BioShock, eh? Moody, thought-provoking stuff. Troubling stuff. Deep stuff, allegedly. How about adding a challenge mode?
Actually, why stop at that? Why not throw in a rhythm action section too? We can get the Puppini Sisters to record a bebop version of Manilow's classic Bermuda Triangle - sample lyric: Bermuda Triangle, it makes people disappear / Bermuda Triangle, don't go too near - and I'll cave a Little Sister's head in every time we get to a drum break.
So 2K isn't being particularly creative in the way it extends the BioShock 2 universe yet - apparently the new gadgets and story content are up next - but that hardly matters. The Protector Trials may not be the most exciting attraction in Rapture (that's the cheap real estate coupled with the fact that plagues, insanity and spreading leaks have really tackled inflation) but it's good for a few hours of frantic action all the same.
A single-player mode that tasks you with protecting a Little Sister while she gathers ADAM, the Trials have a few smart touches. There are six arenas on offer, all of which are culled from the single-player campaign - after all, "Challenge Mode" is French for "We didn't build any new art assets" - but there are three trials set within every location, each forcing you to use a different load-out of Plasmids, weapons, and Tonics. The longer you can hold the Splicers off, the higher the Little Sister's ADAM multiplier grows, and completion of each level leads to a fuzzy mess of Star medals, grades and unlocks.
This is about rhythm as much as the ability to create new strategies on the fly, with each trial quickly conforming to a familiar pattern as you pick up your Little Sister, scope the area, lay traps, and then start the collection and hunker down for the Splicers. The ensuing fire fight, meanwhile, has a pace of its own as you move between likely spawn points, being careful to stay within reach of the vending machines and keeping a weather eye on your depraved little darling.
You have to kill Splicers to earn the cash you're going to need for regular health boosts - you'll need those if you're as wonky with a shotgun as I am, anyway - and if you're not careful, you can find yourself out of ammo, EVE, and meds and without a penny to your name in some of the later, trickier encounters.
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The six maps add their own tactical twists. The best are both claustrophobic and cheekily warrenous, such as the Adonis Baths, with its dangerous split levels and handy shallow pools for bursts of mass electrocution, or the echoing, limpet-encrusted cul-de-sacs of Persephone Cellblock F. Most tend to be fairly compact, and only Pauper's Drop feels a bit rushed: with a turret gun in the load-out, it's a bit too easy to simply camp in a corner, and that pretty much drains the fun out of the whole experience.
All of the maps play on your sense of vulnerability, because the Protector Trials is purely concerned with that particular aspect of BioShock: the frantic, outnumbered-and-feeling-slightly-picked-on part. The load-outs are an inspired touch, completely transforming the feel of a map depending on whether you've been given an arsenal that favours direct attacks or traps, but there are still times when you'll wish 2K's modern classic was, you know, a better shooter: moments when you'll wish that the guns had more of a connection to the controller, that the aiming movement was tighter, and that the HUD didn't favour style over readability quite as much. That said, when the penny finally drops and your Plasmids and weapons suddenly click in an unexpected way, you may find yourself with an entirely new strategy that you'd never have thought of otherwise.
You can unlock concept art and seven new Achievements (or Trophies) if you're the kind of person who goes nuts for such things, but the main event here is the combat. That's never been the sharpest part of BioShock (and certainly not the aspect of the game that has earned it its classic reputation) and there's not too much in the way of replayability once you've fought through each encounter. But it's still nice to be back in Rapture, even if you're only there to shoot the place up a bit.
6 / 10
Bioshock 2: Protector Trials is out now for 400 Microsoft Points (Ł3.40 / €4.80) on Xbox Live and Games for Windows Live, and Ł3.19 / €3.99 on PlayStation Network.