When discussing anything Indie versus anything Corporate the phrase "creatively bankrupt" gets tossed around loosely and with much glee. And I think, with exceptions, when it comes to video games we really haven't hit the tipping point where a member of the Enthusiast Press can toss "creatively bankrupt" into a conversation and be labelled anything other than an old crank or a wannabe gadfly.
If Game Reviewers (I can't call them "critics" with a straight face) want to see the face of creative bankruptcy they really only need to read their own reviews. Say, reviews of Bioshock 2.
I know it, you know it; heck, I'd bet if they were being totally honest, the staff of 2K Marin would tell you they knew it too. BioShock was that rare combination of a perfectly realized world, fresh yet refined action and a narrative that left me with no real burning questions. It didn't need a sequel.
But all that has very little to do with BioShock 2 because whether it needed to be made or not, it's here now. And the surprise isn't that someone other than Irrational had the chutzpah to make a BioShock sequel. The surprise is just how worthwhile it is.
This BUT This...
When BioShock launched in 2007, it felt like a breath of fresh air to many gamers. A brand-new IP with a fantastic story and an interesting sandbox-style approach to combat within a linear format, it was a damn fine game. Superb, even. So good, in fact, that many considered a sequel completely unnecessary.
Whether or not BioShock 2 is required isn't for us to decide. We're here to tell you whether or not BioShock 2 is good. With some huge shoes to fill, 2K Marin certainly had its work cut out for it and BioShock 2 is in an unenviable position as the first follow-up to one of 2007's most critically acclaimed games. Does BioShock 2 do BioShock justice? Does 2K Marin manage to fill the shoes passed down to them by Irrational Games, or is there too much space left empty? Read on as we review BioShock 2.
Jim Sterling boldly varies the formula here by asking This But THIS?
To those who've been playing games for years now, it wasn't exactly surprising that Irrational Games made a great title. The studio had been doing just that since System Shock 2. The bigger unknown was how the folks at 2K Marin, founded with members who worked on the original, would handle the sequel. As it turns out, they did a damn fine job. It's a rare thing for games built with this kind of big budget to take seriously a thematic cohesion between setting, story, and gameplay, yet that's exactly what we get here.
Charles Onyett deploys the classical rhetorical device of flipping a question on its head and instead of asking, This But This instead argues This But This.
BioShock 2 has a big reputation to live up to. The critically acclaimed BioShock put together a stylized, provocative world; it wasn't a perfect game, but the story -- a red-herring-filled plot mixed with existentialist (and objectivist) philosophy -- turned the game into much more than a shooter; BioShock was a game that made you think. And while BioShock 2 borrows heavily from its predecessor's aesthetic and solid gameplay, it fails to provide the strong narrative that made the original so compelling.
Justin Haywald bravely shortens the This But This -- BioShock to Bioshock 2 to only a graf and then bravely drops some "solid gameplay" and "strong narrative" on our compelling asses. But so much is left unsaid? How can I go on without knowing if the framerate was solid, if the graphics were polished, if the sound was tight!? Dude, Justin, you are a game reviewer these are the key ontological questions ya' got to answer my boy!
I get it. I write freelance too. When you are on a deadline the lowest hanging fruit is always the easiest to pick and if I were called on to write a review of BioShock 2 I would've went there too. In a first draft. Then I would've said to myself, "What is the central meme every Taco Bell stained game reviewer going to latch onto for their lede. Oh, I know! A variation of 'BioShock was great, but how can Bioshock 2 possibly live up!?' sentiment." And then I would've gone on to write something different, something a bit more creative.
So, game reviewers, before you start throwing the term, "Creative Bankruptcy" around about games you might want to attend to your own house.