Her senior lieutenants are often as interesting and haunting as Ryan's, to the extent that telling you who fulfils certain roles would do the game a disservice. Those hoping for encounters to rival Sander Cohen's residence at Fort Frolic, and calling cards to match "the Iceman f***ing cometh", may return to the surface slightly disappointed, but not much. And despite a few nods to the first game that fans will appreciate, all this has been done without recourse to pointless nostalgia either.
Where the developers take us back to the first game more directly is in the discrete multiplayer component, set prior to the fall of Rapture, where you and other splicer test subjects pick loadouts of weapons, plasmids and tonics, many of which must be unlocked by ranking up in public matches, and fight it out in arenas built from familiar locations like the Farmer's Market and Kashmir Restaurant.
Modes include standard deathmatch and team games with BioShock embellishments: hackable turrets allow you to master your surroundings, while researching corpses confers attack bonuses against that adversary, Big Daddy suits give you a temporary run as a slower but more brutal enemy, and in Capture the Sister there are Little Sisters to fight over instead of flags.
As well as a ranking system that provides bonuses when you cross certain experience thresholds, the game also sets you various targets such as achieving a certain number of melee kills, which give you things to think about in between and more impetus to experiment with different loadouts as tools become available.
There is a narrative element to the multiplayer component, too, but it would be an exaggeration to call it story-driven, especially as the single-player game's revelations leave the minutiae of Rapture's downfall to gather dust in relative peace. It's better to think of BioShock 2 multiplayer as a fast-paced, solid adaptation of the core combat system into a multiplayer setting - BioShock flavoured, though no more immediately memorable than other recent unexpected multiplayer components like Uncharted 2's.
The single-player campaign is still the main event. It will and should be damned for its long, slow start, during which the game struggles to make its intentions clear, but once past that the developers find a new tempo that wrings just enough extra quality out of the existing framework to justify your patience, even if the game still feels flat in the context of more daring and elaborate sequels like Mass Effect 2 and last year's Assassin's Creed follow-up. To its credit, once it does hook you in it propels you forward with the same urgency as its predecessor, and with just as much obsessive compulsion to cover every last coral-encrusted inch of rotting wood and drowning marble on the way.
Moreover, BioShock 2 arguably does escape the shadow of that moment in Andrew Ryan's office two and a half years ago. Your passage through Rapture may not be a matter of free will - a challenge someone surely ought to take up with this series - but BioShock 2 argues even within the strictures of fate that mercy and compassion or bitterness and revenge ring loud enough to echo through the lives of those who follow. The result is a less openly provocative game than its predecessor, and one that will capture less attention, but while it may be damned for subtlety it is every bit as deceptive, and perhaps that's the greater of the series' illusions regardless of what else a BioShock sequel might have become.