Bioshock 2 definitely strikes me as a worthy successor to the first game, but the first game can also have some interesting effects on the perception of the second.
What did the first game teach us? More than anything else, it at least taught me that one should be wary as to whom we trust. Ryan wasn’t trustworthy in Bioshock, and Atlas turned out just to be a backstabbing, power-hungry mobster. Well, in Bioshock 2 things don’t start off much better. We take on the role as a Big Daddy and begin wondering the halls with our Little Sister, but shortly after we fall prey to a surprise attack, which results in us becoming hypnotised and a woman named Lamb takes away our Little Sister and orders us to shoot ourselves. Great, once again someone afflicted our character with mind control!
This move could be seen as a lazy move from the game creators, using a similar ruse on our character as was used in the first game, but I don’t think that is the case. Once again, we are shown how we through our character just don’t see the entire picture, which translates into a state of utter confusion as we are revived (10 years later) and the game really begins. In short, this game is very aware of its predecessor and does well in utilising the paranoia instilled by that game. We may, wisely, be slower to trust anyone who seems “helpful” – just waiting for the next knife to strike our back.
The games basic premise is not unlike that of its predecessor; it has a person helping and guiding us through the levels by the name of Sinclair, and we are also regularly contacted by the main antagonist, this time in the shape of Sofia Lamb. Moreover, there is the Little Sister who was taken from us, her name is Eleanor Lamb and is the daughter of our antagonist, and our main goal is simply to get Eleanor back, because, well what else are we going to do? The player is cast in the role of a Big Daddy after all.
This last point is in fact accentuated during the first part of the game. The creator of the Little Sisters, Tenenbaum, who actually helped us the previous game is back to offer more assistance. She inhabits a more peripheral character, so whilst we might not be able to trust her when it comes to our own best interests, we can at least trust her to help us save some of the Little Sisters, which seems to be her top priority. Anyway, at one point she kindly informs us that:
“You are a very old Big Daddy, bonded for life to a single Little One. When you are apart for too long, your body begins to shut down, like a coma. As long as the girl is in Rapture, you are trapped here as well.”
There we have it. There is no actual choice, once again, a bit like the last game our character is constantly compelled to search for Eleanor Lamb, because any other choice would consequently kill us. The difference this time is that there is no illusion of choice. So how does this affect matters?
Well, at first it feels a bit deflating I must say. The beginning of this game is fairly slow, something that several reviewers have commented upon. But then the potential paranoia sets it. Tenenbaum places us in the hands of Sinclair, and on the radio, we hear a man with a southern drawl. Accents can carry different associations and affect us in different ways, so when I heard this voice, I immediately deemed it untrustworthy, but despite that what other choice was there, than to follow the guy’s instructions? Not play the game is of course an option, although not a very interesting one.
Our character is a bit of a mystery, and to be honest, he isn’t fleshed out very much through the game, so this isn’t really our main focus in the game. This leaves space for us to focus more on what happened to Rapture, and what has been going on between the characters Ryan, Sofia Lamb, and Eleanor Lamb.
We find out it was Eleanor Lamb who woke up our character (technically revived in a Vita-chamber). She wants us to find her and free her from her mother, and help us along by leaving little gifts, through the Little Sisters, for us to find. But as we traverse through Rapture we encounter the horrifying results of different experiments conducted in connection with Sofia Lamb’s research – most notably Gilbert Alexander who through extensive ADAM usage has turned in to a huge blob contained in a cylinder instead of a human.
Point being, we don’t actually know what has happened to Eleanor. The last time we saw her was as a Little Sister ten years ago, and if there is one thing Rapture has taught us, it is that things are never quite what they appear to be. Scratch the glossy surface and all kinds of nasties come crawling out. So, my paranoid mind tells me that Eleanor might have ulterior motives in enlisting our help, but won’t know whether this is the case before I find her. Great. There is nothing I like more than walking straight into a trap whilst in a general state of confusion.
This confusion and paranoia is part of the challenge. In general, this games goes further than its predecessor when it comes to challenging our moral choices. There is of course still the choice as to whether we rescue or harvest the Little Sisters, but it isn’t all that interesting a choice, since we already know the mechanics of this choice from the last game. However, several time we have to choose whether to kill or spare characters in the game, and this choice is usually given after we find out they have had a part to play in turning oneself into a Big Daddy and Eleanor into a Little Sister. People who have generally acted on behalf of their own interests, our protagonist being the victim. These people ruined your life and have attempted to kill you on several occasions by now – showing mercy in such a situation might prove a challenge.
That last point is vital, I believe. If the player is placed in a situation where mercy and good morals seem almost ludicrous, the outcome of the situation becomes that much richer and more interesting.
“I had thought you some golem of Sinclair’s, brought here to hold Rapture’s arms as he rifles through her pockets. But no… you are aware of your plight. Who, I wonder, would be so cruel? To force a mirror on a man with no face…” – Sofia Lamb
In Bioshock 2, we inhabit the role of a mindless “beast” that has been given agency. But this agency is constantly directed by others, and so, we are in fact a tool in the game. Is it in fact cruel? Possibly. Can we affect the outcome of the game? Most certainly. All might not be for nothing, and we do at least inhabit the power to change things slightly in the world of Rapture, for better or for worse. And so I will leave you this time with another quote from Sofia Lamb, prodding at us and questioning our motivation for pushing on, through the game:
“I wonder, Delta, do you know why you are here? Have you any idea what my daughter has given you? As I watch you now, I envy your ignorance. You still believe…”