The worst you could say about BioShock 2 is that it's better than expected. The best? That it's a good thing no one at Novato, California-based game developer 2K Marin listened to those who thought the original sacrosanct and a sequel absurd.
Let's shoo the elephant out of the room: BioShock 2 isn't a BioShock knock-off. It's not a continuation of the original's plot concerns or even an extension of that conflict. None of BioShock's vanquished reappear at the behest of someone's screwball retcon. Even the clashing ideologies (capitalism, cronyism) that defined the original tend to play as background noise here.
What the game's underwater city of Rapture--haunted by the high-minded principles of flawed visionaries--lacks in novelty this time around, the designers counterbalance with a harrowing story that one-ups the original's memory-quest-with-a-twist. Instead of a generic amnesiac, you play a father-figure searching for a child lost in Rapture's labyrinthine architecture, a girl who may or may not be your daughter. And where the decisions you made in BioShock merely cued one of two perfunctory epilogues after a lame concluding battle, the choices you make in BioShock 2 actually alter the way the game unfolds during its furious denouement.
Supplement with extraordinary tactical tussles against macabre denizens re-tuned and seamlessly staged and you conjure that rarest of games, where the static, scripted elements actually dovetail with the flexible, interactive ones
PCW Score: 5 stars
Note: This review was based on a pre-release review copy of BioShock 2 for the Xbox 360 provided by 2K Games. The review covers the game's single-player story. An evaluation of BioShock 2's multiplayer mode--a prequel set during the fall of Rapture--will follow in our games blog.