How do you follow up one of the most critically acclaimed video games in recent memory? 2K Games is facing that very challenge with its sequel to the 2007 hit BioShock. We recently sat down for an eyes-on preview of the upcoming BioShock 2 from the game's developers.
The original game succeeded by mixing a solid first-person shooter mechanic with a wildly imaginative fictional world, set in the ruined underwater city of Rapture. The art deco design of the 1940's city was a welcome break from the warehouses and space stations most games are set in, and the background story of a utopian social experiment gone wrong incorporated influences from Ayn Rand to Jules Verne--heady stuff for gamers used to a steady diet of zombies and elves.
BioShock 2 keeps the underwater setting from the first game, but shifts the point of view from an amnesiac plane crash survivor to a prototype Big Daddy, putting you in the oversized boots of one of the most fearsome adversaries from the first game. Playing as a hulking man-monster, we're concerned that audiences won't be able to identify with the protagonist, and not be drawn into the story. Fighting seemed very similar to the original game, but instead of using a gun along with his various "plasmid" powers (essentially genetic engineering that looks and works like a magic spell), your Big Daddy sports a giant drill on the end of his right arm.
The demo level we saw, which may or may not be in the final game, gave us a basic overview of the game, and involved a meeting with a new super-powered adversary, the Big Sister. If you're familiar with the original BioShock, she's a Little Sister (one of a community of creepy little girls who harvest energy from dead bodies), who has evolved into something much bigger and more dangerous.
New plot aside, the settings, graphics, combat, and gameplay all seemed very familiar, and we could see BioShock 2 suffering from a case of sequelitis--without significant upgrades in the graphics, locations, and action, it feels at this point more like a downloadable add-on pack than a whole new game. Adding to our concern is that BioShock's original Creative Director, Ken Levine, apparently has only minimal involvement with this sequel.
Still, an overly familiar sequel to a great game is better than a sequel to a bad one, and we're looking forward to checking out more of BioShock 2, which should be available on Xbox 360, PC, and PS3 later this year, with further details to be unveiled at the upcoming Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show in June.