The original "BioShock" reached hall-of-fame status in the gaming world, so the appearance of a sequel isn't exactly a surprise. It does, however, create some pretty lofty goals for "BioShock 2" to reach, especially when you consider that a different developer (2K Marin instead of the original's Irrational Games) has taken on the project. So does "BioShock 2" live up to franchise expectations, or should it be written off as a blatant cash-in by 2K?
"BioShock 2" takes place 10 years after the events of the first game. You'll be controlling a prototype Big Daddy (a half-man, half-machine giant who fans will almost certainly recall from first game). You're a bit beefier than a standard human, and come packing a hefty drill, but otherwise the character plays identically to the first.
Big Daddies are mentally tied to Little Sisters in the underwater world of Rapture. It's the job of the Little Sisters to collect Adam (a form of genetic currency) which can then be used to upgrade someone's genome to superhuman levels. Your Little Sister, it turns out, is actually the daughter of the current ruler of Rapture (Andrew Ryan's philosophical opposite, one Sophia Lamb), and the monarch isn't likely to give up her kin to you. It's up to you to save your Little Sister and escape from Rapture.
Another Story of Rapture
The story from the first "BioShock" was one of its strongest elements, and that high tradition continues through to the second game. There's an incredible focus placed on telling this new tale, and all of the top-notch voice actors and individual back stories are handled with respect and maturity. It's also not as reliant on a major game-changing twist like the first game was. There are twists, to be sure, but none of them attempt to one-up the crazy WYK revelation, instead relying on a slowly unraveling storyline with a solid pay-off at the end.
As lauded as the first game was, it wasn't without faults. The last hour of "BioShock" was basically a mess, and the developers of the sequel were keenly aware of its shortcomings. "BioShock 2" doesn't suffer from any world-breaking, ridiculous giant monster fights, and remains true to the world from beginning to end.
"BioShock 2" doesn't add a ton of new plasmids (read: powers) to the mix, but it does let you upgrade the ones you have. This makes familiar plasmids like Electro Bolt and Incinerate much more useful towards the end game, growing with your character instead of becoming obsolete.
Other Minor Gameplay Improvements
Hacking is worlds better in "BioShock 2," and the process of collecting more Adam for your character adds a new layer of strategy that was only hinted at in the first game. You can also use plasmids and weapons simultaneously, instead of having to switch back and forth, which makes the combat a little more free-flowing.
Not Quite A Sequel
You can't help but feel like "BioShock 2," despite being a full, enjoyable experience, isn't a full sequel. The gameplay and setting makes the whole experience feel more like a very lengthy expansion pack than a totally new experience. If you liked the first game, you'll be in very familiar territory here, but it doesn't feel like the developers took too many risks.
Perhaps the justification in not taking too many risks with the campaign is the fact that there's a new multiplayer mode. Unfortunately this mode, while decently fun, is a shadow of other online multiplayer experiences. It feels more like a throwback to "Quake" than it does a modern multiplayer game. The developers tried to add some story elements to make it feel more "BioShock"-y, but in the end you'll probably only play this for a night or two. At least the campaign is worth the price of admission.
If you enjoyed the first "BioShock," you won't be disappointed with "BioShock 2." While it probably could've been a little more adventurous in terms of setting and gameplay, the rest of the IP is handled with care and the folks at 2K Marin created an engrossing story in the world of Rapture. "BioShock 3" better take place somewhere else, though.