Whether it’s watching a blu ray I’d never seen, clearing up the good ol’ Netflix list, a video game that I barely gave the time of day, or a BOOK that I’d been long putting off, now is the time to clear my stupidly big backlog of impulse buys and costly hobbies.
*preliminary shower of praise for Bioshock*
Yes, I loved the original Bioshock. It’s a hot take as scorching as a winter’s day, but there. The single player campaign is a masterclass of storytelling that can really only be told through the video game medium. Where the vast majority of games attempt to emulate the cinematic flare fit for the big screen, Ken Levine’s 2007 opus tells a tale that strikes at the very core of video games, turning a medium into a genuine art form. Its themes of utopia, capitalism and free will were fresh then as they were when I finally completed it less than two years ago.
Bioshock 2, once again taking place in the iconic semi-sandbox of Rapture, tells a story of another silent protagonist going through another meditation of free will and morality, once again being aided by allies and intimidated by an antagonist who both rarely physically interact with the player.
Yes, I biggest criticism of the game is how overtly similar it is compared to its predecessor. I mean, Rapture is once again a beautifully realized hellscape of a setting that is as eerie and atmospheric as ever. The thing is, the original essentially did all the heavy lifting. Gamers in 2007 were floored by the world, consistently being touted as one of the great video game settings. While this sequel does retain the charm of it to a tee, it does little to go distinguish itself from the first game. Maybe that’s the point. Without Ken Levine as director, who laid the groundwork for Rapture’s ripeness with idealistic wonder and social commentary, the safest route for 2K Games to go would be the “Bioshock, but more” one.
For the most part, it succeeds: the gameplay is a notable upgrade from the original. Playing as a Big Daddy does offer more variety in combat, and the hacking mechanics is thankfully overhauled to something simpler, less time consuming and rewarding yet equally consequential. I’m not kidding, the hacking mini game in the original was the absolute bane of my existence, so having the sequel overhaul that aspect of the game lent me the most relieved of sighs.
While gameplay is an improvement, the story, particularly the pacing, is a bit of a slog. Nearly every level’s conflict is resolved by some override or key card, which is fine the first time, but gets quickly repetitive and tedious as the narrative progresses.
Overall, just some quick thoughts on Bioshock 2. It’s more of the same that challenged the conventions of video game storytelling, though it is a bit more conventional and plodding for the first 2 acts. The final stretch is a genuine blast that nearly reaches the heights of its predecessor. Alas, its shadow is too big.