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E3 2009: BioShock 2

BioshockE3 2009

Of all the sequels here at E3 2009, BioShock 2 is arguably the one that fans are most curious about. The first game in this series, featuring a survivor of a plane crash exploring the city of Rapture – a strange underwater dystopia filled with violent inhabitants – storyline ended completely without much room for a direct sequel.

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When Bioshock 2 was announced, fans wondered where the team would go with the plot and how they would improve upon a game that earned dozens of awards. Fortunately for us, Melissa Miller of 2K Games and Matt Tremblay were able to give us a closer look at both the single and multiplayer portions of the game during a private demo today.

BioShock 2 takes place 10 years after the original game. But you won’t be playing as Jack, the first game’s hero, or a newcomer to Rapture. Instead, you’re going to be filling the boots of one of a Big Daddy, BioShock’s fearsome and iconic enemy. But this Big Daddy is different than the ones you previously took down in Rapture in the first game – our Big Daddy has freewill and sets his own rules as he explores the rapidly decaying world of Rapture.

One of the first choices that your Big Daddy will be able to make is whether he wants to protect a Little Sister (those creepy little girls from the original) or harvest her for his own benefit. If you choose the former, you’ll have a Little Sister of your own to protect and you’ll get a chance to see what it’s like when the shoe is on the other foot.

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The combat and graphics looked almost identical to the original. The Big Daddy is a little bit slower than Jack was, but he’s also got a giant drill that you can smash in the face of Splicers that come your way. You’ll also be able to equip plasmids, giving new power to our new hero. And you’re going to need those powers if you want to stop the Big Sister, a new enemy that wants to restore Rapture to its former “glory.”

Rapture itself has obviously seen better days. While the art style has been retained, the world is definitely more dilapidated than in the first game. Graffiti is scrawled on crumbling walls and water leaks in from cracks and seals as the ocean tries to reclaim the city. If I noticed any graphical improvement, it was with the water effects. When water burst through a window in a gameplay cinematic, it burst through the cracks in the wall slowly at first until it become a steady torrent, the whole time looking very realistic.

What is perhaps the most talked about element of the game is the new multiplayer mode. The team at 2K Games decided to farm out work on the multiplayer mode to Digital Extremes because of their familiarity with the source material (the team worked on the PS3 version of BioShock ) and because of the team’s familiarity with multiplayer (the company also worked on Unreal Tournament). But Digital Extremes didn’t turn BioShock’s multiplayer into an Unreal Tournament clone. Instead, they’ve designed a unique game of their own, complete with a storyline.

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BioShock 2’s multiplayer mode is set 10 years before the events of the original. Players assume the role of Jacob Norris, a resident of Rapture as the Civil War that preceded the first game breaks out. Norris is contacted by a company known as Sinclair Solutions to test out combative plasmids before they go to market.

Sinclair Solutions gives Norris an apartment that serves as a multiplayer hub instead of the traditional 2D matchmaking lobby that you’re familiar with (though you can activate one if you prefer to skip the narrative). Here, you can outfit Norris with particular loadouts before you hop into action, choosing the plasmids, tonics and weapons that you’ll then take into the fight.

You start off with access only to a pistol, shotgun and three plasmids: electrobolt, winter blast and incinerate. As you play through the multiplayer mode, Sinclair Solutions will periodically improve your arsenal based on your performance. Up to 10 participants will battle across 10 locations maps loosely based on memorable locations from the original.

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The actual combat looked for the most part very similar to combat in BioShock only instead of playing against AI- controlled enemies, you fight against human controlled enemies. The whole thing worked well and it’s a wonder it wasn’t included in the first game. The included matchmaking service will take account a players rank, skill and ping, so you won’t have to worry going up against someone who’s been playing the game for months when you load up for the first time.

BioShock 2 is due this fall and seems on-track for a strong release. I was left a little concerned that the game might be more of the same and not offer enough new stuff, but the team assured me that a new and unique narrative would compel us through Rapture. We’ll have to wait a couple of months to find out just how good it is, but I was pleased with what I saw today.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

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