Blast from the Past
Who's the Daddy?
The Past Bioshock is my favourite game, give or take the occasional Oblivion. So, back in ‘09 when 2’s Sea of Dreams trailer came out, with the big Little Sister staring wistfully out to sea clutching a Big Daddy doll I pretty much lost it. I drove fellow PW reviewer TheMorty insane with all my theories about what that teaser promised. One thing I was sure about, it was gonna be great.
And it was. The exploration of Rapture as a Big Daddy trying to save your little sister was amazing. I loved it. And then TheMorty spoiled it. He wasn’t even that big a fan of the original, the idiot, but BS2 he really took to task. He kept pointing out disappointments and flaws, especially around what that trailer promised but didn’t deliver, until I came around to his way of thinking, like a Splicer falling for Ryan’s rhetoric. But I’ve started to wonder if TheMorty was right. Time to be Mister Bubbles again and make TheMorty my Little Sister. Wait, not sure that’s right…
Still A Blast?
It’s 1958, before Atlas’ New Year's attack plunges the underwater utopia of Rapture into civil war. I’m Delta, a happy daddy trailing after little sister Eleanor. But mum’s unhappy - Sofia Lamb takes back Eleanor while forcing Delta to commit suicide.
In the decade that follows, Sofia’s philosophy that humanity must 'escape the self’ clashes with Ryan’s belief in free-will. Now he’s out the way, Sofia takes control of Rapture, turning those who are left into The Family, dedicated to creating a true ‘utopian’, someone who could transcend the self; Eleanor. Well, let’s see what Daddy has to say about that.
Due to his conditioning, a resurrected Delta is driven to protect Eleanor, so I begin stomping to the other side of Rapture with just The Family between me and my Darling child. It does work as a narrative, but, with TheMorty’s words ringing in my ears, I have to accept being a Big Daddy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
We don’t have any great strengths as a huge, hulking, armoured beast. We’re as easy to put down as one of the wiry Splicers. We should be a real challenge to go up against, but Splicers come at me like I’m just some bloke with a wrench. In BO1 you rarely saw a Big Daddy bested, the game went to great lengths to make them formidable. Here, I don’t deserve to be called Daddy.
What’s even more reality-shattering is I have plasmids. No other BD’s have plasmids, why am I so special? Other Alpha series' kinda display it, but it feels like a cheat; I get that a Bioshock game needs Plasmids, but it would have made more sense to make me a Splicer who’s come to their senses; maybe Eleanor’s real dad became one - that would have been cool. And while I’m dealing with my Daddy issues, how the hell is a Big Daddy using vending machines? How does he even eat a pack of Potato Chips?
This is basically a reskin. Delta even has access to all the tonics. And that’s where it really gets watered down. Midway through I’ve unlocked a god-mode; I can regain health from standing in water, and there’s obviously a lot of that about. Chuck in a tonic where a health gain also regenerates Eve and you just need a puddle to stand in during fights. Tonics that make you resistant while also able to deflect mean Delta’s pretty much impossible to topple. Okay, so that makes me a Big Daddy but not in the way No Gods, Only Man intended.
What’s also painfully clear is the early teasers are not what we’re playing. The original concept had a Big Sister who would keep popping up and she'd be revealed as Eleanor - they rejected that as too obvious, but I really wished they'd stuck to the Little Sister returns and takes over idea of the teaser, that was compelling; instead, multiple Big Sisters with no story feels hollow; we’re supposed to invest in the Little Sisters yet as soon as they’re big enough to fit into a skin-tight costume we kill them?
And there was ‘There’s Something In The Sea’, an online story that revealed little girls were being kidnapped from the shoreline towns. It sounded fantastic, some horrible event unfolding but it doesn’t go anywhere, just recordings we find mentioning girls being taken to harvest Adam for Lamb's plan. It followed a character called Mark Meltzer whose tracked his daughter to Rapture, only to get turned into a Big Daddy; who we kill then steal his daughter. Is that supposed to be poignant? Bad Daddy. It was clearly a marketing campaign already in place before they had to change up and chop the story around.
It all feels so bolted together, and there was a lot cut from the final game. The outside sequences were cut short and originally included ocean-bound Splicers, there were non-Family survivors Delta could work with, and even Little Brothers - all games get concepts cut, but those could have really opened Rapture up, made BS2 feel like more than a BS1 clone. And what remains also feels a bit thrown-together; for example, why does Tenenbaum pop up, explain the plot then just take off? Instead, we get a Southern Dandy, Sinclair, as a mission giver. I liked him, he’s like a marginally more trustworthy Fontaine but the others we meet, such as Grace and Stanley, ex-acolytes of Lamb feel rushed and there to slow us down; only Gilbert Alexander, the prototype Utopian is interesting.
Meanwhile Lamb just bangs on about how annoying the self is. It’s ironic that personality is her greatest hate and we hate hers. She’s rarely interesting to listen to, it’s always the same point in the same condescending tone. We could be seduced by Ryan’s belief in free-will, but we’re never going to buy Lamb’s idea of utopia where no one has any self-awareness. BS2 needs more awareness.
I have to admit, TheMorty was right. Yeech. BS2 isn’t even a Little Sister to BS1’s Big Daddy of a game, and – oh who am I kidding, this game is fricking awesome. Take that TheMorty.
I’m a Big Daddy for crying out loud. It’s saved by Delta being an obsolete test model which explains why the Splicers see me as fair game. Lamb, for all her posh accent and drivel, does make for a chilling villain at times; her horribly indifferent treatment of Eleanor, her poetic threats – ‘tear out it’s jaw and drive it back into the ocean’ – make her interesting, and sometimes I do see her as just deluded, maybe even traumatised; backstories reveal she was at Hiroshima. It’s not like her sort-of Communist ideas are any more appalling than Ryan’s Capitalism approach. Her cohorts may be blockers but they are well-rounded, be it those who got caught up in her machinations or those willing to become demons for her cause. BS1 was pretty much just a one-two punch between Atlas and Ryan, but BS2 is a little more layered - and consistent; no Fontaine pops ups.
Some story elements, like who Delta was and Sinclair’s motivations are good, and bits like the poem to the 'yellow-eyed girl' are heart-breaking (what happened to Billy! Why aren't we Mark searching for Cindy and saving Billy too, damnit! ) but we're here for the exploration of Ryan, Rapture and Fontaine, and for the most part BS2 does the fan-service well. But Eleanor is the star.
In the original, the choices we made only really affected the end cut-scene. Here, the choices Delta makes affect Eleanor. His behaviour forms who she becomes and how extreme her acts are in the final moments as we stage our escape. Just a laboratory subject to her own Mother, Eleanor’s journey from princess in the tower to independent woman is way better than the nonsense we endured during Elizabeth’s story in Bioshock Infinite; Eleanor becomes an absolute badass Big Sister. That’s ma girl.
The Big Sister fights are always frantic, as are encounters with the maddened Alpha series, and Delta gets some solid moral choices beyond just save/harvest the Sisters (where does Delta get that power from?), and getting into a scrap with a rival big daddy for the attentions of the Little Sisters is thrilling in a different way to how Jack did it. Briefly fostering them to claim more Adam is a great diversion too. As is Rapture.
Despite being more rundown, flooded and decrepit, the city is extraordinary. I’m so happy to be back. It’s such an amazing world, fantastical yet somehow you buy into it completely. There’s sheer will at work here and I’m always happy to explore more of the city, even if BS2 doesn’t hold a lifejacket to BS1. We’ve got some great areas to explore, and while the jaunts outside are a crushing disappointment, it’s still cool to be out there.
All I need to do now is accept TheMorty’s criticisms but also dismiss them; if you loved Bioshock, then this isn’t much of a follow-up. But if you loved Rapture, then it’s a great return visit. Plus, we have a DLC, Minerva’s Den which really should have been Bioshock 3. It’s often better than Bioshock 2 with a genuinely affecting plot, amazing architecture that was largely spared the War, some clever Plasmids and brutal Big Daddy sequences. It’s worth buying BS2 for, and the devs behind it went on to make Gone Home - get it.
What’s really going to piss off TheMorty is instead of putting me off it forever, this replay has reaffirmed how good BS2 is. It’s confused, often convenient and really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. But it’s Rapture damnit, and since Bioshock Infinite jumped the air-shark it’s the best we’re gonna get. This Rapture is still worth fighting for, and I’m fighting for Bioshock 2.