Review by Archmonk Iga

"Sometimes multiplayer is completely unnecessary."

As I played through Bioshock and discussed with myself how I would begin my highly-anticipated GameFAQs user review of it, I thought of multiple ways to do so. It was quite difficult for me to pick just one, so I've decided to include all of them. Hopefully they aren't too lengthy.

Introduction 1: Ayn Rand is no enigma. Through The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, she managed to throw both invigorating stories and her unique, controversial objectivist philosophies simultaneously at her readers. If you've read either or both of these magnum opuses, you will no doubt be able to identify many of the allusions in Bioshock to Rand's philosophies. When I play videogames that involve a lot of philosophical allusions interwoven throughout their story, I end up wanting to simply watch such a story progress rather than dealing with actually playing the game. The biggest example of this mindset I unfortunately possess is with the Xenosaga series. I found those games fascinating in the story they told yet tedious in the trials they put me through so I could see the next exciting segment of plot progression. Such is not the case with Bioshock. This one-of-a-kind videogame has something that Xenosaga never did—a brilliant, inspired plot paired with insanely addictive gameplay.

Introduction 2: Single-player FPS games risk falling into the trap of shallow gameplay with little replay value. Remember Breakdown for the Xbox? Yeah, I didn't think so. It's pretty much the same with FPS's with online multiplayer as well—Halo, Call of Duty, Medal of Honor… Sure, the story modes are fun in their own special way, but you really buy the games for the multiplayer modes. Yet among this garden of great and grave FPS's, there is Bioshock. Is it multiplayer? No, it isn't. Only one person can play Bioshock at a time. Then what makes it special? What separates it from the Halos and the Breakdowns? There is no single answer to these questions. To understand why Bioshock is so amazing, I recommend reading the rest of my review.

Introduction 3: I'll admit, I'm a big Billy Joel fan. One of his most popular songs is “Just the Way You Are.” On this track, he croons about how his one love is perfect just for being who she (or he or it) is. I absolutely feel this way with a little game called Bioshock. It's a single-player FPS, a rare breed in this day and age. But, for the fans of the game, would you have it any other way? Isn't Bioshock perfect just the way it is? Yes, my friends. You tell Bioshock, “don't go changin' to try and please me.” Bioshock listens. Bioshock, we love you just the way you are.

STORY:
They told me, “Son, you're special. You were born to do great things.” You know what? They were right.

Such is the beginning of the long, disturbing journey of one Jack, our protagonist, and the one whose eyes and ears we witness Bioshock's story through.

The year is 1960. Jack is sitting on a plane, traveling across the Atlantic Ocean. In his hands is a gift from his parents. Inside he finds a pistol, which he uses to hijack the plane, causing it to plummet into the water below. He seems to be the only survivor, and instinctively swims to an oil rig which is coincidentally only a few dozen yards away. He descends into it and soon realizes that it is certainly no ordinary oil rig…

Bioshock takes place in the underwater city of Rapture, hidden from the ordinary folk of the rest of the world. Rapture was a brilliant city for brilliant people, started by an enigmatic individual named Andrew Ryan. A native of Russia, he moved to the United States—an obvious parallel to Ayn Rand, who did the same thing (also note the similar spelling between their names). Like Rand, Ryan holds a strong Objectivist lifestyle. He built Rapture for people who don't give in to the damaged world that lives above-ground. He wanted Rapture to hold men and women who had great aspirations, and great aspirations to realize those aspirations. And for a few years, it did…

The Rapture that we see, however, is not a civilization. The walls are soaked in blood, debris lie everywhere you look—it has fallen into utter chaos and disarray. Upon arrival, we soon hear a friendly voice—what sounds like an Australian accent belonging to a man named Atlas (another Rand reference). As you make your way to salvation, Atlas kindly guides you and tells you about the world of Rapture and what has happened to it. At first, he is your best and only friend, the one who kindly directs you to save yourself and him—the only two people in Rapture who seem to still hold any sanity.

Rapture is teeming with madness. Once citizens of Rapture, most of the people have given in to “Adam”, a sort of drug that reconstructs and recreates human cells. By “splicing” themselves, Rapture's people eventually were able to make themselves look how they want, and, once civil war began in Rapture, were able to add “Plasmids” (internal powers) to their genetic make-ups. Eventually the Adam took its toll on everyone, making them go absolutely psychotic, and ultimately causing Jack a terrible inconvenience.

Jack is soon introduced to the hulking “Big Daddies” and the creepy “Little Sisters.” I won't go into detail about what their backstories are, but these two unique types of characters greatly alter the way Jack will fight his way through Rapture. They share a strange bond, where Big Daddies protect the Little Sisters with their lives. At one point Jack finds a Daddy-less Little Sister, and Atlas tells him to “Harvest” her to become more powerful. It's at that point where Jack meets his other friend, Bridgette Tenenbaum, who pleads for him to save the little girl. Throughout the game, Jack (you) must decide whether or not to save these unfortunate children or to kill them so you can become stronger. Your fate depends on the actions you take regarding these Little Sisters, so choose wisely whenever you come across one.

There' obviously so much more to Bioshock's storyline, but there's no way I would fit it all into a review. Quite frankly, this is one of the single most exceptional stories (in a videogame or otherwise) I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing. The decrepit setting of Rapture itself would make for an entertaining mood, but with all the twists and turns in between, your jaw will be dropping countless times.

Something that only adds to the story is the way it's delivered to you. Instead of showing you the backstory, Jack will come across a sort of “audio diary,” left by the people of Rapture. In them he will hear stories from Ryan, Tenenbaum, and many other men and women who have gone through the hell that is Rapture. Jack's story takes place in the present tense, but the way Bioshock presents Rapture's history is done perfectly. You couldn't ask for a better way to learn about this mess of a city.
STORY: 10/10

GRAPHICS:
Looking at the decrepit walls that enclose Rapture, you will find literally hundreds of various sights to behold. You will see splatters of blood, sometimes actually spelling out phrases to really freak you out. You will see unhinged, dirty, 50's inspired advertisements, telling you about the best cigarettes to smoke or the “Little Sisters' Orphanage” or the new EVE hypos (remember this is 50's-inspired, so the ads have that 50's “feel” to them). Then there are the glass walls that remind you that you are under the ocean—you'll see bubbles, seaweed, fish, the whole nine yards.

Also scattered throughout Rapture is all the rubbish left behind from its past citizens. I don't make it sound like much, but all the clutter filling up this giant human aquarium is both impressive and depressing at the same time. What's more, most of these objects (barrels, chairs, desks, saws, pretty much anything else…) can be interacted with.

While we're talking about the environments, I think I'll discuss the water that's inside of Rapture as well. You will come across countless rooms that have been flooded since Rapture's demise, and the effects associated with these giant puddles are quite a sight to behold. Whether it's the simple ripples, a spreading electrical jolt, or the splashing caused by a running splicer, the water inside of Rapture should teach future 360 games a thing or two.

One last thing about the city of Rapture itself—the lighting is fantastic. Not only do the lights frighteningly flicker on and off as if they had minds of their own, but the placement of them really affects the way you play the game. The shading is fantastic too—you will yelp the first time you see that unaware splicer's creepy shadow, focusing all its attention on God knows what. You won't want to move forward.

As if the environments aren't enough to impress, the character models look brilliant as well. The splicers look creepy as hell, bloody and misshapen from head to toe. The Big Daddies, well… they're big and ugly. Now, as you fight these enemies they continually get more bloody and misshapen than before your encounter. They'll eventually show burns, insect stings, bruises, and any other sort of injury all across their bodies. It's quite a treat to see a completely blackened Big Daddy stomping around, with jets of steam coming out of his helmet. And even after they've been brutally clobbered to death by you, they still may be… twitching… Now at first, I wasn't sure if this was a glitch or not, but either way it definitely adds to the freakiness of our lovely, psychotic Rapture residents.

The Little Sisters also change. At first you'll see them look insanely creepy—black and greasy hair, pale skin, dirty clothes. They also carry around these syringes, which I'll let you learn about on your own. If you choose to save them, they return to their normal appearance. If you choose to harvest them, well… Just remind yourself that you're sort of killing a little girl.

Jack himself, while you never see anything but his arms and his guns, looks pretty darn good as well. All the weaponry in Bioshock is modeled after the way guns (and wrenches, crossbows, and chemical throwers…) looked back in the late 1950's. When someone like my father, who is a gun aficionado, can recognize the types of guns in a videogame as being decades old, you know you gotta hand it to the creators.

The guns are what we see with Jack's right arm, but how about his left? This arm wields his plasmids. I'll just to give you a few examples to illustrate. One plasmid has Jack's hand covered in hornets and hornets' swollen stings. Disturbing, but at the same time pretty effin' cool. When you select the freeze plasmid, Jack will clench his fist as icicles spurt up out of his hand, releasing a few droplets of blood. Again, disturbing, but it also looks great.

The city of Rapture and the people (if you can call them “people”) residing in it look like nothing else you've ever seen in a videogame. Artistically, Bioshock delivers head-on. It captures the look of the past and integrates it with an underwater apocalypse. Who would have thought such a haphazard combination would actually look this good?
GRAPHICS: 10/10

SOUNDS:
You know, there's just something about hearing the stereo gently play “How Much Is that Doggy In the Window?” while you're brutally slaughtering anything and everything around you that moves. This is one of the reasons Bioshock is so unique. You'll hear old, familiar tunes playing on the radios throughout Rapture (somehow everything but the soundsystems were destroyed in the war), and while on paper it may seem like a silly gimmick, when you actually play the game you realize how much character it adds to the whole experience. And since this is 1960, the music you hear has a very strange effect on your feelings toward that time period. And the music is all good, by the way—as misplaced as it may seem at first.

The sounds of Rapture equate to the sights. Inside the walls you will hear realistic splashing of water, humming of generators, steaming of pipes, zapping of broken lights, and even the eerie grumbling of the ocean surrounding you. No matter where you go, you will hear something. And in most games, it usually doesn't really give you any sort of emotion, but in Bioshock, well… It tends to really add to your whole understanding of Rapture.

Then there is the voice acting… oh boy. Sneaking up on a splicer and hearing her deranged voice say “Ryan said he's gonna make me a star!” tends to sort of creep you out. Or how about when you hear another splicer singing “Jesus Loves Me?” Yeah, if that doesn't convince you that Bioshock isn't your ordinary FPS, then I don't know what will. And then they notice you. Based on your actions, the splicers will yell out different exclamations. If you back up, you might hear someone yell “Go ahead, run! That's all your type is good for!” If you fall, you'll hear “Get up, coward!” or something of that ilk. Besides hinting at the hard work put into the enemies' AI, it's really a grim sort of joy to hear your enemies actually having personalities. Similarly, the Little Sisters will yell “I don't like you!” if you get too near them. Or if you begin to attack their rumbling Big Daddy, they'll start shouting “Kill him! Kill him!” Hearing that out of a little girl is pretty messed up, but once again, it's Bioshock. It's also interesting to hear them have a one-way conversation with their Big Daddies before the Little Sisters take notice of your presence. You can hear the Little Sisters shout praises of their Big Daddies by calling them “Mr. Bubbles.” They can also tell the Big Daddy “Look Mr. Daddy—an angel!” For future reference, an “angel” in a Little Sister's eyes is a corpse. Touching.

The audio diaries and radio messages are the other means of hearing voices—those of the more “human” (alive or dead) characters. Many of them have foreign accents, reinforcing the idea that Rapture had a fairly diverse population in its prime. As cool as these diaries and messages were, I found it difficult to follow along at times because of the other noises going on onscreen or simply because I couldn't understand what was being said. Thankfully, you can look back and read them in your menu. Imagine that—my first complaint about Bioshock.

But such a complaint is so small that it really has no effect on the final score. The voice acting, whether you understand what is said or not, is impeccable. Pairing that up with the eerie yet memorable music that plays and the overall ambiance of Rapture itself, you've got quite an aural indulgence here. Sound seldom adds greatly to the overall experience of a videogame, but Bioshock is most definitely an exception.
SOUNDS: 10/10

GAMEPLAY:
At first glance, Bioshock is a first-person shooter. At second glance, it's a very obscure first-person shooter. When you actually play it, though, you'll realize it's a whole lot more.

Jack wields guns. He also wields a wrench, a crossbow and a chemical thrower. Each weapon (besides the wrench) has three different types of ammunition. The more basic guns (pistol, shotgun, machine gun) have normal ammo, armor-piercing ammo and antipersonnel ammo. The grenade launcher has frags, mines, and heat-seekers. The crossbow has regular arrows, electrical arrows (that create trip wires), and flame-inducing arrows (very powerful). Finally, the chemical launcher (my favorite) spews out napalm, liquid nitrogen and electrical fluid to shock the enemies. Each type of weapon has its own use, and beyond that, each type of ammo has its own use. For example, would you want to waste the armor-piercing rounds on a splicer? No, of course not—you'll want to use them on the heavily-built Big Daddies or a metal turret. The splicers are weak, obviously, to the antipersonnel ammo. As for the fire-holding weapons, well… everything burns, right? And freezes. And goes into electrical convulsions… so yeah, it's quite entertaining no matter what method you use to demolish your foes. In a way, it's like an RPG, since every enemy has a different sort of defense against every time of attack.

Your other means of battle will be with your plasmids. Whether you're electrocuting, freezing, launching, incinerating (!), or flinging a bunch of hornets at your enemies, you're sure to entertain yourself endlessly. In addition to the direct-attack plasmids, you've also got more indirect methods. You can create a decoy, you can make the targeted enemy go berserk and attack anything he/she comes across whilst ignoring you, and you can even get a Big Daddy to become your bodyguard! A couple of the indirect approaches are a little pointless, but some of them are quite fun to experiment with. One of my favorite plasmids was Telekinesis, which allows you to pick up literally any loose object and use it as a shield or as a projectile to launch at anyone who comes across you. What do I mean by “any loose object?” Oh, the usual… tables, glass bottles, dead bodies… Yeah, it's a pretty good time. Telekinesis can also be used to collect useful items that are too far away to reach by hand or foot.

To make your skills with plasmids and weaponry more efficient, Bioshock allows you to carry add-ons. These can include physical defenses, more effective uses with the elements, better skills with the guns, hacking bonuses, and more. You will soon find out that to do well in Bioshock you will definitely want to equip some of these add-ons.

But if the weapons, plasmids and add-ons are the ends, what are the means of getting to them? Why, shopping and exploring, of course! Going to the (creepy) Circus of Values, Ammo Shops and Gatherer's Gardens (for plasmids and such) will be necessary stops to make almost every time you come across them. Thankfully they are almost always there when you need them. Such shops also carry first-aid kits and EVE hypos to keep you alive and well. Of course, you don't have to shop all the time because there are ammo, restoratives, etc. spread all across Rapture. But it does make things simpler.

Speaking of shops, you need to pay, don't you? Well yes. Which is why you can find money everywhere (the Gatherer's Gardens require Adam, which is gained from the Little Sisters). But even in Rapture, money doesn't grow on trees. If only there was a way to, say… give yourself discounts at these shops. Oh wait—there is!! You can hack each and every machine you come across (besides Gatherer's Gardens) to grant yourself cheaper prices and more available items. The method of hacking involves a sort of puzzle mini-game, which is a little complicated to tell you about in a review. I'll just say that at first it's pretty difficult to get a grasp of, but eventually you'll learn the system and end up relying more on luck than on your skill. By the end of the game I got kinda tired of all the hacking, so I ended up either not hacking at all or simply using an auto-hack tool. It's also nice that before you hack a machine it tells you its difficulty.

So in between all this hacking, fighting and shopping, what more is there to do? Well I hope you like photography because in Bioshock it plays a pretty big role. Jack will eventually acquire a camera that he can use to take pictures of all his different types of enemies. Getting enough good shots of these enemies eventually grants you bonuses against them—usually more damage dealt to them and maybe even a new add-on. At first I completely ignored using the camera, but when I realized how simple and helpful it actually is, I was very glad I picked it up before it was too late.

Speaking of enemies, Bioshock has plenty of them. I keep ranting about these splicers and Big Daddies, but did I mention there are a bunch of different types of them (thank you, Bioshock, for not falling into the stereotype of FPS's having too few enemy variations)? Splicers can run at you with wrenches, they can throw grenades at you, hell, they can even climb walls! And each of these splicers has its own strengths and weaknesses, adding to the strategy. Same goes with the Big Daddies—some of ‘em use huge guns, some of ‘em throw grenades at you, and some of ‘em are like “**** this, I'm gonna ram yo' ass!” Did I mention that the Big Daddies are difficult as sin to kill? Man, these dudes can take a beating. But the rewards are quite worth it, so don't wimp out. Oh yeah, the AI is great.

Not all your enemies are living. You will have to deal with security cameras, hovering auto-bots, and ground turrets. These metal bastards will provide just as much difficulty as the Big Daddies and the splicers, but there is a difference: you can hack them!! Yes, simply disable the machine (with electricity or ice) and approach it to begin the hack. If successful, they're your allies and will attack any enemy who crosses your path. There's just something about a turret relentlessly blasting away at a helpless splicer that's fallen down beside it that makes you all squishy inside. Take the time to hack these machines—it's more worth it to take a little damage to get to them than to have to deal with both them AND any splicers or Big Daddies that you come across in the same room.

One of the most important aspects of Bioshock is exploration. While a lot of the areas of Rapture will require you to venture into them, it's almost impossible to simply decide NOT to explore other unknown areas to see what goodies they may hold. You'll never regret doing a little extra exploration. There are loads of ammo, health, film, and audio diaries to find everywhere in Rapture. Plus, who knows? Maybe Atlas or Tenenbaum or even Ryan will tell you something interesting that you would have never heard had you not decided to be curious.

Another important aspect of Bioshock is difficulty. If I haven't made it clear yet, Bioshock is by no means easy. The constant threat of splicers coming at you, the hot-tempered Big Daddies, and all the security systems are in no way going to go down easily. On top of that, hacking and finding what you need to progress through the game can prove tough as well. If the game takes its toll on Jack, however, he will mysteriously be recovered at the last Vita Chamber he's seen. These capsules act as checkpoints, and eventually you will realize they play an important role in the game's story. At times it made dying no big deal because you'll revitalize right by where you were killed, but they also will come as a big relief to you many times.

I've preached a lot about all the great things Bioshock offers its players. Do I have anything negative to say about it? Yes, but only one thing: fetch quests. They aren't time consuming, but they can be a little tedious from time to time. Thankfully, everything else distracts you in the middle of these fetch quests because the game is so damn fun. Really, Bioshock is, in my opinion, almost completely devoid of any problems. The gameplay is polished beautifully, giving you a grand experience in regards to both mindless entertainment and strategic thinking. It's got everything I could ask for in an FPS. And just like Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, I never wanted to put it down.
GAMEPLAY: 10/10

LASTING APPEAL:
What? No online multiplayer? This game sucks! WRONG. Like a great RPG, Bioshock has the gameplay and the story to keep you coming back for more. There are multiple endings, for one, so you'll want to witness both eventually. Even after that, you may not think you've gotten the full Bioshock experience after just two playthroughs. For an FPS, the game is actually quite long. My first run took around 25 whole hours—25 of the most beautiful, gory, unsettling hours of my life. And I don't regret a single second.
LASTING APPEAL: 10/10

OVERALL:
If you've ever read my other reviews, you may get the hint that I consider many videogames art (not ALL videogames, but many). Not since Shadow of the Colossus have I played a game so artistic—and Bioshock surpasses even that game. It's not just in the way it looks or sounds, either (both of which are fantastic)—it's in the nearly flawless gameplay mechanics, which cause you to quickly become completely addicted. Not to mention the story, which is one that I consider to be in an entirely other league than any other videogame I've ever played. Hmm… well, this is quite a long review, so I suppose I'll put it to a close with this: Thank you, Bioshock, for giving me something I've never had the pleasure (or disgust) of experiencing. I'm sure Ayn Rand would be proud.
OVERALL: 10/10

Thanks for reading =)


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 09/03/08

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


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