BioShock was one of the more interesting games to hit in the past few years. A pseudo-sequel to the cult PC hit System Shock, it combined survival horror and first-person shooter elements in an interesting and exciting way. BioShock really shone in its storytelling; although not all of the game's story was particularly original, there were a few mind-blowing twists that left gamers stunned and ensured the game's place in the memories of many. As such, BioShock 2 has a lot to live up to. The world of Rapture still has much to explore, but living up to the compelling story introduced in the first game is going to take a lot of effort. Fortunately, 2K Games seems to have some interesting tricks up their sleeves, as shown during their E3 demonstration of BioShock 2.
BioShock 2 opens up about 10 years after the first BioShock. Rapture has survived the actions of Frank Fontaine, but most of its problems remain. The Adam supply is still low, and the Splicers who live in the city have continued to degenerate, but a new force, known as the Big Sister, has recently taken over Rapture. She has been kidnapping children and bringing them to Rapture to turn them into the Little Sisters, the bizarre creatures who wander the city under the protection of the Big Daddies, collecting Adam from whatever source they can. To make matters more unusual, players are put into a very strange role: the very first Big Daddy. Information is scarce at the moment on who the Big Daddy is or why he is being awoken in Rapture now, but one can assume that it has something to do with the Big Sister. The only solid information we have is that his guide is Dr. Tenenbaum, a character from the first game who serves as the Little Sister's protector and ally and appears to be guiding the Big Daddy Prime via radio, much like Atlas from BioShock.
As a Big Daddy, you have most of the abilities witnessed by both the Big Daddies and the Rosies in the first BioShock. Your melee attack is replaced by a drill, which can now be used with a single button instead of changing weapons constantly. You can also do the devastating shoulder charge attack that the original Big Daddies showed off. Your weapons are replaced by those more suited to the Big Daddy, such as the Rivet Gun used by the Rosies. However, these weapons are a bit more devastating in your hands, and it appeared that you could even get different kinds of ammunition for them, like the regular guns in BioShock. As a Big Daddy, you are capable of surviving in places where even Splicers can't go. This means that you'll be able to wander around on the ocean floor for a time, opening up new routes that were inaccessible in the previous game. However, as Big Daddy Prime, you also have some unique new abilities. The most notable of these is the ability to use plasmids. Like the hero from the first game, the Big Daddy Prime can inject himself with various plasmids and tonics in improve his abilities, give him the ability to shoot flames from his hands, or create deadly wind traps to launch his opponents into the air.
Since you're a Big Daddy, your priorities in Rapture are different. Like the traditional Big Daddies, your goal is to find Little Sisters and guard and protect them — even if that means taking them out of the hands of other, less able Big Daddies. When you find a Little Sister, you have two options: adopt or harvest. Harvest appears to be very similar to what it was in BioShock. You find the Little Sister and remove the Adam slug from her, killing her in the process. Adopt, however, is a bit different. Your Big Daddy places the Little Sister into a basket on his back, and she'll stay with him as he walks around. Her goal is to find "angels," or corpses, from which she can drain extra Adam. When you find one of these corpses, she'll hop down and begin to extract the Adam from it. This process, however, attracts Splicers like flies to honey, and the moment she begins the extraction, you'll be overrun with enemies. This is where you have to do your job as a Big Daddy and protect her against the Splicers by brutally killing any who come near her. You're not quite as durable as a regular Big Daddy, but you make up for that by having plasmids. You can use the time before you drop off the Little Sister to set traps or maneuver things in the battlefield so they are to your advantage before the Splicers show up. Once a Little Sister is done harvesting, she returns to your shoulder basket, and you continue on. What you'll eventually do with these Little Sisters is a bit of a mystery, but there appears to be an eventual way of rescuing them, much as Jack did to the Little Sisters in BioShock.
BioShock's biggest threat was the Big Daddy, and since you're playing as one now, you can't really get the same sense of dread when fighting them. This is where the game's other new gimmick, the Big Sister, comes into play. The Big Sister is the current "ruler" of Rapture, a former Little Sister who returned to Rapture sometime after the events of BioShock and had herself converted into a super Big Daddy. When you defeat Big Daddies and rescue or harvest Little Sisters, you draw the attention of Big Sister. Draw enough attention, and she'll come after you. Compared to the Big Daddy, she is a tremendous threat; she's capable of moving much faster than the wiliest Splicer, and she's armed with plasmids and weapons that can do serious damage. Driving the Big Sister away or defeating her is looking to be the greatest challenge in the game, and while our limited demo didn't give us any particular insight on how to do that, it did make the Big Sister look very dangerous indeed.
BioShock 2 is both a prequel and sequel. The main single-player game is a sequel, as mentioned above, but the unique multiplayer mode BioShock: The Fall of Rapture occurs before the first game. In this mode, players take control of one the denizens of Rapture during the city's "fall," when a tremendous civil war was occurring over plasmids. The player is given access to "test plasmids" by Sinclair Solutions, who wish to test new combat-ready plasmids on willing subjects. You begin The Fall of Rapture in your apartment, where you can simply relax, explore and customize your plasmids and tonics. You can even set up multiple preset plasmids/tonic combinations to allow you to change your tactics on the fly. Once you enter your personalized bathysphere, however, you'll enter into a matchmaking mode where you join the next available game.
BioShock 2's multiplayer is pretty much what you'd expect. It plays almost identically to the main game, and most of your abilities are there and intact. You can freeze, burn or electrify your foes with various plasmids. You can also use the environment against them, such as employing electrifying pools of water. Those who prefer to let other things do the dirty work for them can even hack security turrets to fight their enemies. Unlike BioShock, no mini-game is involved. Instead, a bar fills as the character automatically hacks, and if you survive long enough for the bar to reach maximum, you've successfully hacked. You can even buy things from the Circus of Values vending machines, and the demo we saw implied you could even hack them.
Most of the basic gameplay seemed very similar to the original BioShock, although there is a tremendous twist. Somewhere in each stage is a Big Daddy suit, which turns you into a Rosie-type Big Daddy, with everything that comes with that. You receive a Rivet Gun, powerful melee attacks and a super-strong suit of armor. However, it appears that you are a Big Daddy and not Big Daddy Prime when you receive this suit, so it comes at the cost of losing your plasmids. Considering how powerful a Big Daddy is, you're still at an advantage while tromping around in the suit, but you'll also be the primary target for all your opponents. BioShock 2's multiplayer is built around a level-based system. Whatever you do in the actual matches is graded afterward, with various multipliers being given for things like hacking turrets or killing Big Daddies. Earn enough points and your character levels up, gaining access to new plasmids and tonics that normally wouldn't be available. The more you play, the more abilities you'll gain access to, and the more deadly you'll become.
It's hard to say that BioShock 2 looks very different from the original game. Even the addition of the Big Daddy abilities can't do much to change that everything looks and feels very similar. The strength of BioShock was as much in its compelling story line as it was in its gameplay, and this may be a case where more of the same isn't a bad thing. The new Big Daddy features look like a lot of fun, and protecting the Little Sisters seems to add an interesting dynamic to the morale choices provided by the original title. Earning more Adam by protecting Little Sisters certainly seems more satisfying than receiving a random care package from time to time. The multiplayer looks fairly interesting, and the ability to customize your character seems like it could add a lot of value to the game's multiplayer. It was difficult to get a real grasp on BioShock 2 from the brief demo we saw, but it is certainly shaping up to be a worthy sequel.
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