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Impressions: Bioshock 2 multiplayer

We're sure the lot of you would rather hear about the intricacies of the single player campaign of BioShock 2 that we divined from our time with the game at E3 -- unfortunately, 2K wasn't keen on sharing any new details about the story of the core game. What we did get a chance to see was the multiplayer portion of the undersea follow-up -- a feature that we've yet to hear much about before today.

Watching the six-player deathmatch BioShock 2 demo was kind of like watching your beloved family dog sing opera. Mind you, this dog sang opera really well, but still, watching your canine companion sing is a somewhat unsettling experience. For some reason, it's ingrained in our minds that BioShock is meant to be experienced on ones lonesome. When you strip the rich story away from the game and toss in multiplayer elements, you end up with a product that, despite its strengths, seems a bit out of its element.

The multiplayer demo, which was performed by staffers from Digital Extremes, creators of the PS3 version of BioShock and developers of the sequel's multiplayer portion, explained the character customization options that would be featured in the game. Said customization takes place in each player's own personal apartment. From this hub, players can change their appearance, customize their weapons and plasmid loadouts, and check out a few story elements that innervate the multiplayer experience.

You end up with a product that, despite its strengths, seems a bit out of its element.

In the demo we saw, the player could listen to an audio log from Sinclair Solutions, the plasmid development corporation for which the player works as a product tester. The log consisted of a brief welcome message and job briefing -- not exactly the basis for the rich story (which takes place before the events of BiosShock) that the 2K has promised, but further story elements which will likely appear in the apartment could ostensibly flesh out the plot.

Each apartment is also equipped with a bathysphere, which lets the player choose game modes and battlegrounds and head into the fray. All of this is optional, of course -- the game will let you choose to do this micromanagement through a standard multiplayer menu, but from what we saw, invoking this option will cause the player to miss a lot of the TLC that Digital Extremes is putting into the multiplayer.

The aforementioned customization includes the ability to change your character's appearance. The character you play as is a survivor of the havoc taking place in the oceanic city -- the player we saw was a former welder (and Sinclair newhire) named Jacob Norris. You can also establish three loadouts, each of which is comprised of two weapons and two plasmids. While waiting to respawn, you can swap between these three loadouts on the fly.

The match we saw took place in the Kashmir Restaurant, a locale from the first game that's been retooled to be more accommodating for multiplayer. The six combatants, all using different combinations of weapons and plasmids, skittered across the ruined restaurant, laying into one another with familiar armaments. The loadouts we saw included items given to the player in the Sinclair Starter Pack -- a pistol, a shotgun and three elemental plasmids (Electro Bolt, Incinerate and Winter Blast). These got the job done, but in the interest of innovation, we certainly hope the game will introduce weaponry exclusive to the multiplayer mode.

Additional plasmids, tonics and weapons can be unlocked by moving up the ranks in Sinclair Solutions, a feat performed by gaining Adam (or experience points) by killing opponents, hacking turrets or performing other various in-game feats. There are also "trials," or missions that players will try to accomplish to gain more Adam. Yes, it hearkens back to Call of Duty 4, but with genetic mutation in lieu of perks.

Watching this old(ish) dog perform its new trick will take some getting used to.

The gameplay (and the visuals, for that matter) look exactly like the original BioShock. There's been a few control modifications -- the most evident being the welcome change to make plasmids and melee attacks off-hand. There's no switching hands mid-combat in the multiplayer mode. Also, the game's health and EVE powerups appear in -- what else? -- Circus of Value stations embedded throughout each arena. Turrets are placed in key areas of the level, and can be hacked by simply holding the A button for a few seconds.

Also, the Big Daddy suit will randomly appear mid-match. The first player to get to it dons the diver suit, becoming a near unstoppable juggernaut. Yes, it looks like it tosses all balance out the window, but the other players will likely turn their focus on the drill-handed elephant the room, which could lend itself to some pretty exciting gameplay moments.

The whole thing looks really neat, and the character customization options, weapon unlocks and story elements have the potential to turn BioShock 2's multiplayer portion into a really compelling online FPS. Still, watching this old(ish) dog perform its new trick will take some getting used to.

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