(Originally written on April 14, 2011)
I'm a little more then six hours into Bioshock 2, and I'm trying to verbalize why it doesn't work as well as Bioshock 1. That is not to say I don't enjoy it, but I find my self playing it in small chunks rather then feeling myself absorbed into the experience. Which was the way I played the first Bioshock, eager to discover more about the world and the characters around me.
Technical DeficienciesFirst there's "Games for Windows Live" a system as cumbersome as its name. It means that it tells you about updates after you started the game, forcing you to quit, update and launch the game again. It means that you cannot save or load until you are logged in. The logging takes about ten seconds once you reached the main menu and god-forbid if you try to navigate the menu before it has logged you in. For in that case you are directed back to the main menu.
A second and perhaps more annoying problem is that B2 is an obvious port. While thankfully it doesn't refer you to the buttons on the X-Box controller, the default key settings are far from ideal. The real problem however is the fact that there is no Quick Save. Every time I wish to save, I must go the the menu and do it manually. Even more annoying is when I die. Since I disabled the Vita-Chambers (as an option through the gameplay settings), death means you have to reload. This would not be a problem save that the moment you die, you cannot activate the menu and the game throws you back to the main menu once the death animation had run its course. Which also means you have to endure the longer loading time of a save compared to the loading time while in the level.
Underwater AtmosphereI remember Bioshock 1 so clearly. Swimming up to the watchtower among burning debris, seeing Atlas' family sink in their Bathysphere, the epic moments of Man and Slave and even little moments like turning around to face a splicer in the dentistry or seeing the remains of a 1959 party. B2 has yet to make such as impact, aside from the opening movie.
There's a lot more fighting in B2 and a lot less time to soak in the place you are fighting in. There's a lot more characters actually active in the plot but they feel a bit to one-dimensional. Lamb is a cold manipulator who seeks to establish a communist cult-like society in Rapture. Tenenbaum who made some chilling remarks in B1 is presented as totally altruistic. Sinclare fills a role similar to Fontain from B1, that of a morally scrupulous capitalist.
The audio diaries are not as memorable as in B1. They give you the plot and the character's history in a pretty straight forward way. They do a good job at outlining the character's ideologies and rivalries but they lack the charm that accompanied B1's diaries. There was a diary I remember clearly from B1 about a plumber describing the job he did on a toilet for Ryan and how it got him to Rapture. The diary gave you a look into Ryan's ideology, his life before Rapture, the men he brought here and how Objectivism is supposed to work. But as the game progressed and you discover more about Rapture, you also understand how such simple hard working man were trapped in the system and why they sided with Fontain.
B2 gives you the barest characterization for side characters and rambling speeches for the main characters that sound a little too heavy handed with their message.
Theme and IdeologyAgain, this is how things look six hours in. B1 was interesting. Objectivism is not an ideology one encounters regularly and B1 did a good job of presenting its merits and flaws. But B2 seems to be about Communism. And really, is there anything left to say about it? I think most everyone is familiar with the ideological merits and flaws of Communism, it has been the subject of countless films and books. I'm having trouble seeing how B2 will bring something new to the table.