"The player of a first-person shooter is a plexiglass-faced powerhouse that thunders its way through corridors and occasionally is asked to care about things that it's never met." This is Jordan Thomas, Creative Director of BioShock 2. He's about to tell us who we play as this time.
"The Big Daddy prototype seemed like a logical choice." Big Daddies, the moaning diving suits that trudged the city of Rapture's dank halls, were BioShock's most fascinating creatures. And it was a fascinating place. An underwater haven for society's elitest elitists, gone horribly wrong with the discovery of the flesh-altering miracle goo Adam. We crept through its ruins with a wrench and a grudge, only to find (spoiler) that we'd been an unwitting slave, psychologically hard-coded to murder Rapture's founder Andrew Ryan and obey his slimy rival Frank Fontaine.
Ten years on, both men are long dead. That clears the way for a darker, stranger story in a more broken, twisted Rapture. A story entirely about Big Daddies, Little Sisters, and the lives they once had. You're the first Big Daddy ever made, and the most powerful. You were built to use any of their weapons, not just one. You have all of their resilience but little of their sloth. And your suit, unlike theirs, allows the use of Plasmids.
You're the reason every other Big Daddy was crippled and brainwashed: you were too good. The team won't talk about what you did to make your creator - presumably Dr Suchong - abort his plans to make any more creatures like you. "Suffice it to say they decided to simplify," Jordan says.
Jordan designed BioShock's Fort Frolic level, a macabre interlude in which a pulp crooner forces you to murder his former friends and construct a work of art from photos of their corpses. He also designed the only game level to warrant an entire feature in PC Gamer: Thief 3's unwisely combined asylum and orphanage, Shalebridge Cradle. BioShock 2 is the first game he's been put in charge of, so we should all take a moment to set our expectations unreasonably high.
"Both of those levels were a structured attack on expectations," Jordan recalls, "so that the player wouldn't get numbed to a template. For BioShock 2, obviously, those lessons remain with me. I would hate for the player to ever feel like they're starting to predict us."
Happily, I don't have to do much predicting. Jordan and his team at 2K Marin are stingy on plot details for spoiler reasons, but forthcoming about everything else they're working on. Most of what defines BioShock 2 stems from the fact that you're in the heavy steel boots of a rogue Big Daddy. It determines who you fight, what you fight with, where you can roam and - most potently - your relationship with the Little Sisters.
The tiny children Big Daddies exist to protect were one of the few disappointments of BioShock. They were beautifully animated, fascinating and evocative to watch, yet your interaction with them felt abstract. You could remove the parasite possessing them to gain some of Rapture's main resource, Adam. Or you could remove it in a slightly different way that ultimately gave you roughly the same Adam, but made her vanish rather than leaving her defenceless.
I'm explaining this, and not very kindly, because the way it's changed is probably the most significant thing we know about BioShock 2. "The way you participate in the ecology this time," explains lead environment artist Hogarth de la Plante, "is something that we call Little Sister adoption." You still have the option to kill a vulnerable Little Sister on the spot for an immediate fix of Adam, but your other choice is a longer‑term investment.