[As with most of my reviews, I try not to reveal plot lines and key points, but some are necessary. For the most part, the reviews I write are more how I experienced the work, not about the work itself. For the an important part of the work is what we bring into it, almost as much as what the author brings.]
So tonight, at the end of 2013, I finished up Bioshock 2, the second half of the Rapture story. I've needed an escape for the past few weeks, someplace to go in between hospital visits. My routine has been interrupted, and sometimes that's good, but there are times that I've come home to an empty house and wanted another world to dip into. And so I've got my Kobo Mini (see last post) for books, and I installed Bioshock 1 and 2 on my computer. With my time all messed up, I caught myself playing until 2am (after all that's not late, is it?) and exploring a city constructed at the bottom of the sea.
You start off surviving a plane crash, and swimming in the Atlantic to a mysterious tower on a island, and from there, you descend into the modern/classic architecture that would come out of Ayn Rand's Fountainhead or the decadence of the 1920's. Many scenes remind me of the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, or even the posh reception room at the front of Emory's Hospital wing. But the city, Rapture, is in disrepair, and the people living there not much better. The most striking part of entering the city is Bobby Darin's "Sailin'" playing on 1940's radio (the story starts in 1959). Perhaps that's the best part of the game, the music itself. From Bing Crosby's "Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime," to Patti Page's "How Much is that Doggie in the Window?" the crooning sounds fit perfectly into a place where drugged madmen, monstrosities with giant drills for hands assist young girls in extracting chemicals from dead bodies (in almost a creepy Lolita sorta way.) There's actually a soundtrack that is available on Spotify or Amazon, and playlists on Spotify where people have taken the music and lined it up as it appears in the game. One final point about the music, the haunting version of "Jesus Loves Me" sung by a delusional German trapped in a room is one of the strongest usages of music in any video game, or in any modern media.
Then, as you look at the artwork displayed proudly at the beginning of the game, you realize that the founder, one Andrew Ryan, is very directly created from the philosophies of Ayn Rand. Bioshock 1 takes Objectivism, points out its obvious human flaws, inserts scientific breakthroughs, and then stretches it all to its logical extreme. In this world, you get to look at John Galt's world without morality, and in a world where the ability to change your DNA in a Laissez-faire system without any regulations, it gets bad fast.
I've said in the past that Ayn Rand's (and therefore Andrew Ryan) ideas are good, but they don't take into account human nature. I've also said that Rand's attitude that Christianity and Objectivism cannot mix is wrong, and in this game, Religion is a main theme. Bibles are smuggled in (indeed, Ryan thought that any communication with the outside world was forbidden), followers of Christ are seen throughout the game crucified, men cry to God, "Why have you forsaken me?" right before they start shooting at you. But before my Christian friends would decry the game as unplayable, I would argue that this game is an Apologetics dream. In this game, you are presented with ideological arguments, and the choices you make in the game will determine the verdict.
I call it "a game," because Bioshock 1 and 2 are essentially two halves of the same story. The sequel intertwines in wondrous ways, so much so that it is impossible to play it without the original first. I do agree that the first half is better, much like John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Two different pilgrims finding their way to Heaven, and finding temptations all along the way. But the first half, with Christian, is much better. Thing is, with Bunyan's work, you can read the first half, and it will be complete. With Bioshock, you've got to play both halves for a complete story.
The second story starts with you being one of those monstrosities with drills for hands, and 10 years after the first, you meet Dr. Sofia Lamb, who has instituted a Socialist society after the downfall of the Objectivist one. It, too, dismisses religion (in fact, Lamb inserts herself as the savior of the people, and is worshiped much like God), and in that, Lamb, like Ryan, does not take into account human nature. It is an argument used for both ends of an ideological spectrum. I don't understand that, as ideologically sound both arguments are (and, in truth, pure Communism is a great idea, if you leave human nature out of it, same with Pure Objectivism), both can never work. They are Thesis and Antithesis. The notion that compromise, a Synthesis, is the only way it would work, and I would have to agree.
There is a prequel book, that was published in 2011, that I have yet to read, and want to. Also, there is a third game, Bioshock Infinite that I have yet to play.
CAUTION The games are best played with the sound on. BUT, the insane inhabitants of Rapture have no problem using vile language and violent acts. These are not to be played with kids around. Oh, and one more thing... Bioshock 2... it crashed my computer every time I quit playing it. Nothing major, but I did have to cold reboot it every time. Looking online, it seems it's a widespread problem with no available fix. Had something to do with Windows Live or the Graphic system (and I had a store bought legal copy, not a pirated copy). I even re-downloaded a copy from the Steam system, and it did the same thing. So.... yeah... just to let you know.
One last thing, to wrap things up. This is a first-person shooter game. I usually don't like those games, and with the exception of Half-Life, I can't stand them. They are better fit for those who just like the violence and like large explosions. I like neither. But the plot line and the arguments given are superb, and so, to bypass much of the difficulty I have with this genre, I put it on easy. In truth, the end of both games became too easy that way, but on Medium (and I tried that) I became bogged down in just trying to stay alive. So if you don't like first-person shooters, play the game on Easy, and if you like these games, put it on Medium or Hard, whatever your choice.