After years of development, BioShock
has finally arrived to take you into the depths of Rapture. Irrational – now called 2K Boston/Australia – delivers on their promises and offers you the choice to play the way you want to play. It doesn't revolutionize the shooter genre but evolves it considerably and can't be considered anything less than a masterful piece of entertainment. An excellent story, emergent gameplay, eye-popping visuals and even better sound blend in such a natural and compelling way that even those who aren't interested in this genre must play BioShock
starts off in a plane, and you assume the role of Jack – a mostly silent no-name who'll soon realize he's in way over his head. It's 1960, and as your transport soars across the Mid-Atlantic, the plane takes an unplanned dip into the cold Atlantic waters. Miraculously, you survive. Swimming up for air, you realize it's you, plane debris, and miles of the seemingly endless Atlantic. But wait, a tall, foreboding lighthouse stands not too far from where you're gasping for air. Either die out here or enter the lighthouse. So, by taking the obvious (it should be obvious, right?) route, you ride a bathysphere down into the ocean depths you just swam out of. And then cue the awe. The bathysphere leads you to an underwater city called Rapture – a city where no man is bounded by the law of government, where no man is bounded by the parameters of morality, where a man can unleash his full potential – in other words, a utopia. And what do utopias tend to do? Fail. Hard.
"Right from the outset, it’s obvious Rapture's a sinking disaster."
Right from the outset, it’s obvious Rapture's a sinking disaster. The citizens of Rapture are insane in every sense of the word. With only thoughts of violence and scattered remnants of their past memories, maybe dying in the ocean waters wasn't such a bad idea. Well, no time for the past now, is it? Time to move forward, for better and for worse. Fortunately, there are those who wish to help you out and survive. By communicating via a short-wave radio, people who've faced Rapture's worst and are still relatively sane will guide you throughout the world. There are also those who wish to stop your progress. Andrew Ryan – the man who dreamed up this world – believes Rapture's going to turn around and become the once lavish city it once was and he'll do anything to stop you from destroying his vision. This is a world that was destroyed by toying with genetics and stepping over the moral boundaries of science, but Ryan still believes his world is coming back. BioShock
's unique setup provides an excellent story that's told through a combination of audio logs you'll pick up throughout the game and through the radio when you talk with the few citizens of Rapture who are still capable of thinking and speaking coherently.
"What Irrational has achieved with the narrative is, quite simply, incredible."
The characters aren't two-dimensional, either. Every single one – from the ones from past audio logs to the ones you'll communicate with often – is extremely well developed and they don't fall into pure black and white archetypes; everyone falls in the middle gray. The fact that you won't see even half of these characters in person makes it all the more amazing. Much of this has to do with the voices that give the characters weight. Every single accent is spot-on; every inflection is absolutely perfect; every line is spoken with such authenticity that Rapture is all the more believable because of it. The same amount of care has been poured into explaining how Rapture works; every single facet of this world is explained. Where does Rapture get its power from? Where does it get its oxygen? Why can you take more bullets and beatings than everyone else? It's incredible how these simple additions make the world so incredibly atmospheric and immersive. If there's one problem, it's the ending. It's simply abrupt and feels rushed. But in the big scope of things, this is easily overlooked. Not enough words or accolades can be given to BioShock
's voice actors and writers. What Irrational has achieved with the narrative is, quite simply, incredible.
As atmospheric and immersive BioShock is, does the gameplay follow suit? For the most part, yes. BioShock defines emergent gameplay as the combination of smart AI and predictability of the world come together in such that way that every single situation will play out differently. BioShock is primarily a shooter and a good one at that. There's a wide array of weapons to choose from, and each one has three ammo types that'll dish out more or less damage depending on the enemy type. You'll also have the chance to upgrade your weapons at special stations throughout the game. Besides the new gears and pipes that get grafted onto your gun, these upgrades do make a genuine difference. You'll send your bullets, for the better 90% of the game, to splicers – citizens of Rapture that have spliced their genes to the point that any semblance of humanity has largely diminished. Four types of splicers exist in the world, and each and every single of them is absolutely insane. They charge at you with random sputterings of dinner parties and past successes; a feeling of sympathy might arise from within you. Just expect those misguided feelings to be swept away when they try their absolute best in trying to kill you. The shooting generally feels good and the AI reacts accordingly in firefights. However, as great as the shooting is, it can start to feel really stale because the enemies don't evolve or change tactics as the game goes on. The enemies you see from the first four hours are what you'll see for the next fifteen. On the other hand, the gunplay is just half of what makes BioShock so great.
When Rapture was just starting out, scientists found a way to genetically enhance man. And soon after, that evolved into plasmids – basically, BioShock's magic side of the game. With plasmids, you'll be able to light people on fire, lift objects with your mind and much more. As you use plasmids, you drain Eve – BioShock's mana that you'll find scattered throughout Rapture. Complementing plasmids are tonics – perks that can buff your character to increase his smarts, physical strength, and even emit a shockwave if you happen to take a pipe to the face. You can only carry around so many plasmids and tonics at any given time, though. So, you can swap plasmids and tonics in and out from Gene Banks. The plasmids in BioShock are fun to use, but as you keep playing, you'll no doubt have a plasmid combo that won't fail. It's hard to change your plasmid lineup when the one you're using is going to be reliable for the rest of the game. Using the same plasmids over and over again starts to wear thin, but, thankfully, the game ends before it gets repetitive. Some of the plasmids and tonics are scattered throughout the world for your taking but most of them will require you to go to Gatherer's Garden and buy these powers. And no, not with money.
Little Sisters – wee little girls that enjoy running around and sucking down the genetic juices from dead bodies – carry a substance within them called Adam – the currency that lets you buy more plasmids, tonics, and slots to hold more plasmids and tonics at the same time. And guarding these little girls are Big Daddies – big diving suit clad beings that do everything to protect their little ones. Big Daddies roam around in each level knocking on vents to summon the Little Sisters. To get the Adam, you have to kill the Big Daddy, which then leads you to your prize – and it'll be tough. These guys put up a good fight and are definitely some of the best parts in the game. The game encourages you to use your weapons, plasmids and environment in tandem when facing these guys. After taking down the protector, you're given a choice – kill the Little Sister and receive all the Adam you can get, or save them and receive half as much. Both have long and short-term consequences and will also affect the game's ending. But if you want to go to sleep with a guilt-free consciousness, then you're better off saving.
Surprisingly, even with all this destruction and disturbing events taking place, Rapture's security system's still functional. Besides that, splicers have created their own defense turrets that’ll shoot on sight. With all these things against you, there's only one thing to do – make them ally with you. Every single piece of security can be hacked, and you do that by rerouting the circuit flow by revealing and swapping out pipe pieces so the circuit flow flows to a predetermined exit. When successful, the machine will attack splicers with extreme prejudice. Watch out, though; failing to reroute the circuit will result in an overload that'll take a good chunk out of your health. Later on, overload and alarm circuits will appear and rerouting flow to them will cause you to get hurt in some way. Hacking can also be done to vending machines – machines that dispense out health items, ammo, and even tonics – so that the prices for an item become cheaper. Or, if you'd rather just avoid all of this, you can buyout the machine or use a fairly rare autohack tool to hack without fail. While the hacking mini-game is enjoyable at first, it becomes a repetitive exercise as you keep playing. There's a lot to hack, and, depending on your play style, expect to do this a lot. Even though it gets almost unbearable by the end, the rewards are always totally worth it.
And so, with a combination of the AI, gunplay, plasmids and environment, BioShock
really come alive. You can trust the world will do what you expect it to do. When you electrobolt a pool of water, it conducts and anyone in it will feel the pain. If you light a splicer on fire, the splicer will desperately look for a source of water to stop the pain. Things catch on fire, and it'll spread if it touches another flammable source. Ice melts from fire. Objects bounce around and collide accordingly with other objects. You can hack turrets and security so you'd have an area that'd be safe enough to sleep in. Being able to play the game your way sounds too good to be true, but BioShock
makes it into reality. You'll gain a general trust with the world because if something works in real life, it'll probably work in BioShock
The gameplay, as great as it is, gets blown away by the incredible atmosphere. That has to do with the simply flawless audiovisual design. BioShock's world is striking, believable, and just a pleasure to behold. The art-deco style fused with the overdone advertisements from the 40s creates a unique atmosphere that really isn't seen anywhere else. When you consider BioShock takes place underwater, you better damn well expect the water in the game to be fantastic. You can expect as much, because BioShock's water blows other videogame water out of the water (pun totally freakin' intended).
Somehow, the sound is even better. Every sound effect is sharp, accurate, distinct, and blends with the world that if you just closed your eyes and listened to the game, you'll swear this place exists somewhere. Additionally, as mentioned before, the voice acting is absolutely amazing. BioShock is a technical and artistic achievement in visual and sound design, and you'll constantly be drawn in more by the visuals and sound than by gameplay (which, of course, is way fun).
As far as first-person shooters go, this is a long game – it should take anyone 15-25 hours depending on how much you explore Rapture. The game's generally linear, but you're allowed to go off the beaten path to scour for items and audio logs that reveal more of the people and history of Rapture. You'll always be rewarded for exploring, and you'll often see things that you wouldn't have seen if you followed the quest arrow religiously. You'll get different endings depending on how you treat the Little Sisters. There are a lot of reasons to go back in for another dip, but the main reason will be your urge to play through it again, because the experience is incredible.
The game does have its fair share of issues. The way BioShock ramps up the difficulty toward the latter half of the game is simply cheap and lazy – splicers you've seen before are issued stronger weapons and can take more damage for whatever reason. However, issues like these can be overlooked. BioShock's more than the sum of its parts. The atmosphere, the gameplay, and the story work together. If any of these elements were lacking, the game would be a far weaker product. Amazingly, it doesn't fail in any aspect. BioShock is the game we've been waiting for years for and, for System Shock fans, about a decade. BioShock shows how far this industry has gotten and reconfirms videogames as the best form of entertainment out there.
+ Superb atmosphere.
+ Incredibly believable world.
+ Audiovisual design practically flawless.
+ Incredibly immersive.
- Gameplay can get repetitive.
- Ending leaves something to be desired.