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The Games Of Christmas ’10: Day 9

If RPS's slave army ever rises up to destroy us, then we'd like to imagine that the heroic central figure in the story would have as much fun as we did playing this game. Not that it will ever happen, of course, because our experiment in the manipulation of human beings is flawless and, frankly, unstoppable. What are we talking about? ACCESS THE NINTH WINDOW!

It's... Bioshock 2!

Quinns: I dunno how much I agree with the sentiment that Bioshock 2 is the better game than Bioshock 1. For me, Bioshock was all about how it could hold you in its spell. There was magic in its design, in its pacing, in all that beautiful imagery. I remember being rapt for the entire first couple of hours of the game, then there was Atlas’ reveal, Ryan’s reveal, Fort Frolic, Tenebaum’s rescue- all of these scenes felt magical, planet-sized and important. They all fall into that rare category of gaming experiences where if a flatmate walked in and talked over them, you'd nurse a tiny grudge for the rest of your life.

Bioshock 2 never conjured up that same feeling of importance for me, and I think there’s more to blame for that than me being used to the mechanics and setting. From the moment the game began I was tipped off balance by my character not feeling like a Big Daddy in any way, and Bioshock 2’s pivotal plot points (the confrontations with Grace, Stanley and Gilbert) were stripped of some of their mystique by being somewhat mechanical morality checks that I knew would dick me over further down the line. When the game should have been at its most spellbinding, it was also forcing me to remember that I was playing a game.

Bioshock 2 did have the combat though. The whole sequence of events when you reach an Adam-stuffed corpse is beautiful. The examining of the angles, figuring out where the greedy hordes will come from. The workmanlike assembly of a web of traps. The instant where you nervously hit the button to set your girl down and let ‘em come. First you hear the shouts, the pattering of feet, then they’re on top of you, screaming, clattering, shooting, and you’re swinging and dashing and bleeding, until a minute later you send the last splicer crashing across the room with a charge attack and all is silence. You return to the little girl with blood sloshing around inside your boots and hoist her back up.

Basically, Bioshock is the classic. Bioshock 2 is the game. I enjoyed myself- I did, I had a whale of a time. But inside my heart you’ll find Bioshock, and Bioshock only.

Jim: This is my second favourite corridor shooter of the year. To give that some context: having played Bioshock I wasn't particularly excited about this, but I knew I would enjoy it on its own terms. I thought knew what to expect. As it turned out, Bioshock 2 was a mechanically better game.

I'd feared the Big Daddy player, because of the end of the original game, but I was wrong to be concerned. The combat made /more/ sense, because you were a big old stompy diving suit, not less. There were underwater bits, you had two hands that could do different things, the cast was once again strong, even if the big bad just seemed like a vaguely pious aunt, lecturing me for not being a better person. It was Bioshock's actual moment-to-moment play made it sensible and solid. A good thing. A decent sequel. But there was something else, too: the world seemed to cohere better.

Even from the first moments it made more sense. Being a Big Daddy, you were always in there, looking for Adam, caring for the Little Sisters, and using/abusing the twisted systems of the dystopia around you. And this, for me, just worked. Where I'd been scratching my head from the moment the protagonist in the first game plunged a giant red syringe into his arm without a second thought (only later to have to reconsider everything with the clever twist/explanation, only for it not to make a jot of difference), Bioshock 2 seemed more logical. The motive was there, clear and precise, and I was okay with it. The little sister defences were a splendid challenge, too, and one that suited all the tools the game made available. The ending was strong, the level design often extremely beautiful.

I still had trouble with killing the Big Daddies (what did they ever do, really?) but Bioshock 2 simply sits better with my soul.

Alec: I expected more, but crucially I also expected less. Bioshock 2 immediately damned itself by electing not to steer itself from the original game's backdrop - that universe was fat with so much tantalising fictional and aesthetic possibility that to essentially retread the same territory could only ever be conceptually disappointing. With distance rather than staring through disorientating hype-tinted spectacles, though, the chance to go deeper on the ideas and concepts of the first is one I remain grateful for.

Big Daddy + Little Sister is about as iconic a contemporary gaming image as it gets: why wouldn't we want to directly insert ourselves into that sinister/beautiful equation? The sad removal of humanity inherent in the creation of a Big Daddy even made the mute, bewildered FPS protagonist make more sense than the first's magic hypnotised slave. Thank to the Bioshockverse's irresistible fiction, I knew more or less exactly what I was, and what my purpose was - which meant I didn't need more sprawling exposition and twistarama about who I was.

The more intimate (if less striking) tale offered opportunity to determine the fate and nature of a person, rather than what happened to a bunch of near-silent NPCs and choosing which side of the absolute-morality fence you'd sit on. Familiarity meant there were was less that was truly memorable, but this is by far the more rounded package: the Bioshock game I'm definitely far more likely to play through again. And, outside of Pripyat and [CENSORED], the only FPS of 2010 I think back to with sincere fondness.

As has been endlessly echoed around the various smoky word-lounges of the internet, BS2's also a significantly better shooting game than the first. That this did run'n'gun (run'n'gun'and run back to gun harder, more accurately) with so much more brutal panache was an unexpected treat. Complexity, challenge and strategic depth all pushed up, with many of the tunnels mercifully swapped for more open arenas. It wasn't an event game, but its gaming events are superior.

God though, I felt so sorry for the devs when Bioshock Infinite got announced.

Kieron: Thief: The Metal Age to Bioshock's Thief: The Dark Project, basically. The further we go from Bioshock 2, the more its gentle themes of parental influence glow warmly in some distant undersea city in my heart. Bioshock remains the one you must play... but if you were going to replay one, like Alec, Bioshock 2 is the one I'd recommend. Not least because, against all expectations, charging across a room and forcing a drill right through someone's chest never got old.

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The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.