We Are Utopia

Bioshock 2 story image

How will she remember us, after this moment? I have placed my pieces on the board, as expected—as have you. Is this what she hoped for? Mother and father, locking eyes ... yet, still we are blind. Goodbye, Subject Delta. And take heart, for you at least have escaped your legacy.—Sofia Lamb

In its final act, BioShock 2 became a tour de force that remains my favorite and most vivid experience from last year.

Earlier, it seemed a slightly impoverished tale of utopianism run amok in the underwater city. Sofia Lamb, the sequel’s antagonist, lacked the intellectual heft and charisma required to stand as an ideological counterweight to Andrew Ryan, and her vision for Rapture was thoroughly unimpressive. History provides us with far more horrifying visions of collectivism and social engineering than Lamb's undergraduate-level utopia. It lacked either the ruthlessness and treachery of Stalinism or the terrifying conviction of Mao's Cultural Revolution. As long as the game centered on her half-conceived attempt to end selfishness, it was hard to take her seriously as a villain.

But Lamb's pseudo-intellectual posturing is a red herring—BioShock 2's true themes are frailty, family, and forgiveness.

Spoiler Warning: Discussion of significant plot details follows

Lamb and her acolytes are the perfect characters for BioShock 2 because they are children playing in the halls of slain giants. BioShock's appeal was grandeur, from the moment the city burst into view alongside Ryan's messianic snarl: "I chose Rapture." BioShock dealt with the high-drama and court intrigue among the rulers of Rapture. These were the people who made and unmade the city through their ambition and ability, and while their failures were catastrophic, they were matched by the size of their character.

BioShock 2 takes place after they have vacated the stage. Those who remain are victims or hapless followers, exactly the sort of people who would get caught up in Lamb's warmed-over communism. As we players rediscover Rapture through the eyes of Delta—the alpha Big Daddy—we see how little justice is left to serve, and how stillborn is this new social experiment. BioShock 2 becomes a journey toward understanding and mercy as Delta ties-off the threads left dangling after his untimely death.

BioShock 2 introduces a great many adversaries, but is strikingly devoid of villains. Delta was always the screen onto which the creatures of Rapture projected their wishes and dreads. Ten years ago, Delta was the first Big Daddy successfully bonded with a Little Sister, Eleanor, who happened to be the daughter of Sofia Lamb. The story of their bond and separation is hopelessly tangled up in the politics and warfare that tore Rapture apart.

After his ten-year absence, Delta can only judge the survivors based on how they remember him and the role they played in his death and in the fate of Eleanor Lamb. He finds Grace Holloway, a former singer and anti-Ryan activist, bitter and broken after a life of victimization. First there was Jim Crow, then Andrew Ryan, then infertility, and finally the loss of the little girl she was charged with raising. For her, Delta was just another monster come to take what little happiness she had.

My favorite character was probably Stanley Poole, a corrupt newspaperman who moonlighted as a spy for Andrew Ryan. Of all the characters Delta meets on his way to confront Lamb, Poole is the most morally culpable. He destroyed countless lives for his own comfort and safety. There is no reason to spare him, no redeeming character trait. Still, his cowardice, greed, and guilt are so pure, so undiluted by happiness or pride, that Poole is the most pitiful character in the game. He is already a shattered man, and ultimately Delta must decide whether or not to spare him as he grovels for his life.

Finally, there is Gil Alexander, the diffident genius whose guilt and insecurity Lamb exploited during her takeover of Rapture. A technician rather than a visionary, he continued the work of Rapture's greatest scientists, Suchong and Tenenbaum, and enabled Rapture to continue functioning in their absence. He experimented on children, and transformed men into armored husks. Guilty over his unholy work, and lacking any sense of larger purpose, Alexander was easy prey for Sofia Lamb. Lamb gave him a destiny, and so Alexander took part in an ill-conceived experiment that left him disfigured and crazed.

By the time Delta reaches him, Alexander has been abandoned and resides in the labs where he damned himself. Now he plays the part of a sadistic king, tormenting the denizens of Fontaine Futuristics for sport. But before his sanity deserted him, he left directions by which Delta can destroy his lunatic form, explaining, "The man whose voice you hear now is long gone. ... Now please, I ask that you grant me peace." Delta finally faces a choice between pardoning Alexander in his madness, or obeying his earlier request for death.

As good as these stories were, I did not yet understand that their real significance was for Eleanor Lamb, not Delta. Only after Delta's failed attempt to rescue her did BioShock 2 finally make clear that Delta's journey was actually the education of a child. Eleanor, who never had the chance to be fully human, does not know what to think of her mother, or most of the events of her life. So she watches Delta move through Rapture, through her past, and observes the judgments he passes on it.

In the greatest passage of any game I played last year, you take control of one of the Little Sisters that Eleanor has turned to her side. She pads through Rapture and lets you see Rapture as the Sisters see it: a dollhouse full of elegant ladies and their handsome men stepping out across marble floors, and angels laying in repose at the foot of white-satin walls. Throughout this Pearly Gate fantasy, there are monuments to Delta and the way Eleanor has seen him. In the main room there is a statue of Delta, battling the monster that Gil Alexander had become. In the hallways, there is a statue of Delta carrying Grace Holloway in his arms, her arms fasted around his neck as she gazed up at him adoringly. "Daddy meets Aunt Grace" it said, and the simplicity and childishness of the legend is heartbreaking. At the end of the arcade, "Daddy meets Uncle Stanley" shows Delta extending a hand of friendship as Stanley Poole whimpers before him. To Eleanor and the other Sisters, Delta had been merciful and brave as he fought to save them. All these choices suddenly assumed heroic proportions.

Games are full of damsels in distress, people who must be saved because they are prisoners or imperiled. They lack agency, and salvation is almost always physical. But in BioShock 2's unforgettable denouement, Delta and Eleanor share their burdens equally. She saves him and then fights alongside him, and indeed it is her need for him that has brought him back from the dead. Yet Eleanor does need rescuing. What makes BioShock 2 so unusual is that this rescue is moral and emotional, and the conclusion is all the more resonant because of it. The last image of BioShock 2 is of Delta's courage and mercy reflected in the young woman who chose him to be her father.

Comments

It's kind of a difficult thing to ask for, seeing as you only meet Eleanor at the end, but it would have been so much better if some of the effects, or a gentle hinting in the gameplay to niggle in your thoughts, were evident earlier in the game rather than in the final two levels. Their use of 'we make our decisions / our decisions make us' is a good pay-off, and I think a better one than Bioshock's good/bad endings, but you've got to trudge through a lot to get to it.

This makes me wish for a bioshock 1&2 cliff notes / novella. I am much more likely to read and enjoy that than finish the 1st game, much less complete the 2nd.

Nice piece, Rob, and I fully agree with your take. It's too bad that the development and launch of Bioshock 2 were so wrapped up in various flavors of nerd rage backlash, because I felt that the game really brought a lot to the table. I especially appreciated the fantastic writing, and it's nice to see 2K Marin get some props for it.

Podunk wrote:

It's too bad that the development and launch of Bioshock 2 were so wrapped up in various flavors of nerd rage backlash

That's the thing, you're never going to satisfy everyone. Someone's always going to be a jerk if it doesn't match up to the prequel they've put on a pedestal, and I think Bioshock1 got a bit overinflated by everyone.

I wasn't disappointed with Bioshock 2's story, but I wasn't impressed either. It was above average for video games, but it didn't really mean anything to me until Gil Alexander and that level with the Little Sister. Those were the two shining moments for me (though interestingly enough, you can still get the achievement for being a paragon even if you kill Gil).

Gil Alexander felt like a genuine grey area to me when it comes to morality in games, and that's what I really loved about it. He was still a living creature with right to life, but at the same time his sane self wanted death if this were to become his state. Which is the right choice? Is there a right choice? In the end, I chose to sacrifice him, but it wasn't a quick and easy decision. It is a prime example of tough decisions in a game that really test where our morality lies.

Yet on the whole the game couldn't be saved for me. I found it to have a couple design flaws that just prevented me from being in love with it like I had been with the first game. Nonetheless, it was certainly fun and the final couple chapters really brought everything to an emotional head. I felt satisfied with the conclusion more than I had with the journey, but what they did was pretty good.

In retrospect, the story might of been pretty good, but I think it got buried underneath some not-so-great everything else.

The one-note visual design and rinse & repeat little/big sister stuff made it difficult for the story to make an impression. The gameplay became mechanical all too quickly -- and admittedly this is partly my own fault -- I pretty much zoned out.

The game most definitely did not resonate with me as it did you. I went into it with an open mind, and came out pleased. I was afraid they were going to try and "outdo" Bioshock 1. It ended up being a nice story in the fiction that is Bioshock. It's a shame my friends swore it off as soon as it was announced.

Scratched wrote:

It's kind of a difficult thing to ask for, seeing as you only meet Eleanor at the end, but it would have been so much better if some of the effects, or a gentle hinting in the gameplay to niggle in your thoughts, were evident earlier in the game rather than in the final two levels. Their use of 'we make our decisions / our decisions make us' is a good pay-off, and I think a better one than Bioshock's good/bad endings, but you've got to trudge through a lot to get to it.

I sort of wonder if this might not have affected the outcome if they'd hinted at the fact that they were tracking your decisions a little more strongly the way you suggest. The way I played the game, I felt like the ending reflected the decisions I made. That might have been cheapened if I'd been consciously making those decisions to try and get the "good" ending.

Of course, I seem to like Bioshock 2's gameplay more than most: I thought I had a good variety of powers to choose from after only a couple of hours, and the little sister protection sequences didn't start to feel draggy until the very very end. So to me, the action-packed climax and story denouement came as a nice surprise at the end of an experience that would have felt satisfying (if not particularly memorable) without them. I get the feeling I'm in the minority when I say that.

hbi2k wrote:

Of course, I seem to like Bioshock 2's gameplay more than most: I thought I had a good variety of powers to choose from after only a couple of hours, and the little sister protection sequences didn't start to feel draggy until the very very end.

My major issue with the game was in how they dealt with respawning splicers in order to keep the city "feeling alive". It was especially a pain in larger rooms, but even smaller ones you'd have the occasional splicer popping in after you cleared the room out and interrupting whatever you were doing. It ruined the experience of just slowly absorbing the scenery and the story it is telling, and it especially made it a complete bitch when you're setting up traps before setting down a little sister and half of them go off because the game decided now was a good time to spawn a splicer and have him walk right into your well-prepared (and now wasted) defenses.

It was such a consistently annoying problem that it pretty much ruined a lot of the game for me.

hbi2k wrote:
Scratched wrote:

It's kind of a difficult thing to ask for, seeing as you only meet Eleanor at the end, but it would have been so much better if some of the effects, or a gentle hinting in the gameplay to niggle in your thoughts, were evident earlier in the game rather than in the final two levels. Their use of 'we make our decisions / our decisions make us' is a good pay-off, and I think a better one than Bioshock's good/bad endings, but you've got to trudge through a lot to get to it.

I sort of wonder if this might not have affected the outcome if they'd hinted at the fact that they were tracking your decisions a little more strongly the way you suggest. The way I played the game, I felt like the ending reflected the decisions I made. That might have been cheapened if I'd been consciously making those decisions to try and get the "good" ending.

I agree. I mentioned in the ME2 thread where someone complained not enough was explained that I don't like being shown behind the curtain.

If the game tipped its hand that choices were being tracked it would become another game system like ME's paragon/renegade system. Instead the game trusts you to play the game and face the consequences.

I finished Bioshock 2 really wanting to learn the rest of Eleanor's story.

I was totally stalled in the game when Rob mentioned on Twitter how much the game improved after Siren Alley, and I was in Siren Alley at the time, so he gave me that little big of impetus to push through. I'm very glad. Bioshock 1 suffered a bit from being over hyped and ending badly, Bioshock 2 had the opposite problem.

Lamb and her acolytes are the perfect characters for BioShock 2 because they are children playing in the halls of slain giants.

This is a nice and poetic way to put it; I wish I could believe that the game were honest enough with itself to view Lamb the same way. Storywise, I felt the game was at its weakest when it was lamely trying to set Lamb up as having been Ryan's rival, a thorn in his side the way Fontaine was in the first game. It feels contrived and jarring; I cringed while listening to an audio log of a debate in which Lamb scores rhetorical zingers off of Ryan. The game was much improved whenever the focus was on one of Lamb's underlings (or better yet, Eleanor) rather than Lamb herself.

It's a shame that the (my) initial impressions of Bioshock 2 were of a vulgar cash-in on the name (with multiplayer). I waited so long to get it and my reaction was a total reversal of my experience with Civ 5: I expected so little of Bioshock 2 and ended up quite pleasantly surprised. And then as an opposite to the first Bioshock, Bioshock 2's first half of the story was weak while its second half was strong.

hbi2k wrote:
Scratched wrote:

It's kind of a difficult thing to ask for, seeing as you only meet Eleanor at the end, but it would have been so much better if some of the effects, or a gentle hinting in the gameplay to niggle in your thoughts, were evident earlier in the game rather than in the final two levels. Their use of 'we make our decisions / our decisions make us' is a good pay-off, and I think a better one than Bioshock's good/bad endings, but you've got to trudge through a lot to get to it.

I sort of wonder if this might not have affected the outcome if they'd hinted at the fact that they were tracking your decisions a little more strongly the way you suggest. The way I played the game, I felt like the ending reflected the decisions I made. That might have been cheapened if I'd been consciously making those decisions to try and get the "good" ending.

I agree with this. Another game this year with a "stealth" morality system was Metro 2033. That game also tracked your actions along the way and the ending you get depends on which actions you took. But nowhere in the game does it ever indicate that it is tracking those actions; no Paragon or Renegade icons flash on the screen and your avatar doesn't start glowing blue or red. The only hint you have is occasional whispers you hear from the voices and, of course, the ending itself.

I think the ultimate example of that sort of stealth tracking is Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. It telegraphs pretty early that the choices you make in the psych sessions affect the world you explore in the main game with an intentionally obvious example, but it's also tracking you during gameplay in incredibly subtle and granular ways that pay off in a big way by the end. It's about as far from the sort of "kick the dog / pet the dog" karma system popularized by games like KotOR and Fable as you can get.

If what I played of Bioshock 2 was limited to the scope of this column, it would have been my Game of the Year for 2010. Unlike the "moral" choices surrounding the Little Sisters, the quandaries presented by these three characters, each one more difficult than the last, aren't telegraphed to the player. The game is confident that, even when their consequences are kept behind the curtain, the choices themselves are interesting enough...and they are. So much so that their influence on Eleanor's actions carry that much more weight.

It is unfortunate that there is more to Bioshock 2 than choices and repercussions. Only in the opening level and Pauper's Drop -- both of the levels that Steve Gaynor worked on, coincidentally -- does Rapture bear the ruin of the eight lost years that followed Andrew Ryan's death; much of the rest seems mostly untouched and, perhaps, even confused. The Big Sisters carry an interesting legacy that dovetails nicely to the original Bioshock, but most of that legacy is left untapped through their quiet service as a glorified mini-boss. And the existence of Ryan Amusements, a theme park that veers dangerously close into mean-spirited parody, is so far out of line with the tone of Rapture's narrative that even Ryan himself feels somewhat baffled and apologetic for its existence in an audiolog found near the end of the level. (But hey, check out that nine iron in Andrew Ryan's model office, right?)

Then there's Augustus Sinclair who, at first, only seems like an unfortunate vestige to Atlas, who himself was already a vestigial echo of System Shock 2's superior twist. Showing off his best Matthew McConaughey, Sinclair guides Delta throughout Rapture to Lamb, presumably towards an apparent goal of taking over Rapture and selling its riches to the surface world, but the game never really reinforces that plan. (And perhaps for good reason...even if Lamb goes down, how exactly is Sinclair going to come into power? And what of Rapture will be left?)

When Sinclair is caught and turned into a Big Daddy, Bioshock 2's emotional momentum, carefully and methodically constructed through the heart of the game, meanders into a tripwire; Sinclair's struggle with the transformation is painfully written as one absurdly protracted last gasp and the transformation itself -- the introduction of yet another converted Big Daddy into a fiction where seemingly everybody is getting thrown into Big Daddy / Big Sister suits for mindless servitude -- seems to minimize the unique nature of Delta's plight. (And, although I really enjoyed Minerva's Den, its use of Yet Another Big Daddy as its protagonist suffers from the same problem.)

The game assumes that Sinclair's presence as a guide through the game is enough to earn the player's emotional buy-in for his well-being, but it forgets that it's already established a precedent where the voice on the other end of the radio can't necessarily be trusted. Since Delta has already found Eleanor and the path to escape Rapture has been revealed, Sinclair's demise is neither powerful nor dramatic; it's merely unexpected.

Bioshock 2 makes countless revisions and improvements to the core gameplay of the series: even though the continual respawning of Splicers is a misstep, the ADAM gatherings represent a welcome change of pace from the straightforward gunplay in the game's main thread, and the refinements to the supplemental game systems (including the much-appreciated removal of the U-Invent nonsense altogether) all contribute to an experience that is considerably more enjoyable and satisfying to play than the first game. But, for all of its strengths and improvements, it's the narrative that lies outside of the choices and repercussions that keeps me from putting the game forward as my favorite for the year.

hbi2k wrote:
Lamb and her acolytes are the perfect characters for BioShock 2 because they are children playing in the halls of slain giants.

This is a nice and poetic way to put it; I wish I could believe that the game were honest enough with itself to view Lamb the same way. Storywise, I felt the game was at its weakest when it was lamely trying to set Lamb up as having been Ryan's rival, a thorn in his side the way Fontaine was in the first game. It feels contrived and jarring; I cringed while listening to an audio log of a debate in which Lamb scores rhetorical zingers off of Ryan. The game was much improved whenever the focus was on one of Lamb's underlings (or better yet, Eleanor) rather than Lamb herself.

I had the exact same reaction to those awful debate logs, and based on those, I doubt that 2K Marin intended players to dismiss Lamb the way we have. However, I think my analysis holds up, and the weight of evidence in the game suggest that Lamb is a colossal failure. I think she succeeds as a character, but not remotely in the way her creators intended. But once a work is released to the public, it is out of the creator's hand. They intended one thing, but we all clearly see another.

Fair enough. Personally, I don't care what Dickens intended: I always assumed Sydney Carton must actually be a time-traveling Charles Darnay from the future. It's the only way to explain their uncanny resemblance; the whole novel is crap otherwise. (-:

hbi2k wrote:

Fair enough. Personally, I don't care what Dickens intended: I always assumed Sydney Carton must actually be a time-traveling Charles Darnay from the future. It's the only way to explain their uncanny resemblance; the whole novel is crap otherwise. (-:

Mock if you feel the need, but the intentions of the author don't mean piss compared to the words in the book at press.

This is really interesting, because I totally see where Ozymandias is coming from but I ended up having completely different reactions. Sorry to post a novel, but I can talk Rapture all day.

OzymandiasAV wrote:

Only in the opening level and Pauper's Drop -- both of the levels that Steve Gaynor worked on, coincidentally -- does Rapture bear the ruin of the eight lost years that followed Andrew Ryan's death; much of the rest seems mostly untouched and, perhaps, even confused. ...And the existence of Ryan Amusements, a theme park that veers dangerously close into mean-spirited parody, is so far out of line with the tone of Rapture's narrative that even Ryan himself feels somewhat baffled and apologetic for its existence in an audiolog found near the end of the level. (But hey, check out that nine iron in Andrew Ryan's model office, right?)

But remember that these other portions of Rapture have been effectively secured by Lamb and her followers since Ryan's death. Dionysus park has been sealed and flooded, Siren Alley was a religious commune, and Fontaine Futuristics fell under Alexander's sway. I think they could have done a better job communicating decay, certainly, as they do in portions of Pauper's Drop. But altogether, I think those later levels worked really well.

Ryan Amusements is a tough one. I do agree that it comes close to self-parody, and it seems incredible that Ryan wouldn't notice that he comes off like a maniac in his theme park. In a lot of ways, it's as dumb as Lamb, and one thing we never believed about Ryan is that he was dumb.

But the idea is a good one. If you consider the course Ryan followed, he did slowly drift toward authoritarianism, and his conflicted embrace of the "useful lie" to instruct his young citizens seems in keeping with the rest of his story. And that final log works rather well, I think. Ryan can feel that Ryan Amusements is wrong somehow, that it makes him and his vision into a monstrosity. But he embraces it from convenience, which is his story in microcosm.

Then there's Augustus Sinclair who, at first, only seems like an unfortunate vestige to Atlas, who himself was already a vestigial echo of System Shock 2's superior twist.

But of course! Because Ryan and Fontaine were visionaries and tyrants, and their role has devolved upon smaller figures. They have effectively split, with Lamb a lesser version of their leadership and ambition, and Sinclair a lesser version of their savvy and industriousness.

Sinclair was an operator and a fixer who sat out the war, so it makes sense that he'd be small-time in their shoes. And what's really telling is a pair of audio logs you find in the Drop. One has Sinclair congratulating himself on ripping off the chumps who do his basic manufacturing. So here we go, he's another exploitative businessman. But then we find an audio log left by one of those "chumps" who thinks he's getting the better end of the deal. To him, Sinclair is nearly a benefactor!

This is our first real hint, later confirmed, that Sinclair is simply not the merciless tycoon that Ryan and Fontaine were. He is basically the free market as it is supposed to work, where everyone leaves satisfied and with cash in hand.

When Sinclair is caught and turned into a Big Daddy, Bioshock 2's emotional momentum, carefully and methodically constructed through the heart of the game, meanders into a tripwire; Sinclair's struggle with the transformation is painfully written as one absurdly protracted last gasp and the transformation itself -- the introduction of yet another converted Big Daddy into a fiction where seemingly everybody is getting thrown into Big Daddy / Big Sister suits for mindless servitude -- seems to minimize the unique nature of Delta's plight. (And, although I really enjoyed Minerva's Den, its use of Yet Another Big Daddy as its protagonist suffers from the same problem.)

Agreed... and yet. Sinclair is such a personality, such a pragmatic weasel, that seeing him turned into a Big Daddy was sad to me. I never knew which way Sinclair was going to jump at the end, but we never really get to find out because Lamb won't tolerate individuals. Now, I agree the actual transformation is weak. He turns into a Big Daddy in like five minutes? Lamb's Big Daddy machine becomes Calvin's cardboard box: it's a duplicator, transmogrifier, and just about anything else she wants it to be.

And yes, Lamb does use the Protector conditioning for just about every problem. But of course, she would. It's the most effective way to turn individuals into useful drones. We see that the Big Daddy / Little Sister relationship has become sanctified in her society because it is such a perfect social symbiosis. So Mark Meltzer, who stands in for the traditional notion of family, is turned into a mockery of himself. He gets to be with his daughter, but only by becoming a Daddy. Sinclair is everything Lamb hates, so she makes him a slave yet leaves him his awareness. The details of how this works are iffy, but conceptually it seems sound.

Rob Zacny wrote:

So Mark Meltzer, who stands in for the traditional notion of family, is turned into a mockery of himself. He gets to be with his daughter, but only by becoming a Daddy.

Oh man that made me sad, the action was frantic at the time so I only realised what happened after I killed that Big Daddy and I saw the name instead of 'Rosie' or whatever they were called by then.

wordsmythe wrote:
hbi2k wrote:

Fair enough. Personally, I don't care what Dickens intended: I always assumed Sydney Carton must actually be a time-traveling Charles Darnay from the future. It's the only way to explain their uncanny resemblance; the whole novel is crap otherwise. (-:

Mock if you feel the need, but the intentions of the author don't mean piss compared to the words in the book at press.

I was just being silly, not mocking. Well, I WAS mocking, but Dickens, not you. I really do think that novel is crap. (-: But for the record, I agree with you.

I just played through this one finally, prompted by this post...I'd been avoiding it because of GFWL, but since I installed that to play Batman anyway, that broke down my resistance. (I still hate GFWL and will avoid games with it when possible, should any game devs be reading this... but I don't hate it as much as I used to.)

I'm rather mixed on it, overall. Like everyone else, I thought Lamb was completely unconvincing. She was set up as the 'collectivist' foil to Ryan's 'individualist', and it just didn't work, and didn't resonate. People who had moved to Rapture mostly wouldn't have been interested in what she had to say, which was trite. I can imagine very few adults that would buy the demonstrated rhetoric, and those that did wouldn't have been bright enough to go to Rapture in the first place.

I was pretty irritated by the game, up through Siren's Alley. I was a goddamn Big Daddy, dammit, but it felt like I was made out of tin foil. Other Big Daddies have drills that always work, fer chrissake, and having to find fuel just really, really sucked. It also suffered from the Bioshock 1 fundamental problem of endless respawns... you can just throw lives at a problem instead of resources. That felt cheap, but I took ruthless advantage until all my searching started to pay off.

The biggest shift in the game was after I found the crossbow. The ability to meaningfully aim and snipe made it much more interesting. The mouse tracking was always weird, but I was able to habituate myself eventually, and the combination of high accuracy and recoverable ammo let me start accumulating resources, to the point that I usually had huge amounts of stuff to throw into difficult fights. That's when things really picked up, and I started genuinely enjoying myself.

I also had to retrain myself to constantly be buying stuff out of vending machines... there's a ton of cash scattered around. Bioshock 1 required you to conserve resources, but 2 is much more generous as long as you search carefully.

Then I started to actually get into the meat of the plot, and I did find the three moral choices at least somewhat interesting. There's no way I would have hurt the woman, and the hustler was just too pitiful to bother with. But Gil Alexander, now that was actually a quandary. I really spent some time thinking about that. My ultimate decision was that the original Gil Alexander was already dead, and that he didn't have the right to impose the death penalty on this new creature that had arisen from his corpse. So I left him alone too.

At that point I was thinking it was a fairly okay game. I was tired of the endless, endless enemies, to the point that I actually dreamed about being swarmed by Splicers in my sleep. But then I got to Eleanor, and I thought the game totally took off after that. The Little Sister sequence was worth the price of admission all by itself. And I loved Eleanor's lines in combat.

Overall, I thought the framing of the story was poorly done. That writing team simply didn't handle the big ideas well at all. But when they got down to individual people, of whatever sort, they did a great job. The broad arc of the story was almost comically inept, but the specific details were very interesting.

Of course, Bioshock 1 suffered to some degree from that... with Ryan being set up as this big libertarian, but then getting into a war with Fontaine over, of all things, smuggling. That was such a powerful false note that it still bothers me.

Malor wrote:

Like everyone else, I thought Lamb was completely unconvincing. She was set up as the 'collectivist' foil to Ryan's 'individualist', and it just didn't work, and didn't resonate. People who had moved to Rapture mostly wouldn't have been interested in what she had to say, which was trite. I can imagine very few adults that would buy the demonstrated rhetoric, and those that did wouldn't have been bright enough to go to Rapture in the first place.

...

Overall, I thought the framing of the story was poorly done. That writing team simply didn't handle the big ideas well at all. But when they got down to individual people, of whatever sort, they did a great job. The broad arc of the story was almost comically inept, but the specific details were very interesting.

Of course, Bioshock 1 suffered to some degree from that... with Ryan being set up as this big libertarian, but then getting into a war with Fontaine over, of all things, smuggling. That was such a powerful false note that it still bothers me.

Just something to ponder: If a character is set up as the spokesperson for a viewpoint, and if that character is an imperfect role model, does that necessarily mean that the character was poorly done?

wordsmythe wrote:
Malor wrote:

Of course, Bioshock 1 suffered to some degree from that... with Ryan being set up as this big libertarian, but then getting into a war with Fontaine over, of all things, smuggling. That was such a powerful false note that it still bothers me.

Just something to ponder: If a character is set up as the spokesperson for a viewpoint, and if that character is an imperfect role model, does that necessarily mean that the character was poorly done?

Agreed-- I always thought that part of the POINT of Ryan was that his views were so extreme as to be utterly untenable in the real world; even in the microcosm that he created specifically to support them. He didn't compromise his ideals lightly, but he DID compromise them, and that's not an oversight or character inconsistency: it's one of the major themes of the game.

hbi2k wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
Malor wrote:

Of course, Bioshock 1 suffered to some degree from that... with Ryan being set up as this big libertarian, but then getting into a war with Fontaine over, of all things, smuggling. That was such a powerful false note that it still bothers me.

Just something to ponder: If a character is set up as the spokesperson for a viewpoint, and if that character is an imperfect role model, does that necessarily mean that the character was poorly done?

Agreed-- I always thought that part of the POINT of Ryan was that his views were so extreme as to be utterly untenable in the real world; even in the microcosm that he created specifically to support them. He didn't compromise his ideals lightly, but he DID compromise them, and that's not an oversight or character inconsistency: it's one of the major themes of the game.

Just noting my support here. Lamb just seemed like a nutbar or someone trying to be an opportunist without actually knowing what they were doing (which might have been intended as well, but I didn't get that feeling).

ccesarano wrote:

Lamb just seemed like a nutbar or someone trying to be an opportunist without actually knowing what they were doing (which might have been intended as well, but I didn't get that feeling).

I got the feeling that she was simply a person with a different point of view. She became popular with the poor, downtrodden people who didn't have a place within Andrew Ryan's "utopia". Her purpose was not to be a great leader, but someone who could renew the purpose of the individual during Rapture's wavering growth. This was why Ryan bothered to even considered bringing a psychiatrist into Rapture. He wasn't surprised to find her collectivist idealism and clearly despised her for it. When Rapture fell, it seems natural that many people would have turned to her for hope. Sofia's plan wasn't really to control them, but to give them a purpose in the face of death beneath the sea: join with Eleanor and make her the savior that Sofia envisions her to be.

This may sound arrogant, but I wonder if the plot was too deep for some people.

I found it to be an enjoyable experience.

I do so love being late to a party.

hbi2k wrote:
Lamb and her acolytes are the perfect characters for BioShock 2 because they are children playing in the halls of slain giants.

This is a nice and poetic way to put it; I wish I could believe that the game were honest enough with itself to view Lamb the same way. Storywise, I felt the game was at its weakest when it was lamely trying to set Lamb up as having been Ryan's rival, a thorn in his side the way Fontaine was in the first game. It feels contrived and jarring; I cringed while listening to an audio log of a debate in which Lamb scores rhetorical zingers off of Ryan.

I got the impression that the game's writers knew Lamb was a much less significant figure than Ryan and Fontaine. She scores rhetorical points against Ryan, sure, but in all of Ryan's audio logs she comes across not as a threat or rival, as Fontaine does, but as a nuisance. He doesn't like her, and he doesn't want her in Rapture and will do what he needs to get rid of her, but there's never any sense that she's an existential threat to him. The impression I got of Lamb from the audio logs and other bits of storytelling was that she wasn't a thorn in Ryan's side so much as a burr in his shoe.

I can imagine very few adults that would buy the demonstrated rhetoric, and those that did wouldn't have been bright enough to go to Rapture in the first place.

One of the interesting things about Bioshock 2 is that it explores the parts of Rapture that aren't part of Ryan's ideal but must exist all the same. Ryan built an invitation-only world of money and privilege populated by the best and brightest. However, Pauper's Drop makes it clear that not all of the citizenry of Rapture buy into his ideas. Grace Holloway is not a believer in Rapture but came along with her husband, and the sense one gets of the residents of the area is that they were brought in as laborers to build Rapture. There's no place for them in the city (Pauper's Drop is a repurposed maintenance tunnel) but the city needs their labor. Where Bioshock dwelled on the high society wheelers and dealers who lived in Rapture, Bioshock 2 looks at those who built its walls. It's to these people, the poor, the less educated, the people not sold on Ryan's lust for the free market, that Sophia Lamb's collectivist ideals would have appealed.