While it might not have quite the impact of the original, Bioshock 2 provides addictive combat and incredible atmosphere
A big selling point for Bioshock 2 is that players will be in the shoes of Delta, the original Big Daddy. Awakening after a ten year coma, Delta finds a Rapture that is in ruins with ADAM (a substance that allows the user to rewrite their DNA to give them super-powers) addicted psychotics roaming the halls and the structures rapidly deteriorating after ten years of neglect at the bottom of the sea. Delta is tasked with finding his Little Sister (children who are able to harvest ADAM from corpses and have a mysteriously close relationship with Big Daddies) which is apparently against the wishes of Sophia Lamb, who is now more or less the leader of Rapture and has stressed a more communist "Rapture is more important than the individual" culture.
GAMEPLAY (8.5) - One of the first things I noticed was the linear nature of Delta's quest. The original was linear as well, but there was always the option to explore previous areas and go back for things that may have been missed. Now if a level is finished without finding everything it has to offer the game even gives a warning that there won't be any opportunities to return. The levels are large and have some room for exploration, but a majority of the time will devoted to following an arrow to pull a switch, find a person or destroy an item. While it was never boring it can get a bit repetitive and the player never truly feels like he has any control over his destiny. The rest of the time is spent protecting Little Sisters and devising an effective defence. There is still the same battle with another Big Daddy in order to get access to a Little Sister. The difference this time is that instead of just deciding on whether or not to save her you now can adopt her and she will lead you to corpses that have the precious ADAM. The catch is that it takes her a while to do it, and Delta has to protect her and himself from the enemies that come from all directions when she starts the extraction process. Around the corpse all sorts of traps can be set to create a deadly defence. The uniqueness of each area forces Delta to carefully consider his strategies and it is a fun break from the main quest.
As in the original it's ADAM that makes the FPS combat unique. ADAM can be used for mundane effects such as increasing health or hacking robots but it's main purpose is in providing the magic-like powers of plasmids. Plasmids give the ability to do things such as unleashing fire, ice, electricity, swarms of insects and more from Delta's fingertips. An improvement over the original is that now plasmids and weapons can be used together and this duel wielding system works great in creating almost limitless possibilities of death and destruction. Freeze an enemy and shatter him into a thousand pieces with the shotgun. Electrocute enemies standing in water or roast them if they're by a puddle of oil. There's a wide and interesting selection of weapons, ranging from the usual machine guns, shotguns and rocket launchers to the more unusual rivet gun, speargun and of course Big Daddy's drill. Each weapon has three different types of ammo and each weapon and plasmid can be upgraded up to three times. Controls are always smooth and precise, important factors considering how many of the battles become quite frantic with a large number of enemies coming from different directions.
GRAPHICS (8.5) - Visually things don't appear to have evolved greatly from the original but it's still one of the better looking games out there. The city of Rapture itself is expanded on with several new locations such as the grimey lower class region Pauper's Drop or the creepy Ryan Amusements theme park, designed entirely to indoctrinate children with founder Andrew Ryan's ideals. Since the game is set a decade later things are a bit more run down, but otherwise recognizable. Environments are highly detailed with plenty of debris, corpses hanging from walls, random fires and bizarre messages painted on walls to create an incredible atmosphere. Character models are not quite as impressive. They weren't much to talk about from the first game and don't appear to have changed for the sequel, though there is a larger variety of enemies.
AUDIO (9.0) - As in the original there are numerous audio diaries to be found. While they usually have no direct impact on the gameplay the diaries really provide the history of what's happened in Rapture and should not be missed. The voice acting is just as great as the first game and everyone does an extremely believable job at sounding like they truly are from then war-torn Rapture. The environmental sounds of rushing water and creaks and groans are a constant reminder that Rapture is at the bottom of the ocean, miles from the surface. Add to that the thud of a Big Daddy's feet, crackling fires, roaring explosions and other effects, and Rapture becomes a place not soon forgotten. The musical score was not as memorable as the first but was still impressive. It may be unfair to compare them as the original's was one of the best ever. It still did an effective job of taking the player to an era from the past.
VALUE (8.5) - It took about 12 hours to finish the single player campaign. On the one hand replaying the game is not going to provide a different story, but it is pretty much impossible to receive and max out all of the plasmids and weapons on a first playthrough. There can be fun with starting over and concentrating on powers that may have been previously ignored and discovering new avenues of destruction. A new aspect that has received a good amount of attention are the multiplayer modes. Supporting up to ten players and seven different game types, there was obviously a decent amount of time and effort devoted to this. It becomes even more interesting when one discovers that the multiplayer environments are actually based on a time before the original story takes place and will give players some extra bits of Rapture's history. Overall the multiplayer portion may not have the depth of games like Halo 3 or Modern Warfare 2 but it defintely wasn't just tacked on and players should at least give it a look.
SUMMARY - The fact is, I find it to be almost impossible to review a sequel on only its own merits while ignoring the original game. Bioshock 2 is a great game with intense action, an interesting story and incredible atmosphere, but it can't avoid being compared with the revolutionary Bioshock of 2007. It has improvements over the original to actually be the superior game, but it just didn't have those jaw-dropping moments that were experienced the first time in Rapture. This is not to say that it doesn't have its own impressive moments, it's just not going to knock the player of his seat and in the process becomes a bit more predictable. The story is not quite as strong and the characters not as memorable. However, Bioshock 2 is still ahead of most other games in terms of its plot, unusual combat and atmosphere. Fans of the original will still have a very enjoyable time in their second visit to Rapture.