BioShock 2 Hands-On PreviewBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Oct 29, 2009
X-Play's All Access Preview: BioShock 2
It’s been a rough 10 years since a mysterious stranger named Jack strode the soggy corridors of the underwater metropolis known as Rapture in BioShock. The city’s founder, Andrew Ryan, is no more; his utopian society lies corrupted, decayed, and, like his face (and the putter used to bash it in), broken on the sea floor. The city’s genetically mutated inhabitants, who foolishly assumed the infallibility of rational self-interest, continue to tear themselves and their world apart in pursuit of their own selfish and vicious ends, driven by their lust for the precious genetically altering substance known as ADAM. Like I said, it’s bad times. But guess what? It’s time to dive back in and find out just what the hell happened to turn this once twisted and cursed city into the hierarchical nightmare that Rapture has become in BioShock 2.
I Chose Rapture…Again
Deeper. That’s the term (aka the “north star”) the developers at 2K Marin has used to guide them during BioShock 2’s entire development process. In terms of narrative, deeper comes in the form of venturing further into Rapture’s lore, failures, nightmares, misguided idealism and doomed beauty. Your role in the game is that of a Prototype Big Daddy, the first of his kind. At one time he was bonded to a Little Sister named Eleanor before some devastating event occurred, severing their connection and sending him into a deep sleep. The story opens with the Big Daddy waking up and deciding he must traverse Rapture in order to find his long lost Little Sister (aka “his rock”).
Now, since you are a Big Daddy, one of your jobs throughout the course of the game will be to help Little Sisters that you come across locate and harvest ADAM (or you can harvest the Little Sisters right away and take their ADAM for yourself) and then “unplug” them from the system that keeps them enslaved to Rapture. Whenever you come across a Little Sister, you’ll have to dispose of their Big Daddies (which now include a bazooka-wielding strategist known as a Rumbler) before you can free them. Once you have a Little Sister, you can use her to sniff out the nearest corpses in need of harvesting. Similar to the end of the first game, whenever you place a Little Sister down to harvest ADAM, the Splicers come out of the woodwork, and it is up to you to protect her.
Hey, Watch the (Diving) Suit!
Unlike the end of the previous game, this time around you will not feel like an unstoppable force, safely housed inside your stylish diving suit. Since you are the first version of the Big Daddy, you aren’t nearly as hulking or tank-like as the newer models, a fact that you will become well aware of when engaging in your first fight with Rapture’s newest cast of deadly enemies. In addition to the new Rumblers, you’ll face off against a new breed of Splicer known as Brute Splicers. These sit atop the Splicer food chain and are similar to the Tanks in Left 4 Dead, muscular beasts with incredible speed that can bash the hell out of you in an instant. Above them are the Big Daddies, and above them all are the Big Sisters, which are Little Sisters that have returned to Rapture, and are now its pissed off protectors. There is one very special Big Sister, but the details surrounding her identity and role in the story are still unknown.
Combat in BioShock 2 has also received the “deeper” treatment in several interesting ways. First off, you can now dual wield weapons and plasmids, which makes for a much more frenzied and varied action experience. Every weapon and every plasmid can be leveled up three times, and each level unlocks a new attribute. The majority of the plasmids from the first game show up again this time around along with some new ones, but now they can be mixed and matched to create combo plasmids of sorts. A cyclone trap is fun, but a cyclone trap that also freezes enemies that trigger it is awesome… or you can use Electro Bolt on the new water geyser trap to create a shocking spout of death. The combos really open up the combat engine’s possibilities.
As a Big Daddy, your arsenal consists of several weapons that were used against you in the first game, including Rosie’s rivet gun and the Bouncer’s giant drill. And yes, using the drill to rip enemies apart is every bit as satisfying as you’re hoping it is. You can also do a devastating quick dash that, when used in conjunction with the Winter Blast plasmid, will cause enemies to explode into a shower of icy bits. Rounding out your arsenal is a new machine gun and a spear gun, though there could be more, but these were the only ones I was able to try out.
Hacking (turrets, security cameras, bots, etc.) played a significant role in the first game, and it does in the sequel as well. Only instead of being a game-stopping, water and tube-based mini-game, hacking is all done in-game by hitting green portions of a color spectrum as a cursor passes over the appropriate sections. Hit green three times in the given time, and you’re done. You also have the option of hacking remotely thanks to a new dart gun that fires hacking bolts. This lets you get the drop on enemies well before they even know you’re in the area, adding a whole new level of strategy to the already deep combat.
Would You Kindly Hand Me That Controller?
When my destination came into focus, I discovered that I had arrived in a Disneyland-ish area called Ryan Amusements, a now dilapidated shell of what was once used as a place to terrify Rapture’s children into never wanting to venture to the surface. I quickly found out that my mission was to locate the Incinerate plasmid so I could melt a frozen door blocking the progress of the train I was using to move between areas of the city. After disposing of a few Splicers with a few heavy rivets to the face, I managed to quickly dive out of the way of a giant bathysphere carriage (once used to carry visitors through the brainwashing, “It’s An Objectivist World After All” ride) that a Splicer had kicked down an embankment in an attempt to crush me. He failed.
As I made my way through the broken down ride, I came across several still functioning kiosks where Andrew Ryan himself (in animatronic-form) greeted me, and proceeded to deliver his demented vision of his perfect world via the ride’s PA system. Each kiosk focused on a different aspect of Ryan’s philosophy, complete with appropriate animatronic figures playing out various scenes (i.e. a giant hand reaching from the clouds to pull the roof off a house, a hand dragging a small child watching television with his family away to war, etc.). The final diorama was a model version of the BioShock’s opening scene, with a lighthouse looming in a dark sea as a bathysphere peacefully drifted towards it. To say this was chilling is a gross understatement.
Eventually, I was ready to try my hand at guarding a Little Sister while she did her harvesting thing. After setting up a number of trap rivets (similar to the trap bolts from the first game), electrified cyclone traps and a few ice geysers, I was ready for action. Within a few seconds, Splicers of all shapes and sizes were on the scene, and all hell let loose. Enflamed bodies flew through the air, blood splattered the walls and floor as Splicer after Splicer met the business end of my rivet gun and drill, and then, as quickly as it had started, it was over. I picked up my Little Sister, found the nearest vent and ensured she would never be a slave to Rapture ever again by setting her free. And that’s when things got really interesting.
See, every time you free a Little Sister, the Big Sisters know about it, and, as you’d expect, they aren’t shy about letting you know it. This means that once you’ve finished disposing of a Big Daddy and fending off waves of Splicers, you’ll have to face off against one of these ruthless guardians. And believe me, you will come to dread/adore hearing the musical theme that accompanies a looming Big Sister attack. Fighting a Big Sister (of which there are multiple types; some you can kill, and others you can only drive away) is an entirely different experience than fighting any other enemy in the game, because they are nimble as all hell, and they aren’t afraid to use the environment to their advantage. They will jump off ledges, grab onto statues, spring onto walkways from lower floors; you name it, they’ll do it, and do it well. And you will absolutely love every single second of it, even if it leaves you physically and emotionally drained, which actually seems to be a perfect summation of the kind of experience 2K Marin is hoping to deliver over the course of the entire game.
Rapture Is More Fun With Friends
BioShock 2’s multiplayer takes place during the fall of Rapture, a year before the events of BioShock, and you have the option of playing on either side of the civil war that tore the city asunder. With the addition of a compelling and rich backstory that just so happens to represent one of the crucial moments in the game’s universe, you feel a logical and satisfying connection to the events playing out in the matches, making the multiplayer much more satisfying and interesting than it otherwise would have been.
The multiplayer action is intense and hectic thanks to having a bunch of people running around firing high-powered weaponry and using wicked plasmids to turn the maps into crazy death mazes. Of the seven multiplayer modes, I was able to check out three: Capture the Sister (i.e CTF), Civil War (Team deathmatch) and Survival of the Fittest (Deathmatch). The straight up deathmatch and team deathmatch were enjoyable, mainly because the genetically enhanced combat makes everything absolutely insane, but it was Capture the Sister that I came away liking most.
While the mode is your basic capture the flag scenario, the idea of either protecting or trying to steal a Little Sister is inherently affecting, and it’s only made more so by the fact that whenever she’s taken, she lets out a horrific scream that cuts you to the bone. So whether you’re fending off attackers or you’re the one who has nabbed her, when you hear that scream, you know something bad is happening. When was the last time a flag made you feel that way?
Every round, someone is randomly chosen to be a Big Daddy, adding another layer to the combat, which is already quite varied thanks to the ability to mix and match weapons, plasmids, and tonics before matches to create all sorts of fun and unique combinations. Hopefully the rest of the multiplayer proves as surprisingly satisfying as the bits that I’ve played already, because it has tremendous amounts of potential, and it would be a shame to see it squandered.
A Man Chooses. A Slave Obeys.
Based on my all too brief time with the game, BioShock 2 appears poised to be a more than worthy successor to one of gaming’s true masterpieces. The combat is deeper, the enemies are more varied and frightening, Rapture is somehow more terrifying, and the multiplayer mode is built on a meaningful and compelling narrative thread. Would you kindly stop drooling on your keyboard?