As I mentioned last week…

…I’ve been playing a lot of the game BioShock 2. It’s a very fun game, and it reminds me that what often makes a good game is the same thing that makes for good writing: setting, characters and plot.

The setting for BioShock 2 is the same as the first game in the series, BioShock. The underwater city of Rapture. This city was built by a man straight out of Ayn Rand. A man who believed that if you were ‘strong’ and ‘smart’ you were allowed to do anything. The only limit was someone ‘stronger’ and ‘smarter’ than you. Absolute individualism rules.

It was a spectacular and horrible failure, of course. By the time the player arrives Rapture is falling apart, leaking badly and populated almost entirely by Splicers, people who have been driven psychotic by overuse of genetic altering material created by one of the scientists that lived there. The player has to stay alive in this place, trying to escape and piecing together what happened.

In Bioshock 2 the setting is the exact opposite. The main protagonist believes that individuality is evil and is working to gather every person left in Rapture into a psychic whole, and she intends to spread it beyond Rapture as well.

So, BioShock 2 has a wonderful setting; dark, dank and oppressive.

The characters in Bioshock 2 are good as well.

In the first game one of the most difficult opponents was something called a Big Daddy. In BioShock 2 the player is a Big Daddy. So you’re playing what was an enemy in BioShock. I find this type of turnaround quite amusing.

The start of the game is a well done cut scene (Careful. It’s gory in spots.) that sets motivation for you and introduces the protagonist, which sets more motivation. This means the game is a story where your actions decide what happen. You travel through various areas gradually approaching the final confrontation with the protagonist.

Each area has a secondary protagonist. A person who runs the area for reasons of their own. Surprisingly, not all are evil people, and you have to make decisions about how you interact with them. These decisions will change the ending of the game.

The plot is less straightforward than it appears. You often have to do a lot of thinking about what you are doing and why. Different actions have different consequences, which is how it should be. You aren’t just a machine moving along a virtual track going from Point A to Point B, killing everything along the way.

What I like the most is that there are ethical decisions to be made. The main ones have to do with the Little Sisters. They are the main source for a special resource in the game. At various points you have to decide what you want to do with them, harvest them or rescue them. Harvest gives you more of the resource but destroys the Little Sister. Rescue gives you less resource but the Little Sister becomes a little girl again. Personally, I would rescue them even if the rewards were a hundred times greater. They may be bio-engineered machines designed for an industrial purpose but they didn’t choose to be made that way, and I’m not killing little girls.

So, what makes BioShock 2 a great game is the same thing that makes for a great read; setting, characters and plot.

See you next week.