Gamer: Once more into those gorgeous ruins for BioShock 2 -- but can it live up to the original?
(2K Games/Digital Extremes/Arkane Studios); Xbox360, PS3, PC
GAMER The original BioShock (2007) was a revelation in game design, inviting players into a living, breathing world that simultaneously awed and terrified, an undersea metropolis at the bottom of the Atlantic, undergirded by a surprisingly deep treatment of Objectivist philosophy. In the game's stylized 1950s, the city of Rapture is conceived and built by its founder Andrew Ryan as a libertarian paradise. Developer Irrational Games rendered it as a gorgeous ruin, filled with Art Deco filigree, cascading seawater, and haunting period music — the soundtrack to a uptopia's devolution into Hobbesian chaos.
There were many who balked when the sequel was announced, and the concerns of the naysayers seem justified in light of a game that cannot muster the watertight coherence of its predecessor. BioShock 2 puts you into the clanking dive suit of one of the original's iconic "Big Daddy" characters, genetically modified brutes who protect creepy, glowing-eyed "Little Sisters" as they harvest ADAM (the game's magical, chemical MacGuffin) from the ruined corpses strewn liberally about.
Big Daddies were panic-inducing adversaries the first time around, so it serves as an interesting inversion to step into their weighted boots and impale crazed "splicers" (Rapture's mutilated, gene modification-addicted denizens) with a drill-bit the size of a traffic cone. Your character's ability to breathe underwater enables the introduction of brief traverses outside the city's pressurized buildings — a novel exercise in the eerie, aquatic sublime.
The player's Big Daddy is one of the original models, codenamed "Delta," and the action of the game is driven by your attempts to reunite with your Sister sidekick. In your way is Dr. Sofia Lamb, a sort of Stepford Stalin who replaces the Randian exhortations Andrew Ryan provided via radio in the first game with a lot of religious, communitarian claptrap. Unfortunately, Lamb isn't half the adversary Ryan was, and the game's story has none of the careful calibration or bold engagement with questions of individual freedom that made its predecessor so affecting.
Instead, in classic video game sequel fashion, the title throws a bunch of zany "bigger and better" ideas at you, in the form of new weapons, ADAM- derived pseudo-spells, and the "Big Sisters," spindly, hyperkinetic murderers who are mostly notable for their tinnitus-inducing screeches. A frantic new multiplayer mode is likely the cause of the item overload and short single-player campaign, and though serviceable, those in search of frags are likely to find satisfaction elsewhere. Like Rapture itself, the BioShock franchise began as a grand, noble idea — only to descend into internecine, leaking disrepair.