Joystiq impressions: BioShock 2

Click to Big Daddy-size

How do you follow up what's indisputably one of the best games produced this generation? In the case of the BioShock 2 team at 2K Marin (and its collaborators at 2K Australia), the answer seems to be, "You don't change much." Having absorbed every possible bit of info on the game going into our first walkthrough of it, we felt like we knew what to expect; and, more or less, we got it.

In an all-too-brief demo that lasted maybe 12-15 minutes, we were taken on a guided tour of a level designed especially for this meeting to A) show off a variety of new elements and B) completely thwart any attempts at learning more about the plot. We were a little saddened by the latter, since in a sequel that seems very similar to the original in many visual and gameplay respects, it's really going to be the narrative that defines the experience.

The Big Sister ran along the window looking like a boss out of a Metal Gear Solid game.

The demo, titled "Hunting the Big Sister," kicked off much as we'd hoped -- a black screen with the unmistakable sound of a handheld radio buzzing to life. Dr. Tenenbaum, one of the survivors of the original game, was commanding someone to get up and get moving. When the scene finally faded in, we saw it was the player's character, the first-ever Big Daddy, looking at himself reflected in a pool of water.

There seemed to be little rhyme or reason to what she was saying, apart from the fact that the Big Sister was lurking about and could strike at any moment -- and that she had to be stopped. As we were taken down a series of hallways, we'd catch a glimpse of her zipping around a corner, or maybe just her shadow.

This part of the walkthrough seemed mainly designed to drive home the fact that the player character, despite being a Big Daddy, is fast, and that since the game once again takes place in Rapture, the art direction was very similar -- although, as we were told, it plays out in entirely new areas of the city. (Players will see glimpses of areas from the first game, and what's become of them during the 10 odd years that have passed.)

The Big Daddy was hit square in the face by the Atlantic Ocean. Good thing he can breathe underwater.

The Big Daddy's illuminated faceplate came in handy as he moved down a darkened corridor into a massive ballroom. This was a particularly striking location, visually, with a gigantic, ornate window looking out into the ocean. Before we could really admire the view, the Big Sister's spooky red "headlight" appeared in the screen's periphery and she ran along the window looking like a boss out of a Metal Gear Solid game.

Cracks formed in the glass and water began spraying into the room under tremendous pressure. The window finally gave entirely and the Big Daddy was hit square in the face by the Atlantic Ocean. Good thing he can breathe underwater. This was a chance for us to see one of several areas set on the seabed outside of Rapture. It looked stunning and was teeming with sea life. We were told there will be no combat during these sections; that they're basically a respite from the horrors of Rapture.

After passing through an airlock the player-Daddy was back inside, where our attention turned to a struggle between a Little Sister and a splicer cast against a wall in silhouette. The dev piloting the demo entered the room and gored the splicer with the Big Daddy's drill (which, as it turns out, overheats so as not to be utterly unstoppable).

We spotted a dead Big Daddy, which the Little Sister seemed to be trying to "wake up" to no avail. She turned and saw the player and seemed happy to see another "Mr. B." This was, as we were told, a "Little Sister adoption" moment; much like the help / harvest choice of the first game, there was a choice to adopt her or harvest her ADAM. The demoer (thankfully) chose the former. (Little Sisters will eventually become unable to harvest any more ADAM, at which point players will be able to harvest them -- evidently the most "evil" action in the game.)

With her on the Big Daddy's shoulder, the demo moved on to another room, this one with a glowing dead body on the floor. She pointed out that it was an "angel" -- a dead splicer ripe for ADAM harvesting. Here was a look at another of the game's changes: the siege scenario. It takes the Little Sister a set amount of time to harvest ADAM, displayed as an on-screen gauge. While she's doing so, the game's seemingly much more aggressive splicers will try to stop her and kill the player. (We seem to remember them being a bit afraid of Big Daddies in the first game ... )

Flaming bees? Maybe. Frozen fire? Definitely not.

Before they could arrive, the developer took a moment to set cyclone traps and "charge" them with fire via the Incinerate plasmid -- one of the examples of combining plasmids in the game. The plasmids, as we learned, will be far more upgradeable this time around, along with the ability to combine them in various configurations. Flaming bees? Maybe. Frozen fire? Definitely not.

The splicers arrived on the scene en masse and it was time for a (rather large) fight. We watched as a powered-up Incinerate plasmid sprayed out of the Big Daddy's palm like a flame thrower. At the same time, he (how do we know it's not a she?) plugged away at them using a rivet gun and charged up an armed-mounted drill to rush the goons.

After they'd all been dealt with, ominous music was cued (the game's score is by the same composer as the first's) and the Big Sister -- who the Little Sister said "didn't want us playing with her" -- landed on a large globe in the middle of the room. We had mere seconds to stare into her glowing red eye before she leapt at the screen and it was demo over.

So, how did we feel about it? BioShock 2 is unquestionably, hauntingly beautiful and frightening, just like the first game. It also happens to look like the first game, and, in many ways, play like the first game. In fact, we still can't help but feel a bit like we were seeing a downloadable expansion. Granted, the demo was very brief and there's definitely much more to be revealed. Given how superb the first game was -- and how much of it seems to have rubbed off on the sequel already -- our hopes are already pretty high.

Like we said: given the many similarities, much will depend on the plot puzzles, and the overall experience 2K builds for the sequel. We've been left eager to see more -- a lot more.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.