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A MAN CHOOSES

16 February 2008

Bioshock is finished, and as everyone who has played the game will agree once more, it didn't end as well as it could have. Spoiler alert, everyone.

The game held quite true to its powerful philosophical ideals up to and including its emotional climax: your confrontation with Andrew Ryan himself. I need not elaborate on what happens during that monumental occasion. Everyone who has played it will know exactly why it's so important, so powerful. I join the secret wish of many people that the game had ended there, at the height of its message, the culmination of what it was trying to communicate. It may have left some loose ends to end it then and there, and it would have been a horrible shock gameplaywise, but the oh-so-powerful message would have been imprinted on everyone's mind at that precious, mindblowing moment, forever.

Instead, the game continues, and continues badly. All depth seems to be erased; where once there was grey there is now only black and white. What a painful contrast to the eye. The finale is disappointing and while wrapping up the narrative strands, leaves the emotional side unfulfilled and pining for promised riches of only hours before. But this has already been well documented all over the internet. Even designer Ken Levine is purportedly unhappy with the ending, which Irrational probably had to rush in order to meet the season. And it shows that only a fraction of the time was spent on the ending as was gracefully bestowed on the beginning, which is probably one of the finest, most intoxicatingly powerful beginnings of any game, ever.

What is both amusing and puzzling to me is the news that there will be more Bioshock games. One side of me applauds this greatly: this setting deserves to be extracted and harvested for all it's worth. But when I look at it practically, I see only problems. Bioshock took delicious pleasure in killing off virtually each and every one of its key players; the top brass of the city; the leaders and biggest hot shots. What could a second game do in that universe then? Make it a prequel and it will become stale because you know exactly who will survive. A sequel then could only be done with other people, but that might seem contrived because if they're supposed to be important, why wasn't there any clue to them in the original? And a Bioshock without any important figures or more or less epic tale seems... lacklustre.

But I'll leave it to the designers to figure out some brilliant idea. I won't complain -as long as they're not copping out this time and promise to fully develop the ideas and philosophies they infuse in their game. It occurs to me though that Bioshock's universe might benefit from a different genre of game altogether. The shooter-genre works fine, but it undermines the more serious attempts at interaction. After all, when everyone you see is an enemy, the chances are you'll react to a benign presence with a reflex shot in the face. Bioshock understood this and therefore walled in every non-enemy presence. That was tough for me, because during the entire game, all I wanted was to shake the hand of whoever was helping me at the time. Yet that interaction remained so very distant...

So imagine the world of Bioshock with the options and sandbox setting of something like Oblivion. Where you have to identify who's an enemy before you gun them down. Where there are no linear levels, but expanded zones that each have their own microsystems in place. Where you can talk to people living in colonies or holed up in bunkers. Where there are different questlines to take, leading to different actions. Where you can kill strategically and where politics really enter play. It doesn't have to be as open-ended as Morrowind, but it would definitely benefit from this freedom. After all, wasn't that what it was all about? Before playing, I thought that taking on Big Daddies to get to the Little Sisters was an optional thing; that these were systems that worked throughout, dynamically, and that you could use or ignore them at your own desire. The reality was somewhat more linear and restricting. Oh, if only. But what isn't, might yet be. Ken Levine and his team will undoubtedly have payed heed to the many insightful criticisms, which were almost all of them of an unprecedented level of eloquence. From each and every one I read there beamed a hope and desire for the next game to be better. It may have seemed harsh at times, but the motivation seemed always an intense love for the game to ascend itself.

So, would you kindly make Bioshock 2 the best game that ever was and will be?

Roderick.