Set in 1960, you play as Jack whose plane crashes in the Atlantic Ocean. As the only survivor, you swim to the lighthouse. Inside is a bathysphere which takes you to the underwater city of Rapture. You soon learn that this city was established by a megalomaniac businessman called Andrew Ryan, who had his own ideas of how to run a city.
"I am Andrew Ryan, and I'm here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?
'No!' says the man in Washington, 'It belongs to the poor.'
'No!' says the man in the Vatican, 'It belongs to God.'
'No!' says the man in Moscow, 'It belongs to everyone.'
I rejected those answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose...Rapture, a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, where the great would not be constrained by the small!
And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well."
- Andrew Ryan
However, things haven't turned out so well. The city lies in ruins and mutated people called Splicers are driven mad by a substance called ADAM which causes genetic mutations. You soon use this substance to your advantage too.
In addition to weapons, you gain the ability to use Plasmids, the first of which is an Electric Shock. Incinerate sets enemies on fire and melts ice, telekinesis allows you to pull objects towards you and launch them for a powerful attack. Security bullseye is a little ball you can tag enemies with, causing any turrets or sentry bots attack. Enrage causes enemies to fight one another. Insect Swarm launches bees. There's a few others too.
As you progress through the game, you gain more attacks and more perks which gives the game a slight RPG feel, since you can customise the perks over a few categories; physical, engineering, and combat. These can be switched out for no cost at certain locations throughout the game. In general, these can boost your health, defence, attack, Eve (energy for using Plasmids) or give other perks such as cheaper equipment.
These perks can be purchased using raw ADAM you harvest from Little Sisters. These are little girls that are protected by the toughest, armoured enemies in the game known as Big Daddies. You can choose to either save the girls or harvest them, giving you 80 or 160 ADAM respectively, which presents you with a moral decision and change the ending of the game. The Big Daddies come in two varieties; Bouncer has a drill arm whilst the Rosie launches explosives.
In terms of standard weapons, your mêlée weapon is a wrench, in addition to firearms such as pistol, machine gun, shotgun, grenade launcher, chemical launcher and crossbow. There are three different ammunition types for each weapon. For example, the Revolver uses traditional rounds in addition to Armor-Piercing rounds and Anti-Personnel rounds.
You run out of ammuntion pretty quickly, so end up flicking between the guns and the Plasmids. Combinations of these are encouraged. Zapping enemies with electric to stun them in place, then pulling out a pistol for a headshot is a great way of taking them down. Taking advantage of the environment for increased damage is always encouraged too. Oil on the floor? Incinerate it. Water on the floor, zap it with electric.
The majority of the time, you are dealing with five types of Splicers. Leadheads have guns, Thugs have blunt objects, Nitros throw explosives, Houdini splicers can teleport, and Spiders crawl on the ceiling.
Scattered around are flying security bots, static turrets, and cameras. If cameras spot you and trigger the alarm, waves of security bots will come to gun you down. These can all be hacked via simple and boring mini-game to fight for you.
When you die, you respawn at a Vita Chamber which are a fairly frequent occurrence around the city. You also have the option of saving at any point.
The game is fairly loot-heavy, with many items found on the ground, in objects or on dead bodies. There's no complex inventory management system though. Food and drink are automatically consumed when picked up, EVE restoration is automatically used when you need it. Health restoration is used within a simple button-press, and Cash can be spent on ammunition or restoration items.
The story is a sci-fi mystery that manages to feel retro and futuristic. The dialogue is mostly delivered via direct radio transmissions and via audio logs which you find as you explore. You are led around Rapture by a guy named Atlas who gives you a sequence of objectives to eventually lead you to Andrew Ryan. You have a map that is slightly useful, but an on-screen arrow will keep you from getting lost. There's plenty of signs to navigate you around Rapture too, so you should never get lost.
There's actually a lot of backstory to how Rapture went from a city full of promise, to a city lying in ruins. It's fairly easy to miss parts of the story since you can be engaged in battle whilst the radio chatter is playing. If you take your time to focus on the story, it's pretty deep and has a major plot twist. You don't expect that sort of complexity and depth for a First-Person shooter, but that's something that Bioshock provided and influenced the high-praise from critics and players alike.
Rapture is a pretty creepy place which always makes you feel on-edge and always uncomfortable. This is achieved by a combination of the visual aesthetic and superb sound. The Splicer's insane chatter always makes you feel you are stuck in a mental asylum. The old music playing on the record players scattered around brings a smile to your face. It's great listening to “How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?” whilst gunning enemies down.
The brilliant world, the creepy aesthetic and great combat all sets Bioshock apart from the crowd.