It's a strong first showing, or would have been, except it's actually the second level we get to see. The first, which we don't get to play, is called "Big Sister is Watching", and delves deeper into the prototype Big Daddy's background. Set in a place called Siren Alley, "around halfway through the game", it puts you on the path to a pumping station, where you hope to find the means to drain a nearby section of Rapture so you can cross it. This being Rapture, of course, the pumping station is now a collectivist church run by one of Lamb's lieutenants, Father Simon Wales.
Surrounded by his flock of splicers, he's not happy to see you, and a fierce battle ensues. Perhaps the eeriest thing about this demo, however, is a woman's image on the wall. Her name is Eleanor. The game makes it clear that, 10 years ago, she was your Little Sister. Why she is being deified by Wales and his followers is not explained. "Somehow, she's become involved in all of these events," says Jordan Thomas, "and finding out how is one of the mysteries of BioShock 2."
Perhaps the best thing about this demo, meanwhile, is what happens when you dispatch Wales. Lamb comes on the blower, none too pleased as ever. She's sending a Big Sister after you. Again, it's a movable fight, and it happens to hit in Siren Alley's version of Main Street - a claustrophobic huddle of gaudy wooden saloons and motels - but this time showcases your range of options against these ironclad ladies of the deep. Siren Alley also introduces a new enemy, the Brute splicer, who has been pumping up for 10 years, and thanks to the Hypnotise plasmid you can set him to work at your behest. He can go toe to toe with Big Daddies, mauling you with a series of gorilla-like lunges, and he holds up the Big Sister for a while. Then you finish her off.
Lamb's no idiot though, so just to be on the safe side she's also flooding Siren Alley.
Superficially, BioShock 2 is merely a prettier version of BioShock 1 - no bad thing, since the first game was as artistically lovely as it was technically stunning - but the ensuing flood is a new benchmark for 2K's use of Unreal Engine 3. It's not quite up there with the equivalent scenario in Naughty Dog's recent Uncharted 2, but, to be fair, Drake and company's downpour of technology stops at your knees, whereas these waters advance to the ceiling. As they fill the scene, silence falls. Good thing you're in a diving suit. Bodies hang, lifeless in the water; a shark swims benignly overhead. "Look Delta," says Lamb, referring to you by your prototype designation, "it is the world for which you strive - you, alone among the dead."
After all this, we also get to go hands-on with the multiplayer component. Much of what we said prior to E3 is still valid, but now we know there are more modes than expected, one of which is Capture the Sister - a fast-paced rumble between two teams, one of whom is trying to pick up a Little Sister and bring her to a vent on the other side of the map. The two teams swap roles at the end of each round, and the winner is the team who can capture the most Sisters in their rounds on the offensive.
The customisable loadouts should provide decent depth, and the decision to have one player on the defensive team spawn as a Big Daddy rather than a splicer is a nice touch, which means the defensive team is actually stronger to begin with. 2K Marin and Digital Extremes - the team handling the multiplayer - see this element of the game as much more than an afterthought, or a means of warding off second-hand sales, and while we're still more interested in the single-player, BioShock 2 multiplayer shows a lot of promise.
Yet, for all the things we now know about the game overall, we still know very little. What's happened to Eleanor? Where's Tenenbaum? What does Sinclair want? What does Lamb want? What do the other new plasmids do? And what does a Big Daddy, searching for a girl he's predisposed to care about, and who he hasn't seen for 10 years, do when he finds her?
Based on everything we've seen and played so far, though, the thing that's most exciting about BioShock 2 is the suspicion that these aren't even the right questions - and that we may not even know what they are until we've finished the game next February.
BioShock 2 is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on 9th February 2010.