Review by overachiever547

"A unique vision of terror and consequence set deep in the heart of the ocean"

"Into the deep, our destruction/savior descended..."

O0o...o0O

Bioshock is one of the best games I've played, ever, and the best game I've played on the 360.

I've spent the past few days lovingly soaking in every single detail placed into the game; nearly every room has a something to see, and just about every body you find lying on the floor has a story of how it got there, with a few being genuinely sad. Most notably, the fate of the parents whose daughter entered the Little Sister program.

The whole balance between gunplay and Plasmids is expertly handled as well. One could easily blast their way through the game, modding their weapons until they look absolutely badass (levelling them up transforms them visually) and playing with ammo types. One could also rely on Plasmids the whole way through, which plays like a giant chess game, a thinking man's method, of how to manipulate the environment and the enemies to proceed. You are dropped into the mess, and you can stir it up as you like until you emerge victorious. It really makes you feel like you've accomplished something, and is totally satisfying.

The STORY blew me out of the water [no pun intended]. I won't even touch that, as it's full of twists and turns, one of which sent me reeling and I paused the game and basically sat down for a few minutes thinking of how it all came together. In a spoiler-free nutshell, you are a lone plane crash survivor who discovers the underwater city of Rapture. You meet by radio a man named Atlas who's trying to get his wife and child out of the city, working against the increasingly antagonistic Andrew Ryan and his Splicer army. Passive story-telling occurs through audio diaries, which provide clues to the mystery of Rapture and what happened in 20 second clips. One could easily ignore these clues from the past and simply experience the story as it unfolds, but the weight of the twist and the intensity of your "It all clicks!" moment would be vastly diminished.

The sound is unbelievable, and beyond anything I've ever encountered. From the room-shaking sound of a Big Daddy's footsteps, to the claustrophobic sound of water constantly surrounding and filling the room, Bioshock paints a soundscape of texture that blankets the player. The sound design is used to both terrify and amaze the player, most usually the former. I played on a 72'' LCD with a full surround sound, and can only imagine any lesser sound setups as unable to do the game justice. The voicework is excellent, especially from the major players. The orchestrations are also top-knotch, with beautiful string compositions playing over emotional and significant scenes. The game also uses actual songs from the 1940's and 1950's, most notably Bobby Darrin's "Beyond the Sea" (which plays in the TV spot), which are played on record players and jukeboxes throughout the city. This adds a level of authenticity that really makes you feel like you're visiting a time capsule.

The quality of the art design is something I've never seen in a videogame before. The theme of clean art deco of the 1940's meets gory brutality is memorable and something you've never seen in a video game before. It all feels so *real*, from the advertisements to the bathrooms to the bars to the stores. You never feel like you're running through a map, for the scenery is so alive with color and purpose that it all just... makes sense. Case in point, my favorite level, Fort Frolic. A sort of art/music/sex hall/mall, the vision of it (as revealed in a grand lighting of the main hall) is transporting. From the plastered-alive human mannequins (arranged in artfully disturbing poses) to the spotlights that follow your movement, Fort Frolic is perhaps Bioshock's greatest example of level design. Though the narrative is linear, the levels are not; the exploration of the dozens and dozens of rooms in each level extend the gameplay experience for those who are patient to a little over 20 hours, while those rushing through can finish in about 12.

It's hard to put Bioshock into a genre. It's an action game, no doubt, with the fights and explosions and physics larger than life and very jarring. Also, it's an RPG in a base sense, without all the numbers and management. It's also surprisingly terrifying, full of a creeping sense dread and moments of crap-in-your-pants suspense (the Medical Pavilion's crematorium and funeral home, I'm looking at you). Call me a wimp, but there were moments where I'd be afraid to be thorough just because the room creeped me out so much. The amount of gore is almost excessive, and it surprised me at how violent the scenery is. It almost felt like a haunted house you'd find in a off-kilter amusement park, with each room filled with a horror, except the show isn't limited to the house, but the whole city.

The game features a sort of morality system, a feature that premiered a few years back with games like Star Wars: KOTOR and that prison horror game (whose name I can't recall). But Bioshock handles the idea differently; your actions and consequences feel natural and not forced, and for the first time, I actually did in-game what I would have done in real life, rather than simply do all bad all the time (since, in last-gen, it was more fun). For the first time ever, I naturally changed my morality choice during the course of the game, something that past video games have been hardpressed to accomplish.

This game also is one of the rare few that can elicit raw emotion from players. One poignant scene immediately following the twist made me cry. Certain... someones looked at me like I was a monster, an inhumane killer, and in actuality I was. The developers made them feel so real, so human, that I was devastated at their innocence and genuine terror. So frequently, video games contain violence without repercussion, where a lone soldier would mindlessly wipe out an entire army singlehandedly, smoke a cigar, and call it a day. Very rarely do games allow you to see how others view you after your massacre. I think players are so used to being able to kill without regret that we've become desensitized to our actions. The game really hammers in the fact that you're a killer, and its world sees you as such. As I gingerly walked towards them, I wanted to reach out to them, to defy the limits of the video game and speak to them, to ask for forgiveness, to verbally express my regret, to promise them that I was a changed man, but they continued to shrink away in terror, their eyes wide with panic. After all they had done for me, I nearly broke down because of the weight of the consequences of my actions. I left the place ashamed and sniffling and cursing myself, who had become a monster. The game hit me with such a devastating sense of cause and effect that I actually cried, something I've never encountered before in a videogame.

I could spend a full two paragraphs ranting about the beauty of the graphics, but instead, I'll put it into one sentence: the visuals are out of this world, the water in particular. Combined with the sound and art design, it creates a truly transportive and immersive experience.

By the last 2 levels, you really feel like a god among those you encounter. The game lets you really experiment and have fun with the AI systems, whereas earlier in the game, it's a tense struggle for survival. A spoilerish action in the second to last level really puts the nail on the coffin, but then the gameplay changes from self-preservation to... something else. But it was a nice way to wrap up the game, and it made the game come full-circle.

Bioshock is a must play game that will still be talked about 5 years from now because of the quality of the art and design and gameplay, and sets the bar for video game companies that shell out mindless copies after copies of the same formulaic material. It transcends the genre and is living proof that the video game category can exist as an art form.

O0o...o0O

GRAPHICS - 10/10
In combination with the art design, brings the world of Rapture to full realization that's transporting and haunting. The city seems full of life, even among the dead.

SOUND - 10/10
Layers upon layers of high quality sound weave a complicated dome of sound that's textured and frightening. The Big Daddies will shake your room and break your speakers. The voices and orchestrations are no less then excellent.

IMMERSION - 11/10
Graphics and sound combine to make an experience that's magical and transporting. You can almost smell the seawater and musk. Leaves the player feeling wet.

STORY - 9.5/10
Brilliant idea of investigative and optional story telling that weave a large patchwork of story. Nearly every dead body you find has a story to tell, and most of them are tragic. The twist is among the best of them, on Star Wars: KOTOR and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back proportions. The ending is a bit abrupt, and I could have seen the final scenes going a different direction.

GAMEPLAY - 9.5/10
A fun mix between gunplay and magicplay that allows you to manipulate and experiment with different AI systems, allowing for multiple ways of approaching a subject. Something that will make you want to share your unique experiences with friends. Research Camera minigame is worth looking at, but subtracts from the immersion. Hacking gets repetitive after doing it over a hundred times.

PLAYABILITY - 10/10
Walking, swimming, and shooting all work steadily, with the X-and-Y-axes moving at just the right speed. Like real life, aiming challenging. Game marvellously set at no Auto-Aim, adding to immersion. Player walks at a decent, almost slow pace, which can be manipulated with Tonics. Feels weighty and grounded, especially towards the later levels [wink wink].

REPLAYABILITY - 9.5/10
Multiple endings allow for at least two playthroughs, both of which are almost guaranteed to be experienced differently. Bioshock is also a game that needs to be played multiple times to truly grasp the scope of the story, and of every character. Unfortunately, most people won't want to do that...

OVERALL - 10/10 - CLASSIC


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 08/26/07


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