9.5

BioShock is a masterful achievement in gaming that will leave you breathless and craving for more.

Decisions. Every human being faces them in their everyday lives. We are presented with choices that require us to make decisions. Good or bad, they can influence our way of life and the way we grow in today's society.

In BioShock, 2K's most recent first person shooter, decisions come into play more often than not and will influence not only the gameplay, but the story as well. It's 1950. We open with a glimpse of our hero sitting comfortably aboard an airplane, smoking a cigarette. Suddenly, the plane inexplicably goes down into the ocean. Once our hero surfaces, he is surrounded by wreckage and flames. Desperately, he looks around him and spots a lighthouse in the distance. Control is given to the player at this time and, without hesitation, you make your way there, thinking that this place will be your salvation. But soon enough, you'll discover that all is not well in the underwater city of Rapture.

How different is BioShock from every other sci-fi oriented shooter already on the market? I can answer that question with 3 simple words: Freedom of choice. Everything in this game is based on your decisions and actions. Will you decide to rescue or harvest Little Sisters? How will you upgrade your weapons? Which Plasmid will you use against your enemies? Whatever you choose will not only influence your character, it will also influence the story itself.

The gameplay in BioShock differs a bit from a regular FPS. You still get to shoot people in the face, but there is so much more to it than that basic action. There is a pretty good variety of weapons in the game, ranging from the standard issue pistol & shotgun to a hand made grenade launcher that fires coffee cans filled with explosives. Since this lost civilization's technology is from 1939, you'll see a lot of man-made weapons throughout the game which were crafted by the citizens of Rapture. At first, it'll seem as if these weapons don't pack as much punch as your trusty wrench, but you'll be able to upgrade them along the way to deliver a more powerful punch.

Basic weapons aren't your only means of self-defense at your disposal. Shortly after arriving in Rapture, you'll discover Plasmids, which you'll inject in your blood stream, altering your genetic code and giving you cool new powers in the process. For example, you'll be able to shoot lightning or fire from your fingertips, use telekinesis and freeze enemies. Plasmids are also upgradable throughout the course of the game. Using these Plasmids will drain your EVE, but you can always find some scattered around the environment, on dead bodies or in vending machines. You'll also be able to recover your health pretty much in the same way, either by finding or buying food, first aid kits or finding a first aid station.

As I mentioned earlier, you'll have to make decisions very often in the game. Not only will you come across Plasmids in your journey through Rapture, but you'll also pick up Tonics, which will help you upgrade certain skills you'll need to survive against whatever your enemies throw at you. Choosing the right skillset to upgrade is all up to you, of course. You can choose to be a skilled hacker or, instead, increase your ability to avoid the security cameras and traps set for you.

Unfortunately, the only way to upgrade your skills is by getting some ADAM, and the only way to get ADAM is either to harvest or free Little Sisters. Problem is, you can't just go up to a Little Sister and get the ADAM. They are protected by hulking creatures called Big Daddies who won't hesitate one second to attack you if you threaten them or the Little Sisters. If you do, get ready for a tough fight, since the Big Daddy is pretty much a roaming boss fight. Once the Big Daddy has been defeated, another choice presents itself to you. Do you harvest the Little Sister and get 160 ADAM or rescue her and get 80 ADAM? The choice might seem obvious... or is it?

Aside from the Big Daddy, you'll come across different incarnations of Splicers. Actually, these are the citizens of Rapture who have been transformed from all the ADAM they've harvested and have lost all conscious thought. Aside from these Splicers, you'll have to deal with some of the heavy security laid about. Cameras will track your every move and deploy man-made bots to shoot you down. There are also some gun & rpg turrets to stunt your progress through the hellish city. Naturally, there are also some inevitable end-level boss fights to deal with.

It is possible, however, to hack into these machines and turn the tide on your enemies. Hacking consists of a puzzle mini-game where you must replace some tiles to connect one end of the tube to the other. Of course, there are Security Tonics to help you out, as well as auto-hacking tools you can buy or create. I did find the hacking quite bothersome and boring after a while, so having some extra tools around helps greatly, as you'll also be able to hack vending machines, first aid stations & safes along the way. If it has a lock or is electric, you can hack into it. You can also invent. Tools, ammo & tonics can all be invented with different objects your find scattered throughout Rapture.

Aside from all that technical stuff, what I can tell you about BioShock is that this game is a masterpiece. Very few are the games that twist and turn your emotions like this one does, especially when it comes to shooters. Even though the setting is somewhat macabre, there are always some objects lying around which will remind you that normal people used to live in Rapture, families who trusted a madman when he promised them freedom and a new life. Chills will run down your spine when you hear Splicers singing, sobbing or yelling out their frustrations at each other. Hairs will stand up on the back of your neck when you see a Little Sister go by, skipping along, with a Big Daddy close behind. Your heart will melt when you set her free from ADAM's grip and she looks up at you, thanking you, then crawls back into the hole in the wall.

Rapture's decadence is well documented in audio diaries you'll find scattered all over the place. These, along with radio messages from Atlas, your seemingly friendly guide, and Andrew Ryan, the bona-fide, glorified dictator and madman, tell BioShock's story. The voice acting is stellar all around, especially for Ryan, who delivers some of the best dialogue I've heard in a video game. Speaking of which, the script will blow you away with how well it is written and delivered. Every other sound in the game contributes to the overall sense of dread you'll get from walking around, from complete chaos to dreaded silence. You'll hear some music playing on record players from artists of the 30s & 40s and, if you listen carefully, you'll notice that the music corresponds with what's happening at that moment in the story. The guns, however, sound more powerful than they actually are.

The graphics are just mind-blowing. Since this game takes place in an underwater city which is falling to pieces, great detail was put into the water effects and it shows here. But the water isn't the only thing that looks good here. Rapture itself is incredibly well represented and will take your breath away as you make your way towards it in the beginning or as you peer through windows at it. The inside of this fallen city, however, takes on a totally different look. The corpses scattered across the floor and the blood stained walls show you how low Rapture has sunk, as the plush teddy-bears and jukeboxes remind you that this used to be a peaceful, friendly place. Although the game tends to lock up every now and then, once you lower the frame rate, everything flows perfectly.

In conclusion, I can honestly say that no other game in this world has touched me the way BioShock has. Since I finished the game not too long ago, I feel a great loss, like something is missing in my life. That's how powerful this game truly is. It gets in your mind and swirls your emotions around, grasping you in it's compelling story and stellar dialogue. Since there are different endings to BioShock, there is good reason for me to go back to Rapture and go on another 25 hour thrill-ride. If you want to experience a masterful achievement in gaming, would you kindly give BioShock a try?

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