Games 2/16/10: Bioshock 2, Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, iBomber

Bioshock 2
For: Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows PC
From: 2K Marin/Digital Extremes/2K Games
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)

The game-playing public spent roughly two years wringing its collective hands over why anyone would dare make a sequel to a game so perfectly complete as “Bioshock.”

2K Marin, which assumed primary development duties this time around, needs roughly five minutes to render that worry mostly worthless.

This isn’t to say the worries lacked any merit. “Bioshock 2’s” storyline picks up 10 years later, but a decade isn’t nearly enough time to dramatically change the landscape in Rapture, the brilliantly-realized underwater not-quite-utopia that supplied the stage for “Bioshock’s” arguably groundbreaking storytelling. The sequel takes players into new areas of Rapture, but the overall visual presentation, combined with a reliance on the same mechanics that made “Bioshock” its own creation, can’t help but leave “Bioshock 2” feeling superficially like an imitation product barreling down pre-blazed trails.

But while recreating the wow factor behind “Bioshock’s” architecture and lynchpin twists is pretty much impossible, 2K Marin nonetheless runs with the opportunity to extend the storyline past the first game’s fallout. “Bioshock 2’s” story is a bit more traditional in structure, but it very satisfactorily answers some lingering questions. The first game’s narrative hallmarks — namely, first-rate voice acting and an enviable attention to character development and design — are on full display once again, and the player’s role in shaping that story’s outcome has increased.

Where the sequel fully bests the original is in the actual gameplay, which fundamentally feels identical but benefits from some corrective and clever tweaks. The first game’s inexplicable inability to wield weapons with one hand and plasmids (biological modifications that allow for such tricks as telekinesis, hypnosis and fireball tossing) with the other has been corrected here. The simultaneous wielding helps offset a more frantic pace of action: Rapture’s enemies are faster, meaner and more diverse, and activities from the first game — including hacking machinery (now via a fun timing-based challenge) and researching enemies with a camera that now shoots video — now take place in real time.

Surprisingly, the placement of the player in the boots of a Big Daddy — one of Rapture’s neutral (but, if provoked, extremely dangerous) guardians — affects the story more than the gameplay. With that said, the drill might be the most fun melee weapon to appear in a first-person shooter in years. (Thankfully, as the story explains, players aren’t forced to lumber around as slowly as most Big Daddies do.)

While a great many people couldn’t care less that “Bioshock 2” includes a multiplayer mode (10 players, online only), the pretense under which it appears — the Rapture civil war that preceded the events of the first game — is pretty ingenious.

The seven available modes aren’t terribly unique to veterans of multiplayer shooters, but the way they incorporate Rapture’s mythology and tell a personalized story in the process most definitely is. A “Modern Warfare”-style upgrading system allows players to level up over time and acquire new plasmids and weapons, and six of the seven modes allow one player at a time to assume control of a Big Daddy and wreak all kinds of truly fantastic havoc.

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Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth
For: Nintendo DS
From: Capcom
ESRB Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, mild violence)

Capcom developed a nice stable of truly bizarre characters in its first four “Ace Attorney” games, but through three games starring defense attorney Phoenix Wright and a fourth game centered on Wright despite carrying another lawyer’s name in the title, it’s been reluctant to embrace that in any remotely risky way.

Though “Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth” doesn’t deviate wildly from its predecessors in terms of how it fundamentally looks and plays, it does finally take the series to some new frontiers — in large part by framing the story around Wright’s prosecutor nemesis and leaving Wright himself mostly out of the game, but arguably more so by taking the gameplay almost entirely out of the courtroom.

Instead, “Edgeworth” takes place at the crime scene, and a new third-person perspective and control scheme allows players to directly control Edgeworth and navigate the scene in a way that somewhat recalls traditional point-and-click adventures. The change makes sense given the increased emphasis on looking for finer details amid a fine mess, but it also just feels more freeing than what Wright was afforded during his investigations.

With that said, though, the changes don’t really rock the boat. Scanning the scene for inconsistencies and sifting through their connections in the new Logic screen isn’t entirely unlike what players had to do when presenting a case as Wright, and confronting suspects and witnesses — and pointing out inconsistencies in their statements — isn’t terribly different from catching them in a lie on the witness stand. Most of these portions take place in screens that are functionally similar to their corresponding screens in previous “Attorney” games.

The ensuing compromise ends up working rather well. Capcom has the science of making this stuff fun down pretty cold after four games, and even though some familiar aggravations pop up — including the occasional penalization of should-be solutions that aren’t solutions because the game simply isn’t flexible enough to recognize certain creative conclusions — no game really does this stuff better than these do.

Attempting to make sense of the “Attorney” canon is not for the weak, and “Edgeworth” — which takes place over a few harried days in the middle of the “Wright” timeline but flashes back to five self-contained cases spanning some seven years — doesn’t make things much easier.

But for those who are invested, “Edgeworth” offers a ton of welcome insight into the titular character’s past and methods. And while Wright himself isn’t a major player this time around, a number of memorable characters from previous “Attorney” games do show up in some fashion or another. (No spoilers.) The tenor of the game changes slightly due to the change in venue and perspective, but the overall tone — from bizarre character designs to hilariously weird dialogue to Miles screaming catchphrases in a manner befitting of a game show constestant — remains wonderfully intact.

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iBomber
For: iPhone/iPod Touch
From: Cobra Mobile
iTunes Store Rating: 9+ (infrequent/mild cartoon or fantasy violence)
Price: $3

The name may inspire visions of really bad Apple peripheral ideas, but everything else about the very pretty “iBomber” is an ode to World War II-era flying aces. “iBomber’s” 14 missions vary in terms of objectives, but they all typically revolve around dropping bombs from above on enemy submarines, anti-aircraft weapons and other points of strategic importance. The action presents itself from a first-person cockpit view, and the controls are explicitly iPhone-friendly: Tilting the device handles all flying maneuvers, while a bright red “Bombs Away” button does just what it says. “iBomber’s” tilt controls command a wider range of motion than most tilt-based iPhone games — you’ll probably have to play this one sitting up rather than lounging to succeed — but the upside is an optimum level of control over the aircraft. A striking audiovisual presentation makes nailing targets a surprisingly satisfying endeavor, and a smattering of power-ups enhances that satisfaction without breaking the presentation. Cobra has released a two-mission premium content pack for $1 and promises more where that came from, but a great scoring system and wealth of optional medals to earn in the base missions should give thrifty perfectionists plenty of gameplay for their initial $3 investment.