Part twelve in a neverending saga

TWO SEQUELS to AAA titles were released in the past month in the form of Bioshock 2 and Mass Effect 2, and with it come the inevitable comparisons between them. Though they may be vastly different universes and deal with inherently opposed themes, but with developers looking for a sure-fire hit in a time of tight credit, we should expect to see a lot more out of these franchises.

To compare the two though, we have to establish the aims of the sequels. From a developer and publisher end of course, the aim was to make as much moolah as possible, but what of the artistic aims?

In Mass Effect 2, we have a space-faring adventure about humanities qualities shining through in the face of a non-sapient threat, whether that be through paragon actions of humility and heroism or renegade actions of ruthlessness and decisiveness. These we established in the first itineration, so what about the second? We have to say from a narrative point of view that the hope is to just keep the story going. As with any second instalment in a sequel, it has to keep the overarching story going while developing the primary characters.

With Bioshock 2, it’s harder to justify the premise. With such a definitive narrative and conclusive ending (SPOILER! If you choose the bad ending, you pretty much nuke the world), why is it necessary to go back to Rapture? The game drops you in ten years later with new characters, to tell a completely different story in both tone and theme. So if one’s a continuation of a storyline and the other’s a completely new adventure, can an objective analysis be undertaken?

With games with different aims (artistically speaking), the only way to compare the two is an objective analysis of the separate elements.


In Mass Effect 2, combat was tweaked so that it actually felt like a shooter, not just an RPG in a shooter’s clothing. Altogether, it just felt a heck of a lot more satisfying to use your biotic powers to pull an enemy from behind a wall and then give them two barrels of your space-shotgun. It was also a momentous relief that you could actually issue separate squad commands in order to flank the enemy. It kind of felt that I was actually using some strategy this time (OMG!), and the addition of heavy weapons to the roster is always welcome. The other big thing Bioware brought to the table was a streamlining of the inventory process, which gave the player more time for shooting and allowed them to spend less time on micromanaging ammo.

Bioshock 2 two bought a couple of new elements to the party too. Fans of the ‘protect the little sister’ section of the first game were treated to more of the same. I admit though, I was not one of those fans. The thought of arbitrarily being forced to protect your little sister (or ADAM investment) seemed to be less about having the power of a roaming Big Daddy and taking away from you by the game forcing you to stay still. Surprisingly, I was really enamoured by this element this time around. It perhaps has to do with the increased arsenal for setting traps this itineration employs, but watching splicers get mowed down by mini-turrets is just all kinds of fun. New enemy types and big sisters really gear the game toward more a more strategic experience than its predecessor.

All in all, it’s really hard to say which game was the biggest improver over its original. Mass Effect 2 tightened combat, and Bioshock 2 brought a new level of depth to proceedings. We call this one a draw.



Mass Effect 2 wins this one hands down; we’ll be honest about it. It wins so hard that it takes Bioshock’s mother out behind the middle school and gets her pregnant.

The thing Bioware has always done in its RPGs is create well-rounded, fully fleshed out characters for you to play with. It’s always a joy to learn about their back stories and Mass Effect 2 proves no exception. It gives us the justifiably bitter Jack, and although she may a bit on the nose to other players, you’re at least given a pretty good reason for her attitude. Miranda strikes you as a stuck-up bitch with a high view of herself until you realise it’s a coping mechanism for events in her past. Mordin is just plain awesome, especially his rendition of a certain Rodgers and Hammerstein classic (that’s right, a Salarian performing theatre) and Thane is a welcome addition.

All in all, Mass Effect 2 brings back some old characters and introduces new characters really well and is a great example of how to keep the second in a trilogy bubbling along nicely.

Of Bioshock 2, well, it suffers from being the child of one of the most iconoclastic games in the last ten years. Andrew Ryan was one of the most compelling antagonists in gaming history and this time we got a polar opposite in Sofia Lamb. It’s not that she’s a bad antagonist, it’s just she doesn’t represent the same kind of danger and mystique that Andrew Ryan did. She’s more subtle in her methods of control, and this doesn’t come across with the same fire and brimstone that Ryan did.

Brigitte Tenenbaum makes an all-too brief appearance, which is a shame because she was a great character. A truly messed up childhood, only to be redeemed by saving the children she doomed to a ghastly existence? Now that’s a character. This time, she just palms you off to some guy called Sinclair. He remains your earpiece throughout the game, but I just can’t seem to care about him. He comes across as smug, with little emotion about what’s going on around him. You’d figure being stuck for 10 years as a fugitive in Rapture would change you, but he appears to be the same old canny businessman he always was. He has moxie to boot, but I just don’t seem to care. He’s a strictly one-dimensional character, an odd fault from the team at 2K.

Gil Alexander seems to be trying to capture the same special brand of insanity that Sander Cohen did in the first game, but he just ends up doing a pale imitation of him. Instead of getting an artist driven to insanity to stymied ambition at the bottom of the fish tank we get some scientist who’s spliced himself up to the nines and is now performing a pale imitation of ‘insanity’. Bah!



As with all art forms, a great video game will not only have the lure of good game play to lure you along the merry path but will also have you wanting to discover what’s next. With respects to a storyline, it’s hard to objectively judge what’s invariably going to be better than another because you just can’t quantify these things. Therefore, this is going to be a very subjective look at how each game completed its aims.

With Mass Effect 2, the aim was to keep the pot boiling and create enough interest to get to the final chapter of the trilogy. Does it do that? Well, that really depends on how you look at it. I felt, as if Mass Effect 2 was almost self contained. References to the Reapers were always in the background, but this was a story about stopping the Collectors. Because the second in a trilogy always doesn’t feel as epic as the third and the first in a series, what Bioware did was to make this a personal journey.

In many regards, this wasn’t about saving the galaxy. This was about gaining the loyalty and trust of characters through making an emotion connection to them. The plot was something that chugged the game forward, but it wasn’t the primary motivation for going forward. The primary motive, in my mind, was to find out more about the characters and gaining their loyalty for the final mission. Therefore, it can be said that Mass Effect 2 had a serviceable storyline, but it wasn’t the main point of the game.

Bioshock 2, well, it’s hard to know what to make of this one. When viewed in isolation, this tale about the nature of loves both individual and for a larger society is a damned fine and subtle piece of work. The original Bioshock though took you for a thrill ride and never let you go. Bioshock 2 is altogether a more emotive experience, and better paced too.

Why must you stand in the way of our love!?

The goal driving you forward is finding your ‘daughter’. To find your daughter though, you will have to destroy a larger love being extolled by Dr. Sofia Lamb. She plans on using your daughter to unite the world in utopia. She may be doing it through nefarious means, but her goals are good and the player is always meant to question whether or not their drive for a personal love is destroying a larger kind of love. The protagonist’s quest is given a heart-wrenching counterpoint which comes back to punch you in the balls during the third act, the tale of Mark Meltzer. He’s also trying to find his daughter amongst the nightmarish ruins of Rapture, and he will become....different to achieve that aim. All you need to know is that your interaction with him will seem just par for the course at first, but when you pick up a certain audio diary, it will hit you like a ton of bricks.

It’s this subtle variety of storytelling that really sets Bioshock 2 apart from the crowd. Add in the audio diaries that flesh out the stories of the denizens of rapture, it makes your experience all the richer.

So, which storyline is better? As I said, it’s a toss-up, but I’m going to give this one to Bioshock 2 in appreciation of its subtle storytelling techniques.



So when is all said and done, who wins?

To answer this question, I’m going to ask the fundamental question: Which game was more memorable? Mass Effect 2 had the better characters by a mile, Bioshock 2 impressed with a subtle storyline and both games managed to make improvements in game play.

I’m going to give this one to Mass Effect 2, just. Both games felt like they were missing something from their originals. Mass Effect felt just that little bit stagnant in regard to narrative due to it being the second in a trilogy, and Bioshock 2 didn’t hit with the same impact the first did.

What sets Mass Effect 2 apart though are the fantastic characters and the promise of more to come. In an age where sequels are the third inevitability, it’s the game which makes me want more that is going to be the more successful franchise.

On that basis, Mass Effect 2 wins. What do you think though? Feel free to debate the decision in the comments section below.

- James McGrath


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