Tuesday, 17 January 2012
Playing Bioshock 2: Choosing the impossible
(Originally written on April 15, 2011)
I Finished Bioshock 2, it took me 14.6 hours.
It's disappointing. Not bad, certainly. The gameplay is fine, in some ways it improves on the original. Guarding the sisters while they extract Adam is a good way to encourage players to use plasmids in creative ways. It's a shame that there aren't more interesting gameplay scenarios, but really it's a pretty solid experience.
The big problem is the plot and the characters.
It's really a very straight forward story. Lamb doesn't have the charm of Ryan as a villain and her motivations remains vague and unestablished. She is pretty much a mad-man with a mad scheme that must be stopped. Ryan was a tragic character- a man who escaped tyrants only to become one himself. Lamb experienced tragedy, but it seems it did not changed her personality or goals in the least. There's no real place to sympathize with her or her motives. In my previous note I described her as a leader of a communistic cult in Rapture, but I think now this was too generous a description. Aside from her ambition to annihilate the Ego, she has no ideology to speak of. Her cult seems to be a manipulative ruse to ally people with her. And even so their beliefs never evolve beyond the few catchphrases and one-liners adorning the walls. If there was something more complex here, its lost.
Lamb's book "Unity and Metamorphosis" is everywhere but the player never has a clue what it's about. The few characters who reveal their reason for alliance with Lamb are doing so for personal reasons rather then any adherence to faith or ideology.
The other characters don't far much better. Tenenbaum has no role in the story beyond a single appearance and Sinclare is a ruthless capitalist who guides you sympathetically. Frankly, he is the only character with any dept. Elenore remains a maiden in distress and your own identity is thrown at you without warning or impact.
Its not an easy task to try and tell a compelling story in the world of Rapture without retreading old ground or departing from it altogether. And although it is clear that Bioshock 2 mad quite an effort to expand on the original without rehearsing it, it failed in creating something that can stand on the same ground. Bioshock 1 had some interesting things to say about objectivism, choices and the role of a player in video games. Bioshock 2 has nothing interesting to say, although it tries very hard to pretend that it does.