Sunday, 31 March 2013

Shadowrun: Lone Wolves - XX/XX/2012

So, infiltration. Something our group has constantly failed at or had end badly. Unfortunately this would actually be our most successful effort at infiltration.

Sending in our infiltration expert Killbo Fraggins (yes the frequently drinking gun-happy dwarf was our infiltrator) we had him scale the side of the Zainou offices. Climbing to the top he found an air vent and proceeded to use it to get inside, dropping down to the bottom level. This was before he got his laser eye so he needed to find a grate. Meanwhile Amoral snuck up to the building’s exterior and hid just out of sight of the patrolling guards to help deal with security footage. At the same, time Venne the Invincible positioned herself in a sniper spot to take out anyone who looked like they were about to do us in.

The first stages of this operation went off without a hitch. Taking down several guards in various non-lethal ways, Killbo managed to clear a path to the upper levels. Each time having Amoral record certain phrases which could be played when they were required to call in.

The problems started to begin about the time when Killbo reached the second floor. The guards, spotting footprints left in the snow, began to find Amoral. It was only due to Venne’s sniping they did not get off any alarms. This unfortunately left the technomancer constantly dragging bodies into cover and with several bloodsplatters visible in the snow. Furthermore, after covering one room in graffiti to suggest the terrorists who had attacked us in the airport were responsible for any instances which might occur, Killbo ended in a fight.

Botching a roll, he failed to take out the head of security for the small offices. This resulted in a rapid fistfight with one of the campaign’s mini-bosses. Someone who was both a minor magic user and who completely outclassed him. At the same time Venne’s rifle jammed forcing her to frantically fix it before she could fire again. This ended when Killbo hurled himself backwards, drew a pistol and shot the man in the face repeatedly. As his pistol didn’t have a silencer the two remaining guards heard sudden bursts of gunfire and raced upstairs. While they were on the stairs, Venne cut them down. The force from her gun destroying a huge chunk of the building, hit something vital and proceeded to start various fires.

Smelling smoke, Killbo and Amoral grabbed what we needed and then legged it at top speed. Amoral going first and Killbo following him, grabbing a few essentials to help get past security later on. Access cards, I.D.s as security guards and the like. With the stairs gone the dwarf used his grappling gun, smashed through the window and swung outside into the parking lot. Hotwiring a van, escaping from the scene of the crime and then dumped it in a nearby river; Killbo made a rather chaotic way back to the hotel. He also stole several packs of cigars from the van, which would make frequent reoccurrences from here on.

Laying low for the next day we then proceeded to do more research upon the area, taking the guide up on his offer. Getting on good terms with him when the GM’s borderline Mr. Burns voice he’d been using somehow slid into a west country pirate accent. Mostly by threatening to “kellhaul” everyone who opposed him. After dressing up in civilian clothes we proceeded to follow him into the forests and lose sight of him within the first few minutes. At which point we were promptly attacked by several wolves completely out of the blue. Taking them down in a mixture of close combat and bullets the guide reappeared again, effectively shrugging his shoulders and then mentioning “the Zainou facility isn’t far”. With no one having mentioned we were heading for Zainou this got us suspicious, at which point the guide broke character. He instantly burst himself into flames, transformed into a ten meter tall spectral wolf and began screaming obscenities at us.

It turned out it was a very angry, very hostile, very powerful beast spirit which radiated hatred for us. As it turned into its true form other wolves began to enter the glade we were in and charged at us. There’s not too much of a story to this unfortunately. The spirit itself was mostly killed from a mixture of combined fire from Killbo and Venne, and the wolves themselves were gunned down by Amoral’s drones. The only points of note were when we were forced to flee via helicopter as the fire the spirit caused started to burn down the forest around us and the reason no one had been suspicious of this guy was due to a spell.

We’d later learn that the spirit was one being experimented upon by Zainou and had escaped, taking its revenge upon mortals in any way it could. It was really just something the GM had thrown in to screw with us. We would try to perform a slightly more successful operation later by sneaking up to the Zainou building via the cliff, but we were almost instantly spotted and forced to leap off of the edge to avoid heavy calibre fire. Frantic rolling from the GM followed as Venne threw together a spell to prevent us being flattened against the ground.

Managing to get back to town unnoticed with only a minor alarm having been given in the facility, it was clear that we would need to go in through the front door and pass ourselves off as security consultants. Looting followed. No really. As Amoral got ready to create a fake name and proof of our I.D., we had business outfits shipped in to look official (one of which was the combat tuxedo) and steal parts for a car. Pillaging a Humvee from somewhere, we hit the music and proceeded to modify the car into something legendary. Or at least combat worthy in our twisted minds. High enough rolls resulted in this thing being equipped with a rapid-firing howitzer. Plus Amoral’s mech serving as a hood orniment and it being so heavily armoured that we could open only one door. I may post the full stats to this thing in a few days, but suffice to say it was fucking ludicrous.

Hiding most of our equipment in the car and moving everything out of our hotel room we got ready to head off. We drove up towards the Zainou building and into the annuals of history. Oh sweet heaven was what happened historic.

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Shadowrun and all related characters and media are owned by FASA Corporation, Fantasy Productions and Catalyst Games Labs.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Shadowrun: Violent Origins - XX/XX/2012

Okay the mission has begun. Unfortunately we will have that on pause for the moment. I just learned from the last session  this is going to be tied much closer to the previous campaign than I thought. It involved a lot of things which won’t have quite so much relevance unless you understand the previous story. I had planned to save this until after we’d finished the campaign but with the actual mission segment now beginning, this seems the best time to explain things.

The previous campaign was our first actual attempt of playing Shadowrun as a group. The other two were more familiar with it than I but I’d only briefly looked at some of the rules and details prior to this, so the events which followed were really my introduction to the game. Which might explain my screwed up mentality when it comes to espionage and seriousness.

As with all good RPGs, this particular tale begins late at night in a bar. Leona wasn’t with us at this time, instead with the GM using the troll known as Venne who would later prove to be a swiss-army-knife of destructive capability. Hefting both a large anti-material rifle and various guns, knowing explosive magic and having the overall size and body-strength of a full grown grizzly bear. Arriving one at a time we each sat down in the bar and prepared what would be our usual pastime in this RPG – wasting time by making fun of one another’s characters. At least until Mr. Johnson turned up.

Like all good Johnsons this one was particularly straight to the point, detailed with information, mildly stingy with money and careful not to directly admit to anything incriminating. He also entered and exited to Jazz music for some reason, frequently accompanied by beautiful women. Signalling the barman for drinks, and for us to pay for them, he quickly began to outline what he needed us to do: A genetics company called Zianou was going defunct within the next week, having elements be absorbed into a rival corp, Renraku I believe, and having anything left be fought over by others. Before his unnamed company could potentially lose out on any potential gains in technology or genetic breakthroughs, we were to be sent in to steal them. Specifically from their headquarters in Europe, located atop the side of a cliff in Norway. We had five days to do this in and hinted at bonuses if we grabbed certain other items.

Finishing outlining what we needed to do and answering a few basic questions, Johnson upped and left followed by everyone else in the bar. Yes, apparently to be sure we’d be no threat everyone in there was actually an agent or hired gun working for him who would kill us the moment we turned on him. In fact the bar itself was a building he had only just started the night before and was closing down again the moment we left. It was reserved purely for when he needed to meet people like us.

Getting to know one another, the shadowrunners headed out and promptly ran into criminals. Fighting ensued, as did looting. Kind of prophetic as things went. This did little besides serve as quick test run of the combat mechanics. The next few hours from there on consisted of preparations and going over how Johnson had left for us to get to Norway. As we’d be out of the country a lot of our black market suppliers wouldn’t be of much help and this would be our only chance to use them. Mass buying of various essentials commenced.

The following morning each of us set off towards our transportation: A cargo plane taking off from Seattle’s main airport. With Killbo having disguised his gun turret as a roof extension and Amoral stowing his mecha (yes he had a personally scrap-built mecha) away in the back of his van we managed to get through the traffic without trouble. Even more amazingly despite being armed to the teeth we got through the airport to our cargo plane without further problems. It was while we were waiting to get on-board issues started to happen.

Shadowrun - Seattle 2072 - Seatac airport

Without warning explosions took place some distance behind us and more worryingly we weren’t the cause of them. The sounds of weapons on full-auto soon accompanied this and a bellowing voice began fanatically yelling about equality for all metahumans over the loudspeaker. Yeah, looks like we’d just turned up in the middle of a full scale military grade assault by equal rights terrorists consisting of centaurs and a lot of other species not deemed equal to humans, trolls, elves and dwarves.
Thankfully they’d not reckoned upon us being there.
As armed terrorists spilled out of the building and towards our waiting aircraft (desperately being refueled and prepared for liftoff by the crew) the three shadowrunners proceeded to shoot every person armed with a gun who wasn’t going to Norway. The first nine or ten died in our opening ambush before they started getting canny and providing covering fire. At which point Amoral got inventive and hijacked a refueling drone, crashing it into a horde of the terrors and blowing it up. Killbo broke out the plastic explosives (planting it on empty oil drums and kicking them towards swarms of the goons) and Venne got explody. Leaving a lot of smoking corpses in our wake we managed to hold off long enough for the police to apparently respond and begin counter attacking the terrorists and the plane to be refueled  Amoral delivering a message of “lol noobs” to whoever had taken over the loudspeaker and was fanatically yelling about their rights.

Loading our cars on-board we stormed up the access ramp as the cargo plane was taking off and prepared to head off for Norway. One of the terrorists’ helicopter gunships had other ideas. Yes they had those. Before the ramp could close one closed in and prepared to turn us to chunky salsa before Amoral saved our proverbial bacon once more. Hacking into the chopper’s controls he proceeded to have it go out of control via masses upon masses of spam pop-ups both on the pilot’s comlink and screens. The sheer degree of product placement, porn and free penis enhancements then caused the chopper to veer off course and later crash.

The rest of the flight was more or less uneventful, save for Amoral and Venne being stuck in a cargo crate with a drunken Killbo. Venne having introduced him to a troll beverage of the strong quality on the way over. After they exited in Norway and deposited their vehicles the flight quickly took off, the pilots hoping to never, ever see them again. This would become a reoccurring reaction among our NPCs.

Setting off down the road we began to head off for our base of operations a small Norwegian town, whose name I cannot remember, which was only a few miles from the Zianou building. It was on the way to this town and on a highway that we encountered our next big battle. Yes, we seem to run into a lot of these. The smoking wrecks of cars littered the highway as we approached a series of vehicles encircling an armoured campervan, all shooting at it with everything from RPGs to light arms. Unable to pass up a fight Killbo drove ahead and, abandoning the wheel, took over the autocannon turret and started shooting at the encircled vehicles. Amoral followed him in seconds later in his one real use of his mecha and began to rip several cars a new one. Venne then did what she did best, blew stuff up. The first suffice to say didn’t last long.

Once the vehicles were gone the few remaining mercenaries, yes they were later identified as mercenaries, abandoned their wheeled automobiles and tried to escape on foot. They didn’t get far. Two were taken alive and then used for interrogation to get answers for what the hell was going on. The first was taken by Amoral and Venne, who promptly used a mixture of magic an knives to torture any information we needed from him and bypass the fact he only spoke Spanish. Killbo meanwhile took the other one and proceeded to use a surprisingly tactful approach:

Mercenary: Usted conseguirá nada de mí!
Killbo (yelling to the others): Does anyone speak Italian?
Mercenary: Spanish.
Killbo: Ah-ha! You do speak English!
GM: Wait-! I-! Wha-! AAAAARGH!

Admittedly Venne’s methods got a lot more useful information out of them. From the fact they were using Spanish as a language and had South American accents we can safely guess they were in the employ of Aztechnology. More useful was the occupants of the campervan, one of who was scientist fleeing from Zainou. Despite Killbo displaying probably the worst negotiating skills on the planet (threatening her with an orbital artillery piece) the group managed to broker a deal. After being given her card and all the details she had on the security of the building we allowed her to go on her way unimpeded. After doing the deal we were on our way, with some intel and a useful I.D. security card to boot.

And yes this is the scientist we’d end up rescuing at the beginning of the next campaign.

Containing on we reached the town at late evening and managed to secure a room in the local inn. While both Killbo and Amoral had not thought that the place might not take digital currency, Venne had thankfully had the foresight to exchange currency in the small airport we’d arrived in. As such we had a room for the night. Dropping off some of his stuff in their room, Killbo headed out to find a bar because, well, he’s a dwarf. Hanging out and drinking he was joined sometime later by Venne who began to overwatch the place. Eventually we realised that one elf nearby seemed to be keeping a rather close eye on both the window leading to the Zainou offices in the town and his watch, leaving at a very specific hour.

As he exited the two shadowrunners followed and proceeded to confront him in a alleyway at which point he seemed rather alarmed. He also dropped mention of something rather suspicious involving knowledge of shadowrunners. Taking him hostage after knocking him out we managed to get him back to our room unnoticed and tie him to a chair. Interrogations followed and we eventually learned that he was a Zainou employee working with another shadowrunning team working in the same place.

Overall our deal effectively involved it being advantageous to each of us, trying to stay out of one another’s ways once we were inside Zainou’s EuroHQ and generally not getting in one another’s ways. Part of it also involved letting the elf go and both Killbo and Venne going back to the bar. Then proceeding to get drunk after Killbo failed a roll and had everyone inside singing Jpop. If I sound like I’ve forgotten a lot of details it’s only because I have.

The next day, after dealing with killer headaches and the horror Venne had somehow left on the second story of the hotel in front of Amoral’s window, we began planning how to scout out the Zainou building. Killbo went off to get details on nearby hiking while Amoral began suffering from withdrawal due to not having a constant internet connection in the town’s isolated location. What we learned was that a lot of the hikers and people in the surrounding woods had been repeatedly attacked by wolves and bears with multiple deaths, thoroughly unusual activity, until there was only one guide left. Killbo spoke with him and while he managed to coerce him into guiding them to a sewage plant close by to the building we needed to infiltrate and hopefully a few potential ways inside. He also learned that the guide was suspicious with a capital SUSPICIOUS!!! and behaving in an extremely strange manner which was not the least bit trustworthy.

Venne meanwhile had been helping to plot out our attack upon the Zainou offices. Well not attack. What we were planning to do was infiltrate the place, put ourselves on the guest list as security consultants and cards to get inside. This was supposed to be our backup plan and quickly became our actual plan once the other one ballsed up later on. With our supplies secured, positions planned and ways inside the offices considered, we began to infiltrate the place.

Somehow twenty minutes later it ended up on fire and covered in paint as a carjacking took place. But more on that next time.

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Shadowrun and all related characters and media are owned by FASA Corporation, Fantasy Productions and Catalyst Games Labs.

The source for the airport image can be found here.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct (Video Game Review)

Read the review in full on

The problems with the game all originate from developer Terminal Reality’s execution and the sheer lack of polish on the title. Frequently you’re going to encounter visual glitches and bugs such as floating objects but also extremely immersion breaking problems. An already infamous one is the sound effects used for hitting the windows on cars, the sound of striking metal, which don’t so much as dent even when you are striking them with a sledgehammer. There is also the apparent lack of awareness with the walkers, or how inconsistent it can truly be. Half the time the brain hungry walking corpses can spot you from the other side of the map, while others will not notice you even as you are standing next to them. Often paying you no attention even as you take out a swarm in close combat, slamming a hammer against their skulls every time one turns your way like some sort of macabre game of whack-a-mole.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Minecraft: When In Doubt...


Yeah no review for today on accounts of planning out the following month's stuff and working on the next big document. If you're after a specific article or subject, please remember there's still an offer on this.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Bioshock 2: A Retrospective

It’s been said more than once that sometimes a story should know exactly when it needs to end. Not because there’s no more that needs to be shown of the world, often it’s quite the opposite. Instead often due to either sequels not standing up to what came before them or outright contradicting what made them so great in the first place. This often counts for films and novels more than anything else, but a number people seem to think this applies to the Bioshock franchise.

Arguments are usually that the first game was enough to explore the themes of its storyline and a sequel set in Rapture ultimately undermined the original’s tale. This seems a very odd stance to take because for all intents and purposes Bioshock 2 improved upon a huge number of points within the first game. Not so much going nuts and trying to outdo everything that came beforehand but going in a different direction while building upon what we’d seen. Especially in terms of its morality, storyline and choices.
And yes the following sections will be spoiler heavy for both the first and second titles.

Story Synopsis
The story here takes place some years after the original while maintaining strong links to Rapture’s past. You play as Subject Delta, a genetically engineered drone soldier called a Big Daddy modified to protect the Little Sisters, children programmed to harvest Rapture’s lifeblood, a chemical known as ADAM. Just prior to the Civil War you are taken down and assassinated by a group of splicers led by a woman called Sofia Lamb. Claiming to be the mother of the little sister you guard, Eleanor, she forces you to commit suicide via mind control.
Despite the 9mm bullet firmly lodged in your skull, you awaken in the ruins of Rapture which is now on the verge of collapse. Hunting through the decaying city you begin to hunt for your missing charge and learn of what has befallen the place in your absence.

Protagonist and Role
Delta himself can be seen as the first big improvement for a number of reasons. While unlike Bioshock’s protagonist Jack his story lacks the famous sudden plot-twist close to the game’s end, Delta retains many aspects which made that character great. The first of these being that he is clearly in over his head and still serves as a “rogue pawn” character. Someone previously manipulated, or quite possibly is still being manipulated, by others much more powerful and intelligent than he is. Despite the clear antagonism Lamb has for you, you’re never quite sure who your allies are until the game’s end. In part due to your ally Sinclair repeatedly being detailed as a con-man in audio logs.

What makes his role more effective is that unlike Jack he is an very obvious pawn and a utilises his free will from the beginning. Unlike before you are not being compelled by mental suggestion or coded-words to keep moving but instead a failsafe originating from how you were built. Your body is slowly but surely killing itself as you are away from Eleanor and without her you will soon die, forcing you to pursue her despite any inclination you might have had otherwise. This allows you to take advantage of the game’s more varied moral choices and employ a great deal more roleplaying than before, deliberately following a single mind-set. One which could either be trying to rescue her out of genuine love, purely for his own survival or still being compelled to do so due to remnants of mental conditioning.

Any roleplaying aspects are also helped by the way in which the game handles with Delta’s background. He is far less of a blank slate than Jack with personal connections and a history laid being detailed as the game progresses. Giving you enough in the beginning to know who you are then adding small details as it progressed such as who you were prior to begin converted into a Big Daddy. While it’s never so much it feels like the blank slate aspect is being lost, it’s enough to give more meaningful connections to many of the characters and emotion to your relationships with them. That’s something we’ll get into next but for the moment here’s one example: More than once you encounter those directly involved with your conversion, robbing you of the life you previously had. These serve as key points in the game, not as boss battles, and you feel far more reason for wanting them dead than the vast majority of the enemy characters in the original.

In addition to this, his role as the central character makes the game’s advertising campaign have a point to it. A criticism made of the first game was how the Big Daddies were used on promotional posters, cover art and just about everything to try and make them seem important when they only had a limited role. Ultimately they served as a personification of Rapture’s decay but lacked a truly direct connection to the storyline as characters. The decision to make one the core character gave far more reason for them to be used so heavily in promotional material.

Relationships and Morality
As mentioned above there is a much closer connection between you and characters than previously explored. The original Bioshock mostly revolved around the twist reveal of Jack in his relationships with others but did have a clear trio of central characters: Himself, Ryan and Fontaine. All were directly connected to one another either through genetics, enmity or power mongering and core to the game’s final act. However, due to the revelation surrounding Jack we only truly learn of this past history with one another until very late on in the game by which point it’s too late to truly take advantage of it. This removes each of them from having a clear involvement with the conflict and for the most part we only really learn of the relationship through two characters via audio-logs. This isn’t to say the story was not good, far from it, but the actual interaction and conflict we see between characters left a lot to be desired.

Other characters such as the bosses also had no connection with Jack and most didn’t even know he existed until he walks up to them and they start fighting. They seemed intended to represent the city of Rapture itself rather than have a personal conflict with the protagonist, serving as living examples of the city’s decay and collapse from the introduction of plasmids.  
In Bioshock 2, far more of the characters are noted to have a direct history with Delta and some involvement with him personally. When you face off against them you know exactly who they are, what their relationship is with you and why they are against you. Unlike say Peach Wilkins or Rose, Grace Holloway has a connection to your past and her reasons for hating you are explained as you progress throughout the level she is in. She feels far less like a stranger and more like an old enemy you are rediscovering. The same goes for a number of the other characters and while there are exceptions such as Sinclair or Tenenbaum but as a whole the cast feels much more closely connected.

The familiarity between the characters of this title compared to the last one is best seen in those who were leading Rapture in each game. In the original when you faced Andrew Ryan he seemed to act as if you were little to nothing to him, in part because you were a total stranger to him and in part because of the aforementioned sudden twist. He cared about your presence, but only because of what you represented to his vision of the world. When you constantly speak with him he only refers to you as “parasite” and sees you as that, the worst kind of individual and completely opposed to his personal philosophy. While that might help to reinforce his words it leads to a somewhat hollow feeling in your battles with him.

Sophia Lamb on the other hand has a far more personal and direct conflict. For one thing rather than only encountering Delta in person moments before her death, you meet her in the very first cutscene. Where the aforementioned bullet to the head takes place, but more than just that with her both denouncing you and kidnapping someone who is for all intents and purposes your daughter. Yet for all this she likewise treats you like you’re nothing, but does so in a remarkably different way. Ryan managed to show hatred in the desire to protect his city, not caring for the identity of who is doing it and showing no personal connection with them. Lamb knows the person she opposes, manages to go out of her way to torment him and make his life hell and yet many of her lines give only cold distain, lacking the investment Ryan displayed.

Even purely comparing the enmity between Jack and Ryan in the first game with Delta and Lamb in this one, there seems to be a much more tangible opposition between the characters. Jack might have been an example of what Ryan was trying to oppose, in his mind anyway, but Delta was an enforcer of the regime Lamb detested. He directly assisted Ryan and helped ensure for a time that he remained in charge of things.
Furthermore Delta had no human face. In many respects he had been built by Ryan’s followers, programmed into being purely obedient to him, and was more of a machine than a man. With only a metal mask and armour he was far more of a symbol to what Sophia opposed than Jack had ever been. Even after she realises he has broken his programming, and has greater opposition with you acting out of self-service rather than her “greater good”, hints of this remain within her dialogue to you.

Even when it comes to the Little Sisters there is a definite greater link between Delta and them. Due to his link with them as a result of Eleanor, and conversation to a Big Daddy, they see him differently than they did Jack. Whereas Jack was a human, someone they would either fear or distrust, Delta was someone they had been taught to recognise and trust as their own father. As such the choice between harvesting them or rescuing them is made more difficult. While you’re likely to die far more often in the game than the original due to more dangerous foes, and need more abilities to try and survive, their reactions to you killing them to take ADAM are far more disturbing.

As Delta harvests them they squirm in his hand, crying and begging you not to hurt them before the screen goes black and then fades in again. With Delta holding the slug he has torn out from her stomach. This is only made worse by the fact you know she doesn’t understand why he is turning on her and the fact they accompany Delta for a time prior to potentially harvesting them. Usually with dialogue like this:

"Daddy...? You're never gonna hurt me, right?"
 "Daddy's home! I've been good! Promise!"
"Daddy isn't angry, is he?"
"I'll be extra quiet! I won't make you upset!"
"Where are we going? Daddy?"

Perhaps the greatest potential horror and roleplaying experience comes down to your most basic choices within the game, whether you choose redemption or to destroy those who wronged you. Saving those who require it or sacrificing them in your path to escape the city. Or rather the impact your decisions have upon another person.

In the first game your choices shaped only Jack and his future, deciding upon the outcome of his destiny. While this did admittedly heavily affect those who had spoken with you had become allied with, either killing them in an act of mad greed or offering them new life, they were mostly victims of your actions. Bioshock 2 took this in a new direction by having Eleanor retaining a psychic link with Delta. Seeing through his eyes and understanding his actions, then learning from his example. If you chose a path of good and attempted to rescue everyone you could from the city she would have a benevolent future, whereas mass slaughter would turn her into a monster. The ends might justify the means but if the price is turning the person you’re trying to save into a psychopath, is it truly worth it?

Its inclusion adds far more weight to your actions in the game. It forces you to consider whether you truly want to go through with killing a man for power, or even at his last sane request, if you risk turning someone you love into a murderer. There are some surprisingly deep moral decisions to be made in the later half of the game, escalating from simpler ones and often Eleanor’s inclusion makes you reconsider what you are doing. What helps this especially is that there are far more endings meaning that unlike before where you could follow a one path and get a purely good or purely evil conclusion there are more shades of grey here. Not many but enough for you to feel like you’re having more of an impact.

Antagonists and Philosophy
As was the case in the last game, the foes of Bioshock 2 are used as extremists used to depict the flaws behind a specific philosophical mind-set and society. In the original game Andrew Ryan’s altruist society encouraged a dog eat dog mentality and, in his mind, lacked the constraints of religion, morality and law allowing those who would have otherwise been supressed to rise above their inferiors. The flaws which brought it down came from ignoring those who lost out and Ryan himself not being at the top of his perceived food chain. The game went into detail about the exact flaws behind such an extreme viewpoint, how such a perspective would ultimately collapse in on itself. Also to a lesser extent how living beneath the sea is not the best location for a society.

As a result the society of Bioshock 2 was ultimately the complete opposite of the Great Chain.
The most obviously significant difference was that whereas Ryan’s personal philosophy emphasised upon the rights of the individual, Lamb’s personal cult looked into the community. It focused upon the sacrifices of the individual for the betterment of all, the rights of the many and the need for spirituality and took it to an extreme. Just as the Great Chain had in the previous game, the Family in this one showed the absolute worst aspects of what they represented: Unthinking devotion towards a single sacrosanct object, persona and idea. The fanaticism born out of worship and the desires to appease authorities and figures higher than themselves over self-preservation. The use of sacrifice of an individual, turning them into something horrifying against their will, for the supposed betterment of all.

This is obviously built upon what Bioshock first introduced, as with a lot of things in this, but it goes further than this. The roles of good an evil are ultimately reversed as the assisting character, Sinclair, sides with Ryan’s ideology over Lamb’s in this one. Think about it. In the first game the person helping you the most was Atlas, someone who was supposedly serving the will of the people, working for the downtrodden and seemed to be a more idealised form of what Lamb represented. In this game Sinclair is much the same, he embraces the business-like opportunism and mentality which were core to Ryan’s ideals but tempers it with morality. Keeping both to his word and genuinely caring about Delta’s wellbeing despite his ultimate goal being to salvage Rapture’s advanced technology for profit.

Most interesting however was the fact that even the antagonists leading their respective ideals were opposites even in their relation to their ideals. Right to the very end Andrew Ryan wholeheartedly believed that was he was doing was right. Lamb on the other hand was a manipulator, possibly an even bigger monster than Ryan had ever been. Despite her collectivist dogma and ideology she cared even less for those who followed her and sacrificed them to further her goals. While, as mentioned before, she might have hated Delta for what he represented it had less to do with her ideology and more her direct opposition to him.

Her role is best exemplified by how she behaves in the final act of the game. Frequently she refers to trying to distance herself from Eleanor as much as possible, trying to limit her role in the girl’s development in every way imaginable so she can be shaped into what she wants. It’s made clear that even if there is some connection between the two she’s ultimately using her daughter to further her own ambitions. When you look at her multiple arguments against Delta however, she refers to him stealing her daughter, only using her as a method towards his own ends and even trying to convince Eleanor to come back to her claiming that she loves her.

Lamb will claim one thing when she wants something entirely differently, changing her messages to as and what she needs at that moment. Frequently contradicting herself and performs the very acts that she scolds Delta for doing. This is taken even further in many of the backgrounds such as when she begins stealing children from the surface in order to maintain the city’s supply of Little Sisters. Yet at the same time she calls Delta’s own supposed act of stealing her daughter as something deplorable.

The reason this helps to exemplify how she behaves, and is so important to how the game differs from its predecessor, is that these acts show how paper thin her beliefs, reasoning and decisions are. Hell, in one audiobook you learn that the very reason she came to Rapture in the first place was because she believed that others were corrupting her collectivist ideals by becoming a part of it, removing her control. It makes her a very different villain from Ryan but the way in which she is presented, peeling away the veneer of honesty as you trudge through Rapture’s flooded districts, makes her a more compelling villain. One who has more secrets to reveal and more of a history to analyse than Ryan offered.

As you might expect, Lamb is closer to what Atlas/Fontaine was despite her vastly different goals to him. Both were manipulating others for their own benefit, making use of Ryan’s mistakes and emphasising upon the downtrodden and lost in Rapture. Both claimed to be backing highly idealistic points of view and serving some overall greater good which was of no benefit to themselves, when the exact opposite was true. They were simply taking advantage of a lie to put themselves in positions of power. The difference here is that the idea of this is explored in vastly more depth because of the lack of the previous mentioned plot twist which limited many aspects of the original Bioshock’s plot.

Environments and Decay
If there is one thing which has always defined Bioshock it’s the game’s setting. Perhaps even more so than the plasmids and politically charged story about extremism. The look of Rapture in its dystopian crumbling appearance, slowly flooding as it collapses around you has become extremely identifiable with the games. No sooner than a promotional art piece features decayed futurist 1950s architecture, with all its mixture of chrome, silver, grime and fractures, you automatically know it’s representing Bioshock. The actual architecture itself has been seen to represent the story in many respects. While this might seem obvious, looking at the game you can see reflections of plot twists or overarching themes in even the smallest of details. I’m not just talking about the posters saying things like “Who is Atlas?” either.

Sticking with the original for a moment, think about what the plot was and then the exact details of the setting. The story depicted the endgame of a conflict between two powerful figures fighting over the remains of a powerful empire, having manipulated, fought and politicked their way into the situation they are in. They themselves have degenerated and fallen as the war has worn on and you see that reflected within the splicers themselves, reduced to shambling mockeries of humans. When you first encounter the city, walking in from the Bathysphere and start looking around you see the remnants of what was once a place of grandeur very clearly. The location you start in also being a place of rediscovery and of beginnings, set in the exact place where people were celebrating when the Rapture Civil War began. As you similarly advance through the story and begin discovering the flaws within the society, how it failed due to the philosophical issues and the introduction of plasmids, that grandeur slowly disappears. Fading more and more into the background as you begin to understand what at first looked like a marvel was always a dystopia rotten from within.

Bioshock 2 meanwhile has a very different plot but it sticks with this. The locations you see are decrepit and run down, to the point where barely any power works and rooms are greyer than the average modern military FPS. Any of Rapture’s faded glory is all but gone and the few elements of colour originate from the sea-life and incursions of coral now growing within it, with the occasional new element which has been introduced through Lamb’s reign. As well as feeling like a direct continuation of what came before, this represents the overall endgame of the plot and Lamb’s ambition: To have the remains of Rapture serve as a womb, a spawning ground for something new born of the old mistakes of the past before discarding the city entirely. Namely Eleanor. The few moments where you see the remains of Rapture’s might and beauty are reserved for when you encounter Lamb’s lieutenants and elements of her power structure. Something which helps to emphasise upon the hypocrisy behind her movement, with the Family’s leaders living in comparative luxury to those they lead.

One interesting detail is that Rapture is far more visibly presented as being all but dead. Along with the greater level of decay present within the environments, you frequently see Rapture’s exterior as Delta and travel through the city’s flooded areas where every occupant within the district has drowned. It helps to further emphasise upon how far the city has fallen and the fact the metropolis is literally on the brink of death, only being kept alive so long as Lamb desires it. Something especially enforced when one of the aforementioned flooded areas is intentionally destroyed by Lamb to prove a point to you.

The state of the environment also later on ties into the game’s secondary plot involving the abducted children when you see things from the perspective of a Little Sister. Viewing Rapture as some glorious palace as they have been conditioned to do so and serves as a stark contrast to the dilapidated ruin you have seen until now. Something which serves to both reflect upon your moral choices as well as some of the true horror behind the conditioning the children are put through prior to being turned into ADAM gatherers.

It’s clear that the game relies heavily upon the ground broken by its predecessor for the basis of many of its points, Bioshock 2 is far from unnecessary to the series. While, as mentioned, many themes were present in the original through the involvement of Atlas they were not utilised so clearly or heavily as here. They were never able to compare with the much more dominant examination of Ryan’s viewpoint of the world. It ultimately served to fill in the gaps of what had been left in the original title’s storyline and to bring about an example of how extremism simply doesn’t work from either political perspective.

What it didn’t simply build upon, the game visibly improved. The aforementioned morality system is a core example of this offering a far more varied and dynamic experience than what had been seen in the first game. In many respects it helped to combat a major criticism of the original in that you were either purely good or purely evil, you couldn’t have any other outcome due to your only choices being to save or sacrifice the Little Sisters. Of course the multiple endings also helped.

With the release of Bioshock Infinite it seems like the series creators will be taking these concepts further. The same moral issues and examination of extremism being present within the title’s plot, along with the idea of an isolated dystopia left to its own devices and permitted to crumble from within. Hopefully, if you were one of those who considered Bioshock 2 to be an inferior remake of the first game, this retrospective will have convinced you to give it another chance.


Bioshock and all related characters and media are owned by 2k Games.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Will Write For Charity

I'll keep this as short as I can.

To anyone who has been following the blog for a while you might have noticed a few unrelated sites alongside the sites I submit content to listed within the Links box. One is to a DeviantArt account of an artist Daniell Eellison (Marker-Mistress). The main reason for this was to try and get more attention to herself and her blog due to her current financial situation. I know a few of you are already switching off at that but hear this out for a minute and what i'm offering to anyone who helps her.

If you read her last journal update on her situation she's asking for donations of any kind along with commissions. It doesn't specify any kind of amount, anything will do but for a certain amount i'm willing to offer something in return. You might have seen a few of the essays i've posted on the site over the years, everything from personal ones on the reasons for Aliens: Colonial Marines' failure to University submitted ones on The Big Sleep and how censorship hamstrung the film.
For every £15 or $25 US dollars you submit to her through PayPal I will do a 2,000 word essay on a media subject of your choice. Along with an additional 500 words for every additional £5 or $7.50 you give. Each one will be unbiased, sticking purely to the facts, my full effort put into it and with full sources listed. There will be no limitations placed upon any subject, that is purely at your request. If you do not wish for me to post it on the site and e-mail it to you privately, I will also accept that.

Contact me on with proof of your submission, a screenshot preferably, and your request. Also know this: I will be checking to see that your donations are received by the artist. Any attempt to abuse this offer and get free work without paying will not be tolerated. Please also be warned that this will be a first-come-first-served deal. The sooner you act, the sooner you get your work.

And finally, know this: Those university essays ones I uploaded? They're the ones on the low end of the marking grade for my work. I've yet to post anything I have received high markings for or the level of work I am offering.

Shadowsun: The Last of Kiru's Line (Book Review)

As with the last book review this is posted in full on 

Friday, 22 March 2013

Bloodquest: The Eye of Terror Trilogy (Comic Review)

As with the last book review this is posted in full on 

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Shadowrun: Force Eight Fire Pizza – 16/03/2013



Ooh, can I have the pentagonal piece?

So where were we? Oh yeah, a violent rampage followed by looting.

Well realising that yet another narrow escape from the police would be a bad thing the group was quick to get out of the building as fast as they possibly could. As Amoral returned, they loaded up the weapons crates onto the APC and drove away before they even heard sirens filling the cold evening air. Presumably most of this ended up in Killbo’s house underground weapons bunker.

Arriving back at Amoral’s abode we eventually got around to that planning our infiltration of the science conference thing. Which went about as well as you might expect.

Starting to look into how the MMO game worked, Amoral began to examine how we could approach the scientist in it. The only way to talk with him was while we were in the conference. Furthermore the only way he could be spoken to would be to either be a part of his group when they were on a long term raid or one of the two other groups who would be in the area at that time. Researching raid videos we found out that there were six members in his guild, the exact number needed for a raiding party so it would be difficult to just join in. Hacking and taking over their characters would be all but impossible through the MMO’s servers so we needed to go with a new plan: Remove one person from the group while in the raid and have Amoral take their place.

Eventually via looking through chat logs he was able to figure out that the member “Opal Knight” was a Seattle resident due to the slang terms she frequently used. Unfortunately glitching his research roll meant he spent over an hour thinking she was a prostitute working on 456th street and only realised as she was calling said person. Correcting his error we found out Jennifer Dillon is her real name, she lives on Richmond Highlands.

Looking up the building layout and pinning down the exact building she was living in, we began to plan how to remove her at the exact time we needed. Not lethally, we’d already tripled our body-count quota for the next several years, but to incapacitate her exactly when we needed Dillon out of the way.

Initial plans from Killbo to storm the building via aerial assault and then punch her out were quickly vetoed for multiple reasons. We briefly considered arriving at her house and having one of Leona’s spirits possess her. That was something we decided was all too easily tracked back to us and the energy required for knocking her out for three days. Amoral suggested using nanites to briefly inflict a virus upon her, but due to extensive costs that was eventually decided against. It was directly after the mention of using a pizza delivery to take her out that things officially went to plaid.

The plan we settled upon was having a spirit possess a pizza which was to be delivered to her house and knock her out at 8PM on the day she was raiding. Following a research roll from Amoral, we ordered her pizza of choice, meat feast with cheese. Then two others because Killbo was hungry. Hacking the drone when it showed up outside Amoral’s door and having a sprite control it to deliver it as and when we needed, Leona promptly had her fire spirit possess the pizza. Both to keep it warm and fresh for the next several hours.

After eventually deciding upon the object resistance of a pizza (you have no idea how hard the GM was laughing at that) we sent off our Fire Pizza with orders to take Dillon down but not kill her.
Killbo meanwhile headed back to his home to sort stuff out, and probably hide his stash of new guns, when he got a call from Hedrick our inside man. His message contained a rating six I.D. (fake SIN) under the name John Smith, along with a note saying “gun is in dumpster next to your house, here is a licence for it, meet Hedrick at office 10AM tomorrow.” Raiding said bin Killbo found another Ares Predator and proceeded to check the security documents he’d gotten a few days ago. For the first time. Within hours of their planned attack upon the conference. Also only just realising that he could use nanopaste as a disguise thanks to the SIN’s biometric data.

Upon reading he discovered that on arrival all guests would be required to submit to a full body search and vetting. All security consultants would only be permitted one automatic pistol, which must be licenced with any larger weapons being confiscated and stored until the end of the conference. Implanted weapons, such as Killbo’s in-built grenade launcher, would be disarmed for the duration of the conference and ammo confiscated.

Making one final check of the itinerary he went over the conference schedule:

First day was to be taken up by introduction and effectively party. The second day featured presentations in both theatres about advances in science. Upon the evening of second day, show involving popular performers. The third and final day was to end early, final presentations (one major one) and one closing speech by Mr Hedges, the Aztechnology representative we needed to avoid.

Approaching our decided route to hit the conference the following morning, the shadowrunners met up prepped for combat at 5AM. Gathering just outside a sewer drainage pipe a good mile and a half from the perimeter of the conference building and with a direct route through the tunnels we could easily follow. There was just one complication we’d not counted on. A sign on the boarded up entrance with the words “Ghouls! Keep Out!” painted across it. Wisely we opted to send Amoral’s Hussar drones in first and move single file.

For the better part of half an hour we moved swiftly without any sign of trouble, the worst signs of things being the occasional devil rat. It was certainly cramped, but filled with no wildlife bold or big enough to cause us trouble. At least until at one junction a blindingly fast humanoid object sprinted into vision, moving past us and heading towards a tunnel on our right. Communicating through an encrypted channel Amoral had set up we began moving directly through the sewage to hide our scents, Killbo having to kick Amoral in as he objected. Sneaking ahead of the group, the dwarf looked around the corner to see a large horde of the creatures feeding upon the remains of some people. A few among them were clearly shamans, standing more upright than the rest and higher in the pecking order.

Having one of her pet spirits possess her, Leona used it to help conceal her presence and that of the group but had her channelling ability allow her to keep control. Unlike Killbo she couldn’t have Chummer screw up and possess the spirit as a result. While one of the shamans came close to detecting us we managed to pass by without a confrontation with them. That fight came just a bit later. As we moved through another section, devil rats came swarming up the tunnel and attacked us. Strangely, these managed to prove to be a vastly bigger threat than the Halloweeners had been, hitting us at close range before we could shoot them. Fighting them for several minutes, we eventually managed to overcome them and move on with only Amoral getting mildly hurt in the ensuring skirmish.

Unfortunately a real fight followed not long after this.

As we approached the final tunnel well within the perimeter of the building we came across an unmarked door not present on the map we were following. A door with something very wrong about it. Looking at it Leona stated it was very hostile and very much possessed, occupied by something bloodthirsty and powerful. Deciding to check for alternatives before we tried it, Killbo headed up the tunnel and found a manhole not too much further along, leading up into a shed within the perimeter. Unfortunately said shed was within the forest of killer trees which had spooked the mercenaries badly when the dwarf had scouted out the place with drones patrolling the area. Pulling back we opted to see what was behind door No.1 with Leona trying to dispel it.

She failed and all hell promptly broke loose.

Wrenching itself out of the wall, folding in upon itself and twisting around the door began shaping into an armoured knight. One towering over even the tallest member of the group and engulfed by blue flames, streams of crimson ichor and blood flowed freely from between its armoured plates. Each person could feel hatred emanating from its very core. It turned out we’d just managed to piss off a Force 8 Blood Guardian Spirit.

Lunging for Leona, the Spirit brought its broadsword around and hacked at her, forcing the shape-shifter to block it with her arms. Getting a relatively high initiative roll, Killbo managed to strike next and waded into combat. Drawing his Auto Assault 16, the dwarf let loose a long burst and aimed in a wide arc to lower its impressive defences. Getting an extremely high number of successes followed by a terrible roll from the Spirit, the high calibre bullets managed to inflict a sizable amount of damage.

While Amoral was unable to capitalise on this, having not given orders to his drones, Leona was quick to follow up the attack. Casting an explosive spell, she blasted the spirit back and sent it crashing into the concrete wall behind it. This jerked Amoral into action and giving very distinct orders to his drones (“Shootitshootitshootitshootitshootit!”) he opened fire with his laser pistol, only to have the Spirit dodge his attack.

Then the Spirit revealed that its shield had a heavy machine-gun built into it. Worse still, it knew how to use it.

Taking cover behind a combat drone, Amoral avoided the following hails of bullets with Killbo and Leona being caught in the open. Managing to somehow dodge its masses of suppressive gunfire, Killbo proceeded to repeatedly blast away at the creature with unfortunately little success. Amoral’s Hussar drones opened up in a succession of volleys, the first doing little damage but the second successfully bringing the creature to the brink of death. Leona then finished it off with another spell, using her edge to enhance it and disintegrating the spirit’s metal body before it could further harm anyone.

Following up the corridor the door had been guarding, the group quickly found a ladder leading up into an unmarked room a short distance away. A Helpful sign pointing upwards was marked “Cold Storage”. The room we moved up into was just above freezing, long since abandoned and filled with dank, stale air. Remains of machinery littered the walls, including a number of what appeared to be broken cryogenic tanks. Hidden from spirits and with only a feint matrix link, the place was completely off the radar in every sense of the word. More concerning was that there were footprints in the dust and mould on the floor, relatively recent ones as well.

It didn’t take us long to figure out who had been in charge of the facility. Prior to being acquired by Aztechnology the building directly above us had belong to Zainou, a scientific corp we’d had a hand in looting prior to being dissolved and attacked by Red Samurai. Well their Norwegian branch anyway. The point is it was a call-back to our previous campaign. Powering a few very old terminals up by syphoning power from his drones, Amoral began searching for any information of value amongst the corrupted data.

Exploring a bit further we managed to confirm that we were directly beneath the conference building, with a corridor leading up to the kitchens above and an elevator shaft linked into the roof. Not to let any good food go to waste, Amoral and Leona used a spell to turn invisible then proceeded to break into the kitchen larder for any excess meals. Killbo meanwhile headed back to his house to change out of his armour and prepare to meet Hedrick.

Our mission had officially begun. Heaven help us all.

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Shadowrun and all related characters and media are owned by FASA Corporation, Fantasy Productions and Catalyst Games Labs.