'Bioshock 2'

Bioshock was a blockbuster success with its intense atmosphere and thrilling story about an undersea utopian society gone awry, with all the loose ends wrapped up neatly in what was (at the time) a stand-alone game. Not surprisingly, popularity and money gave the game what I like to call a case of the sequels. Bioshock 2 adds multiplayer and builds the mythos of Rapture, but the slow story and degraded graphics make it inferior to the original.

The story is told from the perspective of an original-model Big Daddy known as Delta. The Big Daddies are the protectors of the Little Sisters, who harvest from human corpses a genetic compound known as ADAM, which has become an addiction for the inhabitants of Rapture. Delta wakes up almost 10 years after the events of the first game, and Rapture has fallen further into ruin after the death of patriarch Andrew Ryan. The only thing you know or care about is finding your Little Sister, but it's hardly easy, as a new leader has emerged to rebuild Rapture and deems you a heretic. With powerful enemies in front of you, you'll need the power of ADAM to stand a chance, and the other Big Daddies aren't keen on letting you near their Little Sisters.

Gameplay is refined and improved from the original, as you can use your weapons and powers simultaneously with both trigger buttons, rather than switching between the two mid-battle. Using both triggers at the same time is a departure from the shooting-game norm (and the original Bioshock), but it's easy to adapt to and allows you to combine your powers and weapons in focused assaults.

All the weapons and powers can be upgraded over time as you see fit, but it doesn't seem to matter that much. After trying all the weapons, I ended up sticking with the original electricity power and rifle I started with through almost the entire game. They're not necessarily the best weapons, just the ones I liked.

Making a sequel to a one-shot story is a daunting task, and this is a good if ultimately unsuccessful effort. After a slow start giving you background on characters who were so important in the first game that they weren't mentioned in it, I almost threw in the towel. After a few hours, though, the story gets to the heart of the matter of finding your Little Sister, and it definitely improves. While not as enthralling as the original, there are still moments -- such as watching your Little Sister in danger as you pass out -- that leave you asking for more. But these come so late in the story that you might not get that far.

Multiplayer begins as a prequel story to the main story, but that hook disappears after the opening scene, and the gaming is forgettable. The multiplayer-shooter standards are present: free-for-alls, team battles, custom appearances, weapon selection, and a ranking system to further weapon options. While initially fun, it gets old fast with limited match and weapon types. Long story short: It doesn't have the staying power of Modern Warfare 2, which is what the makers were clearly shooting for (pun intended).

The atmosphere remains the same as the original, with the lighting and sound doing wonders to put you in the midst of this nightmarish city beneath the ocean. The demented screams of a nearby vagrant and the flickering shadows of an intruder still effectively cause panic.

But the visual presentation doesn't have the polish as its predecessor. While the first game had environments and textures that looked smooth, Bioshock 2's are a bit pixelated and grainy. With the original game coming out more than two years ago, and with this title being delayed from an original release date of November 2009, there was definitely time to work on that. How this was overlooked is beyond me.

With great gameplay and atmosphere, Bioshock 2 is definitely not a bad game; if I had never touched the original, I would've found the sequel fantastic.

Still, it's nowhere near as good as the first one. The game that I adored is hiding somewhere inside, but it's not coming up for air.

Bioshock 2 is now available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 for $59.95. For this review, the author completed the main story on normal difficulty and tested the online multiplayer matches.

Luke Hamilton is a buyer, creative designer, and online coordinator for Video Games Etc. He can be reached at ssj_4luke@hotmail.com.

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