When BioShock 2 was announced there was understandably quite a bit of excitement. Though when it was revealed that the original developers (Irrational Games) were not working on the direct sequel and instead another 2K owned developer (2K along with 2K China) was to take the reins (with assistance from Irrational such as game assets and the engine), people were concerned, especially given what the original game had achieved narratively.
Nonetheless there was still a fair amount of anticipation and many chose to give the game the benefit of the doubt, mostly because they just wanted to return to Rapture. When the game did launch three years after the original game it did actually review very well; just not as highly as the previous entry. Considering this was made by a different studio and still managed to capture the same atmosphere was a tremendous achievement.
However despite this (and achieving respectable sales) why is Bioshock 2 not often looked back on fondly? In part because people think back to the impact that the original created, the lack of a big reveal near the end, and possibly because some people weren’t too keen on the fact that this time you play as a Big Daddy. Whilst BioShock 2 isn’t as revolutionary as the original it is still a unique FPS. It’s plasmid, tonic, and weapons systems build upon that of the first game, as well as adding more enemy types and new means of interaction, such as a hacking mechanic that had more impact.
BioShock 2 has a more straightforward narrative, and focuses less on personal morality. But this is a wise decision as it helps to separate itself from the original, and instead it often feels like the real focus is Rapture itself. Eight years have passed since the last outing in Rapture, and what little sensibility that was present then has all but gone. As Subject Delta your main objective is to rescue Eleanor, the Little Sister that you were once paired with. Except now she is back under the “protection” of her mother, Sophia Lamb, who has filled the power vacuum that was created eight years ago.
Sophia Lamb can be seen as the main antagonist as she is constantly baiting you throughout your traversal through Rapture as well as trying to orchestrate your demise by the hands of her followers (cult) “The Rapture Family”. Whilst it might seem odd that a Big Daddy trying to rescue his Little Sister can be portrayed as the “good guy” given that he is trying to take a teenage girl from her biological mother, the origins of his journey provides an explanation that subverts the notion of saving the girl whilst still adhering to similar rules. Furthermore Eleanor is no longer with her mother by choice.
Sophia Lamb was brought to Rapture to help its psychologically stressed residents manage to adapt to the lack of sunlight, and the whole notion of living in an enclose city under the sea (think of it as a more extreme SAD [Seasonal Affect Disorder]). However she subsequently used her position to persuade her patients to join her cult, and therefore ignore the ethics of her profession (although this is Rapture after all). Andrew Ryan had her thrown into prison after learning of her perverted notions of altruism (for an objectivist altruism is seen as incompatible with freedom and a constraint on individual will). When Rapture finally fell this enabled Lamb to gain control and to seek her aim of creating a perfect embodiment of her altruistic ideals. This involves using ADAM (and the genetic memory it can contain) to transform Eleanor so that she possess the collected minds and memories of everyone in Rapture, and therefore becomes the physical “Embodiment of the Family”. Lamb believes that doing so will bring an end to “The Self”, which of course goes against the very founding principles of Ryan’s Rapture.
In a way the background to the existence of BioShock 2 is not too dissimilar to its narrative. For in both cases an existing intimidating entity has been passed onto new proprietors, and whilst different ideas exists and will therefore be implemented differently, the means of doing so will be similar. Rapture remains a fascinating place to explore and nothing is black or white. BioShock 2 might have started as an attempt just to make more money out of a successful IP, but the end result was something that can can be praised for its own merits. It is what a sequel should be, and given how BioShock Infinite turned out it actually feels like the missing link that completes the narrative and gameplay cycle.