05 December 2009

BioShock 2

BioShock 2 Story and Multiplayer Hands-On Impressions

We spend a few hours exploring the new and old Rapture, learning about the new villain, her effects on the city, and what splicers were like before the first game.

BioShock was an artistically daring game that explored a lot of mature themes, but among the most important was the idea that utopian societies don't tend to stay utopian for long. And as anyone who played BioShock knows, Rapture certainly fit that bill. This once beautiful underwater city was founded by Andrew Ryan as a place for people to pursue their own self-interests without the slightest trace of government or religious authority, but greed and unchecked scientific research soon created a population of citizens whose addiction to genetic alterations drove them to the fringes of sanity. In the upcoming sequel, you will have the opportunity to see the downfall of Rapture from both ends of the BioShock timeline. The single-player campaign is set 10 years after the original and explores what would happen to the city if left festering for another decade, while the multiplayer side will look at Rapture a year prior to the first game to see what people were like during that initial slip into madness. [Spoiler Warning: You'll want to have completed BioShock before reading any further.]

Those who have been following BioShock 2's development will by now know that the protagonist is no longer an outsider making his way into Rapture. Now, you're playing as the original Big Daddy after he has regained his free will. After having lived the life of a mindless drone for all these years, he is suddenly able to think for himself. This newfound clarity leads him to wonder what exactly has happened to Rapture, and in his confused state, the only thing he can think to do is find the Little Sister he was originally paired with. The journey isn't an easy one, though, because while Andrew Ryan may be gone, there's a new villain in control of the city.

See, a lot has changed in the 10 years since the original game. With Andrew Ryan out of the picture--insofar as someone whose face is plastered all over the city can be considered out of the picture--one of his old political rivals has assumed control of the city. Her name is Sofia Lamb, and she's someone whose ideas reside on the opposite end of the spectrum from Ryan's. She's an altruist with the motto "make the world your family" and believes that it's everyone's duty and obligation to help out the world around them with no regard for their own desires. That's all well and good, but like Ryan, she takes that stance a bit too far and ends up on the extreme end of the spectrum. According to creative director Jordan Thomas, she has taken control of the city by "spinning a collectivist philosophy into a religion for recruitment purposes."

Thomas led a demo focusing on a particularly interesting recruited figure. His name is Father Simon Wales, and he's an Irish priest who has joined Lamb's ranks to help spread her extreme beliefs. Naturally, this is quite a departure from the era of Andrew Ryan, who railed against religion in seemingly every audio log or propaganda poster found in the original game. But like the scientists and artists from the first game, Wales' original intentions became corrupted over time--something visually manifested in his dark, twisted church. From the ravaged altar to the hundreds of candles illuminating incoherent messages on the walls, it's clear that Wales' days as a legitimate priest are long gone, and he has become more of a crazed cult leader than anything else. Wales had evidently been splicing up, too, because he proved quite a challenge during this boss encounter. But thankfully, even the most genetically enhanced priest is no match for telekinesis plasmids and a gun that fires rockets on spears.

After this boss fight came a message from Sofia Lamb. The quick version was that she wasn't going to tolerate anyone going after her associates, so to prove her point, she tried to flush the player out by…literally flushing the player out. Lamb remotely triggered a flood to sweep through the Siren Alley area of Rapture--the city's red-light district, essentially--in an effort to drown the player. This sort of desperate act is a clear sign of what has happened to Rapture since the original game. No longer is Andrew Ryan in charge, still clinging to the hope that his life's work will turn into something great. Instead, we have Sofia Lamb, who's perfectly willing to ravage the city at all costs in order to achieve her goal. As scary as Rapture was then, it's a scarier place now.

That's about where Thomas' demo ended, but we soon had the chance to pick up a controller and play through a roughly hour-long section from much earlier in the game. Our objective was a simple one: obtain the incinerate plasmid in order to melt a block of ice blocking a train car taking us where we needed to go. To do so, we had to make our way through an area called Ryan Amusements, a theme park filled with run-down animatronics displays. The park was originally designed to convince children that the outside world is a terrifying place and that they should never leave Rapture, conveying this message with scenes of families having their homes torn apart by the ominous hand of the government, scientists having their work destroyed, or farmers toiling in the hot sun. But over time, the park has become an eerie shadow of its former self, with once-smiling families strung up on nooses and display figures charred from fire.

We began our quest with nothing more than a rivet gun, a remote hacking tool (which lets you hack cameras and turrets from afar), and a Big Daddy drill, but soon we added to our arsenal by finding a machine gun and a spear gun. Like in the first game, each of these guns can be upgraded either with special ammo or by taking them to the Power to the People upgrade stations. But in the sequel, these stations will not only upgrade your ammo efficiency and power, but will also grant a brand-new function to a given weapon once those other traits are maxed out. For example, the rivet gun can be upgraded to fire white-hot rivets that set their targets on fire, while the drill can be upgraded to deflect all incoming projectiles while spinning. We didn't get a chance to upgrade the spear gun, but even in its default state--which fires spears that pin splicers to a wall for an instant kill--it's already quite powerful.

Over the course of our search for the incinerate plasmid, we managed to get tangled up in a fight against another Big Daddy. These are consensual encounters in which he won't fight you until you attack him, but once you do it's a tough fight. New Big Daddies like the Rumbler are capable of laying down defensive turrets and firing rockets, but thankfully ours was an old-school bouncer model from the original game. After taking him down, we elected to temporarily adopt his Little Sister so that she could guide us around to corpses filled with ADAM, which was what we needed to collect in order to purchase the incinerate plasmid. Once she guides you to the right corpse and starts harvesting, swarms of splicers will attack you and you need to defend her while she does her work. But you can't keep her on your shoulder forever; you'll eventually have to decide whether to harvest or release her.

Soon after picking up the incinerate plasmid, we were greeted by one of the Big Sister characters. These are former Little Sisters who have taken salvaged Big Daddy parts and built their own formidable suits of armor, and they dart around Rapture doing Sofia Lamb's dirty work. They're far more quick and agile than a Big Daddy, making for a different sort of battle. But in our personal experience, they tend to go down much more quickly, as we were able to defeat the one we encountered fairly easily by repeatedly blasting her with incinerate while attempting to keep a good distance between us.

Lastly, there's BioShock 2's multiplayer, which we also had a chance to play. This part of the game takes place a year before the original BioShock and has you playing as a cast of characters who worked as plasmid testers back when the gene-altering technology was still in its infancy. But as these things tend to do, that testing process went awry and turned these people into violent fiends. There are six total characters you can play as in the competitive multiplayer, each with his or her own backstory. There's Jacob Norris, the welder; Danny Wilkins, the dashing former football star; and Barbara Johnson, the widowed housewife. Each can be customized in terms of appearance and weapon loadout, which includes gun upgrades, two slots for plasmids, and three slots for tonics.

The multiplayer itself is a much more fast-paced combat style than the single-player campaign. As best we can tell, that seems to be a product of modest-sized maps and the borderline zany amount of action going on at any given moment. Some common sights include a player tramping around as a Big Daddy (a special defensive player in the Capture the Sister mode); people suddenly leaping from hidden pathways such as air vents; jets of water shooting from the ground from someone using the geyser trap plasmid; and people whipping out cameras to snap photos of dead bodies to upgrade their future damage against that particular enemy. And of course, there are plenty of guns too. It almost feels like an episode of COPS, if someone forgot to call the police. Think drug-addled crazies running around beating the pulp out of each other so they can get their hands on more gene-altering substances. It's an ugly scene, but, we'll admit, it's a good bit of fun.

No matter which side of Rapture's descent you're looking to see, it seems that BioShock 2 has you covered. Whether it's that eruption of chaos during the early days, or the steady continuation of decay a decade after the original game, you should be able to get a good idea of just how nasty of a place Rapture really is. Expect more coverage leading up to BioShock 2's February 9 release.


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