It immerses you so well into its universe that you may not realise till after you have played it how very good it is.
DEVELOPER: 2K Boston/2K Australia
The year is 1960. On board a plane flying across the Atlantic Ocean, you play as a faceless protagonist known as Jack. When the plane crashes into the sea, you take salvation by swimming ashore to a lighthouse. A mini submarine which takes you into the depths of the Ocean and you are greeted by an infomercial presenting to you the world of "Rapture". In 1940's a man named Andrew Ryan invited the artists and intellects to join him in creating an underwater Utopia free from the suppressions of religions and the government. Yet as soon as you arrive in Rapture, you soon discover this world has slowly gone wrong.
You are soon contacted by radio by a unseen man named Atlas who may just be able to help you escape Rapture alive. It becomes apparent that Rapture is slowly falling apart under you and is infested with mutated people craving stem cell enhancements known as "Atom": a substance that allows for genetic enhancements of the body. You will have to make use of the Atom powers and decide whether you are going to purge or save "the little sisters" of Rapture. These little girls, mutated by the effects of Atom collect the substance from the dead. Will you help them save Rapture? Or are you out to only save yourself?
Released for PC and the Xbox360, Bioshock was developed by 2K Games, which includes numerous talents such as Ken Levine who worked on System Shock 2. The influence and creativity from System Shock 2 is immediately evident in the intense and cinematic world of Bioshock. There are numerous narrative elements that will be immediately familiar such as mysterious voices instructing you on where to go, as well as haunting ghosts who retell poignant moments from a world that has slowly decayed. Yet despite these comparisons, Bioshock stands on its own merits and it is testimony to the art direction and wholly unique visual style that the game looks and feels like nothing you have played before.
Rapture was built in the 1940's and as such the game has been decorated authentically towards the era, with the appropriate furniture, music and textures delivering a world where every room is soaked in atmosphere. Enemies (or Splicers as they are known) look appropriately creepy with bloodied clothes and masks sheltering their scarred faces. They are intelligent enough in gunfights too with the ability to strafe, roll, flip and run when injured. They are able to search for health machines if necessary. They are never particularly tactical but you wouldn't expect them to be given they were once just ordinary people. The voice acting is superb throughout the entire game, with all enemies sounding appropriately angered and violent, while Andrew Ryan the creator of Rapture has a proud tone in his voice but perhaps too even guilt and remorse for what has happened. He was a man who had a vision for a better world and had to take drastic measures to try and preserve his ideals and values within Rapture.
Much of the story is conveyed through the voice of Atlas guiding you, as well as Ryan, occasionally interspersing his hatred of you, but there are also tapes everywhere that can be collected. These will give you insights into the backstory of Rapture and what exactly has happened. There are valuable subplots that you need to pay attention to, such as that of a smuggler in Rapture and his ongoing battle with Ryan, and a woman who feels she has blood on her hands with the transformation of the little sisters. It pays greatly to search every room in the game to not only find ammo, money, health and eve (which is basically mana for your powers) but to find tapes that will fill in the story. It is clever how you are never told absolutely everything given that you are an outsider looking into this world that has gone wrong. The way levels are decorated with trashed rooms and water leakages tells its own story.
The core game play is a mixture of exploration and First Person Shooter combat. You gradually find a stand action game arsenal of a wrench, a pistol, machine gun, shotgun, crossbow and a grenade launcher. These are effective, but not overly powerful given that they have been under the Ocean for twenty years. This arsenal takes a back step towards the Plasmids you purchase as you find Atom. It functions as a currency in that you find a special machine and are then able to choose new Plasmids and slots for them.
These powers include: Fire, Ice, electricity, telekinetic to pick up and hurl objects (like Half-Life 2's gravity gun), a hive of bees and several others. There are also tonics that can act passively (they are on all the time) such as having your body give off an electric shock every time someone acts you with a melee weapon or a Wrench Jockey that increases the damage of your melee attacks. There are limited slots for your powers but you can buy additional ones or swap powers around at gene machines. The interface is perfectly customised for the PC allowing you to switch between Plasmids and weapons on the fly.
You obtain Atom points by either rescuing or killing a Little Sister. You will have to take care of their bodyguards first before you can reach them though. These are monsters in a giant diving suit who are tasked with protecting the sisters and will attack you if you get to close. While Bioshock is a linear game at it's heart, the powers you have demonstrate the versatility of the game world. For example, you may choose to attack a security gun turret with you grenade launcher, yet this would take up vital ammo and health. Instead you could use your electricity bolt to stun the turret and then hack it to fight against enemies for you. Or you can take a pot shot with your fire and then slowly wait for it to burn away at the gun. Why not freeze the turret and then run past it, avoiding it all together? You could pick up a flammable canister using telekinetic and hurl it at it too. You are approach with enemies is like this too. You could freeze an enemy and smash him into pieces but then you can't search him for goodies, like health packs and ammo. You could zap him while he's standing in water, increasing the electrical damage.
The trick with these powers is that later in the game certain Splicer enemies become more resistant to certain powers. A Houdini Splicer who shoots fire at you is obviously going to be resistant against fire and ice. They will be able to disappear before you can hit them anyway. Thus perhaps it is easier to shock them and bash them with a wrench or a blast from a shotgun. It really comes to life at times in the game when you find yourself taking down multitudes of enemies at once, freezing them, then switching the pistol for a swift bullet to the head, listening to them smash into a thousand pieces and then repeating the execution on the next target.
There are many different options with the combat but it is your interaction with the rest of the game world that makes the game so much fun as well. Look at hacking a safe: You can collect various items from the world which can then be put into a "U-Invent Machine". You may then choose to create an auto-hack and open the safe right away. You may wish to buy out the safe to have it opened. Or you might try playing a mini-game and manually hacking the safe yourself, risking if the alarm goes off the arrival of security bots. It is through this ability to collect so many little things in world of Rapture makes it both fun to explore and to interact with.
The game has been rather unfairly criticised for the inclusion of "Vita chambers". When you are "killed" in Rapture you are automatically brought back to a chamber with you current ammo and eve levels. Essentially there is no penalty for death. This does make the game fairly easy but I do not have a problem with this at all. There is still challenge within the game in that you have to still find a way to dispose of your enemies.
It is also not all that different from players who would frequently quick save before a battle. And it manages to keep the game flowing at a rapid pace too. How annoying it has been to have to repeat one section of a game for hours on end because you don't have enough health or ammo. At last a developer that does not wish to hinder the player's progress.
Some have also said that it reduces the tension of the game. I don't think Bioshock is a particularly scary game in the first place but Rapture with its hollow corridors and brilliant sound design (you can hear every footstep, every word of a Splicer) retains its atmosphere and incredible tension. The game is perhaps at its scariest when it shows you nothing, allowing your imagination to decipher what may or may not be beyond the next door. It is the Unreal 3 Engine that works so well in presenting a world that is as fractured as the people with in it, and makes the game so rich and compelling to play through.
The only true misstep of the game is perhaps the finale which is deduced to a final boss battle that is not particularly hard and less unique than the rest of the game. It is followed by two endings, depending on your treatment of the Little Sister. The bad ending is strange and fairly disappointing, but thankfully the good ending remains sweet and very poignant, which is a rarity in games today.
Bioshock is a game that immerses you so well into its universe that you may not realise till after you have played it how very good it is. Along with Crysis, it is another FPS that is allowing players to have greater control and participation in the action on screen. All of its elements come together in a unique way to prove that this is a very special game indeed.