BioShock 2, the rare video-game sequel that builds on the original (and not just by adding better guns).

The art of play.
Feb. 23 2010 10:01 AM

BioShock 2

The rare video-game sequel that builds on the original (and not just by adding better guns).

(Continued from Page 1)

The gameplay nicely dovetails with the fiction, as you spend much of the game as a protector, defending characters known as Little Sisters from an advancing horde of "splicers," the genetically modified residents of Rapture. Unlike the first BioShock, it's genuinely tempting to be evil. That's in part because the good path (protecting the Little Sisters rather than killing them for their genetic material) turns out to be a little bit tedious as the game wears on. But the temptation also stems from the way that BioShock 2 masterfully sells its fiction. In one level, the game lays out the villainy of a character and practically begs you to murder him in cold blood—to take the easy wrong over the hard right. In a surprisingly involved moment, the character cowered and sniveled as the desire for vengeance coursed through me. I have meted out a lot of death in video games, and never have I wanted to kill someone so badly. Instead I walked away. Even now, I kind of regret it.

BioShock 2, like the original, drips with smarts and with evocative touches. An animatronic Andrew Ryan guides Subject Delta through a children's museum/theme park, a setting created to indoctrinate the youth of Rapture into his philosophy. Lamb and her followers speak with religious overtones, invoking the language of the Trinity—and of sin and redemption, martyrdom and resurrection—and using religious iconography to celebrate Eleanor as their savior. The songs are delightfully chosen: "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" at one nicely timed moment, a fierce combat sequence to the tune of "Daddy's Little Girl" at another.

Not everything works so well. The procession of fetch missions—when the game asks you, on arriving at a new level, to go gather a bunch of stuff before you can move forward—are wearying. And the game opens with a cut scene, rather than an interactive sequence. BioShock had a startling opening, as the protagonist found himself in the middle of the ocean after a plane crash, only to stumble on Rapture, with a propaganda banner over its entrance that read, "No gods or kings. Only Man." BioShock 2 can't recapture that sense of wonder and discovery, and it doesn't really try to.

Advertisement

As with all games, there are certain ludicrous game-y things that must be overlooked. For instance, you once again acquire items and ammunition by purchasing them from vending machines dotted throughout Rapture. And after you kill people, you rifle their corpses for loot: bullets, first aid kits, cash (you know, for the vending machines). But BioShock 2's game-play, from the combat to the exploration to the looting and the weapon-upgrading (a spear gun!), scratches a host of gaming itches. Few things are more pleasing to gaming nerds than the opportunity to be graded on the creativity of your kills, under the guise of "research."

Perhaps what's most remarkable about the game, especially after BioShock's disappointing final act, is the ending. This game's final hours are not a grind through a repetitive and familiar structure but a series of surprises that I don't want to ruin by describing. The first BioShock made me think that moral choice in games was a grail that could never be found. BioShock 2 made me doubt that conclusion, as it made me feel both responsible and rewarded for my choices. It would be nice if BioShock 2 took its philosophical layer more seriously than it does—celebrating the family unit above the ties of the nation and the church is a more provocative argument than this game lets on. But perhaps that's too much to ask, even from the latest edition of the thinking-man's shooter. BioShock 2's accomplishment is not intellectual but visceral: I'm not a father (yet), but it made me feel like one.

Become a fan of  Slate on Facebook. Follow us on  Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 21 2014 11:38 PM “Welcome to the War of Tomorrow” How Futurama’s writers depicted asymmetrical warfare.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.