Parents need to know that BioShock 2 is an extremely violent shooter with several adult elements, including profane language, suggestive sexuality, and excessive use of drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. The player’s character kills enemies in decidedly bloody ways (such as with a giant drill), visits desolate strip clubs with suggestive posters, and consumes copious quantities of alcohol, cigarettes, and mind and body enhancing genetic drugs known as “plasmids.” The game also features unfiltered online play, which opens the door to verbal attacks, even more profanity, and the sharing of personal information with strangers.
This game is chock full of adult themes, including violence, sexuality, and substance abuse. However, it also has interesting things to say about consumerism, a strong philosophical dialogue that will make players ponder extreme ideologies, and even offers a subtle commentary on women’s rights. Clearly, many of these ideas will likely be overlooked by younger players, who will naturally gravitate toward the action, but mature audiences will find a surprisingly cerebral web of ideas at play.
Positive role models
Our protagonist, a “Big Daddy,” is a bit of a mystery at first. A genetic experiment, it initially seems as though he’s little more than a mindless slave following orders to do violence, but he quickly proves his free will. He then embarks on a mission to reunite with one of the game’s Little Sisters, little girls that have been chemically conditioned to form a daughterly bond with Big Daddies. Players have the option of curing these girls, restoring them to their former adorable selves, or harvesting them for precious stem cells known as ADAM. Consequently, whether your Big Daddy is a hero or just another of the city’s villains is largely up to you.
Ease of play
Three levels of difficulty ensure that players of all skill levels will have an appropriately challenging experience. The controls are a bit more complex than your average shooter, but they’ve been well designed and implemented. It just takes a bit of patience.
Players use a variety of guns, a drill, and “plasmids” -- powers that let them shoot ice, fire, and electricity from their hands -- to kill their enemies. Blood gushes from wounds, especially when enemies are drilled, and can be seen splashed across the floor. Certain abilities allow players to kill enemies in more unusual ways, such as freezing and then shattering them. Most characters scream and writhe in pain when struck.
The act of sex isn’t shown, but players will hear suggestive dialogue between prospective mates and visit a strip club in ruins. Strip club posters on the city’s walls show women in slightly revealing clothes and advertise that time with women can be purchased.
Strong spoken language is present throughout. Examples of words heard while playing include: “f--k,” “s--t,” and “c-nt,” among many others.
There are no recognizable brands, but the city is plastered with hundreds of ads for a wide variety of fictitious products. Astute players will realize that this is, in fact, a commentary on our consumer culture.
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
The protagonist drinks alcoholic beverages and smokes cigarettes. These substances can affect his vision, but also offer rewards, such as increased health. Some “tonics” -- essentially character perks -- will augment the effect, including one called Booze Hound. Also note that the game’s “plasmids” are essentially mind and body altering drugs, and many of the enemies in the game have been driven mad by injecting themselves with too many.
What's it about?
Set ten years after events of the original, BIOSHOCK 2 sends players back to Rapture, an underwater metropolis that was founded based on principles of extreme capitalism and individualism. It’s now 1970, and the city has lain in chaotic ruins for the last decade. Its doped up denizens have come under the thumb of Sophia Lamb, a brilliant but insane psychologist who teaches her crazed, cult-like followers that extreme collectivism is the right way to go. Players journey through this underwater madhouse as a Big Daddy. A major facet of the original game, Big Daddies are genetically altered men who have been surgically grafted to the interiors of hulking dive suits. They bond with and zealously protect Little Sisters, tragic little girls that have been conditioned to search out and extract ADAM -- valuable stem cells -- from the city’s many corpses. The very first of his kind, our Big Daddy is on a mission to find the girl he bonded with years ago and reaffirm his free will, which leads to multiple moral dilemmas.
Is it any good?
Like its predecessor, BioShock 2 delivers a surprisingly brainy narrative. Its exploration of what happens when political ideologies are taken to extremes, commentary on consumerism (the citizens of Rapture literally drove themselves mad with greed), and simple yet surprisingly moving examination of a Big Daddy’s fatherly affection for a Little Sister -- is it real? Artificial? Does it really matter? -- are the sort of subjects traditionally better tackled in movies and books than games.
This brain food comes even as the game sates our animal sides. The visceral combat, which includes new and improved “plasmid” abilities, intense siege scenarios during which we protect adopted Little Sisters, and challenging boss battles against a fast-moving new enemy dubbed Big Sister, stands toe-to-toe with that of any other adult-oriented shooter. Extreme violence and intellectual thought may seem like strange bedfellows, but 2K has proven that the two can fit snugly and satisfyingly together.
Online interaction: This game features online multiplayer with open voice chat, which means players could be exposed to verbal attacks and profanity and share personal information.
This game is not good for small kids.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about consumerism and how it has changed (or perhaps hasn’t) in the 50 years since the civilization in BioShock’s Rapture was at its peak. When you see the city’s walls covered in old-fashioned posters advertising better health, tighter skin, and animal magnetism via simple injections, do you laugh at the idea or does some part of you wish such products existed? Despite its fantastical setting, does this game say something about our culture?
Families can also discuss the ideologies presented in the game. Rapture was originally ruled by a man who was against socialism and government, but without laws and moral referees,ac his citizens went mad with greed and self-idolatry. Now it’s ruled by a woman who reveres a collective society, but she’s taken it too far as well, reducing people to little more than cogs in a machine. Is there a happy middle? Does our culture represent it? Do we lean one way or another?