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(WARNING: Review contains spoilers.)
In Bioshock, we were introduced to a dark city under the sea, founded by Andrew Ryan in the mid 20th century, designed to be a utopia, where science and personal freedom would not be held back by government or religion. As can be imagined, this went horribly wrong, resulting in an undersea dystopia populated by people who went crazy over-splicing themselves with the various genetic alterations that the unbridled science of Rapture had developed (these people are called splicers). Also inhabiting the leaking, frightening halls of Rapture are Little Sisters, young girls genetically programmed to wander the halls, gathering ADAM (the genetic substance that makes all this possible) from the dead bodies littered around Rapture. These Little Sisters are protected by huge men in diving suits, called Big Daddies. In the first game, a man found this city and fought his way through and out of it, causing some pretty big changes along the way. Now, ten years later, one of the very first big daddies, Subject Delta, is awoken, with a mission to find the little sister to whom he was once paired and save Rapture from a new tyrant that has risen from the ashes of the last one.
The original Bioshock was praised for its atmosphere and story: Rapture was a truly terrifying world, yet beautiful and captivating in its wondrous existence and violent nature. Music and posters from the 50s and before set a strange, tense mood and really made the city a strange, intriguing place to explore. Beyond that, Bioshock was one of the most thought-provoking, philosophical stories gaming has yet had. These are the things that made the first game such a success, and they are all back full-force in Bioshock 2. Andrew Ryan has been replaced with Sophia Lamb, a tyrant with an ideology to the opposite extreme from Ryan’s: Lamb is a radical collectivist, believing that everyone must completely give up themselves for the good of Rapture as a whole. And she has horrible plans for Elanor, her daughter and Delta’s former Little Sister. This setting allows for the same thought-provoking storytelling that made the first game so loved.
The game is played from a first-person perspective, meaning you see from Subject Delta’s perspective as you wield various weapons and plasmids (genetic abilities such as incineration and lightning) to survive the attacks of the insane citizens of Rapture. You will also often find Little Sisters, being led around by their Big Daddies: at this point you can kill their Big Daddy (not an easy task) and adopt the Little Sister. This allows you to take her to certain bodies that have ADAM in them, at which point you can set her down and let her extract the ADAM while you defend her from the hoard of splicers that will try and kidnap her. After this, you can choose to rescue her, setting her free from her Sisterdom and turning her back into a normal little girl, or you can choose to harvest her to take the ADAM: a process she will not survive. This allows for multiple different endings to the game, depending on what moral choices you make throughout the game.
Bioshock is a game that understands that if you want to make a point with your story, you cannot dumb it down: Rapture is a horrible place, destroyed by societal misconceptions and selfish people. This is a dark, violent story, and for the story and message to have full impact it must be as raw and uncensored as possible. This is why the game has an M rating, and this is why parents must be very careful when deciding if Bioshock 2 is appropriate for their family or not.
What Parents Need to Know
The world of Rapture is a dark, violent dystopia, with demented murderers and spliced up crazies at every turn. The most notable violence is in the form of the Big Daddy drill: a giant drill attached to your right arm. If you rev this drill up, you can use it on your enemies, which is when the blood really starts flying and the victim will thrash about madly: however, there is no visible hole in their bodies, only lots of blood.
Many different types of guns can be used in the game, and most simply fire bullets that impact into your enemies with a bit of blood. You can hit your enemies at any time with any weapon, resulting in a bloody impact. The two exceptions are the launcher and the spear gun, which launch exploding projectiles and spears, respectively. Explosions send enemies flying, and spears impale them, likely pinning them against the nearest wall. In addition, the plasmids can set enemies on fire, attack them with bees, stun them with lightning, or even freeze them (after which you can shatter them if you hit them hard enough). Some weapons, once upgraded, can have similar effects.
It is worth noting that though there are large amounts of blood, there is no real gore. No dismemberment, disembowelment, or even beheadings take place in this game; there is just a lot of blood.
Many characters throughout Rapture will often swear. The words F**k, S**t, A**, B**ch and damn are used throughout the game.
Some female splicers wear revealing clothing, but no sexual context can really be added to these disgusting freaks of nature. Though the player may, at one point, may overhear a conversation between a prostitute and a rather awkward, befuddled man: nothing too graphic, but quite suggestive.
There is some religion mentioned, but Rapture is mostly just filled with fanatical worship of Lamb and her plan to resurrect Rapture and create a truly idealist society. There are shrines built to this effect that you will see now and then throughout Rapture. You can also find boxes of Bibles here and there: these are, as explained in the first game, the result of attempts to smuggle the Bible into the faithless city of Rapture while under Ryan’s control.
At one point, there is also a man who has turned Lamb’s ideology into a religion of sorts, attempting to unite splicers into “The Family” that Lamb is always talking about, and influencing them with some odd mix of Lamb’s collectivist philosophy and religious terms. He preaches at Delta over loudspeakers throughout one level.
There are a few moral choices in this game: the most prominent are the choices to either save the Little Sisters or harvest them for ADAM. Obviously, more ADAM means more stuff in the game, but getting it requires, essentially, killing a little girl. It is a moral dilemma that affects the outcome of the story as a whole. There are also times in the game when the player will have the opportunity to kill someone who has really wronged you in one way or another: the player can kill them if he/she wants, but saving them earns an achievement/trophy (the award systems of the Xbox 360 and PS3, respectively) and has good consequences for the rest of the game.
Bioshock 2 is atmospheric, thought-provoking, and intense. It lacks the surprising plot twist of the first game, but the story makes up for it by being a more personal, character-driven tale. The gameplay is a marked improvement over that of the first, while still staying familiar to Bioshock veterans. Parents should be aware, however, that this is a dark, violent story, and for the story and message to have full impact it must be as raw and uncensored as possible. Despite its necessity to the plot, the fact still remains that Bioshock 2 is a bloody game with some strong language and potentially terrible morals (depending on the player’s choices.) With that said, parents should keep the above mentioned content in mind when deciding if Bioshock 2 is appropriate for their family or not.
Samuel Gronseth II
Samuel Gronseth II is an avid video game enthusiast who manages Video Game Reviews at TheSource4Parents.com. He has experience teaching about video games, and is passionate about their storytelling potential. Sam's favorite movie is The Empire Strikes Back, and his favorite video game is Persona 4. Sam lives in Knoxville, TN with his wife, Jimi. To see more of Samuel, check out his Youtube series Games as Lit. 101, where he examines the stories of beloved video games to see what we can learn from them: https://www.youtube.com/gamesasliterature.