Being able to explore and discover a place as unique and interesting as Rapture was one of the main things that made BioShock such a fantastic, memorable game. As such, it was all too easy to be skeptical of a direct sequel. Simply put, there's no way to experience Rapture again for the first time, which could cause the whole thing to lose a lot of steam. After playing BioShock 2 for myself, however, I stand corrected. BioShock 2 is indeed a fantastic sequel in practically every way, making the return to Rapture well worth the price of admission.
There are a lot of factors that go into BioShock 2's success. First and foremost, this is a game that is simply a joy to play. The original BioShock was as well, and 2K Marin has gone to great lengths to remind us exactly why that was. The whole combination of plasmids and guns feels as tight as ever, and exploring Rapture's underwater corridors remains thrilling. It may not be new anymore, but Rapture is still infinitely more interesting than most video game locals, and being able to see new parts of the city is just great. The flow and structure of the game remains top notch as well, with its methodical pacing doing a great job at encouraging you to explore and experiment on your own terms. In fact, I had the most fun with the game when I acted on such impulses. Rapture proves once again to be a great playground for those who want to see what's out there, and the fully detailed environments give you plenty of incentive to check around every corner.
BioShock 2 also seems to have a bit more gameplay variety than its predecessor. This is due in large part to a more robust set of weapons and plasmids, but there are also new gameplay sequences to be found. The most prominent of these occur when you have to defend a little sister. These scenes shift your focus from offense to defense, and do a great job at showcasing an entirely different set of weapons and strategies (trap rivets, anyone?). In fact, pretty much everything about the gameplay is on par with, or even strictly better than what we saw from the original BioShock. Even more surprising is that the narrative also holds its own, even if it doesn't quite match up with its predecessor. The new antagonist doesn't live up to Andrew Ryan's legacy, and the city itself isn't able to make nearly as big of an impact this time around, as most of what makes Rapture tick is a known quantity by this point. That being said, the characters and story here make for some interesting moments, and the way it's integrated into the gameplay is still heads and shoulders above what most other games offer. Just because it doesn't pack the same punch doesn't mean it isn't good.
In fact, that's a pretty good summary of BioShock 2 as a whole. In no way is it going to make the same kind of impression that the original BioShock did, but that doesn't stop it from being a stellar game that's a ton of fun to play. Anyone who's particular about being offered something completely new at every bend might find it a bit underwhelming, but everyone else should be completely satisfied with what BioShock 2 has to offer.
For additional information on my review style and scoring system, click here.