We gamers already know this, but "BioShock 2" reminds the rest of the world that horror video games are just as gruesome as "Saw" and other slasher movies.
In fact, the sinister atmosphere of "BioShock 2" feels like a mix of "The Shining" and "Dark City." It's set in a retro underwater city, as a permanent oxygen supply fills grand, art deco buildings, where you always hear jazz from the Billie Holiday era.
This underwater city is a horrific tyranny where little girls are turned into bloodsuckers. Why do these girls shove needles into corpses and suck blood? Beats me. I've played both the first "BioShock" and this sequel, but I don't get the reasoning.
These girls' moms walk around looking for them, uttering, "I wonder if they miss their mommy."
The girls have constant guardians -- mean killers who wear bubble-helmeted diving suits. These guys kill people who try to interfere with the little girls, shoving an industrial drill into people's torsos.
You portray one of these diving-suit guys. But you somehow reject the city's evil. So you're on a quest to find the crazy lady who runs this insane city and bring her down.
But there are moral choices: You can opt to rescue these little girls and deprogram them so they can live a normal life. Or you can "harvest" them (yuck) for a sort of profit. I choose to rescue them.
It begins with a guy's suicidal gun to the head. Then, you begin your long road of killing undersea residents, plus hundreds of ugly-faced monsters who want to keep the status quo of bloodsucking.
The action is not for shrinking violets. You kill people and monsters with a big, bloody drill. Or you set them on fire. Or you shoot rivets into villains' faces.
By the end, you can freeze villains into blocks of ice, then shatter them into bits, with a whack from your drill. Or you could choose instead to use telekinesis to toss things at them.
There's much to like in "BioShock 2." As grotesque and spooky as all this is, it's a wonderfully artful journey. I mean, really, bravo to the illustrators and designers.
The effective story line is full of vigor, intrigue and voice-over dialogue. And it's easy to control your player, to figure out where to travel next, and to shoot your guns.
There are all sorts of other things to do. You hack security cameras and armed robots, forcing them to work for you instead of for their rabid society. And you frisk corpses for ammunition, money and food.
It's too short. I finished most of the game in a day. And if you've played the first "BioShock," this sequel isn't full of "wow" surprises, since it feels similar to the first game.
The art deco is especially impressive. You'll be walking down a hall when you'll see a lovely retro poster featuring a housewife and the promise, "This way to the kitchen of tomorrow!"
But when you reach the kitchen of tomorrow, be prepared to massacre the monsters of today.
("BioShock 2" by Take Two retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $50 for PC -- Plays quite fun. Looks really great. Not too challenging. Rated "M" for blood, intense violence, sexual themes and strong language. Three and one-half stars out of four.)
Contact Doug Elfman at email@example.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.