Sunday, 13 May 2012

Game of the Week: Bioshock 2

Finding myself working far more than I'd ever reasonably want to I thought that a good way to make sure that I continued to write regularly was to make an easy and accessible way to discuss videogames (for myself that is). So I hope to suggest a 'game of the week'. This might be a game I'm currently playing or a game which I think is worth talking about - whether its surprisingly good or remarkably bad. Ultimately it allows me to indulge in a bit of creative bankruptcy and also lets me chat about games I like - win, win. 

Kicking off this week I want to look at a relatively recent, big budget game which kind of deserves a bit more credit than it received. It's Bioshock 2 of course! woop! Now the first game, Bioshock 1, is certainly more worthy of 'classic' status, despite the fact that its plays like a crayon drawing of System Shock 2, but I personally think that it's the sequel which has the better gameplay. It might lack the impact of setting which the first game had, and misses out on having truly insane characters such as Sander Cohen or Steinmen, but I think Bioshock 2 provided a much more convincing and exciting experience overall. 

The story is functional here yet it's still Bioshock 2 worse attribute. It's convoluted and doesn't make much sense in the Rapture universe but it does do a good job of setting up purpose for the characters and the game in general. The player is cast as a prototype Big Daddy named Project Delta who originally looked after one specific Little Sister called Eleanor. As it turns out Eleanor was the daughter of a genius/crazy physiologist called Sofia Lamb. Lamb effectively trumped Andrew Ryan at his own game, turning Rapture's ravenous Splicers into a kind of altruistic 'family' who took control of the city after Ryan's death. (This is the least convincing part of the story considering the social skills of the average Splicer. It also does away with the beautiful savagery of the first game's Randian parody; however this switch from Objectivism to tribal Altruism isn't just narrative polyfiller - it becomes engrained into game's structure of play.) At any rate, after you are revived by some errant Little Sisters, using a Vita chamber no less, you are then tasked with rescuing your Little Sister from her evil physiologist mother.

Thus begins a whole lot of blowing up and general shooting. And it's the combat which really makes this sequel a great deal more fun than the hallowed original. Whereas the original game had the player battling Big Daddies in order to obtain ADAM (the fluid used to purchase Plasmids), in Bioshock 2 a whole violent economy is formed - of which you are an integral part. As a Big Daddy yourself you can adopt Little Sisters and use them to harvest more ADAM from specific corpses around each level. However, by harvesting ADAM the player incurs an onslaught of newly sociable Splicers, gathering in packs to get some ADAM for themselves. This results in pitched battles where the player is allowed to prepare themselves fully and choose the best location for the assault.

What's great is that, while the player in Bioshock had a choice as to when and where they would fought the Big Daddies, Bioshock 2 allows players to make the decision as to how much they are willing to go through to gain more power. You can beat a Big Daddy and simply harvest or rescue the Little Sister then and there - gaining a small amount of ADAM - or you can be tempted to harvest more, requiring more ammo and EVE (fluid used to replenish your Plasmids) to defend against the ravenous junkies. It's great fun setting up traps and thinking about the environment before pressing the 'harvest' button and awaiting the coming brutality. (It even gives us a chance to get all metaphorical: while the first game had you squabbling with lowly Splicers to gain drabs of ADAM, here the player is in an executive role where they can always gain more but at the risk of causing their own downfall - i.e. death)

Bioshock 2 is just as good looking as its predecessor, it also adds some nice new locations to our mental map of Rapture and even opens up the ocean to a few ponderous (arguably pointless) sea walks. There is also the amazing option to turn off Vita chambers (making death actually mean something)! Along with this there is a multiplayer game with several modes and one of the best recent add-on packs around: Minerva's Den, which has a great stand-alone story. All in all Bioshock 2 is a fantastic FPS game. It drops much of the arbitrary references to the first game's RPG heritage (item collection, back tracking - serving only as cruel reminders of System Shock 2 - its possibly worth mentioning at this late stage how much I actually loved Bioshock despite how it may seem) and focuses much more on structuring an utterly unique and fully engrossing combat experience. 

Available on: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 

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