It wasn’t actually out beyond the sea, but Bioshock was out there waiting for me, and I was one happy, not very little gamer when I went to pick it up right on its street date. The Limited Edition Big Daddy is awesome; by the way… well worth the ten extra bucks. Enough about that, though… let’s get to the actual game and how it stacked up.
Bioshock is, as most of you probably know by now, the brainchild of the Creative Director at Irrational Games, Ken Levine. The setting is the once proud underwater utopia known as Rapture, which due to rampant genetic modification, twisted gene experiments, and a full out war has fallen on hard times. The city is slowly filling up with water from broken windows and busted pipes, while most of its citizens are dead and those who aren’t are not happy people. They’re violent, crazed, and often possessing high caliber firearms, explosives, or the wacky superpowers given to them by the miracle substance known as Adam, which can be turned into Eve, which lets you do funky stuff like hurl fireballs from your fists or perform teleportation… (well, your enemies can). You don’t get to teleport anywhere, but luckily your shoes look to be in good shape.
These gene crazed citizens are called splicers, because they’ve spliced all sorts of weird things into their genetic code. They have command over ice, fire, electricity, and other wacky things. These are your main foes in the city of Rapture, and they’re not pushovers, but luckily you too have weapons at you command including plasmids (a genetic cocktail that rewrites your DNA to give you various abilities) to a number of hand held weapons ranging from the humble wrench to the iconic Thompson Submachine gun to the bizarre but quite effective looking grenade launcher which fires grenades that once looked to be coffee cans. Each weapon can use three different types of ammo, so you can tool the ammo you’re using to fit your opponent. For Big Daddies, turrets, or security bots it’s best to go with electric buckshot, armor piercing rounds, or grenades, RPGs, or proximity mines from your grenade launcher. For “soft” targets, such as the variety of splicers you meet along the way, use your ordinary ammunition, antipersonnel ammunition, or whatever plasmids are most appropriate to the situation. I thought this was a nice feature, as it allowed you a lot of choices during combat as to how you wanted to beat your enemy. The one size fits all school of ammo use is good, but the extra variety that Bioshock used breathed some life into what I always thought was a system that couldn’t be innovative…
The city of Rapture is a bigger environment then I’ve ever seen in any FPS before… I’ve played a lot of them, so I know. Most FPS, even the great ones like Half Life 2, are linear. You go from one part to the other, with little room to walk about and check out the scene around you. Bioshock isn’t like that. The ever handy objective arrow points and turns to indicate where you should go, but you’re free to wander about and see the sights. It’s what anyone who owns Bioshock should do because so many pieces of the hidden story of the city are to be found if you look long enough. They’re often tragic, morbid, horrifying, but never dull. You can see a family of five, the adults across from the children, and all dead from ingesting the contents of the jar of poison on the table. Another scene involves a couple lying on a bed, dead, with their arms around each other. These aren’t the only scenes you’ll see in Rapture, but they are there, and all should be seen.
Also, you really just have to admire how much interactivity you have with the environment. It ranges from more combat orientated things like using a pool of water to electrocute a group of enemies to more mundane but still impressive sights like being able to smash the glass over a model city of Rapture and bang away at the models inside as you watch dents appear in the metal of the buildings. That’s the great achievement of gaming; right there… the addition of small details. Curiously, though, in a throwback to older FPS games when you look down you can’t see your character’s feet. That’s only a small flaw, though, as the rest of the game is utterly fantastic
The sound is also worthy of mention as the team at Irrational Games worked hard to enhance the atmosphere in a variety of ways. First, there is the voice acting. There is the Australian working class voice of Atlas that emphasizes his plain speaking personality, the confidence and stubbornness, almost aggression, in the tone of Andrew Ryan, and the madness that laces the words of the splicers as they scuffle around the city. “I did no harm!” a splicer surgeon cries as he hurls fireballs toward you. “All I wanted was some company!” another one yells as he lunges at you with a wrench. It shows the tragedy of their lives; they were average people once and now their all the same: insane killers who would kill you as much as look at you.
The ruin of the city is emphasized by the 1960s era music that you can hear pumped through the speakers of the city. There are few things more surreal then walking around in a ruined apartment filled with rubble and the occasional corpse listening to “Papa Loves Mambo.” There are also the audio recordings you find on voice recorders around the city that tell you more of the story of the downfall of Rapture and the downfall of its citizens. You can listen to Dr. Steinnman’s slow decline into madness that turned him from a doctor into nothing more than a crazed butcher who killed people for the flaws he saw in everyone, or the fragility of Ryan’s mistress, Diane McLintock, as she tries to adjust to the post war Rapture world. The voice acting in all these cases was amazing and brought you deeper into the story.
There are a few things about the game, though, that lessen the impact in a marginal way. The first is the Vita Chamber. You see these chambers all around Rapture, and they activate as you approach. What they do, as you soon find out, is act as your safety net. Whenever you die you’re summoned back to a Vita Chamber with most of your health restored and some Eve. This seems to undercut a lot of the game’s potential because, as you can never really die, there would seem to be no point in trying to dodge attacks. Well, the Vita Chamber isn’t 100% perfect in itself. These are often placed far from an objective so if you die while fighting a Big Daddy, for instance, you could have to hike clear across the level to find him and his Little Sister again and they may not even be in the same spot where you last fought them. So, while the Vita Chamber is a big safety net, it’s still worthwhile to try to keep yourself alive. The game also had some clipping errors that lead to events like shooting a splicer in a bathroom stall and having his head poking out of the narrow gap on the side of the stall or shooting a splicer in a doorway and having the automatic door just slide through him instead of hitting his body and bouncing off. Small things again, but they are there.
But, all in all, Bioshock is one of the greatest games that have ever been produced. The story, the huge decaying city, the personalities of the people you see, hear, and listen to… all of it combines together to create a masterpiece of gaming. Now, would you kindly go out and buy a copy?