Stomping around Rapture in the shell of a Big Daddy, adopting Little Sisters and unleashing them on fresh corpses to gather blood and harvest Adam. You know the score, but Bioshock 2's single player premise poses one question that no one's yet dared ask: isn't the game now simply one elongated escort mission?
"A lot of people may be quietly concerned the Little Sister adoption works like an escort quest where you need to keep her alive; that she'll take a stray bullet and bite the dust and the player will try to eat the controller in rage. It's not. Escort missions suck." Contrary to reports about 2K Marin's secrecy pact, Creative Director Jordan Thomas isn't afraid to talk in detail about Bioshock 2's main game.
"It's much more like a dynamic siege that players can direct," he continues. "If you adopt the Little Sister she rides around on your shoulders, and if you let her out in the world she attracts Splicers because she's an Adam jackpot. However, just like when the player was a Splicer in Bioshock the Big Daddy needs to be taken out to grab the Little Sister, which is why Splicers will try to kill you. Splicers grabbing the Little Sister only perpetuate the encounter." Phew.
As the man behind the original's Fort Frolic level, Jordan is the perfect replacement for Ken Levine. Eloquence should never be mistaken for creative skills but Thomas speaks with an understanding of Bioshock's mechanisms unlike anybody else. Chatting to other 2K Marin and Digital Extremes team members we're bombarded with their attempts to quantify what makes Bioshock what it is: Plasmids are a firm favourite; Big Daddies another.
Thomas isn't so keen to reduce the original to its parts, and under his watchful eye it's doubtful that Bioshock's sequel will lose the mix which made the first game so memorable. "Bioshock is very much what you project onto it; it's a roll-your-own shooter," he admits. "You choose your verbs in a way other shooters don't allow you to.
"I'm interested in psychological horror; in the moral and emotional horror that results from a setting like Rapture. Games that rely on protagonist vulnerability and jump scares just don't interest me. That's not Bioshock. We've got an entirely different animal that should mess with your brain. Forget jumps, it's the back of your mind we need to tap into so that you're the one creeping yourself out."
The way to do that, Jordan claims, is by changing the formula. "Fort Frolic was a success because of its contrast to everything else. Contrast remains a primary goal for Bioshock 2. Our overall experience has to have the unity that the original did but I will absolutely not claim that there are zero curveballs because that would be stupid. As a guy who's made a career out of curveball levels there may be one or two..."
But this contrast needn't solely take the form of unique level concepts. "In Bioshock we received feedback saying people felt the world never calmed down and that they never had the chance to take stock and breathe. Somewhat ironically Bioshock 2's underwater sections are those chances to take a breather.Obviously the Splicers can't follow you, and neither did we want to throw additional threats at you while you're out there. I'm an underwater nut anyway and the bottom of the ocean is already quite an alien world. It just seemed natural that Rapture should expand out onto the ocean floor, and especially so once it became clear I wanted to tell the story of the man inside the monster. We should have done it in the first game, really. Just an outside walk would've been cool."