Rapture Has Run Dry
Describing the quality of BioShock 2 and its relation to the original without seeming contradictory is not a simple task. In many ways the general feel of the weaponry and damp atmosphere of Rapture for better or worse places the player directly into September of 2007, and on first logical thought you might expect this to be a positive of BioShock 2. Unfortunately this philosophy in game design carries over not only to the setting and controls, but to the very plot and motivations of the characters. BioShock 2 manages to feel extremely familiar to its predecessor, almost too much so, without ever truly surpassing it.
At the same time, Subject Delta, the player character and arguably most decisive change to the formula, somehow feels like an unnecessary change. Delta is an original Big Daddy prototype, but the only essential difference in protagonists gameplay-wise is that your wrench from BioShock has been upgraded to the signature oversized drill. This concept simply ends up feeling more like a gimmick or plot device in BioShock 2, and its execution reeks of lost potential. A Mirror's Edge-like system of occasionally seeing Delta's bulky limbs on screen could have at least increased the sense of immersion. Dual wielding plasmids with weapons makes the entire combat process faster but don't expect combinations any more unique than "the old one-two punch" from the original.
As in the first game a primary goal in each level is to collect a set number of Little Sisters, and the choice to rescue or harvest remains intact. The monotony of this situation is broken up by new defense sequences where a good fifteen Splicers or so attack the Sister while she harvests ADAM from predetermined corpses. These sequences are chaotic and a fun deviation from the average small scale bouts, but even two levels into the game I had enough traps and firepower to make matters trivial. Big Sister battles provide much more of a challenge and they are easily the most interesting new enemy encounters in BioShock 2.
Story details are intentionally being avoided here but as stated previously, the plot is simply too familiar to pack any kind of philosophical punch. Rapture's new leader, Sofia Lamb, is arguably its most odd and questionable fit. Cheaply shoehorned into the history of Rapture through audio logs, Lamb already has strikes against her in filling the enormous shoes left by Andrew Ryan in serving as the primary antagonist. Frankly no one even manages to reach the level of Cohen or Fontaine either. The worst problem with Lamb and her followers in BioShock 2 comes through the dialogue, the same message being repeated with different synonyms throughout the entire duration of the game.
A multiplayer mode that doesn't work does the package no favors. Freezing, lag, and a slow matchmaking system are reportedly widespread problems and I have personally experienced them as well. Of course these are all issues that could definitely be addressed through a patch. All that said, Digital Extremes does deserve a bit of credit for being creative. Plasmids, tonics, research cameras and even vending machines play a role in twisting run-of-the-mill game modes into something that feels very much like a BioShock game should. It certainly isn't perfect, but if you can get into a few games, you might find a fun time.