Review by Phange
"Works better as a work of interactive fiction than as a first-person shooter"
Bioshock tells a truly interesting and outstanding story; one that definitely references the works of Ayn Rand, Aldus Huxley, and George Orwell. The importance of this fact can't be overstated; Bioshock transcends much of what we've come to expect in videogame storytelling. It's smart, savvy, classy, but unfortunately not completely able to adequately convey its message appropriately due primarily to the vices that seem to be pervasive across all non-RPGs. First and foremost, Bioshock is more about story than gameplay, and what gameplay it has is at least superficially designed to reinforce the atmosphere of the game. As a whole, it's a flawed package, but its unparalleled presentation makes the game worth playing, even if the mechanics are unrefined and often uninteresting.
Bioshock runs on the highly-touted Unreal Engine 3, which debuted last year with the stellar Gears of War . While Bioshock shares Gears of War's fairly stable framerate and particle effects, it doesn't look quite as polished or detailed as Gears. However, what Bioshock lacks in technical quality, it more than makes up for it in aesthetic quality. Fans of alternate history scenarios are often very partial to the 1940's art deco architecture that's prevalent in most of those scenarios. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Crimson Skies, and even parts of Resistance: Fall of Man and the Fallout series feature this sort of style. Mixed with some very '40s and '50s advertisement motifs, the world of Rapture is both strikingly retro and unsettlingly futuristic.
As an Xbox 360 game, Bioshock certainly looks better than most of its competition, both aesthetically and technically. That said, it can be somewhat unstable at times; my 360 froze on more than one occasion while playing. Though this could possibly be the fault of the system, I've not had the problem with any other game.
If there's any one facet of the game that can be considered "unrivaled", it's the sound design. Excellently orchestrated music, expertly performed voice acting, great sound effects and incredibly smart ambient effects make the game absolutely stellar. For a game with survival horror influence, this is especially impressive and important. I highly recommend playing Bioshock with surround sound.
Unfortunately, this is where Bioshock falls flat. There's nothing necessarily bad about Bioshock's gameplay other than the fact that it's so average . The gunplay is wonky and twitchy, the weapons are boring and uninteresting, most of the plasmids are entirely worthless, and to top it all off the enemies are ridiculously resistant to weapons that should literally tear them to shreds. Unloading two full clips of machine gun ammo into a humanoid should leave them in shreds; in Bioshock, especially later in the game, they might have half their health left. And that's not to say the game's hard, because it isn't. Any time you die, you're instantly respawned in a Vita Chamber and sent about your merry way. Worse, any enemy you fought remains damaged. There's basically no way to "lose" the game whatsoever. Adding insult to injury, there's many times where the game's mechanics would make it fairly hard (and enjoyable), and necessitate things like "hacking" robots to do your bidding, but since the game gives you unlimited lives and, by proxy, immunity, there's really no point.
As a work of interactive fiction, Bioshock is outstanding. It's one of the best-told stories (especially in FPS format) in quite some time. That said, the gameplay is unsettlingly mundane. Those looking for a great FPS will be disappointed, but those looking for something they'll remember (story-wise) and analyze for years to come should look no further.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/24/07
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