For those of you who have never played Bioshock: what are you waiting for? Stop reading this post right now, go buy Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite and play them now. Go! Now that you’ve done that, we can continue. I’ve started this post more times than I’d care to mention but I’ve never successfully built any momentum in writing it. For me, Bioshock is a difficult topic to write about because I can never do the story justice but it seems pointless to write about the series without mentioning how incredible the story really is. I’ve therefore decided that rather than simply telling you how much I loved Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite, I would instead tell you what I greatly disliked about Bioshock 2 and the added content for Bioshock Infinite, before going on to mention my hopes for the next Bioshock game (and what they should definitely avoid doing).
Before I delve into what is truly the Phantom Menace of the series, if you haven’t played the games and intend to, I advise that you continue this at a later date. I’m going to be writing this post with the assumptions that 1) you have played both Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite and 2) that you’ve played Bioshock 2 and the Infinite DLC OR you have zero intention in playing them (which is something I would strongly recommend). Alternatively, you can skip down to the bottom half of this post and find where I start talking about the direction I hope the series will head in.
I guess we better get down to it and discuss the first error in the series: Bioshock 2. Before I mention the issues with this game, let me just point out that I understand; I understand why they did it: Rapture was this incredible city and the ideas and creativity that went into creating it are very evident as you explore. If it were me, I’d struggle to let it go after only one story when there is the potential to explore so much more of it. That being said, Bioshock 2 did not make me happy to be back in Rapture. In fact, the emotions I felt were quite the opposite. You play as the character Subject Delta, a Big Daddy who is basically searching for his Little Sister (for lack of a better description). I’d only been playing the game for all of 10 minutes before I realised why it was going to annoy me: similar to film sequels (which I’ve ranted about several times) Bioshock 2 had reached that unfortunate moment in its creation where the writers had tried way too hard to include things we were familiar with from the first game, while also having to add new and exciting aspects that felt forced and for me, rather annoying. For example: We are almost immediately introduced to the character Sofia Lamb. Through the storyline and audio diaries we learn that she was invited down to Rapture by Andrew Ryan and played a key role in the civil war that broke out between Ryan and Fontaine. For those who have played Bioshock 1, don’t worry if you don’t remember her as she was never ever mentioned despite your conversations with Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine (or Atlas) themselves. Likewise, there was never a single audio diary or “ghost” flashback to even hint at her existence. Now of course as rational beings, we know the reason for this is quite obvious: at the time of Bioshock 1’s creation, there were probably no plans for a sequel and therefore no reason to leave clues or details that could be brought up in any future game. So instead, we are force-fed some half-assed storyline that doesn’t quite fit with what we learnt in the first game. Unlike the other Bioshock games, I’ve only played through Bioshock 2 once but to me, a lot of things don’t make sense: For starters, when we leave Rapture at the end of Bioshock both Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine are dead, along with Dr Suchong (who died outside the gameplay). Dr Tenenbaum we later discover left for the surface and regardless of which ending you get in Bioshock 1, you head for the surface with the Little Sister’s you saved. Considering that these are all the main players in the “Rapture Games” that were going on, being all the minds responsible for key game aspects such as ADAM and Big Daddy’s etc, I find it rather hard to believe that within the 8 or so years between the first and second game, Sofia Lamb and her minions have managed not only to kidnap children and create more Little Sisters but have actually improved the idea of the Big Daddies to create the far more assassin-like Big Sisters. Perhaps I’m being overly critical but I’ll move onto my next issue: the overall storyline.
I find that FPS games are often at a disadvantage in terms of storyline because you have to keep it moving from one point to the next, so it’s difficult to keep the player’s attention because there are always problems that stop them advancing from one area to the next e.g. a door is frozen so you need to get a certain plasmid. This can often impact on the enjoyment of the game because you can find yourself just wanting it all to end so that the story can progress. Just to be clear, this is not a problem I had with either Bioshock 1 or Bioshock Infinite to any great degree. Both of these games still had a narrative that flowed and didn’t feel like you were doing the same bit of gameplay over and over. Unfortunately, Bioshock 2 feels like the Groundhog Day of games. You literally do a level then something happens on your transition to the next area that impedes your journey, forcing you to take a detour and solve some sort of unrelated issue. With Bioshock 2, these “predicaments” felt badly written like people sat in a board room and just threw darts at words to create a scenario “Ah, a frozen door” or “someone shoots the train with an RPG”. Again, maybe I’m just being overly critical.
Finally, referring back to my point about Bioshock 2 being like any film sequel, you have the issue of them trying to make the points from the previous game/film that worked well, better. So Bioshock 1 had its rather incredible storyline of how you’re a biologically altered son of Rapture’s creator who has been essentially brainwashed the entire time in order for you to kill Andrew Ryan. On top of this rather unique twist, the player would also receive a different ending to the game depending on their actions towards the Little Sisters: those who saved them would be seen as a rescuer who takes them away from Rapture to become some sort of family, while those who harvested them would essentially ascend to the surface to begin world domination. It was a nice little addition to what was already a very well written story. Then we get to Bioshock 2. Initially, the game had me intrigued by this idea of a weird, psychic connection with Eleanor Lamb (Delta’s Little Sister) but over time this just became more and more tiresome. For starters, the voice/character of Eleanor Lamb was incredibly annoying. Every single time I heard her saying some irritating sentence that included the word “father”, I found myself hating the character more and more. The second issue is of course the ending: as I mentioned, Bioshock 1 gives you one of two possible endings whereas Bioshock 2 has something like 6 (I believe). Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a potentially cool idea but the endings themselves were somewhat underwhelming. Playing off on the idea that your actions were essentially good or evil, how Eleanor acts is basically an outcome of that. If you were seen as evil then she is evil, if you were good she is good. I think my hatred for her character somewhat clouds my vision of the matter but there is also the fact that I find the entire storyline of Bioshock 2 kind of irrelevant to the franchise as a whole which I’ll talk about later.
Then of course we have the next bump in the road: Burial at Sea which is the DLC for Bioshock Infinite. Now I don’t know about all the other fans of the Bioshock series but for me, Infinite ended as perfectly as it could. I didn’t even realise there was a DLC for it until months after completing it and it wasn’t until a year after that that I actually decided to download it. Burial at Sea once again returns us to Rapture where a slightly aged Elizabeth (who we assume is the same Elizabeth from our journey through Infinite) visits Rapture prior to the events of Bioshock 1. Here she recruits the help of Booker who turns out to be one of the Bookers who had been Comstock which is one of my big issues. We see a sort of flashback of this Booker becoming Comstock, trying to take baby Elizabeth but instead of losing a finger, she loses her head. He then asks the Lutece’s to put him in another dimension where his memories basically warp to fit into that reality, hence why he considers himself to be Booker rather than Comstock. I have two issues with this which after reading various forums and such on the internet, appears to be largely up for debate by fans: 1) Infinite ends with Booker being killed before he can choose whether or not to become baptised, therefore there is never any uncertainty surrounding this decision and no reality where he chooses to have his memory wiped and ultimately become Comstock (but of course there are theories that this Comstock escaped having moved from one reality to another while existing in one initially where Elizabeth did not get powers) and 2) I find that the entirety of episode 2 destroys an aspect of the Bioshock franchise that I found the most intriguing. This should perhaps by a point all on its own so let me explain:
Exploring Colombia in Bioshock Infinite leads the player to discover an array of connections to the previous games. We can listen to tears into alternate realities where key characters have looked in order to find inspiration or in the case of Fink, to steal ideas. There are voxophones (the Bioshock Infinite equivalent of audio diaries) which let you hear people discussing the tears and what they’ve seen through them. In the final moments of the game as Booker and Elizabeth walk through the lighthouse doors from one universe to another, Elizabeth says “There’s always a lighthouse. Always a man. Always a city.” This quote plays on a recurring theme of the game: Constants and variables. Some realities have things that always remain the same. Take for example when you meet the Lutece’s who ask you “heads or tails?” You can see from their board that they’ve been keeping track of how many times heads has come up in that same reality (or at least different realities that lead to that same situation). Similarly, in all these realities there are certain constants: a lighthouse, a man, and a city. Bioshock starts off at a lighthouse, as does Bioshock Infinite. We then have Booker and Jack Ryan who are the men, and finally we have Rapture and Colombia which of course are the cities. Arguably the similarities go a step further though, as we have the songbird which is the same as Big Daddies. Big Daddies of course protect Little Sisters while the Songbird protects Elizabeth. So we could view the Little Sisters as shattered versions of Elizabeth within the Rapture reality. All these recurring ideas that while being directly mentioned were still rather subtle, get obliterated in the Burial at Sea storyline. We not only witness but actually become involved in the contact between Rapture and Colombia which to me just destroys the ending of Infinite. When Elizabeth first takes us to Rapture at the end of the game, we use a bathysphere. As you may recall, only one person was supposed to be able to use these spheres during the lockdown in Bioshock 1: Andrew Ryan. This was one huge clue to the parentage of Jack at the start of the game. So how can Booker use one? There are two possibilities: Either the lockdown is not currently in place OR Booker, despite being from a different universe, is essentially the same person as Jack Ryan, to the extent that their DNA is actually indistinguishable. To me, this was just one of the small details that added to the overall mind-explosion at the end of the game. I mean Elizabeth can literally open tears to anywhere at this point, yet she waits for you to move the bathysphere? It seems a little redundant if it wasn’t meant as a clue or hint. I’m sure you’ll see what I’m getting at; these stories are meant to be parallels of each other. They both have vastly different storylines but are still similar in key ways. Then we get Burial at Sea. Now, one theory that explains Burial at Sea without ruining both Bioshock 1 and Bioshock Infinite is that it takes place in an alternate version of Rapture, all be it a very similar, almost identical version. You see, if these realities are meant to be separate of one another, then you can’t merge Elizabeth with Little Sisters or Booker (all be it a Comstock version of him) with Jack Ryan. I mean sure, Burial at Sea takes place before the storyline of Bioshock but still very near it and it is still within the same reality. It just feels forced. Our little walk through Rapture for those brief moments at the end of Infinite was enough for me to think “wow, Rapture”. I really didn’t need a whole DLC that forced another story down our throats in the same manner as Bioshock 2 did.
Finally, (don’t worry, we’re almost there) the gameplay itself in my opinion was way off the mark. Burial at Sea part 1 was pretty much your typical Bioshock gameplay and ignoring the storyline, it was a lot of fun to play. The 2nd part is where we take control of Elizabeth and this is where I believe players were let down. Due to the storyline, Elizabeth no longer has her powers so we basically play a powerless version of Dishonoured (way, way too similar to Dishonoured) where we sneak around learning details that ultimately seem pointless. I won’t get into this part too much because that opens up a whole new can of worms which I quite frankly don’t have the heart to get into. Anyway, if it were me creating the DLC and its story, I would have chosen either another Colombia reality or something similar. My first choice would probably have been the reality where Booker helps the Vox Populi take over Colombia and is seen as a hero (before being killed). I’d have THAT as part 1. In keeping with the structure of Burial at Sea, I’d keep part 2 as an Elizabeth game. I’ve found that a lot of people enjoyed Burial at Sea because it brought Elizabeth back down to a human level. We all remember the moment where she runs away to dance with strangers on the beach. Many players prefer that version of her rather than the God-like being she becomes. Why not both? I’d like to have started off as Elizabeth right after the events of Bioshock. She could still be hopping through realities and using her powers but maybe they are dwindling or she doesn’t have full control of them or something like that. Maybe she has to explore her memories to find out how she used to be able to create completely new realities and you play through her memories of her in the tower, learning to pick locks and break codes. I’m sure she’ll have tried to escape so why not have that part as the weird, Dishonoured sneaking bit. I think this part of the game would focus more on exploration rather than combat. I haven’t mapped out all the specifics but you get the general idea. Obviously this is just my opinion so I wouldn’t expect everyone or necessarily anyone to agree that this would have been a better approach but for me, I’d rather have seen these areas than the connection to Bioshock 1.
So what would I hope to see in the next Bioshock game? Let me tell you what I DON’T want to see: I don’t want to see us exploring Rapture or Colombia again. As much as I loved these cities and their history, going back is just a recipe for disaster, as is bringing Booker or Jack back into the picture for whatever reason. Jack’s story was tied up nicely as was Booker’s (which was another reason I didn’t enjoy the imaginary Booker we had to listen to in Burial at Sea). Keeping with the constants/variables idea, we’ll need a new city, a new man and a new lighthouse. If the Elizabeth/Little Sister idea is also a constant then I’d imagine we’ll see a new version of them too. I think this might be where things get difficult. Elizabeth is possibly the most loveable characters ever seen in video games so I think they’re going to have to avoid having a character even remotely similar to her. I also think they may struggle to create a new interesting version of the Big Daddy/Songbird without making it seem too forced. I’d actually prefer them to leave that aspect out entirely, especially after Burial at Sea made the communications between Rapture and Colombia in this regard so obvious. I think there are some things that we’re guaranteed to see again in terms of gameplay: Without a doubt we will be given some new and exciting plasmids/vigors (another constant?) as these are vital to what we consider to be Bioshock gameplay. I’d imagine we’ll also see some new weapons that are unique to this new universe.
In terms of the storyline, I think it’s difficult to say where they’ll go. I feel like they can’t ignore everything that happened in Bioshock Infinite completely but at the same time, relying on it at all would be a bad move. Perhaps we’ll see a city in space (please no aliens, please no aliens) or maybe just a normal ‘land’ city but one that appears futuristic or maybe the opposite. My main hope is that the storyline is compelling, has twists and turns but isn’t just thrown together to try and surprise us. Having twists in the story just for the sake of it just becomes tiresome and frustrating. The stories told through Bioshock are what make it such an incredible game series. The gameplay is cool but as someone who just doesn’t enjoy FPS’s for the most part, I think if the storyline was lacking then I’d give up. Take Assassin’s Creed for example. Those of you who have read my post on it will know that I love the gameplay but when the storyline goes too off track, even a game where the gameplay is fun and exciting loses its allure. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that they don’t repeat Bioshock 2 but with Colombia, although I feel like that would be more difficult to do given the ending but if they keep to what made Bioshock and Infinite good but avoid the things that made Bioshock 2 and Burial at Sea bad then hopefully they should pull another successful game out of the bag.
It almost wouldn’t shock me if in order to keep things fresh, they had us playing as the bad guys. Maybe as the villains of this world where we’re trying to create a device to trap Elizabeth who is hopping through realities and changing things. Maybe we go up against a version of Elizabeth who became evil rather than good and is simply trying to destroy and conquer and it’s up to the player to try and stop her. Then again, the whole “fighting evil versions of yourself” was sort of the storyline to Infinite when you think about it. As I mentioned above, I’m kind of hoping they stay away from the previous games as much as possible but it could be difficult. All I know for sure is that the next step in a game series that has already had us choosing whether to absorb power from little girls or save them while underneath the sea in a giant city, or jumping between realities while fighting an evil version of yourself in a floating city, anything is possible…anything.