- 2K Games
- Classification: M
Set in 1960 within the labyrinthine confines of Rapture, a dystopian city built miles beneath the Atlantic, the original BioShock fascinated millions with its surprisingly cerebral story. Largely informed by the writings of American philosopher Ayn Rand, it explored the potentially terrifying consequences of capitalism and individualism taken to their extremes. With few laws and no moral referees to check citizens’ actions, genetic enhancement and scientific experimentation ran amok, resulting in a society obsessed with consumerism and self-idolatry. People literally went mad with self-improvement technology.
BioShock 2 sends players back to this underwater metropolis 10 years later. The city has lacked any semblance of civilization – or regular maintenance – for a decade. Its beautiful, art-deco-inspired concourses are leaking heavily and its once luxurious residences, restaurants and attractions lie in ruin.
The city’s few remaining inhabitants are presided over by a psychologist named Sophia Lamb. Touting an ideology the polar opposite of Rapture’s founding principles, she rejects what she calls the “tyranny of the self” and instead imposes upon her cult-like followers a severe form of collectivism in which everyone is a member of “the family” and must be willing to sacrifice themselves for the community’s greater good.
Carried over from the first game are Big Daddies and Little Sisters: men in hulking diving suits who have been genetically altered to bond with and zealously protect spooky – yet oddly adorable – little girls that use huge syringes to suck special stem cells known as ADAM from the city’s corpses.
Our role in this submerged madhouse is, unexpectedly, the very first Big Daddy. Named Subject Delta, he developed a particularly strong bond with his Little Sister, Eleanor, who just happens to be Sophia’s daughter. Sophia commanded him to kill himself before the city’s fall, which he apparently did. But now he’s back, and on a mission to reunite with Eleanor and reaffirm his free will.
The action that takes place along the way can be, well, terrifying. Rapture’s disfigured, doped-up denizens – dubbed splicers – are wickedly insane and tend to charge screaming from around corners. There are also fights against a frighteningly fast and powerful new enemy called a Big Sister who acts as Sophia’s right hand, as well as siege battles in which we must protect the Little Sisters whom Delta occasionally adopts.
Luckily, Delta has plenty of ways to defend himself, most notably a selection of “plasmid” abilities that give him the power to lift and throw objects with his mind, zap bad guys with ice, electricity and fire, and even hypnotize enemies to make them attack one another.
Oh, there’s also a huge drill welded to his arm.
And he’s rather fond of his rivet gun.
However viscerally satisfying as the action might be, BioShock 2, like its predecessor, is most memorable for its resolve to connect with players. Maybe it’s because I have a daughter about the same age as a Little Sister, but I felt emotionally invested in and fiercely protective of them. I felt good when they climbed onto Delta’s back, cooing pride and praise. Freeing them of their ADAM obsession and seeing them return to normal little girls gushing with gratefulness was even more fulfilling.
The game’s only real tarnish is a multiplayer mode that seems tacked on. The senseless chaos of online fragfests just feels out of place in a world constructed so that virtually everything, from minor characters to poster ads, has meaning. Thankfully, it’s separate from the story and safely skippable.
Brainy games are rare. Affecting games perhaps even more so. To have the two combined in a single experience that delivers exemplary action to boot is a treat.