As a rabidly hardcore fan of the original game, I feel almost duty bound to dislike BioShock 2. In about as much need of a sequel as the Mona Lisa, Ken Levine’s original creative work was a stunningly complete vision, telling a perfectly orchestrated tale of the rise and fall of one of gaming’s most memorable locations. The prospect of a purely commercially-driven sequel drew understandably hushed accusations of cashing in and selling out. Yet as hard as I’ve tried, BioShock 2 is simply too good a game to dislike.
Initial interviews with new creative director Jordan Thomas suggested that the man had a rich appreciation for what made BioShock such a unique vision, but appreciation doesn’t always translate to ability, yet Jordan and his 2K Marin team have done the impossible and created a valuable expansion to the 2007 masterpiece. Set 10 years after Ryan and Fontaine’s war tore the city apart, BioShock 2 puts you in the boots of the original Big Daddy – a more manoeuvrable but conversely less tank-like build of the iconic lumbering goliath.
Giving you access to the immense power of the Big Daddy of course demands a more threatening set of enemies and spearheading that threat is the scarred and dysfunctional evolution of the Little Sister – the Big Sister. Combining the grace and agility of the ballet dancer with a frightening arsenal of weaponry including an arm-sized syringe, the Big Sister takes a stern approach to sibling protection and strongly objects to your interference with the little sisters of Rapture, appearing regularly to make your life more difficult.
10 years in Rapture has seen political upheaval, and from the ashes of Andrew Ryan’s extreme objectivist philosophies has risen Sophia Lamb with a fiercely socialist agenda. More than simply a re-skinning of antagonists, Lamb’s collectivist ideals have given birth to an entirely new culture of beliefs and concepts that go against everything Ryan stood for, and in design terms that equals new environments and boss characters. That’s not to say that the drastic shift in values has discarded everything Ryan built – his DNA was woven so deeply into Rapture’s architecture that even 10 years on from his demise, the clashing of cultures is constantly evident.
As with the original game, Rapture is clearly the star of the show. Obviously a significant amount of the original’s appeal was in discovering and uncovering Rapture’s mysteries – a sensation that sadly can’t be repeated once you are familiarised with its secrets. What BioShock 2 does manage to succeed in doing however is creating a perfect addendum to the first game, expanding on ideas that Ryan’s Laissez-faire capitalist society simply wouldn’t accommodate, such as religion and collective responsibility. The new characters sit comfortably alongside the likes of Sander Cohen and Yi Suchong, each furnished with their own objectives, ideas and of course shortcomings.