For: Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows PC
From: 2K Marin/Digital Extremes/2K Games ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)
The game-playing public spent roughly two years wringing its collective hands over why anyone would dare make a sequel to a game so perfectly complete as "Bioshock."
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2K Marin, which assumed primary development duties this time around, needs roughly five minutes to render that worry mostly worthless.
This isn't to say the worries lacked any merit. "Bioshock 2's" storyline picks up 10 years later, but a decade isn't nearly enough time to dramatically change the landscape in Rapture, the brilliantly realized underwater not-quite-utopia that supplied the stage for "Bioshock's" arguably groundbreaking storytelling.
The sequel takes players into new areas of Rapture, but the overall visual presentation, combined with a reliance on the same mechanics that made "Bioshock" its own creation, can't help but leave "Bioshock 2" feeling superficially like an imitation product barreling down pre-blazed trails.
But while recreating the wow factor behind "Bioshock's" architecture and lynchpin twists is pretty much impossible, 2K Marin nonetheless runs with the opportunity to extend the storyline past the first game's fallout. "Bioshock 2's" story is a bit more traditional in structure, but it very satisfactorily answers some lingering questions. The first game's narrative hallmarks - namely, first-rate voice acting and an enviable attention to character development and design - are on full display once here as well, and the player's role in shaping that story's outcome has increased.
Where the sequel fully bests the original is in the actual gameplay, which fundamentally feels identical but benefits from some corrective and clever tweaks. The first game's inexplicable inability to wield weapons with one hand and plasmids (biological modifications that allow for such tricks as telekinesis, hypnosis and fireball tossing) with the other has been corrected here.
The simultaneous wielding helps offset a more frantic pace of action: Rapture's enemies are faster, meaner and more diverse, and activities from the first game - including hacking machinery (now via a fun timing-based challenge) and researching enemies with a camera that now shoots video - now take place in real time.
While a great many people couldn't care less that "Bioshock 2" includes a multiplayer mode (10 players, online only), the pretense under which it appears - the Rapture civil war that preceded the events of the first game - is pretty ingenious.