Review by Xenon
"Amazing Atmosphere, but the Gameplay isn't that special"
If anything is proof of how advertising is what sells games more than anything else, Bioshock is it. Well, it or 50 Cent Bulletproof, but for completely different reasons. Bioshock is the unique FPS from 2K Boston. Now, 2K Boston USED to be a company called Irrational games, which made the System Shock series. System Shock 2 has gotten more praise on internet message boards than most games do, and yet it's still largely unknown to most gamers. But these people have of course been looking for a sequel. Instead, they got Bioshock, and through a media blitz, everyone knows about Bioshock. Does it fufill the hype that the SS2 fans have built up. Well, not quite. What it is is a fun little game with amazing atmosphere.
A thinking man's shooter?
Let's face it. FPS games and shooters in general just aren't know for their epic story telling. Half-Life received mountains of praise for what amounted basically to HAVING a story. So right off the bat, Bioshock is a bit different. Without the aid of any cutscenes, Bioshock tells the engrossing story of a nameless man (you) who's plane crashes on his way across the ocean. He ends up in the underwater city of rapture, and very quickly makes an enemy of the leader of the city without actually doing anything. I won't spoil anything more, but you'll find a good story here that throws you for a few excellent, if not entirely unpredictable, loops. I doubt I can properly convey it, but Bioshock has more atmosphere than, well, any game, like, ever. And this makes it worth playing by itself. The ruined underwater dystopia has real character. It is both retro and futuristic at the same time, and features a truly creepy aura to it. If only every single character you meet in the game didn't want to kill you. When you play Bioshock, remember to pick up all the tape recorders spread through the game, these little treasure provide the real story of Bioshock. You'll be able to get a glimpse into this world before everything went to hell. The wide variety of people that they come from helps immensely as well. You'll hear the story from everyone from the top to the bottom of society.
Gameplay, for the most part, is standard FPS. You start out with just a wrench, but will quickly acquire a small arsenal including all the standards. You've got your pistol, rocket launcher, shotgun, and machine gun, and after a while you'll get the becoming standard crossbow. What's not so standard is the different types of ammo that you can get with these guns. Each weapon that isn't the wrench has three types of ammo. The bullet using weapons are fairly tame, with one type being good against people, and the other type being good against Big Daddies and machines (and the third type being your standard gardent variety bullets). The rocket launcher and cross bow get some more interesting ones, however, including electric trip wires and powerful mines (which will become your Big Daddy ammo of choice). This system works fairly well, and you'll find on the hard difficulty that enemies don't die very readily without this ammo. Which actually brings me to my first real complaint about the game, why is the ammo limit so low? You can only take out a couple of enemies before you have to hope to find an engineering station to resupply (this ammo is created by you, for the most part). Bioshock's much hyped weapon customization system was also quite disappointing. Each weapon can be upgraded twice, and how it's upgraded is already pre-determined. You merely get the pick the order in which things get upgraded. But weapons are not the only way you can kill your opponents in Bioshock. No sir, you also have the much vaulted plasmids. Plasmids act sort of like spells for your character. You equip them to your character (how many is determined by how many you've upgraded using the energy you've acquired from the little sisters) and you're able to cast them as long as you have the power for them. Effects are varied and numerous. Simple fire or electric attacks to the ability to take over machines and move and throw things. It's a neat little system.
Combat as well as puzzle are further enhanced by a number of support systems. You can equip different tonics to enhance your abilities both in and out of combat. Out of combat you say? Yes, you interact with various machines by solving a little puzzle that is very similar to the old pipedream game for the NES. It offers a nice little distraction, though rarely is it very difficult (rarely, occasionally it'll own you without a second thought, and some are actually unwinnable without the right tonics). Still, those that take the time will find it very valuable to get access to safes and turn the machines against your opponents.
A man chooses, a slave obeys
All this customization makes up the supposed RPG aspect of the game, but don't be fooled. The only real growth comes from what you unlock using the energy you gain from the little sisters, and no matter which path (harvest or save) you choose, you'll have energy to spare assuming you actually take the time to actually gather the energy. All the tonics can be interchanged at will, and so it's really hard to see the growth. While you can upgrade your weapons, your enemies will upgrade right along with them, and you'll reach a point where only the upgraded weapons are of any use against the enemies (taking you back to square one).
As far as growth actually goes, Harvesting the little sisters is really one aspect you probably know everything about. There are little girl's running around and they have what you need. Once you catch one, you'll have the choice of harvesting them for the full value, or saving them for half-value. This choice is the sole determination of whether you'll get the good or evil ending. Sadly, that's really all it affects. If you choose to save them, after a few, a scientist who wants to save the girls will send you a care package that will easily make up the difference and she'll even send a few bonus items (like the control big daddy Plasmid). At worst, saving them only forces you to wait a tiny bit to get your upgrades. But the little sisters won't just be caught, they're protected by the Big Daddies, who are quite fearsome at least at first. Once you acquire the right ammo, you can take down a Big Daddy with a little planning and a couple of seconds. The first ones, however, are simply ridiculous, and are extremely frustrating without the use of the vita-chambers.
And so we come to the big rub with Bioshock. Difficulty and Vita-Chambers. Unpatched, you always have the vita-chambers to fall back on. What does this mean? You can't lose. Seriously. Dying will send you to a vita-chamber, at which point you'll simply have to go back to the enemy and finish the job. Nothing is restored besides your health and plasmid energy. Not your ammo, not their health. Eventually, even if you have to beat every last Big Daddy into submission with the wrench, you'll emerge victorious. With a patch, you can turn off the Vita-Chambers, but this provides us with its own set of problems. Namely, the early big daddies. The first few ones you come up against come at a time where you can't make special ammo, have little of any kind of ammo, and don't exactly have a reservoir of health. Killing the Big Daddy without the Vita Chamber is a tedious process of hit and run. Late game isn't a problem (for reasons mentioned earlier) with Big Daddies, but instead you run into normal enemies that are nigh-unkillable (at least on hard) without special ammo. I have a problem when multiple point blank shots to the head with a shotgun doesn't kill the enemy. You're kind of screwed either way. Turn them on and nothing matters, as you can't lose, turn them off and you'll run into maddening situations that you can do little about.
+++ Gripping Story
++ Basically Solid Gameplay
--- Nonexistent or widely varying difficulty
-- Upgrades don't seem to really do anything
-- The big choices only matters in the ending, not in the gameplay.
-- Why can this random dude survive 4 shotgun blasts to the face?
-- About Zero Replayability
Bioshock is a game that everyone should play. It's as simple as that. It's a great experience. The gameplay .is ok. It could certainly be better. There are some neat features, but the cons to them seem to negate all the cool factors. But few games get the feeling of a place better. I can't think of any to be honest. Perhaps that's why the Vita-Chambers where in the game to begin with. The creators knew what the game was really about. But is that what it should be about? Well, one thing is for sure, Bioshock is one-of-a-kind, at least until the sequel hits.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/23/08
Game Release: BioShock (Limited Edition) (US, 08/21/07)
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