The multiplayer mode of BioShock 2 isn't just supposed to be a fun activity for multiple gamers. It's supposed to be a prequel to the first BioShock. A prequel told through multiplayer? How absurd, I thought, before entering its lobby.
Let it be known that I have ventured no further into BioShock 2's first-person guns-and-superpowers multiplayer modes than its playable lobby. Such are the limits of preview builds of games that to play an online multiplayer session requires coordination with a game publisher that can be compromised by the flu, vacations and other stuff.
But here's the shock: Even just stepping into the lobby it seems that, well, actually, maybe this multiplayer mode actually can serve as a prequel to the first BioShock. (To slightly-latecomers, the single-player part of BioShock 2, which is a sequel to the first game was previewed on this site earlier this week. Also, please note I have no visuals to show you of what I'm about to describe. The screenshot up top is from single-player.)
The BioShock 2 multiplayer mode begins a choice. The player needs to choose one of several citizens of Rapture to be. I chose football player Danny Wilkins, though I apologise for not remembering the details of his written profile. I've yet to figure out if you can change your character, as I wasn't able to back out to a character-selection screen.
To start playing my multiplayer experience, I chose a menu option called "Prologue". This triggered a cutscene that put me in an apartment in BioShock's undersea former Utopia, Rapture. From a first-person perspective, my character picked himself off the floor, a dripping syringe of blue liquid near him. On Wilkins' black and white TV screen, Rapture leader Andrew Ryan was making an address to all the citizens of Rapture, celebrating the turning of the calendar from 1958 to 1959. "Andrew Ryan offers you a toast, to Rapture, 1959... May it be our finest year!"
Ryan was wrong, fans know. Rapture endures civil war in the year that follows. That's the content you apparently play in multiplayer.
The apartment, which presumably belongs to my character, is a 3D space like any other room in BioShock's campaign. Amid the decor was a desk and chairs, a working stereo, and a recording machine that played back a message welcoming me into the Sinclair Solutions rewards program. Sinclair Solutions makes the Plasmid super-powers available in the series. I/Wilkins was being selected to test some of the company's "home defence products in the field." Test them well and I'd be eligible for company rewards.
Standard options that you would expect in a multiplayer set-up menu screen were rendered as elements of Wilkins' apartment. At my closet, I could change my outfit and melee weapon. I had my football hero put on a goat mask and wield a football trophy as his weapon. At a Gene Bank device on the wall, I could configure and save up to three weapons load-outs. For my guns, I chose a revolver and shotgun. For my Plasmid powers, I went with Electro Bolt and Incinerate, leaving Winter Blast behind. Other weapons and Plasmids were locked, presumably accessible only when my character levels up (make that: only when my character earns more Sinclair Solutions customer appreciation rewards.)
But before I could even make all my wardrobe and weapons selections, an audio alert played, informing me that there was trouble and people should return to the safety of their homes. Yeah, right. I assumed that was my cue to gear up for multiplayer battle. To do that I'd need to leave the apartment. Before I did that, however, a tape recorder caught my eye. It was sitting on a coffee table. I activated it and discovered that it contained audio messages from my character and the others'. Each had one unlocked monologue and two locked ones. The locked audio clips had messages next to them, explaining which level my character would have to achieve to hear each one. The levels required are different for each clip, meaning that players will be steadily unlocking a new one for another character bit by bit as they level up in multiplayer, until all of the monologues are available in full. Wilkins' first one was all about how he told a young football player that the way to be as great a player as himself is to recognise that the way Danny Wilkins spells it, there is an I in team. It's no wonder this guy made it to the Objectivist, individualist paradise-to-be of Rapture.
I couldn't get more information out of this lobby/apartment.
To progress I'd have to leave, to step into the Bathysphere, located down a hallway containing a bucket catching ceiling leaks. In that Bathysphere, I'd be able to select a multiplayer mode of play - Survival of the Fittest, Civil War, Capture the Sister, Turf War or Team ADAM Grab - and proceed with traditional online multiplayer matchmaking.
I can't say, therefore, whether actually playing multiplayer advances the story and makes the mode feel like a prequel that has narrative to it. I can say, though, that the apartment will be able to serve as a means to telling some story and revealing some lore. That's already more than I expected and gets me thinking that, as with BioShock 2's single-player mode, I may have been too hasty in assuming such limited potential in the storytelling ability of the game's series-first multiplayer offering.