Is it impossible for BioShock 2, which was released this week, to be better than the first visit to the underwater city of Rapture? After all, the original BioShock earned game-of-the-year honors -- including from me -- when it came out in 2007. That's a lot for a video-game sequel to live up to. The essential gamers' website, Metacritic, takes an in-depth look at the critical reaction to BioShock 2 in a cool new feature called Inside the Reviews

While the original game was hailed as an innovative godsend, the sequel is getting a cooler reception. The original had an enviable Metascore of 96 (out of 100) on the Xbox 360, with a later PlayStation 3 version getting 96, both equating to "universal acclaim" among all reviewers. BioShock 2 has a Metsacore of 88/89 for its simultaneous release on both consoles, meaning "generally favorable reviews" are coming in.

So what's the big deal? Most games would be an instant recommendation with a Metascore in the high 80s. That we're even discussing BioShock 2 being a disappointment speaks to how high expectations are for the hotly anticipated sequel.

I've been wading into BioShock 2 (PS3), and I pretty much agree with the consensus so far. It's a fantastic game that takes the innovative game play of the original and duplicates it but doesn't really elevate it. I thought it was a creative crock when I found that players would play as a Big Daddy, a foe in the original, but I have to admit that it's pulled off well. One reason why is that, like the first game, BioShock 2 is steeped in atmosphere. The Little Sisters and maniacal Splicers simply creep me out, and exploring the decaying, soggy environs of Rapture in the dark late at night can be a chilling experience. The sequel's biggest problem is that it had to follow up one of the greatest video games I've ever played. On the other hand, 2009's game of the year, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, also was a sequel but improved on a promising original installment to become an all-time classic.

Speaking of games of the year, Metacritic's Jason Dietz also notes how the (short) year's top-reviewed game releases are ranked so far. On the Xbox 360, the No. 1 game is Mass Effect 2, which I absolutely adore. With that title not available on the PS3, its best-reviewed game so far is BioShock 2, which leaves a lot of room for other titles to grab that spot. I was shocked to see Bayonetta ranked No. 2, ahead of BioShock 2 at No. 3 on the 360. That's complete and utter hooey. I don't get the adoration for Bayonetta, an artsy but mind-numbingly repetitive slog. BioShock 2 is way better than that Sega fighter. But that also just goes to show that reviews mean only so much, depending on the reader.

How do you like BioShock 2?