BioShock is a masterpiece that will go down in history as one of the most thrilling experiences in gaming.
BioShock is the much-hyped “genetically enhanced” first-person shooter from 2K Games, but it’s so much more than a mere FPS. This is a tale of one man’s dream becoming a whole city’s nightmare, and what a compulsive and thrilling nightmare it is.
The year is 1960. As you fly over the Atlantic Ocean, your plane crashes and only you survive. Fighting for your life to reach the ocean’s surface, you realise that you are surrounded by water for thousands of miles in each direction. A harrowing lighthouse is your only place of sanctuary, and upon entering it, an inviting bathysphere dares you to enter the underwater city that is Rapture. The brainchild of Andrew Ryan, Rapture is based on the concept that a man is entitled to the fruits of his labour, and that no one else should get a cut of it. This has allowed science to flourish, but something went wrong.
Scientific freedom resulted in the development of plasmids, genetic modifications that bestow upon the user extraordinary abilities. However, humanity wasn’t ready for this genetic enhancement, and the citizens of Rapture paid with their sanity. The glory years are long gone by the time you discover this sunken metropolis. Rapture’s crazed inhabitants, the splicers, roam the corridors searching for ADAM, the substance that makes this genetic modification possible, and they have no qualms about gunning you (or anyone else) down to get it.
To survive in this submerged city and find out how Rapture fell from grace, you’ll need to use a combination of weaponry and plasmids. The weapons include a pistol, shotgun, and machine gun. It may be 1960, but this is Rapture we’re talking about; grenade launchers, flamethrowers, and other advanced weapons don’t feel out of place thanks to the back-story. You’ll have the chance to make upgrades throughout the game to increase damage output and ammo capacity. In addition to this, you can invent new kinds of ammo at special vending machines, such as electric shells for the shotgun or heat-seeking missiles for the grenade launcher. Each weapon has three different ammo types to unleash on the splicers of Rapture.
BioShock’s weapons are satisfying to use, but plasmids are definitely the focus of the game. You’ll collect the electro-bolt plasmid soon after you start, but there are many more powers for you to use; these include incineration, freezing, and enraging. The really clever thing about plasmids, though, is how you can use them in combination with your weapons and the environment. Setting a foe aflame will make him run to water, which gives you the opportunity to electrocute him while he’s dousing himself. Alternatively, you can fire a sticky mine onto the ceiling and lay a tornado trap directly underneath it. When a splicer runs over it, he’ll fly straight up into the mine. The possibilities are almost endless, and it makes BioShock so satisfying to play.
In addition to plasmids, you can also obtain gene tonics to augment your abilities. These tonics act as passive buffs and are divided into three tracks: physical, engineering, and combat. Physical tonics make you tougher and include damage reduction. Engineering tonics improve your efficiency with machinery, which makes hacking easier. Combat tonics make you more of a threat in battle, like increasing melee damage with your wrench. But let’s backtrack a little bit. Don’t you need ADAM to tinker with your genetic code and use plasmids and gene tonics? Yes. How do you obtain ADAM? You take it from the Little Sisters.
Little Sisters roam the remains of Rapture, extracting ADAM from the corpses that litter the city. They were once just little girls, but frightening experiments changed them. In theory, taking ADAM from the Little Sisters is easy. They aren’t physically imposing, but that’s where the Big Daddy comes in. These behemoths, clad in diving suits, protect the Little Sisters with unmatched brutality in exchange for ADAM. They travel in pairs, so if you want that ADAM, you’re going to have to take down the Big Daddy first.
Big Daddies come in two equally frightening varieties: the gun-toting rosies and the drill-wielding bouncers. You’re going to have to use your weapons, plasmids, and the environment if you hope to succeed because they take a real beating. The relationship between the Little Sisters and Big Daddies has a very interesting effect in combat. The Big Daddy’s priority is to protect, so he’ll act as a shield for the Little Sister when needed, or sometimes pick her up, place her on his shoulder, and run to safety. Make no mistake, though, when he knows the little sister is safe, he’s coming after you. For such huge beasts, they are extremely quick on their feet. By the time you’ve made your initial attack, the Big Daddy will be in your face and dishing out the pain. These are tough fights, particularly on the medium and hard difficulties, so it’s a good idea to use the environment to your advantage. Groups of nearby splicers can be used as a distraction, or you could light up an oil slick to set him alight. Those are two examples of how to tackle a Big Daddy, but there are countless more if you use your weapons, plasmids, and the environment correctly.
Upon taking down the Big Daddy, you’re faced with an equally challenging endeavour. Do you harvest the Little Sister for maximum ADAM, or do you rescue her and obtain only half the ADAM? Harvesting will allow you to gain more plasmids and become more powerful, but can you really sacrifice the life of a little girl in exchange? Apart from the moral victory of rescuing the Little Sisters, the mysterious Dr. Tanenbaum promises she’ll “make it worth your while” to rescue them. Decisions, decisions…
Beyond the Big Daddies, Little Sisters, and splicers, Rapture is filled with technology you can interact with. Everything you need, be it ammo, health packs, or plasmids, are dispensed from vending machines. You’ll need to spend ADAM at special vending machines to obtain new plasmids, but all other machines, which include ammo dispensers and health stations, are operated by dollars which can be looted from fallen splicers. As Rapture descended into the chaos of civil war, its maniacal ruler, Andrew Ryan, had plenty of automated security machines installed to act as his eyes and ears in the city. Gun turrets, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and security bots will do their utmost to disrupt you, but as with all technology, it isn’t infallible. You can hack the machines to do your bidding by successfully completing a simple mini-game. This involves you lining up pipe tiles to make liquid travel from the start to finish points. Hacking is easy to begin with, but late in the game, you’ll need a quick hand (and a bit of luck) to get the machine on your side. Failing the mini-game will cause the machine to short-circuit and damage you, but there is also the possibility of setting off an alarm if the liquid flows into an alarm tile. Vending machines can also be hacked which will allow you to buy more items for lower prices.
But it’s the atmosphere and story that set it apart from most FPS games. You’ll hear the deranged ramblings of splicers as you creep through the dark, corpse-ridden corridors of Rapture. There is a chilling, thrilling sensation you get because you don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s this heart-stopping quality that makes BioShock so compelling. Thankfully, the characters you meet throughout the game contrast the dark and gloomy feel of Rapture. The character of Andrew Ryan is very complex, and it’s exciting to see how he develops as his city is crumbling around him. That isn’t to say the lesser characters aren’t very interesting, though. You’ll meet a psycho-surgeon who is obsessed with cosmetic perfection, and an eccentric artist who is out for revenge against his former students. To go along with the thrilling atmosphere and colourful characters, the story of Rapture’s rise and fall is told through its citizens. Audio diaries scatter the city that reveal what life was like in Rapture. These diaries range from trivial musings of your average Rapturian, to commentary on the critical events that plunged Rapture into the mess it’s in today. Excellent voice acting gives these stories a very believable sound.
BioShock’s atmosphere is undoubtedly one of its strongest features, but it does have some downsides. Instead of being forced to reload your last save when you die, you are automatically revived at a vita-chamber with slightly less health and ammo. Vita-chambers dot the halls and act as checkpoints, and enemies sustain damage even after you’ve been revived. This makes it possible to run up to a Big Daddy without worrying about dying; if you do, you can revive yourself and pick up where you left off. It’s a similar situation for hacking; you can save anywhere at any time which eliminates the consequences of a failed hack. After creating such a tense and intimidating environment, the lack of consequence in BioShock takes quite a bit of the edge away.
As soon as you boot up the game for the first time, you’ll realise BioShock is at the peak of audiovisual excellence. It’s important that the water effects for this game are top-notch (for obvious reasons), and they don’t disappoint. The ocean water you briefly swim in during the game’s opening is magnificent, and it gets even better when you descend into Rapture. The city’s look is consistent with the time-period, but there is a surprising amount of variation within the environments. Some of these include the dirty, dingy medical pavilion, the glitz and glamour of Fort Frolic, and the magnificent undersea forest of Arcadia. Inane chatter from the splicers who occupy these environments is voiced exquisitely; it only serves to thicken the history of Rapture. Listening to the deranged citizens chat to themselves, or amongst themselves, gives you some insight into how twisted their lives have become. Finally, the detail of the character models is excellent. The splicers are dressed in a blood-stained and brutal manner which fits their character perfectly. That isn’t to say only the splicers look impressive, though. The attention to detail present on all models, particularly the Big Daddies and your plasmid-wielding hand, is stunning.
BioShock set out with grand expectations, much like Rapture, but unlike the fallen city, it has hit new heights rather than disappointing lows. As an FPS, it’s a success because of the plethora of ways you can dispatch your enemies. With the environment, weaponry, and plasmids at your fingertips, the only limit is your imagination. As a story, you’ll be hard pressed to find a tale that is more thrilling and compulsive. BioShock may take place in the confines of a single city, but thanks to its excellent story portrayal, most role-playing games would have trouble matching it. It will last anywhere between ten and twenty hours depending on how you play the game. Those who explore every corner will be on the upper part of that scale, but achievement hunters, too, will get more out of the game as a second play-through will probably be needed to get the full one-thousand points. Discounting the relative lack of consequence, BioShock excels in all areas and brings it all together to create an experience that no one should pass up.