While 2007's BioShock was showered with nearuniversal praise - picking up no less than 50 Game of the Year awards - a small minority of miseries half-heartedly grumbled about there being no multiplayer mode.
Those churlish gripes should be quashed later this year when BioShock 2 rocks up featuring not only a fully-fledged single-player sequel, but a brand new multiplayer mode. In fact rather than do it themselves, 2K have gone to the professionals, roping in genre specialists Digital Extremes, who have honed the multiplayer experience over the past decade, primarily with the Unreal and Unreal Tournament series.
That multiplayer mode was unveiled at E3 in a booth decked out to look like the innards of Rapture, and those involved were - in common with every single American in the games industry -"really excited". Arguably even more excited than the default "really" mode was 2K Marin senior producer, Melissa Miller, who beamed, "We've only been talking about half the game. We've only been talking about single-player. Today is exciting for us because we're showing the entire BioShock 2 experience." As for the thinking behind drafting in another developer to do the multiplayer. Miller explained, We knew it was a perception that adding multiplayer somehow diluted the focus to the detriment of single-player. So we knew we had to find a dedicated team to make sure that the multiplayer was the best and most BioShock-y it could be. At that point we had already started incorporating with Digital Extremes on BioShock PS3. Their familiarity as well as their tremendous multiplayer experience made them the perfect fit'.
Digital Extremes clearly know what they're doing when it comes to the online shooty thing. Nevertheless, being given someone else's game and told to make a multiplayer version must be fairly daunting, particularly given BioShock's strong narrative bent That said, the multiplayer element of BioShock 2 wn comes replete with its own story.
Whereas the single-player part of BioShock 2 takes place 10 years after the events of the first game, the multiplayer takes place 10 years before, during the so-called fall of Rapture. Telling the story of Jacob, a welder-cum-plasmid tester at the dubious Sinclair Solutions. The crux of the combat involves taking aesthetic tools and turning them into combat plasmids, thus using all of the elements of the game's toolset This all sounds a very highbrow way. of justifying up to 10 players running around Rapture butchering each other, and that is exactly what we get to see, with some iconic locations rebuilt from the ground up, including the Kashmir Restaurant and the Mercury Suites.
With players joining the match, we were witness to a six-player free-for-all, with combatants electing to either buy preset weapon packs or design their own.
A variety of combat methods were on display, including pistol, shotgun and electrobolt with the plasmids having both a quickfire mode as well as slower charge mode. The environment is also key to success (eg. you're able to set a firetrap in order to burn your enemies).
As we revealed a few issues ago, in the single-player mode you step into the sizeable boots of a Big Daddy (the first Big Daddy in fact). This revelation is reflected in the multiplayer to an extent with each match featuring a randomly spawned pick up. The first person to find it gets to play the Big Daddy, along with the health and armour you'd expect.
According to Digital Extremes, "You couldn't do BioShock multiplayer without The Big Daddy," but there are clearly some balancing issues to be addressed. As such, the game will count how many times you take down the Big Daddy, with the stats being incorporated into a wider system that tracks kills and offers progression based on performance, with players moving up the ranks and gaining access to new weapons and upgrades over the course of 20 levels. From our brief glimpse, the BioShock 2 multiplayer is shaping up to be a fully-fledged part of the game as opposed to a tacked-on afterthought But you'll have to wait and see the game before you start to complain.
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One Thing We know about Will Porter is that he loves the BioShock games, so when we were asked to supply somebody to sit in a room with Jordan Thomas, creative director at 2K Marin, and question him about BioShock 2, there was only one name that could have possibly have passed our lips. So it was that the excited Mr Porter found himself pumping Thomas for information on Daddies big and Sisters little (and big).
There were so many sentences and words to listen to, the poor work experience lad who transcribed the interview broke down in tears and fled the building, his poorly constructed headphones still plastered to his sweat-matted hair.
Fortunately for us, we managed to retrieve the following spoiler-peppered words for your delectation. The rest of them will be in next month's issue if we can coax the workie out of the tree with a blueberry muffin.
"Originally the game was a hybrid, there were a number of playable flashbacks, which had a prequellike flavour, but were much more subjective, like memories that you were uncovering. But they were terrible. What Rapture was like in its heyday appeals on paper, but it meant you really couldn't play the game. Players sleepwalked through each scene, which was pretty, but not particularly convincing. "We spent a lot of time on that because it was something that I very much wanted to do, but it just didn't make sense. It would've been such a radically different game that we couldn't really call it BioShock any more. Anybody who came from the original would be saying like, 'What about the gameplay?! I liked that too.'"
One Trick Pony
"I knew that the people who came back expecting a giant twist, and would be disappointed with it's lack. But I also feel like repeating that formulaic kind of Shyamalan-style of one-trick storytelling would have led to people saying BioShock 2 was a carbon copy of the first game.
"Frankly, I was much more interested in doing the opposite of 'Would you kindly...', zooming out to show your effects on the world in a way that you didn't anticipate, than to pull another 'Gotcha!'."
"Before we got out of formal pre-production, we started speaking about multiplayer, because we were informed that the sequel would have to expand what it meant to be a 'BioShoctd game. We started thinking about what that meant, and came up with some very loose ideas. More experienced multiplayer gamers would have seen them as too complicated to drop in and play, but Digital Extremes countered with their own pitch, and we hired some internal people whose job it was to work directly with them."
"A few months after BioShock shipped, Alyssa Finley (BioShock's project leader) told me she was starting a new studio, and that Ken Levine and the guys at Irrational were moving on. Eventually it came down to about eight of us who seeded 2K Marin, and we just started talking about BioShock 2. Our main objective was the make sure the name was treated well. Each of us had worked on BioShock and were proud to have been involved, and we wanted to make sure that the very sort of baroque and spiny Rapture canon was properly protected. Eventually we kind of distilled down to a couple of core ideas: the Big Daddy/Little Sister relationship was going to be humanized, a former sister would factor in a big way, and that we would set it in Rapture."
"Splicers have an array of possible remarks based on their state. The only difference is that BioShock 2 has dozens of states for them to be in. So them being frozen, covered in bees, hypnotized, running to cover, deciding to flush a player out with a grenade or just fighting a protector - a Big Daddy relative to fighting a player - all of those things have very unique writing associated with them.
"The biggest ones are the hypnotized state's unique content, which reveal a different aspect of the character. Every splicer is a duality. For example, the brute is a raging homophobe, foul-mouthed and despicable. But if you hypnotize him he hits on you, and he reveals that he got strong because he was afraid of being found out as homosexual in Rapture's unforgiving sociopolitical climate. "Hypnotize is my favourite plasmid, specifically because it unlocks this other side to characters."
"Originally, the Big Sister was an unique character who you fought as frequently as you do now, but couldn't defeat And back then Eleanor was the Big Sister. A couple of things irritated me about that: she was too far gone, your input wouldn't lead to anything, she was too fragmented, and had already done too many terrible things for you to feel like you had done much.
"Another thing was that it felt like a bad twist in the sense that 'Ooh, the Big Sister was your Little Sister,' and that was never the intent. Dramatically it had to be that way, because it had to feel like she was the antagonist at first. So a combination of pressures led to that shift to multiple Big Sisters as enforcers and Eleanor taking up the mantle later.
"I'm definitely happier with how it turned out, but I've learned my lesson with telling too much early on. With any mystery game I work on in the future, I'm going to be super reticent with details."
"No amount of talking about prototypes, agility and being more of a guy in a suit from way back in the line is enough to disassociate 'Big Daddy' from 'slow' and 'completely immortal'. Frankly if we had made a game around a traditional Big Daddy, it would've been fun for an hour before you realized you're just going to be lumbering down a corridor and killing everything. There's no challenge there.
''I feel that a lesson of BioShock 2 is that the associations people make with the character - 'Will I be slow? Will I be immortal?' - are going to be the subjective experience of anyone returning to play that character. Convincing them otherwise is a challenge which we could have dealt with elsewhere, but the story was so fundamental to that bond that it's hard to see this particular game as any other form."
"Introducing Rapture as a setting is daunting in comparison to most games. BioShock had a two-audience challenge: increasing the number of people that are interested in BioShock was a goal, and so we had to make sure this game would introduce you to Rapture, Ryan and some of the core concepts again.
"The fans coming back would be familiar with all that, and so the layering references and skewing the tutorial, giving a child's eye view of Rapture with Ryan Amusements for example, became a goal, as we wanted to keep veterans interested while getting the huge payload of concepts delivered to them".
"There's a fair amount of stuff in the Big Daddy/Little Sister lore that overlapped with the first game, like references to guys like Suchong who were pivotal in their creation. But we focused on the player, like when Splicers debated what Jack did.
"Not everybody catches this because it's in the telekinesis plasmid tutorial. There's an argument going on between three splicers, one of whom says that Jack rescued a bunch of Little Sisters, went back to the surface and is a pansy. The second one one believes he's topside drinking highballs. And then a third says, it doesn't matter where he is - he's gone.
"Those are the three things that you need to know: splicers don't know what Jack really did, they think he did different things, and that now he's out of the picture it's leaving a power gap. That sets the stage for what happens."
This Isn't How it's supposed to be, is it? A game Will Porter loved up so much in his review, one which has been garnering rave reviews all over. I'm supposed to like it, and yet, frankly, it's boring the arse off me.
No matter how streamlined or how much more fluid the combat is it seems the developers, all 10 million different teams or whatever, haven't succeeded at all in making the world of Rapture interesting again. There's still a certain degree of interest in exploring the new areas and finding out about the new characters, but really this is an expansion pack. The graphics are virtually identical and are really looking terribly tired. And this tiredness transfers to me, leading to a lethargic feeling throughout my time in Rapture.
I was constantly picking up ammo and equipment and firing lightning at Splicers, but wasn't getting any joy out of it. I wasn't hating it though - it just gave me a feeling of drudgery. Also annoying was the fact the storyline was so contrived: why had I not had heard of this woman before or, indeed, any of these people or places? Or is it that it's been cobbled together with little thought to the grand scheme of things? Will BioShock3 have a new supervillain that had been hiding in a pipe for 20 years? Urgh.
That said, I will finish the game, perhaps only out of bloody-mindedness. I've heard it gets better during the latter stages, but I doubt it's going to approach anything like the wondrous awe felt when first getting into the bathysphere in the original.
I suppose it's too much to ask for it to beat that, a classic moment in gaming that it is, but just being plonked into the game doesn't cut it. I liked the ocean floor bits though, they were OK.
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 conies 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 Lucozade, 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 terrify them 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 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 of 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, your diving apparatus doesn't enter your field of vision - 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 plasmid: and the environment feels 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 pheronione-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 mini-games of the first BioSliock, 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 caning the strength tonics in the decade between games. They're walking tanks - not a million miles from Left 4 Deads 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 and much concerned wibbling among those who were expecting more of a departure from the brass-and-glass underwater kingdom.
Concerned wibbles aside, 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 -a 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.
A Little Lamb
That doesn't make the children laugh and play
So, if the Big Sister (none of them) isn't running the show, who is? Well, it's Sofia Lamb, a woman as driven and unhinged as the departed Ryan and Fontaine, but one with an opposing philosophy. Instead of believing that people should be judged by their merits, as Andrew Ryan did, she instead follows an altruistic path, believing that to become a truly enlightened society, we must help those around us.
Exactly how a woman with this ideology made it to Rapture in the first place isn't immediately obvious (in fact in an audio diary we hear Andrew Ryan cursing himself for ever having overlooked her views), but in the power vacuum following the close of BioShock she found opportunity to turn Rapture to her own nefarious ends. (Ends, as you know, are usually nefarious.)
In her audio diaries she talks of Eleanor, a gifted child of Fontaine's orphanage (a front to attract children to be implanted with sea slugs to turn them into Little Sisters). Meanwhile Jordan Thomas, creative director, claims that while there are many Big Sisters, there's one in particular who's key to BioShock 2s plot On top of this, what drives your own character is a desire to find your own Little Sister - the one you were specifically bonded to -somewhere in Rapture.
Please feel free to guess BioShock 2s twist months before the game's release. We're hoping, however, that it's not as simple as that.
Rapture Was In tatters at the start of BioSliock. Entire sections were flooded and splicers were up to their arses in seawater. The underwater metropolis was losing a fighting battle with water pressure, and was folding in on itself like a giant paper cup. After all, everybody was dead, and that included all of the engineers and technicians who kept the place dry. There's no way you could set a game in Rapture after the events of the first game - it's physically impossible, the place should be sunk, submerged, drowned and washed away.
So 2K Marin have ignored all that and set BioShock 2 in Rapture, 10 years after the events of BioShock. You're a Big Daddy - actually the first Big Daddy, a prototype of the hulking great maniacs you fight in the first game. A grown up Little Sister has gone properly mental, escaping Rapture to abduct and return to the city Little Sisters rescued in the original game. Now, with her brood of gene-sucking children back at her side, she's got it into her head that she must maintain the ghoulish balance of Rapture.
She'll destroy anybody who attempts to rock this underwater boat, and that's no idle threat considering she's kitted herself out to be a lithe, acrobatic version of a Big Daddy - the deadliest creature the city's seen yet.
You're no plodding slagheap yourself. As the prototype Big Daddy you're faster and more adaptable than your successors, and most importantly, you're able to use plasmids - the genetically-endowed superpowers of the first game. Of course, giant drills and rivet guns will be available to you too, allowing for gruesome splicer dismemberments. So is this a step away from the cautious gameplay of the first BioShock?
"One of the core values of BioShock is the sense of player identity," begins Jordan Thomas, creative director at 2I< Marin, "and the authorship of the identity being very much a consensual experience." Authorship of identity, consensual experience. Got it.
"Rather than stepping into the shoes of something that does one particular thing," continues Thomas, "we ask you a bunch of questions about what kind of player you are and support those choices. So hacking is part of a manipulator play style - the play style that wants to have every advantage. You're a faster, more lean Big Daddy as the prototype, but you're still a burly character. So we're having to do new evolutions of the plasmid system, and some of the other systems like hacking, that allow you to further fork your play style and still play as a subtle player if you're interested."
Plasmid upgrades will have a much more immediate effect this time round, and will also be capable of being used alongside regular weapons. So sticking a splicer on the end of your drill, before grilling him with your Incinerate plasmid will be an option. Splicers will react differently to you too, considering what you are. They'll run from you when their numbers have been whittled down enough.
Hacking remains, though in what form we're not told. You'll still be able to amass a small crew of bots to follow you about the place, and now we're promised you'll be able to repair your tiny mechanical friends should you form a particularly close bond with them.
"Things like hacking remain important for the player's expression," confirms Thomas, "and we're trying to make BioShock 2 a more expressive game, rather than a less expressive game just because you happen to play as an iconic character."
As a beta version ot a true Big Daddy, you begin without a Little Sister, and must steal one from one of the many other Big Daddies glomping their way around Rapture. Whereas previously hi you'd make strategic preparations to bring one of the beasts down before murdering or rescuing the child companion, in BioShock 2 you'll be choosing whether to murder, rescue or adopt. Little Sisters are so broken that they'll scarcely recognise that you're not their protector, instead they'll scamper over to you, excited to see that you've returned from that particularly gruesome death they just witnessed.
Adopt the kid and she'll hop on your shoulders, collecting Adam (the game's primary stat-boosting resource) from corpses that are strewn about. Allowing her to do this summons, as it did in the close of the first game, waves of Splicers. 2K Marin are calling this the "opt-in siege", and its here that we see the ingenuity of preparation seen in the first game. As you can choose exactly when to allow your Little Sister to trigger this attack, you can set trip wires and mines, prepare your sentry bots and slot in your preferred plasmids. Succeed and the Adam is yours.
Alternatively, you can pursue the short-term gain, forgoing all of this adoption nonsense and drilling the precious resource straight out of the little girl's face. Either way, your tampering with the balance of power in the city will eventually catch the attention of the previously mentioned Big Sister, the heiress to the throne that is BioSliock 2s cover.
Her svelte form is supplemented by the same sort of augmentations that are flaunted by Big Daddies - although instead of a bulky drill she sports a retractable blade, which she can use not only to slice you in two, but to cling to any surface. Her approach is heralded by the cries of Little Sisters, who'll dolefully inform you that "Big Sister doesn't want you to play with me..." before the bulb-headed witch appears, clambering along ceilings and dryhumping the art deco furniture. She's a truly terrifying sight, the build up to her eventual appearance wearing you down to a quivering wreck before the mere sight of her skittering towards you, blades all a-twitter, has you lying limp on the floor, paralyzed by your own crippling, unabated fear.
You vomit on reflex, the contents of your stomach pooling around your face, the warmth of it touching your cheek, contrasting the hard, cold tiled floor as the insane niech-woinan jabs you in the gut with her knife. Stab stab stab.
That's only slightly exaggerating how scary this thing is. On the opposite side of the coin to this panic-inducing, gorey underwater hell, there are moments of absolute calm. At times, you'll leave the confines of the submerged city and stroll out on to the seabed. Eerily peaceful, the only sound is the ocean's bassy roar.
Take A Walk
Often you'll have the option to peer into flooded chambers, places you visit in the first game. Above you, a tiny cluster of shimmering pinpricks marks the distant surface, and all around you, the city of Rapture rises silently from the bedrock.
This was a sight we barely glimpsed in the first game - in fact we saw the whole of Rapture only once, and that was during the opening scene, when you were locked in a bathysphere - this time we're beholden to the glorious vista each time we're allowed on the seabed.
Lessons should have been learned from BioSliock. While the closing scenes of the original featured some of the most impressive locations of the entire game, it soon lost pace and was muddied by that most dire of unoriginalities, the End Of Level Boss.
2K Marin vow not to make the same mistakes again, retaining the idea of multiple endings, but making the player far more aware of which they're heading for. Audio logs will still propel the story, offering as the first did tertiary information intended to flesh out the game world. And, as ever, if you're some sort of thicko you can traipse through the game ignoring everything but the parts where you ram a drill through a man's torso.
Bioshock's a hard act to follow, but Rapture obscured hidden depths the first time round. Our visit showed just one segment of the city, just one vertical slice of insane characters. Doubtless 2K Marin will indulge us in exposing more of Rapture's madmen, and with some of the key development team members from the original game, we're certain they've got at least one more Sander Cohen in them.
Big Ballin' In Rapture
Online multiplayer confirmed
The cynic in us recoils in horror at the thought of a tacked-on multiplayer mode intended to placate Microsoft and their precious 360s, but as of yet 2K Marin are not prepared to talk much about the multiplayer side of BioShock 2 other than to confirm that it exists.
Co-op isn't in there - which would've been welcome - but instead we expect to be duelling with other Big Daddies in a sort of deathmatch, which will undermine the atmosphere of the main game and throw the entire experience out of focus. Alternatively, it could be very good. We just don't know. Why must we leap to negative conclusions? Fie on our pessimism, readers.
They ain't getting nicer...
This time around, while some masks remain, most of the splicers you'll encounter have abandoned masks and show their deformities freely.
"It's an important that you see them react with genuine fear," explains Jordan Thomas, creative director at 2K Marin. "They'll show this with unique and expressive animation. We thought 'Well, if I'm a Big Daddy, there's no way that splicers will want to fight me with the same fervor as when I was Jack Hands with my chain tattoo."'