We will be reborn in the cold womb of the ocean…This chilling graffitti, amongst other similar proclamations flecks countless walls, further marring an already battered aquapolis. The once gilded corridors and lavish furnishings have deteriorated, highlighting the nightmarish cityscape of the present that has supplanted the old days of luxury and excess. This is also mirrored in the aptly named Rapture’s citizenry, a hodgepodge of disfigured inhabitants freely roaming the now anarchic aforementioned Rapture with wanton disregard for morality and civility whilst constantly on the prowl for the city’s most precious of resources, adam. These splicers as they are called for their superpowerish enhancements that have been “spliced” into their own genes are creatures of the most hellish sort, a perversion of the modern obsessions with the ancient sins of greed and lust and vanity. The cost of these self indulgences is reflected physically, mutilated bodies and faces concealed with freakish masquerade masks and personalities hell bent on securing more of their most precious commodity. But this whole morose atmosphere you awake to is nothing new, you have been here before, this is Rapture, this is Bioshock 2.
The premise of the original Bioshock game was a relatively simple one, find out what the hell is going on and stay alive, this of course tied into an ever unraveling story of the world of Rapture. It’s driving forces were those of Andrew Ryan the city’s creator and leader and Frank Fontaine, Ryan’s subversive political and cultural opponent. This is the world that you are thrust into, a world of objectivism run rampant and the consequences of a supposed laissez-faire inspired utopia. I won’t attempt to encapsulate the political entirety of the original Bioshock and the Rapture that it breeds in 1960. A certain amount of backlog about that Rapture is crucial to properly contextualize Bioshock 2, however, as it feeds directly off of the atmosphere of the first game whilst simultaneously rejecting and opposing it.
To clarify; Andrew Ryan creates Rapture, an underwater city, in 1946 out of his complete disillusionment with the world following the atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He sets it up as a haven for those intellectuals, artists and scientists disparaged by modern society and in his view held back by it, “the parasites” as he often says. For 12 years this social experiment is a complete success and the society thrives with scientific discovery abounding and leading to the invention and implementation of plasmids. Plasmids are genetic modifications made to the body and mind enabling certain powers the average human being does not possess i.e., fire, ice, telekinesis etc. This is where Frank Fontaine enters and becomes crucial to the downfall of Rapture. Already running a lucrative smuggling ring he begins to attract the attention of Ryan who sees him as a legitimate threat. Ryan begins to eliminate many of the liberties that Rapture had been built to embody in the name of destroying the Fontaine threat, ironically emulating the society he had once rejected. This all leads Rapture down a path of death and destruction ripping the city apart and effectually creating the legions of splicers that have completely overrun Rapture by 1960.
This is the state of affairs that await you in the first game, however, to not spoil that game I won’t delve into them and as this is a review of Bioshock 2 I will fast forward 8 years from that point to 1968 when the game takes place. You are subject Delta, the first working incarnation of Big Daddy that can effectively bond with and protect the adam harvesting little sisters.
This rapture, however, is very different, at least politically, is very different from that of the first game. Ryan and Fontaine have been supplanted by another subvert of the original prosperous Rapture, Sofia Lamb. And in this incarnation, Rapture is no longer the Randian objectivist fetishized world of unregulated business and scientific interests, rather it is quite the opposite. Where Rapture under Ryan saw unrelenting capitalist and individualist ideals, Lamb seeks a collectivist utopia. Lamb sees the power of the group functioning seamlessly as a comprehensive unit, the sum of the parts is greater than any one part. To accomplish this she invokes the metaphor of all Rapture denizens being a part of a “family”. Like Ryan, however, the power or perhaps the ocean corrupts her and she is driven to ever more radical aims. Her principal goal concerns creating the perfect selfless and intellectually flawless person. Her test subject to create this social utopia is her recently little-sisterefied daughter and you as the brief Big Daddy caretaker of the aforementioned Eleanor Lamb are driven to get to her and save her from finally succumbing to these maniacal plans.
The actual gameplay (I realize that most of this review has been a summation of the plot intricacies of the Bioshock world) is most certainly improved from the first game. Where once you were a fragile man thrust into the maddening reality that Rapture offers you, now you are a seasoned veteran equipped in full Big Daddy regalia. This, however, does not translate into some sort of infinite superiority or ease in defeating the various foes you may come across (including some new ones). Instead you are presented with a slew of new weapons to complement the familiar old ones, but no more invincible than the original character incarnation from the first game. The controls too are slightly altered for the better, allowing for: simultaneous plasmid and weapon utilization, a newly better placed health pack and a whole slew of new weaponry and enemies to face off against including the formidable Big Sisters.
Bioshock 2 is an appropriate follow-up to the original award winning game and the world of Rapture, though familiar, is no less complex. My only qualms are that the first game was so good, the characters and story so…pardon me for saying this but, enrapturing that the second game could not possibly live up to it. Rapture casts a menacing shadow; in this game as in the last and it certainly does not disappoint.