Posted by: Paul | March 18, 2010

Bioshock 2

Having roundly kicked the Uncharted 2 habit, I’ve moved onto another sequel – and it’s harder stuff.

The original Bioshock was stunning. It was nothing short of a videogame masterpiece. The sole survivor of an ocean plane crash, you struggle to the only structure you can see – a deep sea lighthouse, which is the entrance to the underwater city of Rapture. Built by entrepreneur and utopian thinker Andrew Ryan in order to provide a refuge from the modern world, where artists and scientists alike can practice their craft in peace, something has gone wrong. The inhabitants have been driven mad by their addiction to Gene Tonics and Plasmids, genetic body modifications which can give super strength or speed…at a price. Along with these insane ‘Splicers’, the art deco halls of this briny palace are stalked by Little Sisters, harvesting corpses for the substance ADAM, which led to the development of these genetic advancements. The Little Sisters are protected by Big Daddies, diving suited goliaths who will stop at nothing to protect their charges. Guided by the mysterious ‘Atlas’, the story of Rapture’s desolation unfolds as you work your way closer to the office of Andrew Ryan. Is it possible you are not here by chance?

I can’t say much more than that without ruining it. Especially for a videogame, with narratives notoriously paper thin, Bioshock is an engrossing yarn – well written, paced, and with a denouement that you just won’t see coming. Part 2 picks up 10 years later, with you in the role of a Big Daddy (players of the first game know how much fun this could be). Rapture is now controlled by Dr Sophia Lamb, a communist thinker who is uniting the remaining Splicers under the banner of a twisted ‘family’. Threaten their family – for instance, by attempting to find your Little Sister – and you have the whole city against you.

It was slow to start, and for the first couple of hours I was convinced it was not even on the same level as the first game. But then a few things start to pull you in. Bioshock’s design hook, as with many other games, is all about upgrades. When things start to get a bit tough, it throws you a bone – a new gun, a new ability. Only it’s more than that. The firearms, the gene weapons (Plasmids) are such an integral part of the character that it’s not until you find or unlock a few that you’re drawn into the role. After slogging for a while, all of a sudden you’re kickass. And there are a few interesting and welcome developments. In the first game you either rescued or harvested Little Sisters in order to gain ADAM. Now, as a Big Daddy, you can adopt one and have her gather it for you. Only while she does so the city awakes and throws everything it has in the vicinity in your direction. Research is also improved – previously you took photos of different enemy types in order to gain upgrades. Now you have a movie camera, which you simply set rolling and then throw the book at your attackers, racking up research points as you go.

This is probably all quite alien to non-gamers, and Bioshock is the sort of game that, simply looking at it rather than engaging with it, you could dismiss as colourful, ultraviolent nonsense. But get involved with the story and the systems within the game, and you find yourself in an engrossing and complete world, with something to say not just about videogames, but society at large.

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