Remember the first time you set foot in Rapture? The eerily out-of-place notes of “Beyond the Sea” beckoning you into a world of delusion and decay? The sonorous voice of Andrew Ryan extolling the virtues of a city in ruins? The mysterious bond between a ghostly, blood-drinking girl and her lumbering protector? I certainly do, and at no point during my 40-plus hours spent in the underwater dystopia did I find myself saying “this would be the perfect setting for a vicious teabagging.”

But enough of you deathmatch enthusiasts have clamored for it that BioShock 2 will feature an online multiplayer component. And while co-developers 2K Marin and Digital Extremes have made every effort to integrate the multiplayer experience into the series’ unique mythology, it’s clear from the multiplayer match we witnessed that this feat isn’t without some compromises.

While BioShock 2‘s single-player campaign picks up 10 years after the events of the first title, the multiplayer takes place years before the beginning of the original BioShock. You play as a splicer who becomes entangled in the civil war that eventually destroys half the city. Armed with a “home defense kit” from Sinclair Solutions (presumably one of Fontaine Futuristics’ early competitors), it’s your job to protect what’s yours by splicing yourself up to high heaven and shooting anything that gets in your way.

You start out in a swank apartment staging area where you can change your wardrobe, listen to radio announcements from Sinclair Solutions that vary according to your performance and mix and match your weapons, plasmids and tonics in a system similar to COD4‘s customizable classes. Each “loadout” allows for two weapons, two plasmids and three performance-enhancing tonics, and you can change between different loadouts on the fly if you need a quick change of strategy mid-match.

The combat itself looked remarkably similar to that of the first game’s single-player mode. The one-two punch of Electro-Bolt and a melee weapon is still quite effective, and you can even hack turrets (minus the repetitive and time-consuming Pipe Dream mini-game) that will automatically fire at your opponents. But perhaps the biggest head-scratcher of the presentation was the Big Daddy buff, which transforms a player into one of the iconic creatures for a short period of time, granting him or her an armor and damage boost at the expense of a little speed. The intention is sound – features like COD4‘s air strikes and Unreal Tournament 3‘s Titan Mode unquestionably make games more fun and dynamic. But turning into a Big Daddy in the original BioShock took 20 minutes and at least one nasty surgical procedure. It’s a bit disconcerting that it’s so painless – and temporary – in the sequel.

I have no doubt that mixing plasmids and conventional weaponry could lead to some memorable multiplayer confrontations, and without having picked up a controller myself and dove in, it’s reckless to make any hard judgments. But I can’t help but feel BioShock 2‘s multiplayer might end up diluting the fictional world from which it draws inspiration, all for the sake of appealing to an audience that never belonged in Rapture in the first place.

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