So what happens when I play through the first hour of BioShock 2? It leaves me feeling confused, comfortable, and more than a little intrigued.
BioShock 2 follows on ten years after the events of the original game. You play as a Big Daddy - a prototype Big Daddy, in fact - and you are once again in the underwater city of Rapture.
I'll get to why I'm confused, comfortable and intrigued later, but first here's what happened during that first hour.
Note: I was playing a preview build of the Xbox 360 version.
00:00 - The screen flashes white. Then a distorted female voice says something indecipherable. I see a hand. No, a glove. It covers my left hand. My reflection disolves as I disturb the pool of water I'm lying in. The liquid settles and I see a diving helmet. I stand up and a drill piece protrudes from the bottom-right of the screen. I'm a Big Daddy.
00:02 - Looking around, there's a Vita chamber behind me. Did I just emerge from it? Collapse out of it? Ahead lies a room resembling a foyer. The floor is covered in water. "Adonis Luxury Resort" reads the sign on the room's centre-piece statue. Behind it, above a grand staircase leading to the mezzanine level, someone has scratched "Fallen, fallen is Babylon" in giant lettering on the wall.
00:04 - I slosh through the water over to the stairs. Below the scrawled message, a plaque reads: "City of Rapture, Established 1946". Below that, pinned across the wall are dozens of old photographs of people - some candid, others posed, smiling. I look down and see a row of white flowers scattered across the floor.
00:07 - Pink coral has formed around the banister of the staircase, illuminating the ascent in a fluorescent glow. Halfway up I approach an ornate circular vent in the wall, instantly recognisable to anyone who played the first game. I glimpse two yellow dots in the darkness, presumably a Little Sister peering out of her hidey-hole. At the top, more coral blocks the corridor ahead. My drill makes short work of it.
00:10 - The next room has an arched glass ceiling that affords a view of the ocean plant life outside. It seems brighter than expected, as if the surface isn't too far away. Water continues to trickle down the walls and pool on the floor. As I crouch under a toppled Grecian pillar, I notice a small shadow dart across the wall ahead. I follow, warily, to the well-lit exit.
00:12 - I step out into the Adonis Baths and see a creature - lithe, agile - leap from one pillar to the next before vanishing at the far end of the room. Once the dramatic music subsides, I compose myself enough to take in my new surroundings. An empty swimming pool lies at the centre of the room, flanked lengthways by four stone pillars, each decorated with a sculpture of a woman with her arms raised above her head. To my left, a series of stone deckchairs sit on a raised platform overlooking the pool; to my right, a bronze door with "Securis" emblazoned across it; straight ahead, at the end of the room, a neon arch promises "Plasmid Therapies" in lurid pink.
00:15 - Exploring further, I discover a mattress tossed into a corner. Nearby is a gramophone, several tattered suitcases, a tin of potted meat (which I can eat to restore some health) and a can of drill fuel. Clearly someone has left their makeshift living quarters in a rush. I pick up the fuel and notice, for the first time, a gauge at the bottom-left of the screen. It displays how much "ammo" I have for my drill.
00:18 - I walk past the neon arch to the opposite corner where a generator of some kind is sparking furiously from several dangling electrical cables. Next to it lies an old tape recorder. I pick it up and press play. A woman called 'Big Kate' O'Malley has left a message of full of warning and instruction for the resort's workforce.
00:21 - I decide to head through the archway now. As I do, I hear another woman's voice, something about "I need this!" and then it's gone. Beyond the arch lies a small set of stairs which I descend. I hear two gunshots coming from the corner ahead. A disfigured woman rushes through a doorway, more gunshots follow and the woman collapses on the floor. Then a man, his face covered in a surgeon's mask, runs through the doorway. He's holding a pistol and starts shooting when he sees me. I close the distance between us as quick as I can, raise my drill arm and juice his face like a blood orange.
00:25 - I search the two bodies - a male Leadhead Splicer and a female Thuggish Splicer - scrounging a tin of beans and a few dollars in the process. The room from where the two splicers came seems to be a tiny bar to judge from the row of stools along a counter top in the corner. I grab an Eve Hypo someone has carelessly dropped, take a second from the Eve Dispenser behind the bar and rifle through the cash register for a couple more dollars. On the counter lies a book titled "Unity and Metamorphosis" and authored by Dr Sofia Lamb. Behind the bar is a tattered mattress and various debris. Someone has scrawled "Lamb is watching" next to a large poster of a bespectacled blonde woman whose face is framed by a ring of blue butterflies pinned to the wall.
00:29 - The only exit is into a hallway beyond the bar. A brief vision of a young girl accompanied by a voice calling "Father!" hits me as I step into the hall. As it fades I realise I'm standing in front of a Gatherer's Garden vending machine. It's covered in ribbons and a teddy bear sits before it, reminiscent of how the Little Sisters you'd saved would leave ADAM for you in the original game. Etched on the floor and walls around the machine are the phrases: "Please hurry, Daddy", "Come soon to come find me" and "From Eleanor". I retrieve a plasmid jar from the machine and inject it into my arm.
00:33 - My control is interrupted by a short first-person cut-scene showing me stumble to my knees, my left hand now pulsing with electrical current. Lifting my head I see a Little Sister approach, telling me that Daddy has been asleep for a long time and that I should find Eleanor. Before she can say anything else, the creature I saw previously in the baths appears out of nowhere and snatches the small girl away. She's disappeared down the hall towards the baths before I can stagger to my feet.
00:36 - I attempt to give chase, but whoever it was who kidnapped the Little Sister has locked the door out of the bar. I aim my Electro Bolt at the panel next to side and zap it. The door opens and I proceed through, retracing my steps to the baths. There I encounter two more splicers, quickly disposing of them with an Electro-Drill one-two combo.
00:39 - I remember the malfunctioning generator near to the pool. It grunts and splutters into life after I shoot its control panel with my new plasmid, and one by one the lights in the room turn back on and music begins to play through the PA system. Seconds later I hear a voice, another woman again, possibly carrying a German accent. She asks me to find her in the Atlantis Express train depot. Wherever that is.
00:41 - The door marked "Securis" is now open though, so I head that way. The corridor beyond ends in a window through which water is spraying via a tiny leak in the central support beam. Outside I see a Big Daddy loping across the seabed. He pauses at the window and points a tool - a rivet gun? - at the beam and shortly the leak is repaired. In a locker room off to the side I find another tape recorder, this time a message left by Sofia Lamb for her daughter. She talks about how they are special and that they're different to the others in Rapture. Her daughter's name is Eleanor.
00:44 - Another Securis door opens out into a large multi-storey room. Two splicers are foraging under a walkway that spans a pool of water. I shock the water and fry both of them. Sofia Lamb then broadcasts a message over the PA, something about how she shouldn't be viewed as a leader but as "the mother of the Rapture family."
00:47 - I spy another tape recorder on a bench, above which hangs on a poster labelled "Rapture's Best and Brightest - 1952". The six people depicted appear to be Andrew Ryan, Sofia Lamb, Bridgette Tenenbaum, Dr Suchong and two men who vaguely resemble Sander Cohen and Dr Steinman (or maybe Frank Fontaine, I'm not sure). The audio tape was made by Tenenbaum, taking a moment to describe why she decided to return to Rapture after all these years.
00:50 - On the other side of the expansive room I find a Rosie slumped against the wall, her rivet gun wedged under a Securis door and preventing it from fully closing. I pick up the gun and plug a round of rivets into the two splicers who confront me in the next room.
00:52 - Further down the corridor lies another Securis door, but I opt to take a side passage down into a bathysphere docking station. There I find an audio tape left by Mark Meltzer (that name should ring some bells) and, further along, next to the destroyed bathysphere, lie two corpses and a pile of luggage to loot. Returning the way I came, I run into a splicer rummaging through Meltzer's abandoned briefcase. I zap him with Electro Bolt then headshot him with the rivet gun.
00:55 - I head through the Securis door and see a Little Sister in front of me, hunched over a corpse. Holding an oversized syringe, she turns to me and smiles. Suddenly, the same kidnapper I encountered earlier leaps down from the ceiling and attacks me, pinning me to the ground. It's obviously a Big Sister. I'm somehow able to fend her off, though my rivet gun doesn't seem to do much damage, if any. She escapes as swiftly as she arrived.
00:58 - Sofia Lamb's voice once again intones over the PA: "Remember, Big Sister is always watching. To steal ADAM is to steal from the Rapture family... your family."
00:59 - The Big Sister assault has left me perilously close to death, however I'm able to scavenge some food from several suitcases and find a couple of first aid kits under a counter in the corner. There's also another audio tape. It's from Andrew Ryan...
00:60 - And that's a wrap.
So I'm confused. The game begins abruptly. You wake up in a room with no idea who you are or how you got there. All you know is that you're a Big Daddy. It's clearly the beginning of the game - the tutorial pop-ups informing you to "Press LS to move" betray that. Perhaps there will be an establishing cut-scene in the final game, but that's missing from this preview build. I'm not sure.
Yet I'm comfortable, too. Rapture immediately feels familiar, even if the exact locations I explored weren't the same as my last visit. There are still splicers and vending machines and EVE hypos and money to be found in cash registers. You seem to move a little slower - you can sense the bulk of your Big Daddy suit - but it feels like BioShock.
And yes, I'm intrigued. If I'm a prototype Big Daddy, where have I been for the last decade and beyond? Where was I while Jack was bringing down Ryan and Fontaine in the original game? Why did I just wake up out of a Vita-Chamber? Why is Sofia Lamb in that poster along Ryan, Tenenbaum and the others? Has she always been part of Rapture? How did she seemingly seize control? Who is Eleanor? When did Meltzer arrive in Rapture? Why did I find an audio log from Andrew Ryan ten years after his death and recorded many years before that?
The idea of a BioShock sequel always seemed strange to me, not least because a large part of the appeal was just how different Rapture was to other game worlds. Its fiction and characters stood apart, though once they'd been revealed by the end of the game, was there really much reason for a return visit?
Yet an hour with BioShock 2 has persuaded me there are more mysteries to be found in Rapture. Also, I hadn't realised quite how much I'd missed the place...