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Preview: BioShock 2

2:01 AM on 04.23.2009 // Hamza CTZ Aziz

The original BioShock was one of the best games of 2007. It won numerous awards (we gave it a perfect score), and many gamers hailed it as one of the best videogames ever made. A lot of the game was perfect in almost every way. The gameplay was good, the story was marvelous (arguably, up until the very end), and the music was hauntingly beautiful.

Like all things that are extremely successful in this industry, a sequel was a no-brainer. Many people lashed out when they heard that a sequel was in the works, believing that it would rape (yeah, people went there) the world of Rapture. People seemed to come to their senses, though, once they saw the first gameplay trailer showing the game in action.

Earlier in the month, 2K Marin invited me out to a swanky hotel room in San Francisco to get a very brief look at BioShock 2. Hit the break to find out what you can expect from this new chapter in the world of Rapture.

BioShock 2 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)
Developer: 2K Marin, 2K Australia
Publisher: 2K Games
To be released: Fall 2009

Hogarth de la Plante, along with five other members from the original BioShock team, came out to 2K Marin in California, tasked with working on the sequel to the game they had just finished. The first thing the team looked at was where the sequel would take place. It was quickly settled that they would go back to Rapture, as BioShock simply wouldn’t be BioShock without Rapture. When and if the team gets to BioShock 5, maybe they’ll think about moving away from Rapture to "go to the secret moon base," as Hogarth joked.

It’s a good thing we’re going back to Rapture, since there was just so much that still needed to be seen. The game takes place about ten years after the events of the first BioShock. This time around, you’ll be exploring Rapture through the eyes of someone who already knows the place.

You play as a powerful Big Daddy, and it’s not just any old Big Daddy, either. You’re in control of the very first Big Daddy ever made. As a prototype model, he isn’t like any of his siblings -- he’s harder, better, faster, and stronger.

The demo began as the Big Daddy was just waking up from a seemingly long slumber. Dr. Tenenbaum's voice comes on over the radio, and instructs the Big Daddy to get up, telling him that his "time for sleeping is over."

The Big Daddy gets to his feet, powers up his mighty drill, and breaks open a door blocking his way. In the very next room, some Splicers are walking about, oblivious to the fact that the Big Daddy is about to ruin their day. The Big Daddy drops into the room, making short work of the Splicers.

As the Big Daddy, you’ll be able to use a powerful dash attack, and one-hit kill Splicers with the drill. You’ll also be able to use Plasmids, which have been completely revamped in BioShock 2. Now when you upgrade your Plasmid powers, you’ll actually see significant differences between the levels of them. When you start off with the Incinerate power, for instance, you’ll have a simple fireball. Upgrade it all the way, though, and you’ll have an extremely powerful flame blast that’s akin to a flamethrower. You can also dual-wield your Plasmid powers and your weapons, making it possible to use both at the same time.

All but one of the Splicers is killed. The lone Splicer is frozen, contemplating whether to attack; as soon as he hears the powerful drill rev up, he runs away (he may have also peed himself a little). As the Big Daddy, you command power. Splicers will think twice about attacking the player, but there’s something that’s even stronger than the Big Daddies now. As the player makes his way forward, he encounters the Big Sister for the first time.

But the Big Sister runs off, and Dr. Tenenbaum instructs the Big Daddy to give chase. As he enters a large room, a Splicer -- likely the one who had just run away -- screams out in pain as he's killed. There is no lighting in this room, but the Big Daddy has a flashlight within his helmet, which automatically turns on as he enters the room. The Big Sister finishes off the Splicer and runs away again, but she doesn’t go very far. The Big Sister quickly reappears in the room as the Big Daddy gets further in; she was actually baiting the Big Daddy this whole time. She wall-runs across a large window, slicing it open with her giant needle. The Big Daddy tries to run away, but the Atlantic Ocean fills up the room in the blink of an eye.

Big Daddies are strong creatures, so the tremendous force of the Atlantic Ocean barely fazes him. With the room flooded, the Big Daddy makes his way out to the ocean floor, showing off a new feature to BioShock 2. These ocean sections are designed to give the player a break; you won’t encounter enemies while walking around here, and it didn’t look like you could use your weapons while underwater. You will be able to find items, though, such as a healthy bag of potato chips.

As the Big Daddy makes his way to the next section, Dr. Tenenbaum speaks over the radio about the Big Sister. Her voice is heavy with regret as she compares the Big Sister to the story of Gollum. The Big Sister doesn’t really understand the things she is doing, she says. The Big Sister was once a Little Sister, one of the ones that was able to escape the cruel world of Rapture at the close of the original game. Something wasn’t completely right with her, though, and she was compelled to return to the underwater city. She created her own powerful suit, and then she started to kidnap little girls and turn them into Little Sisters. Her mission: to return Rapture to what it once was, to the way she remembers it.

After a couple of minutes in the ocean, the Big Daddy makes his way to an Air Lock to re-enter Rapture. Upon returning, a Little Sister cries out. As he gets close to the room with the Little Sister, the Big Daddy only sees shadows dancing on the wall, as a Splicer struggles with the little girl. The Splicer is too busy trying to steal Adam and doesn’t see the Big Daddy as he slams his mighty drill into the back of his head.

The Little Sister is surprised -- it had just seen her Big Daddy killed earlier. She's not able to comprehend that this is a different Big Daddy, but she's delighted to have "Mr. B" back again. As the player, you're then given the moral choice: Harvest or Rescue. For the demo, we were only shown the Rescue choice, but it is rather curious that the player can Harvest Little Sisters. It goes completely against the Big Daddy code, and you would think that Tenenbaum would want to ditch the Big Daddy in the context of the story. Why use a Big Daddy that goes against your overall plans for saving the little girls?

When the Big Daddy rescues the Little Sister, he places the girl up on his shoulder, and the two of them are now linked together as a team. The two of them continue on, and she points out the "Angels," corpses with Adam. These corpses will also glow with energy to indicate that they're "Angels." The player is then given the option of putting the Little Sister down to let her do her thing.

The Little Sister is happy and starts to sing in her adorably freakish voice: "Good girls gather, gather, gather." The mood quickly shifts as the screams of Splicers start to fill the room. Every time you have a Little Sister harvest an Angel, a dynamic siege will take place, one where you must defend the Little Sister while a horde of Splicers makes its way in to kill you and take the Adam.

The Splicers take a little while to actually arrive in the room, so the player has a chance to prepare for battle. In our demo, we saw the Big Daddy place a few Cyclone traps on the ground, and he threw some fireballs into the traps, too. Oh yes, you’re going to be able to combine your Plasmid powers together now. Of course, not all Plasmid powers will work together -- it has to make sense (you know, because bees flying out of your hands makes complete sense). So no, you won’t be able to mix something like bees with fire to create Fire Bees (as awesome as that sounds), but 2K is promising some cool combinations.

We also get to see the Big Daddy use his Rivet Gun for the first time. The gun is pretty strong -- it's able to kill Splicers with just one shot. Just like the Plasmids, your weapons will also be upgradeable. At the same time, you’ll have to be careful about what you’re upgrading in your arsenal. You won’t be able to upgrade everything by the end of the game, so you’ll have to pick the ones that matter most.

As you’re battling the Splicers, a status bar fills up on the screen to show the progress of the Little Sister. The Big Daddy is getting attacked from multiple angles in this room, so some of the Splicers do manage to get past him and attack the Little Sister. But just like in the original game, the Little Sisters can’t be harmed at all. If she’s getting mauled, she just won’t be able to gather Adam until the Big Daddy gets rid of the annoyance.

Speaking of death, the Vita-Chambers are back, too. No, the original Big Daddy isn’t another illegitimate child of Andrew Ryan. With that said, though, it wasn’t made clear how the Big Daddy can utilize the Vita-Chambers. (Perhaps Tenenbaum has something to do with it?) The Vita-Chambers can’t be as easily abused this time around, either. Enemy Big Daddies can actually be healed now, thanks to the Little Sisters in their care. So if you go up against another Big Daddy to try and steal his Little Sister away, and you die, you’ll come back (as you could in the first game) with no loss in progress, but the Big Daddy will be healed. Fortunately, for those not interested in using the Vita-Chambers, the game does give you the option of turning them off from the start.

Soon, the Splicers are all disposed of, and the Little Sister's task is complete. The peace is quickly broken as a loud shriek engulfs the room. It's not clear what the noise is until the Little Sister begins her song:

"Big Sister doesn’t want you playing with me," she sings.

The Big Sister makes her grand reappearance, and as easily as you can make short work of Splicers, she puts the Big Daddy in his place. Simply put, the Big Sister is a complete badass. She's faster and stronger than anything in Rapture ... and she has a giant needle on her arm, which she can use to stab enemies (and to take Adam for herself as well).

She uses her telekinetic powers -- which are at a level never before seen in Rapture -- to throw pretty much everything that's loose in the room at the Big Daddy. The Big Sister then uses her brute strength to knock the Big Daddy out cold, and our demo ends.

The Big Sister is now at the top of the hierarchy of Rapture. Something has compelled her to return Rapture to what it once was. She wants to maintain that order, so when the original Big Daddy comes in and starts screwing up her plans, she takes notice.

It’s kind of like an inverse of the player’s relationship with enemy Big Daddies. Instead of you hunting down a Big Daddy, you've now become the hunted. There are moments where you will have to encounter her to progress the story. There are other moments where she can find you wherever you are in the game, so she can slap you around for messing up the ecology of Rapture too much. It feels a bit like the Nemesis encounters from Resident Evil 3 in a way.

Overall, the game looked great. It’s the same engine as last time, with a bunch of miscellaneous improvements and additions. The premise is rather interesting, and playing as the Big Daddy looks to be a lot of fun. Composer Garry Schyman is doing the score again, and there will be appropriate 1940s licensed music, as well.

Fans shouldn’t worry about the story, either -- this isn’t going to turn into some mindless shooter. Old themes (such as objectivist philosophy versus humanity) and new themes will be explored in BioShock 2. The story should get players immersed into Rapture once again, just as the original. They’re not giving away too much about the narrative just now. Just me saying "Atlas is Fontaine" should be enough to tell you why they’re keeping the story on the down low.

Look for more BioShock 2 coverage at this year’s E3.

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