Another story of Rapture
I played the demo for the original Bioshock before i knew anything about the series, the creator's past endeavors (System Shock 2, etc.), or about how evidently "critically acclaimed" the game was.
After the first playthough of the demo, I knew it was nothing like I'd ever played before, and initially didnt think i liked it all that much. After a second playthrough of the demo, purchase of the full game, and subsequent playthroughs afterwards, I fell in with the ranks of other huge Bioshock fans.
What this has to do with it's sequel is this: I wasn't completely satisfied with BioShock 2 on its first playthrough. But it took another run (one which I greatly looked forward to) and even more time spent experimenting with different methods of play and really delving into Rapture's history with Audio Logs to really appreciate the experience that 2K Marin has offered the masses.
It also took a different approach of looking at this game to see its true value in this series. Putting aside all bias toward the first game (which, i understand, can be difficult), leaving all desire to compare the two games at the door, and experiencing this game as another story about different people and their lives, plans, and motives in Rapture, BioShock 2 on its own merits and as its own game (within the scope of Rapture's reality and existence, of course) is a great, entertaining, emotional, and memorable game.
The dialogue, voice acting, backstories (audiologs), and overall plot are all excellent, evoking much emotion and satisfaction as you can expect of Rapture. Characters and deep and believeable insomuch as they all have a hand in the events you encounter and even get to the point to where you can really love, hate, or pity them (depending on the choices you make throughout the game.) Visuals and environments are top notch and exactly what you can expect a decaying, underwater grave of a city to look and feel like. Plot does allude to the first game and their events and characters adding more depth to the story. Even at points where characters of both games would have intersected and interacted, the inherent "absence" of Bioshock 2 characters from the first game is explained in good ways.
This is a thinking man's (or woman's) game and this is a satisfyingly frantic shooter. Slow and methodical as it pertains to the RPG elements and variety of weapons and tricks/plasmids and tonics that are incorperated which caters well to those who like to take it slow and plan their attacks and paths if they so choose. It's also appealing to fans of more fast-paced-action oriented players with great balanced weapons that can make you feel like a force to be reckoned with and a more wary character who knows where and when to choose his battles.
The new hacking system also adds another degree of urgency to the action as it doesnt pull you out of it when you're tinkering with a vending machine or the security system. Controls are very tight feeling and very responsive, and even though you cant change the controller configuration from its default setup, it isnt a big issue.
Depending on whether you want to play as a powerhouse Big Daddy and play from point A to point B or take it slow and hunt for the tonics, audio logs, or earn damage bonuses through the reseach system, the pacing never feels too fast or too slow for the story and your overall goals.
The events and characters of the story also present the player with opportunities to make moral choices which affect the final conclusion of the game, again with the Little Sisters and now a few major characters. Different choices to make offer incentive for multiple playthroughs, and not to spoil anything, but each possible ending differentiate more from each other than just how aggressively the narration is performed (no offense, BioShock), which is definitely a good thing.
The only major downside i found to the game is one that, unfortunately, is unavoidable (as far as i can speculate): Rapture itself. While the underwater world is unique to the gaming universe, with its reasons for founding and the philosophy on which it stands (not to mention Andrew Ryan), along with the story of its downfall and aftermath, this time around its really nothing we havent seen before, other reviewers have already said it and it bears repeating, there is not much mystery left to uncover with Rapture.
So after the success of a masterful game with BioShock, BioShock 2, though it lacks somewhat in mystique and discovery of a fallen world, in the scope of the Rapture story and as an action-RPG title, is an excellent, immersive, and satisfying game that shouldnt be passed up.