Friday 1 June 2012

Tis not too late to seek a newer world

Sometimes I find a book needs a bit of a run-up. Not literally, apart from perhaps those on the top shelf of a particularly tall bookcase when you don’t have a ladder to hand, more of a mental run-up; first time you try it you get through a few pages or a chapter, but it just doesn’t click. I read the opening pages of Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver a couple of times, setting it aside in favour of other books, before finally getting over that hump, then never looked back over the course of the trilogy.

Bioshock 2 was a bit like that. I loved the first Bioshock, the sequel had been floating around my Steam library, I fired it up a couple of times, but somehow it never clicked until I gave it another crack recently. Only two years late to finish it! Maybe I’ll have a go at that Space Invaders thing everyone’s talking about next.

Part of the problem might have been how I was approaching the game, it took a little while to get into a mindset of not seeking perfection in every encounter, not worrying about long range pin-point accuracy with the early guns and desperately preserving first aid kits and EVE, but barrelling into combat and making liberal use of the ability to shoot lightning from your fingers (useful for shocking and damaging opponents, and also means you never need to worry about your mobile phone running out of charge). Though the world of Rapture has lost some of its novelty from the first game it still has superb design and atmosphere, the storyline picking up and complementing threads from the first game; it gets a little muddled at times, but that’s not entirely out of keeping with the general mood of decay, chaos and insanity.

You get a nice range of weapons and powers including a fairly standard shotgun and machine gun, and the research camera that provided such splendid combat paparazzi opportunities in the first game reappears, this time as a movie camera. Perhaps the most interesting new weapon is a rather visceral speargun that, combined with ragdoll physics, lifts splicers flailing through the air and pins them to walls. A bit Piranha brothers, though disappointingly there’s no “screw pelvis to cake stand” secondary fire mode. To rub lemon juice into the paper cut you can even retrieve the spear to replenish your ammunition stocks, causing the previously-pinned splicer corpse to crumple to the floor.

An unusual aspect of Bioshock 2 is the tactical options that you have for some encounters. In several cases you have the opportunity to prepare for a fight; gathering ADAM from a corpse, for example, you know will attract a horde of splicers, so before you start you can liberally sprinkle the area with happy fun surprises. Many of the weapons offer a defensive option via alternative ammunition types: trap rivets set tripwire-triggered bundles of delight, trap spears stretch electrified cables across passages, the hacking tool can deploy automated mini-turrets and proximity mines from the launcher are mines that explode when enemies are proximitous, which is lucky, as if they were cutlery trays that could hold only teaspoons they would be completely misnamed. Coupled with the Cyclone Trap plasmid and the ability to hack and co-opt initially hostile cameras and turrets, you can prepare formidable fortifications and stand laughing as waves of enemies are cut down by your defences, or run around swearing when you realise you completely missed a couple of avenues of approach.

Very much like its predecessor, I thought Bioshock 2 peaked a bit early; towards the end I had more money and ammunition than I could possibly use, so the last couple of levels were fairly cursory romps, clusters of frag grenades and heat-seeking missiles making short work of anything that moved. Overall, though, well worth persevering with.

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