Underwater games have had a less than favorable history over the years and, contrary to that belief, Bioshock released to a stellar reception that any follow-up would have surely failed in comparison. Enter Bioshock 2, another water-infused quest, and it actually stacks up rather well to its predecessor. Even if -- mostly -- in the mechanical sense.
The vintage, art deco style returns. The eerie, '40s-era music marks your every step. Violins hit you with ear-deafening solos alerting you of incoming danger. All aspects in play and just as effective as the last time you visited Rapture via bathysphere.
Only...not as novel this time around. The grand reveal, surprise, and conclusion of the first game was something completely refreshing a few years ago. But it makes this return trip interchangeable in parts with only a few distinguishing qualities here and there.
This time around, the game's hook comes in the form of donning a Big Daddy suit and the underlying effects of said wardrobe change. You feel heavier but, speed-wise, you don't suffer for that perceived shortcoming. Because of this, Bioshock 2 isn't afraid of suddenly dumping sounds of water on you to, consequently, wade through to your next destination.
You're suited up! Why not? Other little touches -- like the dedicated plasmid port in your forearm -- add to the atmosphere of the game and amounts to a well-rounded experience that isn't complete rehash of the first game.
Where Bioshock had you switching between your primary weapon and your plasmids during combat, its sequel allows you to run around in proper dual-wielding fashion. The hacking game, while possibly an unfortunate change for Pipe Dream aficionados, also gets a necessary upgrade in the form of a timing-based mini-game played out without interrupting the flow of the game.
Throw in the drill as a weapon, varying ammo types, video recording research, and you have the makings of a legitimate sequel. Unfortunately, when it comes to the story, Bioshock 2 is less fruitful.
While not terrible by any means, and it can be argued that overall it is structurally better than the first, it does lose some of its awe when the aesthetics and backstory have already been established. Instead, the game is stuck filling in canonical bits that were explained just fine through audio logs when Andrew Ryan was pulling the strings before.
Lastly, Digital Extremes, one of the several teams overseeing the development of Bioshock 2, produced a credible setting for multiplayer: a civil war prior to the events of Bioshock that you engage in ad infinitum. While the side story isn't fully fleshed out, what little it does provide gives you sufficient incentive to wreak havoc online long after you've saved/dispatched the little sisters in single-player.
The multiplayer portion shamelessly bites Modern Warfare 2's leveling up system by unlocking plasmids (some unique to multiplayer) and challenges, or "trials," as you progress to the level 40 cap. Most of the game types are typical -- think: Little Sister replaced for flags and oddball -- but considering plasmids are added to the mix, it's a more than serviceable game mode.
Sure, retreading through Rapture in Bioshock 2 loses some of the world's novelty and opening impact you got after crash landing in the middle of the ocean in the original Bioshock, but this made-by-committee sequel proves to be a worthy successor. Whether or not it meets the high expectations of fans, Bioshock 2 serves up a lenghty adventure, fun, exhilarating combat, and a multiplayer mode that isn't just a tacked-on bullet point on the back of the box. Even if it did turn out a bit less genuine than the first.