the Anti-Ryan is obvious, I would argue that it's logical-anyone left in Rapture would probably be very sick of individuality. Also, I'd argue that Rapture's technology (perhaps ironically) lends itself well to such a collectivist dystopia, since it allows a person to destroy the individual on a biological level.

    Also, the perspective flip is kind of interesting-Bioshock 2 really casts Rapture in this weird light that's both kind of pretty and creepy all at once.

    However, you're correct in that they really don't do a good enough job in talking about the details of this dystopia. I suppose the problem is that nearly everyone's a splicer already.

    1. Oh, I enjoyed the game and actually adjusted my score from 7.5/10 to 8/10 because it really does capture most of what was good about Bioshock even if it lacks an in-depth exploration of the ideals of its premise. Part of the problem is the Objectivist nature of Rapture is built into so much of the place that you can't explore Collectivist ideals in the setting without overhauling it completely.

      Sofia Lamb is arguably an even more ****y Collectivist than Andrew Ryan is a ****y Objectivist too as the height of her achievement is creating what amounts to a literal cult with the majority of the followers (if not all of them) being the equivalent of meth-heads. It's not exactly an overwhelming achievement to make a society of those since plenty of people in the real world do it without benefit of supernatural powers.

      I really think this game is actually a template for Bioshock: Infinite as so much of it seems to have been rehashed for B:I. We've got the father/daughter bond, the evil parent figure who wants to take you away from her and turn her into a Dark Messiah, the Collectivist vision (except with racism and religion versus group identity), and the minor moral decisions scattered throughout the game.

      I also note Bioshock: Infinite also made use of the human experimentation on a daughter-figure of the villain in the same way Bioshock: Infinite made use of the same ideals.

    2. Its not like collectivism hasn't used cults before. See Jim Jones and Jonestown who certainly was a collectivist that used cult like methods on his followers.

    3. If I had to make any sort of commentary, I really like how the game shows that Andrew Ryan created the culture from which Sofia Lamb's cult was able to grow. The desperate, poor, and fanatical which we see in the game come entirely from the result of Andrew Ryan's depredations. If you buy into the 'religion is the opiate of the masses' then, ironically, the revolutionary cult-like atmosphere of Sofia Lamb's cult is the result of Andrew Ryan acting like a villain from a Marxist work.

      One of my favorite audio diaries in Bioshock 2 is where you're exploring an apartment in Sinclair's Slums (which should have been its actual name) and find out about a guy who doesn't care one bit about religion but decides to join Sofia's cult simply because it offers relief against the horrors he's endured as a man who can't keep up with Rapture's dog-eat-dog reality.

      We also find out Sofia Lamb is murdering actually religious folk which I found to be a bit annoying, though, as I was hoping she'd co-opt all of Rapture's religious.

    4. It makes sense. Cults try to cut off members from any outside influence including more moderate religions. Purges are not exactly unknown among the collectivist ideologies either.

    5. True. I actually had an interesting theory which I would have made an essay about Eleanor/Sofia and Elizabeth/Comstock that the characters with the most single minded devotion to Collectivism/Christianity are the two characters with the absolute least amount of faith in people to abide by those principles.

      Sofia Lamb doesn't believe people can act in a altruistic manner so she feels the need to destroy humanity with what amounts to Instrumentality while Comstock doesn't believe in God, no matter his pretensions, since he feels the need to create his own scientific-version of Christ.

      Andrew Ryan for all of the fact he was unwilling or unable to trust his principles would actually work (or at least work for him), did honestly believe people would want to live by his principles.

      Which plays into the fact Booker becomes a Christ figure in the Baptism ending while Eleanor and Delta nicely show a proper display of collectivism by working as a true family or mutual good will as well as abandoning personal vengeance. Jack is a harder character to show Objectivist ideals too but he is, at the end, a man who chooses and pursues personal happiness by his own merit rather than trying to inherit or steal Rapture.

  3. Oh, by the way, the reason why Delta wakes up after 10 years after taking a bullet to the head:

    Eleanor spent 10 years trying to get the little sisters to reprogram the Vita-Chambers to resurrect Subject Delta. So, Delta's dead-dead, but he's brought back to life by the in-game respawn points.

    1. Yeah, I appreciated that bit of gameplay and story integration.