X06: BioShock Updated Impressions

Events go from creepy to downright crazy when a fight breaks out during the latest demo of BioShock.


BARCELONA--At the Electronic Entertainment Expo earlier this year, we saw a demo of Irrational Games' BioShock, and we were so impressed that we named it best in show. It's been several months since we last saw anything new from the BioShock team, but we finally got another glimpse of the game in a brand-new demo for Microsoft's X06 event in Barcelona. The title of the second BioShock demo is "Hunting the Big Daddy," and as you might expect, the focus of the demo is on combat. Specifically, the demo focused on the incredible flexibility of the combat system.

According to Ken Levine, lead producer on BioShock, the development team has set out to "redefine first-person shooters." From what we saw, the team is on the right track. The demo skipped the introduction and cut straight to the action, but just in case you missed our previous coverage of the game, we'll fill you in on the details.

BioShock takes place in the fictional city of Rapture, which is a mostly deserted retro-futuristic city at the bottom of the sea. The city is populated by strange creatures known as little sisters, who carry special genetic material known as adam. You need this material to enhance your own physical attributes and increase your odds of survival in this eerie metropolis under the sea. You don't have to hunt the little sisters--who are creepy enough since they look like innocent little girls. The little sisters aren't easy to get to, though, because there are massive creatures known as big daddies. These hulking creatures will do anything and everything to protect the little sisters, so if you want that precious adam, you'll have to work for it.

Taking down one of those big daddies is the focus of the second BioShock demo. The demo takes place in the first level of the game. The main character is dropped into the city of Rapture with no way out. The city is entirely submerged beneath the sea, but it's fully contained, so you can explore it at your leisure. The city is perfectly preserved in many areas, to the extent that you can even still hear the local radio station and see the signs for movie theaters and casinos. It's a strange look at a once-vibrant world that has been left to slowly decay at the bottom of the ocean.

For a game with such a solitary atmosphere, it didn't take long for the action to pick up. As the demo began, the main character took a short walk past a casino and entered the medical pavilion. Inside the pavilion stood a shambling creature in what looks like a doctor's outfit. This creature is known as a splicer, and it has the ability to teleport to evade attack. In a nice, if gruesome, touch, the splicers leave behind a cloud of lingering flesh particles when they teleport. When the character approached the splicer, it teleported away and then threw a gurney across the room. The main character was able to kill the splicer quickly enough with a few well-placed rounds from his revolver.

This is where the real trouble began. The dead body of the splicer attracted a little sister in search of adam. When the little sister arrived, the main character tried to get at her to get the precious adam, but as mentioned earlier, the little sisters don't go anywhere without the protection of a big daddy. In this case, the big daddy grabbed the little sister and put her out of harms way. It's an interesting, bizarre, and almost touching relationship between the hulking monstrosities and the tiny little girls. In fact, as the demo went on, we saw the big daddy put itself between danger and the little sister several times, and the protection of the little sister was clearly the only priority of the big daddy.

The big daddies are well equipped for the job, and they take a heck of a lot to put down. In the demo, we watched the main character shoot the big daddy first with a pistol before moving on to a shotgun. When neither of those weapons slowed the big daddy down, it was time to run. In fact, it was time to teleport. The main character teleported around a nearby corner, and the big daddy lost track of him. While ducking the big daddy, the main character used a special ability to grow a puss-filled pocket of flesh out of his hand. This pustule is apparently a splicer irritant, meaning that splicers will attack it wherever you throw it. The main character threw a pustule at the big daddy, which caused a nearby splicer to attack. At this point, the big daddy and the splicer turned on one another and began fighting. It seemed like the coast was clear as the main character quietly slipped out of harms way...at least until he stepped in front of a security camera. When he made the mistake of tripping the security system, a handful of hovering security robots showed up in seconds and began attacking.

At this point, the main character could have simply blasted the robots out of the sky, but one aspect of combat that Ken Levine mentioned several times is the idea that you can turn problems into solutions. To illustrate this point, the main character used a special hacking skill to reprogram the sentry drones. Once the drones were reprogrammed, they followed the main character and attacked any threatening creatures in the vicinity. The drones then attacked the big daddy, which was still doggedly pursuing the main character. By this point, the big daddy had already taken more than a few rounds from both a revolver and a shotgun, had survived a fistfight with an angry splicer, and was still going strong. When the big daddy approached, the security drones began to attack it, meanwhile another splicer appeared on a balcony above and began chucking rudimentary grenades down at the main character. Once again, in the spirit of turning a problem into a solution, the main character used a special telekinesis ability to catch the grenades in midair and then throw them at the big daddy. At one point, the main character was also able to shoot a propane tank on the floor and then use telekinesis to pick up the makeshift bomb and toss it at the big daddy. After all of this, the big daddy finally went down.

In case you lost track, that's several pistol and shotgun rounds, an angry splicer, a couple grenades, a few sentry robots, and a propane bomb to take down a single big daddy. The entire battle lasted between 5 to 10 minutes, which is ages in the world of first-person shooters where twitch reflexes and one-shot kills are the standard. There's no telling how many big daddies there are in the game, but it looks like you'll have your work cut out for you if you ever hope to get the precious adam from the little sisters.

The combat in BioShock looks amazing, and it looks like your options as a player are nearly unlimited. Whether you want to use explosives, run and gun, shove enemies over ledges, or turn enemies against one another, the choice is yours. There are six modifiable weapons in the game and more than 60 special genetic powers. Plus, just about everything in the environment is interactive, from propane canisters to teddy bears. The environment also reacts to your input, so if you set something on fire, it will continue to burn and eventually envelop large areas, which needless to say can be a hazard or yet another way to deal with pesky enemies. Manipulating the environment and discovering new ways to exploit the sophisticated enemy artificial intelligence to your advantage are much more integral to the BioShock experience than simply blasting everything that moves.

The demo ended with the big daddy dead and the little sister cowering in fear as the main character stood over her wielding a pipe wrench. Whether you have to kill the little sisters or not is still a mystery--one the developers have promised to shed some light on in the next demo for BioShock.

Beyond the disturbing moral implications of hunting little girls and the dynamic, free-form combat, one of the most striking aspects of BioShock is the atmosphere. Everything from the lighting to the water effects to the retro-sci-fi character design adds up to a world that looks amazing and makes you feel like the central character in a twisted but compelling tale. Needless to say, we're anxious to get a chance to fully explore the city of Rapture.

Whether you're a fan of first-person shooters or not, you'll want to keep an eye on BioShock. We'll have to wait to see if it truly lives up to its goal of reinventing the first-person shooter, but based on what we've seen, we have to say that the game definitely looks like a step in the right direction. The dense atmosphere, open-ended combat, and morbidly interesting story make this one of the top Xbox 360 titles to look for when it ships next Spring. We'll keep you updated as soon as we see more of BioShock, so stay tuned.

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