Edge – and just about every other news source online – is reporting that Take-Two’s Bioshock 2 has been delayed until 2010, off from its earlier release date of November 2009. As some outlets note, November 2009 is already fiscal 2010 for the publisher, which means that this will not upset the balance sheets, and will probably ensure that Bioshock 2 doesn’t get lost in the holiday release madness.
To be honest, I don’t have particularly high hopes for Bioshock 2. I don’t expect it to be bad, exactly, I just don’t think it’ll be great. Admittedly my optimism did go up when I learned that the project was being helmed by Jordan Thomas, a longtime freelance level designer and worker with Looking Glass and post-Romero ION Storm. Thomas is not a household name for most gamers, but believe me, you likely know him; he’s the man who designed what’s widely regarded as the most terrifying two hours in gaming: Thief: Deadly Shadows’ shriekedelic Shalebridge Cradle. He also did Fort Frolic from the original Bioshock, a favorite of many gamers, so he hasn’t lost his touch.
Still, and this is just my opinion, I think the team is taking Bioshock 2 in the wrong direction. While it’s obviously necessary to apply some suspension of disbelief in a shooter that takes place in a Randian utopia on the floor of the Atlantic ocean, setting the game a decade after the first – when that one already took place a decade or so after the fall of Rapture – is pushing the limit. One of the important themes of Bioshock was the hubris of building a city underneath the sea, and great care was taken in that game to show that Rapture was being reclaimed by the ocean long before your character arrived.
Making Bioshock 2’s protagonist into a Big Daddy is another misstep, as is the decision to add a new super villain in the form of Big Sister. Why? Because it’s obvious and contrived, and if there’s one thing Bioshock wasn’t, it’s formulaic. Personally I believe the sequel would have been far more interesting if set during the period leading up to and during the civil war that brought about the end of Rapture, possibly with a certain degree of mission-based factionalism allowing your character to choose sides and upset the balance. Since we know how the war comes out, obviously your character wouldn’t be able to change the inevitable outcome, but very few details are actually made known in Bioshock, so the specifics could be altered based on your actions. And also we’d have had seen a narrative rarity in gaming: a protagonist who dies at the end. I’m a sucker for stories in which the protagonist dies at the end.
Anyway, the decision to delay the game is not likely the result of production problems or the need for more time. By all accounts Bioshock 2 is coming along very nicely, on schedule and on budget, though some eyebrows were raised when we learned last week that French developer Arkane – they of Arx Fatalis and Dark Messiah fame – was being brought in to do some work on the game. Arkane brings the total number of studios working on Bioshock 2 to four (!), which is sure to cause some confusion and disconnect. It’s frankly a rather weird setup. While it’s not uncommon to have a second studio work on the multiplayer in a game (as Digital Extremes is doing for Bioshock 2, a game that shouldn’t have multiplayer in the first place), to divide the single-player work among three studios on three separate continents is both odd and indicative of the fact that Take-Two lacks absolute confidence in the developer it chose to lead this title.
Still, it’s much more reasonable to assume that Take-Two simply decided to avoid the crowded holiday season and give 2K Marin a little extra time to buff the game than it is to assume problems, Arkane announcement notwithstanding (who would bring Arkane in to save a troubled project anyway? They’re known for mediocrity, not brilliance). The masterpiece that was Bioshock has fallen somewhat out of favor; like most trailblazers, it’s now regarded as not really blazing much of a trail, because other games have been quick to latch onto its innovations. There’s also the fact that it was never really that innovative, it was just a really good game. Bioshock was a good game but is unlikely to be remembered as an important one, particularly in a year that saw releases like Portal. Bioshock 2 will almost certainly be less of an innovator than even its predecessor was (which doesn’t preclude the possibility of it being a great game), and as such will likely be consigned to the shelf to gather dust shortly after it’s finished by gamers, never to be visited again. Until Bioshock 3.