Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bioshock 2

The most interesting thing to me about Irrational Games taking the Bioshock name and sticking it on a game that takes place in a city in the sky is what it means for this game. When Bioshock 2 was announced (or really just when someone at 2K said there would be sequels), a lot of people complained that the game didn't need it, that its concepts had been explored and its story resolved. I didn't dislike the concept of another game, because I loved the original and thought that more could be done with the setting. But when they started showing off Columbia last year, the complaints started to make sense - if you can continue the franchise with the same core concepts without returning to the same location, then why did this game need to exist? It just makes things confusing. If Bioshock doesn't mean Rapture, then why does this game get the "2", instead of the one that really pushes things forward? Bioshock 2 isn't a bad game, but subsequent announcements have made it feel less like a full sequel, and I thought it focused on the wrong part of the original to expand upon.

The game takes place almost a decade after the first, with the original protagonist long gone, putting you in control of one of the first truly successful Big Daddy experiments, a man who found the city on his own and was then bonded to Eleanor, a Little Sister who happens to be the daughter of Sofia Lamb, a woman with opposite ideals to Andrew Ryan who took over the city after his death. Playing as a Big Daddy doesn't fundamentally alter the gameplay experience, as you still acquire Plasmids and weapons and use them in conjunction to fend off Splicers, gain control of Little Sisters, and make your way towards the finish line. I do like that the weapons are different, with at least a graphical facelift on some of the similar ones and some new features, and the brief underwater segments are a nice break from regular play. The Plasmids are pretty much all the same though, and while dual wielding makes things a bit smoother, it's pretty much the same game. The new areas seem to fit in with the setting that previously established and the new characters are just as out of their minds as the old ones, though they all still look like the same kinds of places and the series' brand of insanity in its characters is pretty familiar by now.

While its at its core a very similar experience, on area they seemed to really ramp things up is combat, which was honestly no one's favorite part of the first game. There's just more of it you have to do, assuming you go after the Little Sisters in order to buy the power-ups you'll need to get by later on. In the first game you had to kill a Big Daddy in order to rescue or harvest the girl he's protecting, but now to max out the Adam that pays for your upgrades, you have to kill a Big Daddy to grab her in the first place, protect her from waves of enemies as she draws Adam out of two separate corpses, and fight one Big Sister on every level, which is basically a faster and more dangerous Big Daddy. I just got fatigued at a certain point fighting the same kinds of enemies over and over again. Setting up traps and mixing and matching Plasmids and weapons is fun to be sure, but after a while you get bored with experimenting and just want to get to the end. I actually wonder now how hard it would be to play through the game skipping most of the Little Sisters,which would reduce your abilities but also reduce the time you spend fighting everyone. The game practically overwhelms you with supplies you can find in every nook and cranny, and even if enemies kill you you just respawn at the nearest Vita-Chamber anyway.

What really impressed me and most others about the first game was the atmosphere of the unique setting and the story. The problem with Bioshock 2 is that the setting is no longer unique, and the atmosphere is less effective when you've already played a full game using it. They're just out of tricks at this point. The first game wasn't really scary, but there was something fascinating about exploring a city intended to be an underwater utopia that went completely to hell very recently. All Bioshock 2 can do is more of that, and after at least 25 hours total spent in the city, I'm kind of over it. By the last couple levels I was just tired of picking up giant tape recorders and listening to one more sad story about how things went wrong. The plot of Bioshock 2 does a nice job of building off the first and arguably has a much better conclusion, but it also doesn't have a single moment as singularly memorable and powerful as the one from the first game that everyone remembers. There are certain parts of the last couple areas that are as inspired as anything the series has done, but by that point I just wanted to be done with it. I'm not really sure what it is, because usually I'm fine with sequels, and I played the first game way back when it came out so I should have been fully ready for another by now. I guess there's just a certain feel to the experience that made me only really need to go through it once. Or maybe the combat in the first game was easy enough that I could overlook the fact that it wasn't what interested me about the experience, while this time it was a struggle to enjoy the other parts of the game because of the constant fighting. In any case, it is a fun, well made game, but not the great one its predecessor was. In any case, I'll still check out the add-on that everyone raves about.

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