So, because I love to be irrelevant, let’s talk about Bioshock.
Shit, it’s a series now? Yeah, evidently the announcement of Bioshock:Infinite cements that Bioshock is now a brand name. What a surprise–a popular video game being branded. If I wasn’t so ludicrously pumped for Bioshock:Infinite I’d be cynical and bitter about a unique and bold concept being mass-marketed and diluted by sequeilitis.
Ah, but there are legacies to think about. What about poor Bioshock 2? This poor, sad shell of a game wasn’t even developed by Ken Levine and the original team that’s helming Infinite. Released to lots of good reviews, but also a lot of eye-rolling from the more pretentious crowds, Bioshock 2 has been called everything from a “knock-off piece of shit” to “a glorified expansion pack”–which is what I say it is.
The problem with Bioshock 2 is that it plays better in every way than Bioshock 1. The levels are better designed (at least from a mechanics standpoint), the gameplay is more balanced, the combat is improved, the weapons are better, dual-wielding Plasmids and firearms makes combat fun and fluid, and the limitations on health kits and Eve hypos, as well as the layout of the levels and the new system for gathering Little Sisters means that hacking turrets and cameras and laying out traps is far, far more necessary than it ever was in Bioshock 1.
See, in the original Bioshock, while it was awesome all the stuff you could do, it was hardly necessary to do much of it. Sure, you could lay out traps, set up a killzone guarded by turrets, hypnotize a Big Daddy and use him as a meat shield–but you never really had to except maybe in Hard Mode. You could just use the Electric Buck shotgun ammo and win the game. And you will. In fact, there’s a Three Panel Soul comic that really exemplifies this:
See, you could do a lot in Bioshock, but you didn’t have to or really need to. In Bioshock 2, the game encourages you to hack everything and set traps and manipulate the environment through providing item incentives or just making it easier and more cost-effective to do so. In every aspect of gameplay, Bioshock 2 is superior to Bioshock 1.
It’s not the better game, of course, because Bioshock 1 has a very, very tight story. It’s totally solid and really well-told, contained with character arcs and all that fun English Lit stuff. Bioshock 1 is also hell of a lot scarier–it’s kinda hard to feel creeped out in Rapture when you’re a Big Daddy yourself.
But Bioshock 2’s story is still quite good–there’s a big theme about family and what that means and the relationships between family members and the search for meaning and identity, and unlike Bioshock 1, this game actually gives us a fucking ending and not that lazy-ass slideshow at the end of Bioshock 1. God damn, what a let-down that was…but whatever. Bioshock 2 is also much prettier than Bioshock 1, which is to be expected.
Yet Bioshock 2 isn’t going to have an enduring legacy. The original fanbase was divided on it from day one, and the fact that it’s really short and adds very little to the overall story doesn’t help. If it had been released as an expansion pack, it would have been amazing. As a proper sequel, however, it just can’t cut it–especially now that we have Infinite raising the bar higher than anyone’s anticipated.
Yet if you ask me, I’m kind of torn. I really, really liked Bioshock 2–it left me wanting more, which is never a bad thing, and I intend to get the DLC, Minerva’s Den, as soon as possible. Bioshock 1 is very different from 2, and depending on what you want out of a Bioshock game, you may be disappointed. But the gameplay changes, the increased customizability in terms of plasmids and tonics, all of that adds up to a really compelling experience. If you’ve not taken the time to play Bioshock 2, now’s the perfect time. You can find it for $20 and less all over the place now, especially Amazon.
As for Bioshock becoming a franchise, well…we’ll see. I’m excited as hell for Infinite and feel that the developers have enough great games under their belt that I’ll trust them. Franchises are the way to succeed in the gaming, for good or ill. Considering the high cost of games, consumers need names that they can rely on, and if Bioshock can continue being innovative, even as a franchise, then I’ll have no complaints.