Review by BloodGod65

"What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men?"

Given that the hype leading up to the release of Bioshock was almost overwhelming, it is amazing that this game met any expectations at all. Against all odds, it was able to deliver on most of what it had promised and the end product is an inventive and memorable experience. However there are some basic issues that mar the overall experience.

STORY
As most everyone has probably heard, this game takes a lot of inspiration from the work of Ayn Rand and her philosophy of objectivism. If you are unfamiliar with her work, that's perfectly fine, because an intimate knowledge of philosophy isn't required to play the game.

As for the actual in game story, you play a man whose plane crashed over the Atlantic Ocean. After swimming to a giant lighthouse (yes, in the middle of the ocean) and descending to the bottom in a bathysphere, he finds a city named Rapture. Rapture is the brainchild of a man named Andrew Ryan (highly evocative of Ayn Rand) who wanted to escape the limitations of the world above. Under his reign science flourished, free of ethics and regulations, and commerce grew. Until it all fell apart, of course.

My favorite aspect of the story is the way it is presented. Unlike in some games, where you play for hours until getting to a plot point, something is always being revealed by way of audio journals. While these may not always contain an earthshaking revelation, all of them will reveal a little about what happened in Rapture.

GRAPHICS
The graphics manage a strange feat by being realistic and somewhat cartoonish at the same time. Make no mistake, this isn't a Saturday morning cartoon, but the way the colors and lighting are done makes me think of a well illustrated comic book.

Environments manage to be beautiful and heavily oppressive at the same time. Water (the best I've ever seen) leaks in around every corner, and for the most part the city is in shambles, but it is still clear that you are walking through what used to be a utopia.

The enemies you'll face are even more impressive. Due to what's been happening in Rapture, its citizens have taken drastic measures to survive. This is always clear when you encounter one of them, since most are horribly disfigured and truly disgusting to look at.

SOUND
I really can't give high enough praise in this section. Sound is one of those things that really sets the atmosphere, and in a game this atmospheric, the sound is the key element. You'll often hear the deranged citizens of Rapture before you even see them and some of the things they say are downright creepy. The other characters, are also done extremely well, but it would have been nice to have had a little more variation in the voices.

The music used is also very essential in setting the mood. Not only is there a fair bit of typical orchestrated music, but 2K has also gone the extra mile by putting real, era-specific music in the game. While the copyrights on most of this stuff was expired, it still shows how dedicated they were to making a game that felt just right.

GAMEPLAY
The world of Rapture is divided into levels, which may seem a bit limiting at first. Then you actually step into it and realize that these aren't bite sized levels that take a few minute to breeze through. Each level basically takes up an entire area of the city, meaning that they are absolutely massive. Among the areas you'll visit are an entire indoor forest (which is actually small compared to most other levels), a complex that houses all the cities necessary medical buildings, and the heart of Rapture itself with all its towering machinery. Each level is filled with buildings you can explore, each filled with lots of essential goodies.

One of the first things you'll learn is that Rapture is at war with itself, and you are caught up in the middle of it, just trying to find your way out. The war itself was caused by something called Adam. Adam becomes a crucial part of the gameplay by way of the Big Daddies and Little Sisters. Little Sisters are basically harvesters of Adam while Big Daddies make sure nothing gets to them. Since Adam is necessary to gain access to plasmids and gene tonics (more on those later) you'll have to get to the Little Sisters.

Fighting the Big Daddies is almost like a boss fight every time you do it. They are monstrous, armored creatures that carry ridiculously overpowered weapons such as drills and rivet guns. They are also capable of dashing, which means you'll often be smashed against a wall or pimp slapped by a two ton monster. This is where one of my minor complaints comes in. Bioshock would have really benefitted from a run button, akin to the one found in Half-Life 2. You'll often be killed simply because you couldn't get out of the way fast enough.

Once the Big Daddy is out of the way, you'll have to decide what to do with the Little Sister. You'll have the option to either rescue her or harvest her. Rescuing her means you get less Adam, but she lives. Harvesting her means that you get a lot of Adam but she dies. It's a minor, but very interesting game quirk that makes you think about what you need to do every time you come across one of these freakish little girls.

Most of the combat in the game is just as intense as these fights. Even run of the mill encounters will routinely become small wars with countless rounds being fired and numerous things being set aflame. While this is usually pretty cool, it often becomes a little too chaotic, especially since it's often hard to even hit your target. All enemies jump around like monkeys on speed while you try to draw a bead on them. This wouldn't be so irritating if only they had the same problem. And yet they can jump around and yet still be able to hit you, dead-on.

One of the most irritating things about the entire game is that the enemies continually get stronger. There is never any in-game explanation for this and the enemies themselves never actually look any different or change in any way. You'll just be going along, taking out enemies with a couple of shots until you encounter an enemy that takes a small armies worth of ammunition to kill. There is at least one more insane difficulty spike after the initial one, and although your weaponry can be upgraded, it will never come close to being able to really hurt any of the enemies. To give an example, I was near the end of the game and I came face to face with an enemy. I unloaded four shotgun shells into his face, at point blank range and didn't even take down half his life bar. Simply ridiculous. And take into account the fact that oftentimes there will be three or four of these guys attacking at the same time and you've got an unwinnable situation.

Should you die (and you will), you'll immediately be transported to the nearest vita-chamber, where you'll be resurrected with no questions asked. Basically, when you die, you just go back to where you where and keep fighting. There are no negative effects to dying, so any damage inflicted on an enemy will remain. While a lot of people probably have a problem with this system, I was actually grateful for it, because there were countless times when an enemy jumped out and beat my skull in with a pipe before I could react, as well as any other number of cheap deaths.

Once you've got Adam, you can purchase plasmids or gene tonics. Plasmids are basically the games version of magic and Eve, a distilled form of Adam, is mana. While it seems like there are lots of plasmids to get and play with, in reality there are very few, and most of them are absolutely worthless. The ones that are really useful are given to you near the beginning of the game, and after experimenting with others, I decided to just stick with them. Some examples of the plasmids are Incinerate, which causes an area to burst into flames and can be used to set oil on fire, Lightning which is useful against machinery and can be used to shock water, and Insect Swarm which launches a swarm of bees from your fingertips and has no practical use at all.

In addition to the plasmids, you can get gene tonics which are basically passive bonuses. There are three types; physical, engineering and combat. Physical tonics may make you damage resistant, engineering can help you hack into things, and combat can make certain damage types more effective. Again, there seem to be a lot of these but most of them are practically useless.

Combat isn't limited to just guns and plasmids though. Often you'll encounter sentry turrets or security cameras that can be hacked to give you an edge. Hacking is accomplished through a mini-game that makes you assemble a tube from one end of the grid to another, before the liquid gets to the end. It's pretty cool at first, but eventually it becomes monotonous. And hacking also suffers the same problem as the enemies. The difficulty rapidly spikes to a level that is simply idiotic. In addition to turrets and cameras, you can hack safes and vending machines to get goodies for discount prices.

THE VERDICT
This game sets a new bar for story in a shooter, but it's got its fair share of flaws. While it's not a bad game by any means, the weird problem with the enemies and lackluster plasmid selection is enough to hold the game back.

HIGHS
- Great story
- Incredibly long for a FPS

LOWS
- Enemies become ridiculously tough
- There aren't many plasmids or tonics that are actually useful


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/22/08, Updated 02/11/10

Game Release: BioShock (US, 08/21/07)


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