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New Tonic: Reverberations From Bioshock 2

Eurogamer editor Tom "Tom Bramwell" Bramwell has been delving into Bioshock 2, and - following a trip to 2K Marin - he's been kind enough to unload some of his head-meat into our blog. Read on for hot diggity.

Hello, Role-Playing Shooters! Remember BioShock? They're making another one. Seeing as I'm a bit of a regular in Rapture, Jim asked me if I'd be willing to write something about it on my next trip to the surface, and I said I'd be delighted. Either that or I got drunk and offered. I can't remember, and it doesn't matter.

BioShock 2 appears to be working very well. All that stuff about the Big Sister that they said in April? Misdirection. The big baddy in BioShock 2 is a woman called Sophia Lamb - a former political adversary of Andrew Ryan and a staunch collectivist. The Big Sisters are her chief henchwomen - dainty monsters who turn up to give you a thrashing if you ever harvest a Little Sister or help one of them escape from the world. Whatever Lamb's up to, it depends on keeping the ADAM ecology turning over, which means splicers splicing, Little Sisters ripping out their ADAM, and you not interfering.

Pretty simple stuff by BioShock's standards, but of course it gets more complicated. There's Augustus Sinclair, for example, an opportunistic man who plays the Fontaine role, absent the quest for world-domination. He's your guide in the sections I've seen and played, Atlassing it up on the radio. There's Dr Tenenbaum, who apparently left Rapture then came back once Lamb had gotten in and started rebooting the Little Sister system that Tenenbaum had worked so hard to dismantle with Jack.

Then there's Andrew Ryan, reaching from beyond the grave, filling you in about Lamb and all the rest of it through audio logs and sometimes elsewhere. In the rather enjoyable Ryan Amusements level I got to play, for example, he booms out of museum exhibits which have been built to showcase the various tenets of objectivism to Rapture-born children, who might otherwise fancy going to the surface one day.

Your quest in the game, as the prototype Big Daddy unveiled earlier this year, is to cross Rapture and locate the Little Sister who you were bonded to 10 years ago. She'll be in her teens now (or possibly more, considering Jack), and half the population we've seen so far appears to worship her. Her name is Eleanor, incidentally. "Poetic."

2K Marin's creative director Jordan Thomas told me that he wants to replicate the ideological tension that was the core of the first game. Good start. From everything I've seen and heard from the man, in person and over the internet, he seems to get what this BioShock lark is all about. (Of course, we all thought he might, given Fort Frolic, but there's always suspicion when the developer name changes from original to sequel, innit.) He says lots of things which sound right: "I find sympathetic villains far more interesting", "BioShock is a game that doesn't judge", "I think that it's a mistake to say that because something is of the id, that it is not deep".

On the fools-you-drop and what-guns-does-it-have front, it's a bit more sequel-y. You can wield plasmids at the same time as guns, as you know, and that's pretty cool, and there are all sorts of combinations you can do by experimenting. Geysers, which thrust splicers into the air, can be iced so that the splicers get frosted on the way up and smash to pieces when they come back down. Different ammo types really change up each gun's abilities, too. In general there seems to be more of an emphasis on those "make preparations and get sieged" bits from the first game, whether it's taking on a Big Daddy, protecting a Little Sister while she harvests, or fending off a Big Sister. And no, the protecting-the-Little-Sister bits are nothing like BS1's escort mission.

They've also ditched the Pipe Mania stuff in favour of a sort of "hacking gun", which is simpler (just press a button when a needle hovers over a certain colour on a little handheld gizmo) and doesn't take you out of the game. Hacking fans can also get a new tonic that allows them to lay down waypoints for sentry bots. Hot.

What else? There's a new Big Daddy, the Rumbler. He tries to control his immediate environment with turrets and long-range explosives. There's also a Brute splicer, who moves like a gorilla and packs as much of a wallop as some of the original Big Daddies, I reckon. Altogether, it feels like BioShock 1 with a different story and "1.5" systems. So not that exciting? Well, the funny thing is, I went into all this assuming we make greater demands developers that aspire to The Looking Glass Thing than we might do of those with lesser ambitions, but on the other side of it I realise I'm actually happier to make concessions, because this sort of game comes around so infrequently. If you offered me BioShock again with a different cast of characters, motivations and influences, and a few tweaked systems, I'd take it.

Perhaps that's because, when it comes to BioShock, significant narrative growth may be less bullet-pointy and perceptible than Some More Guns, but it's a fitting evolution for the game, the sub-genre and indeed the form. Or perhaps I'm just soft. Whatever the answer, BioShock 2's very much on my must-play list for 2010.

And, as I had really wanted to write in my Uncharted 2 review on Eurogamer but couldn't due to house rules, "even the multiplayer isn't shit".

As John Galt would say, " Hot diggity."

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