Game Review: Bioshock 2
I just completed Bioshock 2 (2010). The follow up to one of gaming’s most beloved and critically acclaimed titles, the sequel delivers everything its predecessor pioneered in a more refined, smarter, and intelligent way. So here’s my review.
Would We Kindly…
Bioshock 2’s story flips to an antagonist who is, politically, a diametric opposite of the antagonist of the first entry (Andrew Ryan). Whereas Andrew Ryan was the personification of laissez fair libertarian philosophy, unshackled from government and social responsibility, Dr. Sofia Lamb sees the state as the primary fuel for utopian locomotion. Emphasizing altruism, collectivism, and the primacy of the social good over the individual, Dr. Lamb positions Rapture as the Petri dish for her grand social experiment. It is here that the developers illustrate how utopian ambitions from progressive thinkers can slowly devolve into cult like worship, and a strong parallel to the many real world instances where fascist or crony capitalist regimes have been substituted by authoritarian communist or corrupt socialist dictatorships. At every juncture of the story, the theme of whether it is better to devote yourself to a collective cause and forego your individual interests, or to preserve your agency at the cost of social unity, is punctuated throughout the approximately ten hour campaign. As the story progresses, familial dynamics take over and this is where the narrative begins to lose steam. The enamouring part of the first Bioshock story was its commitment to its commentary on politics and social organization, and Bioshock 2 softens the sharpness of its message by leaning more heavily on the personal relationship between the protagonist, antagonist, and another character of importance.
The presentation in Bioshock 2 is fantastic. I am, of course, playing the remastered collection, and the lighting, textures, and art direction are pristine. The atmosphere of Rapture continues to be one of the most inviting and alluring in all of gaming. The soundtrack again features mid 20th century tunes finely mixed with an orchestral score that strikes the right tone during the story. The level design is as well done as it was in the first title. The locations in this game were more distinct from each other. From a hotel, to an amusement park, to a religious community, each setting offered its own story and fit well with the broader themes. Environmental story telling was cranked up here, with audio recordings fleshing out the story, visual cues signalling what happened before your arrival, and small unexpected moments that leave you feeling like rapture is a lived-in environment.
Bioshock’s gameplay is where the most improvement has occurred. Now you can use both your plasmid and your weapon simultaneously. The hacking mini game is more intuitive and enjoyable. The fortress defence mechanic with the little sisters was by far one of my favourite segments, with new tools, such as the turrets, trap rivets, and mines all allowing you to prepare for the onslaught. The drill is satisfying to use and adds a well needed layer of melee combat that was lacking from the last game. The weapons are more customizable, as are your plasmids, and the RPG elements have been streamlined for simplicity and accessibility. The collecting of resources felt less onerous than the last, and maybe this was because resource management in this game was given more currency. There are many other small gameplay modifications that have been made since the first that I haven’t mentioned, but you can expect a cleaner and smoother experience.
Personally, I enjoyed Bioshock 2 more than Bioshock 1. The gameplay is tighter, with a myriad of quality of life improvements, the presentation is higher quality, the level design has more variety, and flipping the story to explore the other end of the political spectrum was refreshing. Bioshock 2 will not elicit the same feeling of awe you had during the first game, entering the new world of rapture. The story doesn’t feature the same weight, and this is why in retrospect critics still hold the first entry in the series in the highest regard. But Bioshock 2 is how a sequel should be done and is my favourite so far in the series. I cannot wait to begin my journey in Columbia (Bioshock Infinite).