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For once I feel the need to talk about a game without hating on it. Bioshock 2, while occasionally having a hiccup or two on the technical side (stupid fiddle music glitch….grumble) was a very enjoyable experience for me. I could go on forever with countless different articles on the things that finishing this game has made me want to talk about but I think I'll just do my best to boil it down to some statements that I think need to be said and defense of those statements. Spoilers for both games ahead. So if you haven't finished both then stay away.
Bioshock 2 is an unnecessary sequel that made itself necessary
Upon going into Bioshock 2 I had nothing but questions as to why it was being made. I hadn't read anything about it since the old game informer preview back when they still thought the Big Sister was the main antagonist.
The game went through a lot of changes after that article and I personally think it was for the better. Saddled with what seems to be an only marginally improved version of the first game's engine and a first game that went out of it's way to not warrant a sequel the Bioshock 2 team had to get creative to continue milking this cash cow.
Rather then just hammer out any old generic story and call it a day I feel they managed to put together a stand alone game that stands up to the original. Respecting it without being reverent to it. Attempting to improve it without just simply trying to one up it.
In both story and gameplay Bioshock 2 is by no means a perfect game, but in case you all have forgotten neither was the original. The fact is that the original Bioshock is a once in a lifetime lightning strike that can't be reproduced. The Bioshock 2 team smartly chose to avoid trying to reproduce it and instead tried to compliment it. Thus creating a rather good one two punch.
Their most obvious accomplishment was streamlining the combat system and the upgrades, while I do appreciate those choices I think that their narrative choices are worth more discussion. Video games often improve on previous game's controls and gameplay. This is nothing special. The story has always been where people were going to bring down the axe on Bioshock 2 for not needing to exist. So I will defend it's right to exist on those grounds alone.
Bioshock 2 completes Bioshock 1's storyline thoughts.
The first Bioshock was largely concerned with the problems that would be caused if a society chose to focus entirely on individual freedom to survive. Showing the battle between Fontaine and Ryan to show how personal interest can lead to corruption and exploitation. Thus presenting it's thesis on why a purely objectivist society could not survive. Still it also made sure to speak of some of the benefits of respecting individual freedom as well.
The game was sure to never make it seem like Andrew Ryan was a straw man for the objectivist view point, and instead an example of how good intentions can loose their way with absolute thinking. The game wanted to underline the importance of personal freedom even as it maligned negative applications of that freedom.
This was made most clear when you confronted Andrew Ryan and learned that you yourself were nothing but a slave.
"A man chooses. A slave obeys."
Andrew Ryan's motivations at this point are somewhat fuzzy. You aren't quite sure if he thinks he is able to snap you out of Fontaine's control or if he is giving his life to teach his 'son' an important lesson. What he ends up accomplishing for the player is proving that what they have been fighting for all this time was not an absolute evil. As your character is made to kill without choice your aggression turns to the person who would deprive you of free will.
Sadly, while this moment is an unforgettable and impressive dot on the gaming landscape, the game's narrative falls flat after this because Fontaine is a much more traditional and one dimensional villain. Simply being an ass as he taunts you and goes mad with power. He lacks the nuance of Ryan as a character and thus was unable to provide further insight into the point of Bioshock's narrative.
So objectivism is not an absolute good. Personal choice often leads to disaster but personal choice is important. We are left at that stale mate. Fontaine was not an ideological opponent to Ryan. He was simply a physical opponent to Ryan.
Then comes Bioshock 2. I would agree that Sophia Lamb comes right the hell out of nowhere. She is shoe horned into Ryan's old shoes as head of rapture to provide some parity between the two games. She is basically retroactive continuity that has no mention in the first game and in some ways is a more two dimensional character then Ryan. Still what she is ends up being a companion thesis to the first game's ruminations on choice and freedom.
The first game gave the second game no living antagonist to work with, and big blanks to fill in in order to have a reason to continue the story. Taking what they were given the Bioshock 2 team made an engaging and thought provoking story out of thin air. Completing the thought in many ways. Objectivism isn't an absolute good, but neither is collectivism. A message of compromise is suddenly born. Then the story brings in other details to elevate Bioshock 2 above this simple continuation of thought.
Bioshock 2's message of family and compassion is a stronger drive then anything in Bioshock 1.
In the original Bioshock you were a man out for revenge. You wanted to kill Ryan for Atlas because you were manipulated into believing in the story of a dead family you never saw. Then after that turned out to be a lie you wanted revenge on the liar. At the end of the day two people you hate ended up dead and nothing was accomplished but fuel for your rage….unless you saved all the little sisters.
The good ending for Bioshock 1 was a testament to an emotional center that got lost in the shuffle of Ryan and Fontaine's blood feud that caught you in the middle. Ryan and Fontaine were both bastions of self interest. One wanted to give others the ultimate freedom to pursue their own self interest, the other wanted to take everything to pursue his own. The good ending for Bioshock speaks to compassion and altruism having personal reward of it's own. In enforcing self interest you remove a choice as well. The choice of who to care about.
Bioshock 2 took this ball and ran home with it. From the start of Bioshock 2 all of the good will that the first game built toward the little sisters was underscored by you being a big daddy and by you having a little sister that cared for you intensely. They create a father daughter relationship that builds in intensity as the game goes forward.
While you may be trying to find your matched pair little sister to prolong your own life you genuinely get the feeling that she cares for you and you are encouraged to care for her in return. Along the way you also continue to save little sisters in much the same way as the previous game going down the good path and are also given grown adults whom have lost their way in rapture's ecosystem as your enemies.
At each juncture you are encouraged to turn the other cheek to your own enemies. You may choose not to but at every point in the two games I personally was given the impression that the good path is the experience that the developers have put the most heart and soul into.
The bad path always seemed to simply lead to the game distancing itself emotionally and assuming you were expressing a wish to be portrayed as a psychopath. The fact that you can choose gives weight to what you do in the world but ultimately the message of the game for me is concentrated in the positive choices.
In this game the big reveal to replace the fact that you had no choice in the last game is that all the choice in this game was shaping your daughter Eleanor's view of the world directly. Now that you have choice they build upon that by giving that choice weight. Choices have consequences and the daughter you have been searching for the entire game is quite a consequence. Your relationship with your daughter in the game is suddenly taken to a whole new level that creates a shift in tone for the series. Suddenly the game is not about your choices anymore. It's about the choices of Eleanor.
This game's most important accomplishment is creating, and developing, Eleanor as a character.
Keep in mind that I played through the game in the 'good' method. I know the basics of how each ending differs from the next but I haven't seen much of what happens in the game play of each path. Honestly I enjoy the good path so much I'm not even sure I would bother with the other anyway.
I believe that at the end of the day when Eleanor and you are finally reunited the series takes a turn that changes too much to ignore as just being a part of this game's plot. Up until that point the story revolved around you and your checkered past and the past of Sophia and rapture. It was largely the same sort of narrative as the first game but with a sprinkling of communication from the damsel in distress you are meant to be saving and ruminations on her horrible fate of being raised by a mad woman to be a living computer for her collective.
Then it suddenly becomes almost entirely focused on Eleanor. Now that Sophia's vague plans for her have finally played out their course and been sabotaged Eleanor herself becomes a reflection of your own choices in the game and proceeds to be the entire forward momentum of the game. She helps you out of captivity. She then undergoes the transformation into a Big sister.
She then proceeds to kick ass by your side and become the sole object of Sophia's anger and sole reason for her to begin to destroy rapture. In these moments I'm reminded of Kojima's excuse for why he made Raiden the main character of Metal gear solid 2. He claimed it was to view Solid Snake from the outside to gain a greater appreciation for the character.
I personally gained plenty of appreciation for Eleanor from this view from the outside. People complain sometimes about the original plans for 'Big sister' to be the antagonist in this sequel. Claiming that they saw her as a potentially very interesting character. I would point them at Eleanor to shut them up. Theirs your Big sister. If you want to make her mean then kill a bunch of little sisters. I personally like her as a hero.
Watch the Good ending of Bioshock 2 and then try to tell me that good Eleanor isn't a great character without feeling like a jerk. (spoilers for the good ending, of course.)
I sincerely hope to see a lot more of her in the next game.
It's going to happen. There is going to be another game in this series. It's too profitable and they left plenty of open doors. If anything I think they planned this entire game to open doors.
Moving forward I want two thing from this series. Both of which I think they are hinting they will give me. The first thing I hope they are going to give?
Rapture must die.
That's it. I'm done with the underwater city. We've explored it's downfall and it's places in two different games. The second game was actually criticized for going back to it. I think they went back to it to accomplish what had to be done to make the series continuable.
They had to kill both people's wish to return to Rapture and to provide a reason to move forward after Rapture. I think they have done this. They outwardly state in the ending that 'Rapture's dream is over' but that it's 'just the beginning' Of what? I would think the beginning of Eleanor's story.
Eleanor must live on.
I got plenty of not so subtle hints from the game that this character was something to bet on. She was given a significant back story, given the emotional weight of the lions share of story of this game, given an identity as probably the most powerful and intelligent character that will ever exist in the Bioshock canon, and also given the role as the only character to wear a big sister suit in the game that actually matters. She is, argueably, the reason the Big Sister type even exists in this version of the game.
I don't know what their plans are but in most of the endings they have your dieing body drained of it's consciousness and implanted into Eleanor. I would be pretty pissed if all of this build up of this refreshing new character and such a blatent foreshadowing of a 'changing of the guard' didn't lead to playing as her in the next game. At the very least she will be a very important figure.
I'm not sure what their plans are for setting or storyline moving forward, but it seems very likely, and almost required, that they hitch their wagon to Eleanor. The only things suggesting that they might not are that they would have to account for her being essentially two different characters, good or evil, based on how you played through the last game, and that it would be breaking their tradition of using silent protagonists.
I personally wouldn't cry a river if the silent protagonist thing died and they just assumed that the good ending was the ending they used moving forward. I have no love for silent meat puppets and I have no love for endings that pretty much are summed up as 'I'm a crazy asshole and I'm going to use my power to throw fireballs to RULE THE WORLD! HAHAHAHA!'
Also it wouldn't kill gaming as a culture to have one of it's best franchises out there switch over to a female protagonist. Shooters are way too much of a sausage fest these days. This is a prime opportunity to get another nuanced female lead into gaming.
In conclusion of this rambling mess I say that Bioshock 2, for me, was a very interesting and thought provoking ride that gives me hope for the future and turns me from thinking a sequel to the first was unnecessary to being so glad for the sequel that I am Dieing for a third.
I hope for the love of god that the next game isn't more rapture and doesn't have another boring ass silent meat puppet, because this series has the opportunity to evolve and reach even greater heights then the original. It can succeed completely with some ambition, good writing, and a plucky Big Sister leading the way.
Long live Eleanor!
(I'm warning you 2k Marin. If she isn't the new main character there will be trouble *fist shakey*)