There’s no two ways about it: “BioShock” was a game changer. Not only did it breathe new life into the first-person shooter genre with innovative RPG elements and solid gunplay, but the game also set a new bar for storytelling in video games. After “BioShock,” there was no excuse for the same old plot devices and tired environments — that title showed the gaming community that the themes and concepts behind a video game could measure up to a novel or film, and they could surpass them in ways that only video games could allow. Gamers have been frothing at the mouth waiting for a chance to return to Rapture and the story of “BioShock,” and in the sequel, creator 2K Games does not disappoint.

“BioShock 2”

For PS3, Xbox 360
2K Games

What is Rapture? In a nutshell, Rapture is a massive, underwater city built as an Objectivist dreamland. Trade, scientific innovation and the arts were all given free rein to go completely nuts, resulting in massive wealth, impossible weapons and technology and, of course, total disaster. In 1959, 13 years after it was built, the city collapsed, overrun by genetically augmented citizens and weird, parasitic children harvesting corpses for a valuable fluid called ADAM. “BioShock 2” takes place 20 or so years after that collapse as the decomposition of Rapture has continued unabated. More water is seeping in, and new players have moved into positions of power in the city’s crumbling social hierarchy.

There’s much, much more to it, but to reveal anything else would be cheating you out of a devilishly grand gaming experience. “BioShock 2” carries the same vibe of impending doom, crushed hopes and flat-out creepiness as its predecessor, mitigated only by its loyalty to the original. In other words, some players of the original may take issue with the fact that this outing seems so similar to the first — many of the same plasmids (special powers), bad guys and so on are back for the sequel. This is a fair critique, but for those of us who haven’t been back to Rapture since 2007 when “BioShock” was released, it’s nothing short of supremely awesome to roam the hallways of this failed utopia for a second time.

Not that there aren’t plenty of differences this time around. Players take on the role of one of the first “Big Daddies,” the diver-suit-wearing badasses from the first game. This changes things immensely, since now players have the ever-present option of seeking out Little Sisters (those unsettling, parasitic children) and escorting them while they harvest corpses for precious ADAM. The effect is huge: a whole new level of non-linearity is introduced that the first game completely lacked. The player doesn’t have to run from point A to point B anymore; now there’s the option to wander the huge maps looking for Little Sisters and with it the arduous task of keeping them safe once they’re found.

And of course, there are the Big Sisters. This new type of baddie is a female juggernaut, decked out in a diving suit of her own but capable of crazy acrobatics and lightning-quick attacks. She announces her attacks with a series of deafening screams that always create the sensation of, “Oh shit, I’m not ready.”

Is that what makes the “BioShock 2” gameplay so effective? The fact that in one minute the answer is running and gunning, and in the next the proper course of action is to carefully plan the next attack, setting traps and finding the perfect position from which to strike? It’s all of that, combined with the ambiance that never, ever quits, and a story that sucks you in deeper and deeper until hours have gone by in what feels like seconds. And that’s without even mentioning the excellent new research system, the flawless addition of dual-wielding plasmids and weapons and the 1950s vibe and décor that somehow makes everything more surreal. Another new addition, the new competitive multiplayer mode, would need an entire review of its own to do it justice. But alas, all of those features you’ll have to see for yourself.

Any problems with “BioShock 2” are slight at worst. The graphics haven’t changed much from its predecessor, and feel slightly dated though they are by no means inadequate. Loading times are quite significant and navigating the in-game map and research features is slow and cumbersome, but make no mistake: this game is not to be missed. “BioShock 2” is addicting, exhilarating and terrifying — a monument to video games that even Rapture would be proud of.

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