When we had a glimpse at BioShock 2 at last year's E3, I'm not too worried with telling you it didn't blow our skirt up. Maybe it was because the focus then was on what appears to be an uninspired multiplayer, or maybe it's just because we hold the first game in such high regard, either way BioShock 2 just really didn't move us.
Fast forward many, many months; a play session, extended single-player hands-off demos and a solid round of talking with the lads from 2K Australia, and we're verily hooked on BioShock 2. So why the change of heart? To be honest, it's because 2K have convinced us they're not trying to outdo the original game, nor recreate its impact. What they're doing is taking the world, its lore and denizens to craft an expanded BioShock experience. There are advances in gameplay, such as the ability to dual-wield, among much more, while the game's narrative maintains a sense of self-discovery and exploration through careful crafting, but you get a sense it's not trying to be something its not, which really is a good thing in our book.
It does look a bit dated now, in comparison to the first game (and its release period), but it's more than competent and continues the visual tradition of the first: plenty of water, shadows, dilapidated structures and plain crazy quarters. Level design too, looks in keeping with that of the first game. The progressive nature of play once again allows the world around you to tell the game's story. You'll pick up voice-recordings revealing the inner thoughts of Rapture's denizens, and hear radio calls from the main players. Being that this time you're playing the game as a Big Daddy (the first
Big Daddy, in fact) and it's 10 years on from the events that transpired in BioShock, there's definitely another story to tell, and BioShock 2 looks to deliver a compelling and revealing
experience with plenty of meaty new tales to tell, as well as a few clever throwbacks.
But beyond the narrative, the big change in BioShock 2 is in combat (at least from what we've been privy to). Dual-wielding is a great new feature, allowing for far more tactical recourse, and there are emergent combat set-ups, allowing for everyone to play the game in a way that suits them. You can combine plasmids with traps and weapons now, and it really is a free-form option in playing, with a great example being that you can now charge your hurricane booby traps with elemental plasmids. So charging a trap with ice, and setting up mobile turrets (more on these shortly) will mean an unsuspecting splicer will trigger the trap, be shot up into the air, fully encased in ice, only to then be shattered into tiny pieces at the mercy of the gun turret you set down. And this is but one example.
These tactical elements come heavily into play because now you can adopt Little Sisters and let them gather ADAM for you. Problem is, when you set one down to extract the precious stuff, you'll have to deal with an onslaught of splicers coming at you from pretty much everywhere. They'll all go for the Little Sister, too.
You also have newer choices when it comes to Little Sisters. You can choose to adopt them, as mentioned above, and they'll ride around on your shoulder for a while, collecting ADAM for you. Or you can just immediately Harvest them, or purge them. Upgrading and becoming more powerful relies on your collection ADAM and spending at Gatherer's Gardens, and how you gather ADAM is based on the moral choices involved with Little Sisters. It's like it was in the first game, though you have more to think about this time; such as letting them live might mean the advent of a Big Sister, and when I probed 2K Australia about it, their staunch silence on the topic spoke volumes of just how serious the topic will be in the final game.
As far as weapons go, there are a stack of new additions, you can also upgrade them and each has unique types of ammo for you to use. You still hack machines, but you're no longer whisked away to the pipe mini-game we all remember so well. Now you just have to match a moving needle up to specific areas on a gauge and it all happens live, meaning you can just hack a machine mid-firefight and expect the action to stop. Moreover, you're now able to remotely hack machines throwing an even more tactical element to the game.
As mentioned above, you can now set up mini gun turrets, you actually gain these via taking down other Big Daddies and stealing their gear/ammo. There are new Big Daddies too, some of which are much, much meaner than before. But you're also a Big Daddy, and for reasons not yet explained, a smart and tricky Big Daddy at that, which does not excite anyone in the world of Rapture. In fact, your very arrival is a mess and sign of change certain 'enemies' don't want to see, thus putting you at both the forefront of machinations and and in the driver's seat of the future of all of Andrew Ryan's failed utopia.
The other main difference here is the introduction of the aforementioned Big Sister, and she's a constant thorn in your side. They're very, very tough to beat and contrary to what you might think you know, there isn't one overseeing Big Sis, in fact there are many of them. I witnessed a sub boss battle with one that truly tested the skills of our skilled 2K Australian player. They're nimble, aggressive and very unnerving. Again, the game's focus on emergent combat scenarios comes into strong effect against the Big Sisters and it's likely you'll be spending quite a bit of time utilising your booby-trapping abilities in an attempt to help when crunch time comes.
At the time of posting this preview, AusGamers finally got our hands on a review copy of the game, which will see us telling you all about the whole experience in the early parts of Feb (but not before), however, this preview is more a platform to tell you that, while being initially concerned the game wouldn't deliver the experience we were expecting, we're now actually very, very excited to sink our Big Daddy teeth in. Stay tuned for our full review report in the next few weeks.