Owning 'BioShock 2'

Big Daddy Doll by Kotaku reader, Nathan

BioShock’s success in creating intense feelings of attachment and ownership nearly blinded us to BioShock 2’s remarkable achievements.

My naturally cautious nature made me apprehensive about BioShock 2. The original BioShock, while not without its flaws, was instantly hailed as a monumental triumph. It dealt with serious moral and philosophical themes, commenting on the nature of freedom in both society and video game design. Rapture’s beautiful, yet decrepit environment told the story of what happens when self interest goes unchecked. The surroundings were more than pretty set pieces: shadowy corridors, flammable oil, and flooded rooms could be exploited by using various battle techniques to one’s advantage. It felt like (and to a certain extent still feels like) my ideal game. It was a complete experience that I didn’t want subsequently altered by the unknown consequences of a sequel. My adventure through Rapture was personal, and I felt ownership over it and its subsequent legacy.

I’m not alone in this. The necessity of BioShock 2’s existence is a common theme in discussions about the game. The first line of Justin McElroy’s review was “BioShock didn’t need a sequel” ("Review: BioShock 2 (single-player)",Joystiq, 8 February 2010). Mitch Krpata remembers in his year end review that a sequel “seemed like a bad idea from the start, one that could end up only as a blight on the original”, but then goes on to praise it as a game that “in some ways surpassed” its predecessor (”The Top 10 Video Games of 2010", The Phoenix, 21 December 2010). Will Herring admitted, “While I was initially in the camp that believed BioShock to be a self-contained narrative that didn't need further exploration, it didn't take long for BioShock 2 to unequivocally sell me on the idea of a return-trip to Rapture” ("BioShock 2, GamePro, 8 February 2010). It is poetic that the original game fostered such strong possessive feelings in light of the ideology that built Rapture. A game about self interest inspired its players to take ownership of it, to treat it like their property that needed defense. Equally poetic is BioShock 2's success in weakening that sense of possessiveness and demonstrating that, all too often, being forced to relinquish ownership is both inevitable and enjoyable.

Had I and so many other critics had our way, we would have never experienced the impressive extension of BioShock’s combat dynamics. I know that I’m not the only one who made it through BioShock mostly by zapping and bludgeoning any splicers that I met. While I toyed with the environmental effects and various plasmids, switching between weapons was cumbersome and experimenting was time consuming enough that I mainly stuck to what worked: electrobolt followed by the wrench. In BioShock 2, because of something as simple as dual-wielding, I was much more inclined to mix and match combinations, discovering unexpected dynamics and learning how to properly use off-beat abilities like the insect swarm and decoy plasmids. It became so natural to quickly cycle through weapons and plasmids that I actually forgot that it was a new development; BioShock 2 didn’t overwrite my memories of the first game, it positively modified them.

Rapture’s intricate environment was also highlighted by 2K Marin’s talented level designers. Because much of the combat in my playthrough revolved around protecting Little Sisters while they were harvesting ADAM, I became well versed in reading the terrain and making preparations for the optimal hostile encounter. Knowing all a room’s entry points, elevated vantage points, the width of its hallways, and whether there were any leaky pipes that I could use to my advantage was rewarding in both a narrative and ludic sense. My observations yielded emergent events and dynamic battles while also allowing me to glean bits of the story told through the scenery.

BioShock 2’s story and overarching morality system explore the limits of control. Unlike the first game, the choices that the player makes are not only meaningful to them but to others whose subsequent decisions will have uncontrollable ramifications. The prime example of this is Eleanor, who will act independently after observing Subject Delta’s behavior. As my writing partner, Jorge Albor, put it:

Eleanor ultimately becomes the type of person Delta appears to be. If Delta seeks vengeance, so will Eleanor. If Delta harvests children to survive, Eleanor too will commit herself to survival, regardless of the sacrifices. Being responsible for another person’s identity goes beyond responsibility for a few disparate outcomes. My version of Delta would probably not have let Sophia Lamb live. When Eleanor forgives her and saves her life in the “good” ending, it evokes a sense of responsibility for something greater than the self. She becomes a better person than those before her. (“The Sensationalist: Guilt and Responsibility in BioShock 2, Experience Points, 2 August 2010)

This altruistic version of Eleanor Lamb in Jorge’s virtual world is a metaphor for BioShock 2's existence in the real world. Based solely on the attitudes of people like me, BioShock 2 would have never been created, just as Jorge’s Subject Delta would not have spared Sophia Lamb. However, my choices to praise the game’s beauty, dissect the components of its combat and moral systems, and immerse myself in Rapture’s fiction had ramifications that I could not control. As was the case with the millions of other BioShock fans and critics, my actions were more powerful than my wishes. I assumed ownership over something that no single entity truly controls.

As repugnant as it would be to Andrew Ryan, BioShock 2 makes it clear that Rapture is now communally owned. Where I once thought of Ken Levine as its sole proprietor, the gritty Pauper’s Drop environment and the outstanding Minerva’s Den make Steve Gaynor seem like its mayor. Irrational Games may have had the original vision, but 2K Marin fleshed out the potential. Characters like Atlas once towered over the landscape of Rapture, but people like Grace Holloway demonstrate that the city was an amalgamation of many lives rather than the vision of a single man.

Had BioShock been the property of any single person, it’s quite likely that BioShock 2 would not have existed. Ownership often breeds conservatism, and in the case of a BioShock sequel, fans wanted to play it safe: why risk sullying something great? “Because there is money to be made,” says the corporation. “Because there are creative challenges to face,” says the artist. And now, the converted believers like myself can say: “Because placing BioShock on a pedestal would have ultimately stifled it.” It may feel safe and comfortable to possess something, but ownership can also be a restrictive illusion, one that robs your most prized possession of its full potential.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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