How do you solve a problem like Andrew Ryan? Even the original BioShock never managed it. Having introduced the creator of the underwater city of Rapture, and put you face-to-face in one of the most memorable twists in gaming, it fudged a mediocre ending that looked awful by comparison.
Now the shooter's sequel takes you down the same decomposing '40s-style corridors, filled with the same gene-spliced mutants and haunting artefacts of the past: there's no way you can play it without considering the previous game, and holding your breath for another moment like the time you picked up the golf club.
We need to get this out of the way early: it doesn't come. It's a good story, and much better told, but it never hits the spine-tingling heights of its predecessor. However, everything else is much, much better, refining the erratic pacing and clunky mechanics into an extremely satisfying and intelligent shooter. It might not hit the same high points as the original, but it doesn't come close to its infuriating lows either.
This time you get a slightly different viewpoint, through the diving helmet of a Big Daddy, the city's monstrous enforcers. The game opens with a glimpse of your life before Rapture's fall, shepherding your infant Little Sister as she sucks gene-bending ADAM from early victims of Rapture's war. Then, in a remarkably affecting scene, you're seemingly killed only to awake ten years later - ready
to find out what's happened in your absence, who you are, and where your little girl went.
Find my baby
The city is still mostly intact, and still interesting to explore: ruined marble, shrieking mutant Splicers, and audio recordings of the thoughts and lives who've gone before. The chief figure is Dr. Sofia Lamb, a psychiatrist who has united the remaining Splicers into a collective called the Family - an ideological contrast to Andrew Ryan's championing of the self, although both have the same MO of grumbling on the radio and sending Splicers to beat you up.
Your response is largely unchanged, too. That mighty drill on your right arm needs fuel, it turns out, so you still need to rummage through bins to top it up, and you're almost immediately issued with plasmid powers (freeze, burn, cover in bees and so forth) and a rivet gun.
The change comes in how you interact with the Little Sisters - something you're forced to do in every level. The first challenge is defeating their own Big Daddy, which is one of the simpler challenges you'll face. Then comes the first choice: kill her (off-screen) and harvest her for ADAM, or have her fetch some for you? Unseen forces are watching your choice, and its effects ripple ahead through the story.
If you keep her alive, you're in for a fight. She'll lead you to a corpse to harvest, but Splicers come running as soon as she starts. And they're smarter now: they take cover, they throw grenades and sometimes they'll have a new Brute among them who's nearly as tough as a Big Daddy. You learn to pick only the corpses in confined spaces with limited access, and spend your time constructing elaborate traps before letting the young 'un loose.
It's a deeper, more satisfying combat than more random encounters: nothing beats watching a Splicer blunder through tripmines, then tread on a plasmid trap that froze them solid and fired them off a balcony to smash on the ground.
Then come the Big Sisters. They're much faster and harder than Big Daddies, with plasmid powers of their own, and will burst on in you after you Harvest or Rescue a Little Sister. You get a few seconds' warning to improvise some defences, and then there's a fast, terrifying fight as you burn through everything in your arsenal trying to take them down.