BioShock creates an amazing world that you'll want to explore from top to bottom and a compelling mystery that slowly comes together as you play.

While on the surface it might look like little more than a very pretty first-person shooter, BioShock is much, much more than that. Sure, the action is fine, but its primary focus is its story, a sci-fi mystery that manages to feel retro and futuristic at the same time, and its characters, who convey most of the story via radio transmissions and audio logs that you're constantly stumbling upon as you wander around. All of it blends together to form a rich, interesting world that sucks you in right away and won't let go until you've figured out what, exactly, is going on in the undersea city of Rapture.

Rapture is an amazing city that sits at the bottom of the ocean, but something's gone horribly wrong down there.

BioShock opens with a bang, but the overall plot focuses more on making an emotional impact than an explosive one. The year is 1960, and you're flying over the Atlantic Ocean. One mysterious plane crash later, you're floating in the water, apparently the lone survivor, surrounded by the flaming wreckage of the aircraft. But there's a lighthouse on a tiny island just at the edge of your view. Who in their right mind would put a lighthouse this far out? You swim closer and discover a small submersible called a bathysphere waiting to take you underwater. After catching a breathtaking view of what's below, you're sent into the secret underwater city of Rapture. Masterminded by a somewhat megalomaniacal businessman named Andrew Ryan, this city is driven by its own idea of total freedom, with capitalism completely unhindered by governmental meddling and science unhinged from the pesky morals of organized religion. Sounds like the perfect society, right? Well, even before you step out of your bathysphere and into the city, it becomes obvious that everything has gone horribly wrong down here. The city is trashed, and genetic freaks called splicers roam around, attacking anything that gets in front of them. At the heart of the matter is a powerful, corrupting substance called ADAM, which makes all this genetic tinkering possible and allows you to get your first plasmid power, the ability to shoot lightning out of your fingertips.

Character customization is a key trait in BioShock. You have a limited but increasable number of spaces in various customization categories, and you can totally reconfigure all of your different plasmids and tonics at will, at no charge, at specific locations in-game. Plasmids are the active, weaponlike genetic enhancement. Many of these are very straightforward. Incinerate lets you burn things and melt ice. Telekinesis lets you use your left hand as if it were Half-Life 2's gravity gun. But others are a little more subversive. Security bullseye is a little ball you can toss at enemies, causing any nearby security cameras, turrets, or sentry bots to point in his direction. Enrage can cause enemies to fight one another. Insect swarm causes your arm to shoot bees at your enemies, which unfortunately is far less cool-looking than it sounds. You can also place decoys, plant swirling wind traps for enemies, and so on. While it's fun to mess around with a lot of the indirect attacks, facing your enemies head-on with the more direct plasmids feels a bit more effective.

Tonics are skills that are slotted just like plasmids, but they have passive effects, like sportboost, which increases your movement and melee attack speed, or natural camouflage, which makes you turn invisible if you stand still for a few seconds. So if you want to make your swinging wrench attacks more powerful, you can slot up things like wrench jockey and wrench lurker, which increase your wrench damage on all attacks and when catching opponents off-guard, respectively. Add bloodlust, which gives you some health back every time you club someone with your wrench, and you're a melee master with health and plasmid energy (called EVE) to spare. You can also slot some defensive stuff, like static field, which zaps anyone who touches you with a electric radius effect, and armored shell, which reduces the damage you take from physical attacks. There are more than 50 tonics to collect, giving you plenty of options to play around with.

ADAM and EVE combine to let you shoot fire, lightning, ice, wind, bees, and more out of your fingertips.

Most of those plasmids and tonics will have to be purchased using the raw ADAM that you collect from harvesting vessels called little sisters. They're little girls with a big needle that they use to collect the sought-after stuff from dead bodies, and they're protected by the baddest enemies in the entire game, hulking armored monsters called big daddies. This is where the game makes you decide to be selfless or selfish. If you harvest the girls, they die, but you get 160 ADAM from them. If you free them and return them to normal, you get only 80 ADAM. There are a limited number of girls to deal with in the entire game, making it very possible that you won't be able to collect every single purchasable plasmid and tonic, so choose wisely. Either route has benefits and consequences, and there are story considerations as well.

Before you start thinking this is some kind of role-playing game or something, let's stop right here and say that in addition to all the toys that plasmids and tonics for you to play around with, you're also going to be carrying around some more conventional firepower. Your melee weapon is a wrench, and you quickly collect a pistol and machine gun. Being that this is 1960 filtered through the isolation of an undersea world that has the art deco style of the first half of the century, the weapons aren't nearly as high-tech as the genetic code in your body. The machine gun is your basic tommy gun, and the grenade launcher appears to have been cobbled together from coffee cans and other spare parts. You'll also get a shotgun, a crossbow, and so on. You can also collect different types of ammunition, such as exploding buckshot for your shotgun or missiles for your grenade launcher, and upgrades that increase damage, speed up reloads, and so on. The weapons are functional and the upgrades are pretty good, but the firing action isn't nearly as exciting as a combat-focused first-person shooter would be. The weapons are loud but don't feel especially right, and seeing shotgun blasts not even do 50 percent damage to an unarmored human target (on the default difficulty setting) just feels wrong. But that might also say something about the general lack of enemy variety.

There are five types of splicers to deal with, and these are your primary enemies. The splicers are humans who have messed around with ADAM too much and have essentially lost their minds. Now they wander around the city like junkies in need of a fix. The only real difference among them is what they're carrying. Leadheads have guns, thugs have blunt objects, nitros toss explosives, Houdini splicers can teleport and shoot fireballs, and spider splicers can crawl on ceilings and toss hooks at you. As you go through the game, they get tougher to kill, but there's no real visual indicator as to why that's so, leading to some of the weapons feeling a bit weak. Headshots simply shift from killing enemies immediately to not killing enemies immediately. This makes smart use of a combination of plasmids and conventional weapons the best tactic, though even those tactics don't involve much. The same one-two punch of shocking enemies to stun them and following up with a whack with the wrench is a perfectly viable tactic throughout the entire game, depending on how you've placed your tonics.

Though the story is full of heavy-handed homage to Ayn Rand, you don't need a head full of freshman philosophy to enjoy BioShock.

You'll find more important human characters at certain points in the story, and though these are set up like boss fights, these guys are just more powerful and resilient versions of existing splicers. You'll also have to deal with security robots, turrets, and cameras, though these can all be hacked via a neat little hacking minigame to bring them over to your side, allowing for more indirect combat options.

Then there's the big daddy, which comes in two configurations. The bouncer has a huge drill arm that is used to, you know, drill into people. The rosie likes to launch explosives in your general direction. Both of them are fairly nasty, because they move quickly and dish out a lot of damage while not taking very much from most of your attacks. They protect the little sisters, who are invulnerable to your attacks and can only be dealt with once their protecting big daddy is dead. The big daddy is hardly unbeatable, though you may die a few times while facing your first few. Death in BioShock is barely even a setback. When you die, you're reconstituted at the nearest vita-chamber and sent on your way with your inventory intact and most of your health.

This isn't a reload, so everything is as you left it, even the damage that you've already done to any surviving enemies. So you can wear down a big daddy by just running at it again and again with little or no care for your health. That, of course, can get tedious, but having that possibility is a blessing--and a curse. On one hand, you're free to try out new things, like plasmid and tonic combinations, with no penalty if you equip some bum techniques. On the other, there aren't any real gameplay consequences, so playing with skill isn't rewarded. You could fumble your way through the 15 or 20 hours it'll probably take to properly explore Rapture and still see everything there is to see. This, along with three selectable difficulty settings, leaves you with the impression that the game was made to cater to a wide audience, but the hard difficulty setting doesn't actually impact things like artificial intelligence or force you to play any more skillfully to succeed. The enemies still mostly run at you mindlessly while attacking, occasionally getting into scraps with one another or breaking off to find a healing machine, but they take longer to kill and hurt you more when they hit.

While the world of Rapture is rich and filled with interesting little tidbits, the game does a tight job of keeping you on track. Aside from two cases where you must collect a certain amount of specific items in order to proceed, you always know exactly what to do and where to go to do it, thanks to a handy map screen and an onscreen arrow that points you directly at the next objective. These helping hands feel almost a little too helpful, but in the event that you get really stuck, you'll appreciate the additional hint system that very plainly explains what you need to do and where you need to go to move forward.

You won't miss a ton of locations by sticking to exactly where the arrow points you, but the story fills out a lot more when you find and listen to as many audio diaries as possible. Hearing various characters talk about the problems leading up to Rapture's current disheveled state really fills in the blanks nicely and should be considered mandatory if you intend to play the game. Hearing the voices of these wide-eyed idealists as their world falls apart makes the whole game feel more human. Playing through without listening to any of these optional audio clips would make the game quiet and, actually, fairly confusing, as you'd be proceeding with no sense of backstory about Andrew Ryan, fish magnate Frank Fontaine, and the bit characters who comment on their increasingly hostile struggle.

It certainly helps that the environments you find throughout the game look amazing and practically beg to be explored. For something as potentially dingy as an underwater city, you sure do get a lot of different looks as you move along, from the boiler rooms and workshops of the city's core to the forest that helps keep the entire thing oxygenated. You'll also get a lot of great views of the sea through windows. In addition to a terrific artistic design that ties the visuals together, the game has a very strong technical side. Unreal Engine 3 is under the hood, and all the requisite bells and whistles are along for the ride. If there's one thing you need to know about BioShock's graphics, it's that the water looks perfect. As an underwater city that's slowly falling apart, it's no surprise that you'll find plenty of leaks. Whether it's standing water on the floor or sea water rushing in after an explosion, it'll blow you away every time you see it.

But the visuals aren't without flaw--the game has an annoying seizure problem that almost looks like a correctable bug. On some consoles, the game hitches up and totally freezes for anywhere from one to five seconds at a time, then proceeds as if nothing happened. It doesn't seem to be tied to any particularly noteworthy parts of the game, and it happened only after playing the game for hours; but once it started, it didn't stop happening--even after we began an all-new game--and it can freeze up two or three times a minute. It's not the end of the world, but it's extremely frustrating and one of the few knocks this game has against it.

Electric buck in your shotgun makes the big daddies shimmy and shake.

In addition to some nice period music that plays from jukeboxes or record players, you'll get some terrific music that helps set the creepy, uncertain mood. The weapons sound good and loud, and everything else just sounds right. The voice acting, which you'll hear plenty of throughout the game from both living characters and their posthumous audio recordings, really brings the story together and helps give it all an emotional impact that most games lack. You'll also hear splicers mumbling, humming, and singing to themselves as they scavenge the environment, which helps give the game a creepy vibe. The quality and depth of things like this are what set BioShock apart from other games and make it something really special overall.

If you're the kind of player who just wants yet another action-packed shooter, BioShock probably isn't for you. Its weak link is its unsatisfying no-skill-required combat, which might aim this one just over the head of the average Halo fan. But if you want to get a little fancy, there's a lot of fun to be had with some of the game's more indirect fighting methods. It builds an amazing atmosphere by using terrific graphics and sound to set a creepy mood. But BioShock's real strengths are as a compelling work of interactive fiction, and as a unique ride through a warped world with some great payoff built into its mysterious plot. If that description has you even the least bit interested, you won't be disappointed one bit.

The Good
Absolutely amazing atmosphere and visual design with the technical prowess to back it all up
Lots of character customization options to play around with
Great voice cast really sells the storyline
The Bad
Annoying hitches cause the game to freeze for a few seconds at a time, but it only seems to start happening after playing the game for several hours
Lack of death penalty keeps things fun, but also keeps things a little too easy
9
Superb
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for BioShock

About the Author

Jeff Gerstmann has been professionally covering the video game industry since 1994.

Discussion

35 comments
FrankFontaine1
FrankFontaine1

It's awesome. Don't even start to say that the shooting mechanics are average. If those are your complaints, you really don't get Bioshock at all. It's a game to be experienced, not played. It's not supposed to be Call of Duty. And as a primary antagonist of this game, I think I know what I'm talking about!

Olex2011
Olex2011

Inspired by new Bioshock Infinite rewievs, week ago I decided to continue playing Bioshock 1 to see the big picture, left in 2008. And you know what - didn't regret  it, I even liked it. Great story, good sound, good visuals made perfect atmosphere. Finished it today and even started Bioshock 2. Infinite will be the last one :)

The_Beanster
The_Beanster

@robot_tom22 Yeah the gameplay is fairly poor in Bioshock and I don't understand the 96 metascore.

This was a game I purchased on launch day because of the reviews, only to wonder "how did such an average FPS score a 96???" ... it was the first time I realized that the gaming journalism industry can't really be trusted for purchase decisions.

 The atmosphere and story were great - absolutely top notch - but the game itself was extremely average and had too many things that detracted from what it did well.

A solid 8/10 to me... MAYBE a 9 for anyone who could overlook some boring gameplay. Definitely didn't understand all the 10s though. The game came out in a time when folks like Roger Ebert were saying things like "games can't be art" and I think that games journalists responded (and have responded ever since) by over-rating and over-valuing anything that comes out that even smells like it may be "art", regardless of how good or bad the actual "art"/game is.

Amine1980
Amine1980

This game deserve a 10/10. It´s perfect, very nice atmosphere, an original story line...best fps at all.

robot_tom22
robot_tom22

jesus this game is drivel. great graphics, mind-numbingly boring fights with enemies that range from the stupidly difficult to kill and that cost you all of your ammo, to the pathetically boring, mindless zombies.

 

i've had to kill big daddies by standing in the vita-chamber because i end up with no money, or health or anything else.

 

i couldn't hear the story for the first few hours because it was so quiet, and now i don't have a clue what's going on. just tedium.

 

now i'm wasting my time having to collect 7 bits of enzyme or something. just pointless. and not only once. i've got to collect 3 different sets of 7 things (water, enzymes and something else). BORING. collecting one item would have been enough. especially since i had to keep going into the same bee room, turning on the smoke, hunting through the hives. and enemies respawn when you think you've cleared a room....

 

basically i feel like i've been robbed of £14 on steam. i can't believe it got a score of 96 on it.

 

if only i'd found out this game was in fact a zombie fighting game. at least i can still play batman, or i might try battlefield 3...

NTM23
NTM23

Personally, I would have added another emblem if I were Jeff, and that's the "Great Licensed Soundtrack".

markwaynejones
markwaynejones

Can anyone explain to me in simple terms what the phrase 'Great chain of industry' means. I have read the following from many sources but it still doesn't make much sense to me, cheers.

 

"The Great Chain is an allegorical term coined by Andrew Ryan to describe the market and its evolution, especially within Rapture. According to his ideal, each worker and consumer influences the economy through his or her natural endeavors to produce, buy and sell. The combined actions of all participants in the economy create a relatively unified movement, thus every individual is a "link" in this Great Chain of industry, pulling it in a certain direction without swaying it of their own accord."

pokecharm
pokecharm

I wish I'd read this review sooner, the freezing glitch hit me after several hours of play and now that I know, I'll limit myself to a couple hours and then stopping.  The review is spot-on, so far, very well done game.

hamebone123
hamebone123

great game but does anyone know what score it got.......i can't seem to find it.

Rivboes
Rivboes

This game deserved a 10.

CaLeDee
CaLeDee

Are you thinking about what you've done Jeff?

HowlPendragon
HowlPendragon

@FrankFontaine1 Calm down, its his opinion, and a factual one at that. The mechanics are pretty crap.

6/10 for me. BioShock Infinite shows they've learned from their mistakes.

tjp77
tjp77

@The_Beanster The thing is, Bioshock is about more than just being the 'best' FPS out there and having awesome shooting mechanics and enemy AI (it does well on both counts though). 

Fact is, it's just an enjoyable place to be. Definitely one of -- if not THE -- most enjoyable and original stories I've ever been a part of in any game. I've replayed the entire game on the easiest setting, just to experience the story a few more times. 

Its literature in game form. You can't really compare it to other FPS games for that reason, and that's why its so highly rated. Definitely one of the best games ever made. 

tjp77
tjp77

@robot_tom22 If all you want are fights, you should stick to COD. And if you 'couldn't hear the story' (???) perhaps turn your volume up? Just a thought. 

jellman007
jellman007

@robot_tom22 Had a hard time getting into it the game, initially. started to get interesting for a bit, but got way repetitious it seemed. Not enough there to make me really care except to get to the end.  I have to agree. Drivel.

Great graphics?  Most things look like jelly.

pokecharm
pokecharm

 @hamebone123 it got a 9 - you can see it on the main screen, I think, I see it because its on my now playing list.

hamebone123
hamebone123

 @pokecharm My screen shows it as "no rating" it might be because it's not on my now playing list

NTM23
NTM23

 @hamebone123  @pokecharm Yeah, it's a 9.0. It doesn't say now for some reason, but I still remember the time when this was posted.

Hodge996
Hodge996

 @Rivboes Yeah fair enough, that's just my opinion that Bioshock is nowhere near perfect.  However, it is FACT that no game is ACTUALLY perfect.

Hodge996
Hodge996

 @NTM23  @Rivboes This generation gets a bad rap in the comments but honestly I think there have been some outstanding games. 

 

Out of interest, what other games would you say you would consider giving a 10 to?

 

I didn't used to post much on threads but just becomes addictive.  I enjoy hearing other points of view even if I don't necessarily agree with.... like you and Bioshock.

NTM23
NTM23

 @Hodge996  @Rivboes And yes, I agree, no game is perfect, and my point wasn't to say that there are an array of games out there that I believe are flawless, 'cause there aren't any. When I play games, I do take note of the pros and cons of all aspects in a game, and there's always cons, it's just that I meant to say for me, Bioshock is near perfect, with minor problems, and is certainly a highlight from this generation. Oh, and thanks for the heads up, I've been on here since 04, but I guess I never thought about it before 'cause I didn't really post on threads.

Hodge996
Hodge996

 @NTM23  @Rivboes That's cool, like I said I do understand why people love it so much, it just didn't do it for me.  We nearly fell out when you mentioned not liking Zombies.... but you redeemed yourself with "except for maybe Resident Evil" ;-)

I'm similar actually, I'm not a massive zombie fan - "zombie mode" in COD or any other game does nothing for me.

 

In my opinion, there are maybe 4 or 5 games I would consider giving a perfect 10 to,but even they have their own issues.

 

As for the updates, I only know I have a reply when I get a notification email.  I could be missing something but I think that's the only way....  you should see if you can change the notification email address.  I have my email linked to my phone so it pings every time I get one.... hence my swift replies!  

NTM23
NTM23

 @Hodge996  @Rivboes Oh, and I meant to say on my first reply "There were a few minor problems." 

NTM23
NTM23

 @Hodge996  @Rivboes Well, it really just depends on how you mark games. I kind of do it the old GameSpot style where you score the games individual aspects and then it'll have its outcome after you add it all up. You're right, it is my opinion, just as I don't care for anything that really has to do with zombies (except for maybe Resident Evil) and yet it's hugely popular.

 

Also, when I said 9.9, I'm not really sure if that's the score I'd give it, but it'd be around there, and it'd probably round out to be, in GameSpot's terms, a 10, for me at least. Also, one question, do you have to check your email to see that someone replies to your message, or can you see that just by the comments on this site? 'Cause I have to check an email I hardly use, and then find the actual message, which can be a hassle. 

Hodge996
Hodge996

 @NTM23  @Rivboes Well I totally disagree that ANY game is worth that sort of mark, but you're entitled to your opinion.  I didn't really enjoy it to be honest, it had too many things I didn't like but I do understand why people like it.

NTM23
NTM23

 @Hodge996  @Rivboes As far as games come, it was close to it. There were small aspects that were very minor. If I scored it differently, it'd be a 9.9.

BioShock More Info

  • First Released
    • BlackBerry
    • iPhone/iPod
    • + 4 more
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • PlayStation 3
    • Xbox 360
    Explore the ruined undersea metropolis of Rapture in this hybrid first-person shooter from the creators of System Shock 2.
    9
    Average User RatingOut of 45034 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate BioShock
    Developed by:
    IG FUN LLC, Irrational Games, 2K Australia, 2K Marin, Digital Extremes
    Published by:
    IG FUN LLC, 2K Games, Feral Interactive, E-Frontier, Mastertronic, Spike
    Genres:
    Action, Team-Based, First-Person, 3D, Shooter
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    All Platforms
    Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language