After the events of the original Bioshock, the only logical way for the plot to go was all the way down. While we were left in no doubt whatsoever about the fate of freshly-surfaced protagonist Jack, the fate of the underwater city he left behind was swimming in far murkier waters. Bioshock 2 reveals that if anything, Jack's fleeting visit has only made things worse for the unfortunates who are all still out at sea. With their leader dead, and facing a Little Sister shortage crisis, the drug-crazed Rapturites are forced to turn, as all desperate civilisations eventually are, to political extremism.
Enter Sofia Lamb, who finds herself the nominal leader of Rapture by the time the calendars flip from 1959 to 1970. Back in the fifties, she was a political rival of Rapture's deceased founder, Andrew Ryan, and it's pretty easy to see why the two weren't drinking buddies. Where Ryan once trumpeted the contributions of the individual, Lamb instead sees social altruism and self-sacrifice as the cornerstones around which Rapture can be rebuilt. Her words clearly resonate around the seedy brothels and downtrodden hoovervilles that now make up much of Rapture's landscape, as her promises to see them all 'reborn' are regularly reprinted in crude paint on every available surface.
But how much of their freedoms Lamb's subjects intend to sacrifice, and how much she plans on taking for herself, remains a moral hot potato, and it's against this cauldron of uncertainty, with tensions practically bubbling all the way to the surface, that Bioshock's latest protagonist awakes from a prolonged slumber. With all that going on around you, you'll be grateful that you're encased in the relative safety of a Big Daddy suit...
Hug me, Drill me
A Bioshock game where you play as a Big Daddy? That can't possibly work, can it? But yet somehow it does, and not by accident, either. Although there are hundreds of subtexts floating around Bioshock 2's narrative, the wider story arc explores the relationship between the Big Daddies and the Little Sisters, and the compulsions that bind them to each other's side.
This is a tale that could so easily have collapsed under a tidal wave of wankiness in the wrong hands, but the intelligent scripting throughout the game nips any fears of that kind in the bud. Indeed, Bioshock 2's script has to be considered one of its biggest success stories; despite the large change in developmental personnel between this game and the last, nothing feels out of place or contradictory within the Bioshock mythology.
Those that greedily soaked up every puddle of the original's rich backstory will not be disappointed with the latest batch of audio logs scattered around the gameworld, many of which cleverly refer back to the events of the first game. On the flipside, newcomers needn't feel lost, thanks in part to the opening level conveniently taking place in a propaganda theme park, where Rapture's entire history is succinctly laid out in animatronic fashion.
Of course, the story can be as well told as it wants to be, but if you put the player in control of an unsympathetic character, it is doomed to fall flat. This is where a lot of the scepticism surrounding Bioshock 2 pre-release has originated from; who, bar the most battleaxe-like of mother-in-laws, can empathise with a Big Daddy over someone like Jack? But 2K Marin have pulled it off, in the process creating a very poignant line of symmetry between the two characters.
Whereas Jack believed he possessed freewill, yet in actual fact had none, Subject Delta, the prototype Big Daddy now in your control, is a creature of habit infused with sentience and free choice. This adds a far greater weight to your choices throughout the game - particularly as this time, you know exactly what you're doing when you cross a Little Sister's path. Although it's impossible to explain just how your choices affect the game's ending with-out spoiling the story, it's definitely true to say Bioshock 2 does a far better job of reflecting the consequences of your actions than its predecessor.