BioShock 2 sticks to its predecessor's strengths which results in an experience nearly as fantastic as the first.
BioShock 2 doesn't quite pick up exactly where the first game left off, for some obvious reasons of course. Instead it starts back a few years and then skips ahead about 8 years from when BioShock ended. Familiar characters make a reappearance, and the city of Rapture still looks as war torn and unwelcoming as it has been for a while. Interestingly enough, the playable character this time around is actually a Big Daddy, who was separated from his Little Sister sometime back, but is now out to reclaim her from the hands of her actual mother, a character whom is familiar of those who played the first BioShock.
The storytelling in BioShock 2 falls slightly short of the exceptional storytelling of the previous game. While the plot itself is interesting and is arguably better than most games out there, the pacing and constantly interrupting dialogue can sometimes be a hindrance to the experience. At times, it's tough to really pay attention to some of the dialogue when in the middle of doing something. There is also a boatload of background information to the story contained within audiotapes found throughout Rapture. But with over 100 of these audiotapes strewn about, it can also be difficult to take the time to actually listen to all of them, especially when there's a great deal of chaos happening about. Nonetheless, there's plenty of intriguing things to learn about the story and well crafted characters as you're going through each level. Also these minor shortcomings don't deter from the experience too much, and the story is still definitely one of the strongest aspects of this game.
In terms of gameplay, BioShock 2 is mostly similar to its precursor. The most significant difference is the ability to wield both a weapon and plasmid at the same time. This alone makes the gameplay much smoother and eliminates the need to switch back and forth between the two. Weapons and plasmids aren't too different, with some additions and subtractions on both sides. Players can also bash foes with their firearms or even the drill instead of having to pull out a separate weapon to do that. Using Little Sisters to gain ADAM needed for upgrades and bonuses works mostly the same, but this time around they can be "adopted" before being harvested or saved. This allows the Little Sisters to gather more ADAM from a few bodies while you have to fend off splicers. Hacking hostile turrets and cameras is reinvigorated and less frustrating. A rather lengthy mini-game is replaced by a shorter mini-game that only requires the player to stop a moving arrow on some green bars. Failed attempts lead to security alerts as in the previous game though.
In terms of technical aspects, BioShock 2 is great for its time. Rapture looks just as stunning as before, and the game easily carries its own weight as there is virtually nothing wrong with the game's performance, giving an all around smooth experience. Solid voice acting and chilling narration add to the game's dark atmosphere. There's even the occasional humorous moment to accompany the otherwise twisted nature of BioShock 2.
The single player experience should last a solid 10 hours before coming to a cinematic close, one of which varies depending on the player's choice to save the Little Sisters or not, similarly to BioShock. In all, it's engrossing and interesting journey, though one that may not outshine the experience of the first game to those who have played it. Still, it's a memorable and enjoyable ride regardless if you're a newcomer to the series or not.
A competitive online multiplayer is a new component added to the series with BioShock 2. While perhaps unneeded for a game and series that's focused on making the best single player experience possible, it's still well-done and enjoyable for those who take interest in online multiplayer. BioShock 2's multiplayer is focused on the civil war that tore apart Rapture in the first place, with players going against one another to gain ADAM (as opposed to experience points) in various game modes. Most modes are variations of modes generally seen in online multiplayer games like Team Deathmatch, Free-For-All, Capture the Flag, and Domination. There are some unique ones like ADAM grab where players compete to run around with a captured Little Sister for as long as possible.
Perhaps the best part of the multiplayer is its lack of focus in simply getting kills. While single kills and killstreaks earned after each set of three consecutive kills nets ADAM, so does hacking turrets, collecting ADAM vials spread across the maps, rigging traps on ammo dispensers, completing various objectives depending on the mode, and of course for simply staying in the game when it finishes. There's also the possibility to become a Big Daddy and wreak all sorts of havoc before getting taken down, which rewards the player who does so with a generous amount of ADAM. So while, again, it may seem like an unnecessary addition to the series, it's surprisingly enjoyable and actually a decent component of the game that may add to the amount of time some will spend with BioShock 2.
While difficult to not compare to its predecessor, BioShock 2 is still an amazing game on its own. BioShock set the bar extremely high, and while BioShock 2 doesn't quite reach that mark, it's hard to deny the greatness of this title. By sticking with its predecessor's strengths, including a compelling story and gripping atmosphere, BioShock 2 in all provides an experience that is almost as fantastic the second time around.