Review by briantw
"A Great Game That's Not Without Plenty of Flaws"
BioShock starts with a bang. You get a brief glimpse of yourself on a plane and then, suddenly, the plane has crashed in the middle of the Atlantic and you appear to be the only survivor. However, something's not right here. There's a lighthouse nearby, which obviously doesn't belong. Further inspection reveals that, inside this lighthouse, there's a statue of a man holding a large banner that reads "No Gods. No Kings. Only Man." From there, you find a device called a bathysphere, which is essentially an elevator/tram that takes you to the underwater world of Rapture, an enormous city built by Andrew Ryan. And he says it best when he proclaims, "It wasn't impossible to build Rapture under the sea. It was impossible to build it any place else."
Right away in the game you're treated to the awe-inspiring presentation and the fantastic voice acting, and the scope of the game seems huge as you make your way to the city of Rapture, passing buildings and a whale in the process. It's a testament to the developers that the opening scene of the game (which reminds me very much of the opening tram sequence of Half-Life only even cooler) draws you so perfectly into the world. However, you are soon to discover that Rapture is not without its problems, and from there you will embark on a huge adventure to discover what went wrong in the city and why.
BioShock's gameplay is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it's incredibly varied, but on the other, there are very few puzzles and the ones that are there are painfully obvious due to the fact that the game babies you every step of the way. Similarly, there's a respawn chamber (Vita-Chamber, in game terms) every six feet where you will immediately reappear if you die with no consequences, which instantly takes away from the challenge of the game.
Plasmids, however, are quite fun. While they are essentially glorified magic, you are quickly introduced to the world of splicing and plasmids, which is one of the reasons that Rapture fell apart at the seams. Splicing gives you abilities that no normal man has ever had, such as the ability to shoot fire, electricity, ice, or even a swarm of insects out of your hand. The game makes it easy and quick to select which ability you'd like to use, and many of them look fantastic as well. However, the main problem is that most of them are pretty useless. Really, the first one you get (Electrobolt) is the one you'll likely use the most during the course of the game, and aside from a handful of enemies that are immune to electricity, you could easily get through the game without using any others except in the few places where forward progress requires it. Still, the variety is nice, and sometimes you just want to set someone on fire instead of stunning them.
The weapons in the game are nothing we haven't seen before, but BioShock wisely adds in a few twists. Each weapon has three unique ammo types. For example, the shotgun has standard buckshot, electric shells, and explosive shells. It's important to consider your ammo type when dealing with enemies in the game. Early enemies are pretty easily downed by just about anything, but stronger enemies such as Big Daddies require explosives or electricity to bring them down effectively, and even the basic enemies grow stronger as you get through the game, requiring you to adjust your tactics if you want to be successful. Each weapon can also be upgraded twice, allowing for additional ammo capacity, less kick, or the ability to deal more damage. While it's nothing that other games haven't done, it's a nice touch that keeps your weapons feeling fresh throughout the experience.
There are fights in this game that masquerade themselves as boss fights, though, and they are somewhat of a disappointment. Save for the last boss, every one in this game just acts like another splicer, and it's a disappointment. And while the last boss is on the table, he was pretty awful. Not particularly fun or interesting, and he just seemed too terribly cliche for a game that seemed to be doing so well avoiding them.
The lack of good puzzles is something that hurts a game like BioShock. While I wouldn't expect your average brain-dead Halo to have them, a game that markets itself as more sophisticated like BioShock does should really force me to use my brain on more than merely the story. There are, however, at least ten different fetch-quests in the game, which start to grow old after the first one. Sadly, this is something the designers felt the gamer should have to endure over and over and over again. The fetch-quests are made worse by the fact that the game is so quick to hold your hand. The overall feeling is that the whole experience has been dumbed down, presumably due to the fact that it was receiving a wide release on consoles. I'm no PC elitist (I've been playing console games since the NES), but there's no denying that, by comparison, console shooters are generally much more simple, and BioShock, despite seeing release on the PC as well, is no exception.
Overall, the gameplay in BioShock is competent and fun enough, but there are better experiences to be had out there.
BioShock's controls are a mixed bag as well. While I think the swapping and use of weapons and plasmids was handled incredibly well (Right bumber selects weapon, right trigger fires; left bumber selects plasmid, left trigger fires), the developers for some reason chose to make turning slow even on the highest sensitivity level. For anyone who is used to playing faster games, the speed in BioShock just seems terribly slow. Fortunately, the game rarely throws more than a handful of enemies at you as a time, which in the end makes a potentially glaring flaw more or a minor annoyance. Finally, the jump button (Y) is awkward. Granted, you don't have to jump much, but I still feel the A button would have been a better choice.
This is the one area where BioShock shines throughout pretty much the entire game. The game is simply stunning to look at. The water effects are some of the best seen so far in gaming (although its reactions to people in it leave something to be desired), which is integral to a game that takes place in a city under the ocean that happens to be falling apart at the seams. The architecture is similarly beautiful. BioShock wows you from the opening moments and continues to do so for all fifteen hours. You'll still find yourself surprised when you get to an area like Hephaestus and say, "Wow, and I thought I'd seen the best parts of the game already."
The only negative about the graphics is the character models. While they're by no means bad, they just don't look as spectacular as everything else on screen does, and as such they stand out.
From the start of the game, the story of BioShock is very gripping. You're introduced to Andrew Ryan, a brilliant man who had his vision of Rapture and actually managed to follow through with it. He's somewhat of a tragic antagonist. He did a whole hell of a lot wrong, but at the same time you sympathize with him because he actually accomplished the impossible. You hear dozens of great quotes from Ryan throughout the game that are straight out of Ayn Rand, and you truly get a sense that he's a real person who made too many poor decisions when he saw his dream collapsing around him.
Most of the game is told, however, through audio diaries that you find on the ground, in desks, or on bodies of the deceased. It works well, as you are kept immersed in the story by hearing people's stories rather than reading about them. However, a few too many of the key plot points in the story are revealed through these diaries, and you start to feel like you never get to interact with any characters in person.
And that brings about one of the glaring flaws in the story. You never really get the sense that there's still a power struggle going on in Rapture. To the player, every Splicer (the game's general baddies) is the same. I can't tell by looking at them who they work for, and they all seem to hate me for no apparent reason even though I'm all spliced up just like they are. You see zero civilians throughout the entire game. I know that most of them are supposed to be dead, but it would have been nice to break up the monotony once in a while by throwing in an actual person to give you instructions rather than a voice on a radio.
Which, by the way, brings me to Atlas. He's your primary guide in the game. His goal is to get his family and get the hell out of Rapture before it's too late, and your goal is to help him do both so you can get out as well. It's an interesting story, and it's handled well during key twists and also through the excellent voice acting on all accounts.
Sadly, the game has one twist near the end that, while spectacular in and of itself, leads to the worst part of the game story-wise. It was an utter disappointment, really, and it kind of makes me mad that the writers had me so invested in the story and characters only to pull the rug out from under me and turn the last fight into one against someone so ridiculously evil that you couldn't possibly see how he would ever be in the right. It seemed like a cop-out, really, and an unfortunate one too since the game was so brilliantly-written up until that point.
The ending(s) of the game must also be discussed, although not in specifics. Quite simply, they're terrible. Regardless of your choices throughout the game, you either get an ending where you're a saint or one where you might as well be Lucifer himself. Both seemed very lazy, as you spend fifteen or more hours delved in brilliant exposition and stellar atmosphere only to receive a twenty-second video that doesn't answer any questions as your reward.
Had it not been for the terrible endings and the end boss being a horrible cliche, I would have given the story for this game a ten, but, those things considered, I can't.
BioShock is a very good game, but it's not a great game. It does a lot right, and it's a definite step in the right direction for gaming as a whole as far as narrative is concerned, but it does quite a bit wrong as well. The game seems too good to be true during the opening sequence, and during the experience you find out that you were right in believing that. Sadly, a game that started out with such promise of moral ambiguity sends you packing after beating a boss who is almost laughably evil.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/25/07
Game Release: BioShock (US, 08/21/07)
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