Thursday, January 28, 2010

BioShock 2

There’s more than one Big Sister. For whatever reason, 2K Marin had been leading us to believe that the lithe nemesis of BioShock 2 was a lonely thing. Sure, she’d pull you through iron doors with psycho-kinetic powers, whirling you up into a violent cloud of debris before slamming you to the floor, but there was a sense that when she wasn’t nearby, she’d be sitting alone and crying, trying to read a book but skewering it with her bayonet forearms.

But the Big Sister is, in fact, many. Now when we can’t see them, there’s the fear that they might be throwing parties and talking about how shit we are. Terror is no longer tainted by pity, and so when you do encounter one of the skittish, wall-leaping assassins, you’ll fear them completely. You’ll also be able to win, which is partly the reason why the Big Sister became a sorority rather than a solo foe.

 “As of last time we spoke,” explains Jordan Thomas, creative director, “we were talking about a Big Sister who was at the centre of the fiction. There’s still a character in whom the soul of that narrative still exists, but as BioShock 2’s narrative must exist in harmony with the gameplay, we decided to give the player that feeling of victory that comes from actually defeating this foe when she comes for you. So the Big Sisters are Sofia Lamb’s, our new villain’s, mightiest enforcers. Yet as you go through the game, you’ll learn more and more about this character who is at the centre of that fiction.”

Hopefully you’re up to speed with the terminology of BioShock, or at least enough of it to not be fazed by talk of young children syringing pints of fluid from corpses before guzzling it down like sinewy Gatorade, because BioShock 2 continues the fiction in a not at all dissimilar way. The opening part of the level we played shows just how little the actual format of the game’s changed – your train journey is impeded by a door which has been frozen shut, a shifty sounding ally (Sinclair, a protege to Andrew Ryan) tells you, via shortwave radio, that to proceed you must find the Incinerate plasmid, which is hidden deep inside a wonderfully constructed and detailed amusement park.

The amusement park’s function in Rapture is revealed to you gradually through scattered audio diaries: when the children of Rapture began to ask about the surface, Ryan decided to build this place – Ryan Amusements – to make them terrified of the world above.

The park’s centrepiece is the Journey to the Surface ride, an on-rails bathysphere trip through narrow wooden streets and cardboard shop fronts. Scenes of metaphors made real judder into motion as you pass: a menacing, giant animatronic hand tears the roof from a farmhouse to steal the farmer’s invisible income while Ryan’s crackling voice echoes the same anti-Socialist, anti-tax agenda we heard during the opening scenes of BioShock.

Subtle as a wet fart in a crematorium though all that may be, there’s still fun to be had exploring Ryan’s distorted vision of the world above the waves. Elsewhere in the park, animated dioramas cheerfully detail the history of Rapture, from Ryan’s original expedition to the laying of the foundations. It’s porn for the detail-perverts, and we love every ounce of it.

You’re also a Big Daddy. Well, an early model Big Daddy, and one not as mutated as those that went into full production. It makes little difference to how BioShock 2 handles, and it’s thankfully unlike the closing sections of the previous game. You’re as nimble as you were suitless in BioShock – the only immediately noticeable differences are in the stomping sounds you make, and your giant drill arm, which replaces the wrench as your melee tool of choice.

In fact, all of the weapons you wield are beefier than most of Jack’s armoury. Your rivet gun not only fires, well, rivets, but it’s also capable of laying down rivet traps on floors, walls and ceilings. If approached, these traps will fire rivets directly upwards, downwards or sideways through whatever unfortunate sack of organic matter that happens to get in the way.

Next, your spear gun catches splicers and lifts them off the floor, pinning them to whatever they hit next. Retrieve the spear and they fall back down. Use a rocket spear and the bolt will lodge itself in the splicer’s flesh before sparking to life, launching the victim upwards or into a mad, screaming death spiral about the room. To end the show, it explodes. As you might guess, these rocket spears are as rare as hens’ tits.

As a Big Daddy, your interaction with Little Sisters is more complex than just harvesting or saving them. You’ll come across the girls in much the same way, with their clomping protectors in tow as they flit about the abandoned hallways. A new Big Daddy type is shown, the can-faced Rumbler, who can throw down handfuls of mini-turrets.

“You didn’t see it,” claims Jordan, “but I could’ve frozen the Rumbler and hacked his turrets.”

We believe him – the number of interactions between plasmids and the environment seems to have increased. You can fire an ice plasmid at a cyclone trap to turn it into a freezing wind, capable of turning splicers into flying blocks of ice. Likewise, the Incinerate plasmid will turn a cyclone trap into a blazing tornado. And you can electrocute a flying turret to short circuit it. Do this and it’ll fall, and if it lands in water it’ll zap anyone unlucky enough to be sharing the puddle. As with the first game, there’s scope for ingenuity when coming up against Big Daddies, and the world encourages it in its placement of broken water pipes and security cameras.

As soon as you’ve carved a path to a Little Sister, your binary choice is now between harvesting and adopting her. Adopt, and she hops on your shoulder and guides you to a corpse with magical pheromone-o-vision, a glittering trail of sparkles leading you to a pre-determined body.

According to Jordan, only certain splicer remains are fit to have ADAM sucked out of their torsos, and these corpses are likely to be ones 2K Marin have chosen for us. Ones that sit in well-lit rooms surrounded by enough doors and entry-points to make the inevitable siege unpredictable. They’ll also, based on the two occasions in which we found ourselves chaperoning the macabre event, be flanked by security cameras or turrets, both of which can be hacked to turn the arena to your advantage.

Hacking’s changed too. Instead of the polarising minigames of the first BioShock, in which you’d be faced with an impromptu game of Pipe Mania before being allowed to open a door or crack a safe, you’re now presented with a multicoloured bar along which an arrow slides. Stop it in the green and your hacking attempt is a success, stop it in the blue and your aim is true – you’ll MacGuyver the turret into being even more effective than usual.

Of course, miss both of these colours and not only are you really bad at a simple reaction-based game, but you fail the hack attempt. Crucially, regardless of whether you fail or succeed, the world no longer grinds to a standstill while you fiddle with objects – this explains why Pipe Mania’s been replaced by this rudimentary minigame – turrets will still tear away at you while you’re fingering their access panels, and security cameras will gleefully send teams of robots after you while you poke at their innards.

To this end we now have Remote Hacking Darts, which do exactly what you’re imagining them to. That you have to collect and ration these darts turns hacking into a commodity rather than a pure skill, and ties the stealth approach to moving through Rapture more closely to the action approach. Whereas hacking in BioShock - those times you ran through hails of gunfire to reach the safety of your frozen Pipe Mania limbo - felt entirely like cheating, it instead feels like true ingenuity and resourcefulness in BioShock 2.

Just as we prepared for Big Daddy encounters in the first game, we prepare for splicer sieges in the second. As soon as you set down your Little Sister to allow her to harvest a corpse, the deranged residents of Rapture flood into the room to... well, we’re not entirely sure what their intentions actually are. They’re certainly angry, and as our rivet traps, now-allied turrets and cyclone plasmids roar into life, the room is the scene of the most frenetic combat Rapture’s yet seen. Your preparations falter soon enough and you’re left protecting your Sister with reliable plasmids and guns. And drills.

This is where dual wielding begins to pull its weight. Your role as a Big Daddy might not imbue you with any immediate sense of physical superiority over Jack – but the ability to wield a plasmid in one hand and a weapon in the other allows for far more fluid combat with splicers, and at a faster pace too. A paralysing electrobolt followed by a torso-mangling thrust of your drill replaces a similar, wrench-based manoeuvre from the first game, while the benefits of being able to shred a screaming housewife with Gatling gun rounds while simultaneously grilling her with your upgraded Incinerate plasmid are obvious.

This is where BioShock 2 truly makes  you feel powerful. A good thing too, as elsewhere, your stature as a Big Daddy – the toughest enemies from the first game – seems to have been neutered at every turn. Splicers are more powerful, as Jordan explains.

“The balance of the city 10 years on is much more feral and unforgiving than the first game,” he warns us. “The splicers you encounter have been augmenting themselves for years and years – and those who’ve managed to survive since BioShock are truly post-human. They’re able to take on a Big Daddy with ease. So you’re really fighting for survival.”

Brutes are one of these new breeds of splicer, Mafia goon-types with broken fedoras who’ve been taking strength tonics in the decade between games. They’re walking tanks – not a million miles from Left 4 Dead’s Tank in terms of aesthetics – and they’ll take a fair few smacks before they give it up.

“The Vita-Chambers,” continues Jordan, explaining the various ways this new Rapture intends to punish you, “if you die during a fight with a Big Daddy, you’ll come back to find the Little Sister has healed him. So you can’t just whittle them to death in the way that you once did.” A strange balance has been met then. You’re now in the clomping, commanding iron boots of a genetically advanced, physically-superior super-mutant, but your stomping grounds are populated by enemies more powerful than ever before.

The net total of all this line-shifting is a game that feels severely similar to BioShock in its play style, visual style, format, plot and pace, and that’s something that should cause furrowed brows among those who were expecting more of a departure from the brass-and-glass underwater kingdom.

Still, it’s the setting that will ultimately impress, and the opportunity to return to one of gaming’s most original locations in order to rummage around bits of the city that went curiously unnoticed in the first game. Ryan Amusements alone is testament to the sort of quality set-piece locations 2K Marin are capable of conjuring up - dark and twisted insights into the unhinged brainwrongs of Andrew Ryan - and places as unsettling as anything you could care to dig out of old Rapture.

That’s just the tip of this maddening iceberg too: the real thrill will be in uncovering the crackpots - the Sander Cohens - of this new world. And having had 10 years to properly marinate in their own lunacy, surrounded by naught but sea and splicers, they’re sure to be properly cuckoo.


Post a Comment


  © Blogger templates ProBlogger Template by 2008

Games Never End

Back to TOP  

Enjoy Your Games