Review by Wolfvie
"Everything blends so well together to create an experience that simply cannot be missed"
Having previously played-through and loved the brilliant System Shock and it's superior sequel System Shock 2 (released in 1994 & 1999 respectively), BioShock (widely considered to be the spiritual successor to these games), quickly grew to become one of my most anticipated games of 2007. The question I'm sure you're asking; did it live up to it's lofty expectations? I'll tell you my dear readers, read more and find out
Based upon the works of popular yet controversial writer Ayn Rand', BioShock's philosophy is based around her ideas of objectivism. It is also roughly based on two of her most notable publications The Fountainhead' and 'Atlas Shrugged.' The game is set in 1960, following Jack, victim to a fatal plane crash in uncharted waters. Luckily you are able to free yourself from the underwater wreckage and surfacing you are surrounded by a thick wall of flames. In the clearing ahead you spot a dark object looming above you. Swimming towards it, under further observation you discover this object is indeed a lighthouse.
Slipping through a crack in the doorway the lights suddenly come into action revealing a large monument displaying a large banner that reads; No gods or kings, only man. From this point on you know you're in for on heck of a ride. Descending down a nearby stairwell you find what appears to be some kind of underwater bathysphere. No looking back, you creep in and pull a nearby lever submerging you down into the deep dark depths of the sea.
The faint glow of a projector screen scrolls down in front of you before coming into action displaying what appears to be some kind of introductory movie. You watch in awe. I am Andrew Ryan, and I'm here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? 'No!' says the man in Washington, 'It belongs to the poor.' 'No!' says the man in the Vatican, 'It belongs to God.' 'No!' says the man in Moscow, 'It belongs to everyone.' I rejected those answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose... Rapture
Welcome to Rapture. A place built free of the constraints of government, religion and morality as told by the mysterious figure Andrew Ryan.' Suddenly the lights brighten and the dark area in front of you opens up as you peer in out of the bathyspheres porthole revealing a huge underwater metropolis complete with flashy neon lights and Las Vegas inspired design choices. The bathysphere moves along it's rails twisting and turning, but at a slow pace, allowing you to stare awe-inspired you feel an overwhelming sense of beauty and wonder as you gaze upon this eerie and mysterious city. Coming to a straight you look ahead of you at a line of overhead signs All Good Things' - Of this Earth' - Flow' - Into the City.'
As you come to a stop in what seems to be a large docking bay area you are greeted with the first sign of civilisation. Two figures; a man crouching down before the other begging for mercy, the other some kind of creature showing no sign of regret starts ripping the man to shreds. Something is definitely wrong about this place. Seconds later the creature starts making a move towards the bathyspheres window before climbing atop. There are suddenly loud clanking and crackling noises as you realise that this creature is trying to breaking into the bathysphere! In horror, you search frantically for a way to escape but there is no such. The lights start to flicker on and off sparks fly, a shrilled scream and then nothing. Silence.
Welcome to Rapture, the worlds fastest growing pile of junk; as quoted by Atlas a man with a thick Irish accent, who has made contact you via the bathyspheres radio. Leaving the bathysphere, peering atop of the bathysphere you realise that the creature is no more. Atlas explains to you Rapture's backstory. He also asks you for your help rescuing his family, in return for your help he promises your escape As hard as it may be to believe, these events happen in just the first ten minutes of gameplay.
Rapture is a city that has been slowly deteriorating over the years and you can certainly see this within the first five minuets of the game. For a start the place is a mess. Blood stains the walls and corpses litter the floors; Rapture isn't a very friendly place. And if that isn't enough the place is home to an army of genetically altered freaks, Splicers' as they are known, once ordinary humans who had been driven to insanity by a mysterious drug-like substance known as ADAM. Obtaining ADAM is not an easy task and within a short time, Raptures populace now addicted ADAM, had been reduced to a race of bloodthirsty savages.
There is one easy way to obtain ADAM however. That is through the capturing of Little Sisters', kind of possessed little girls tasked with the collecting of ADAM found within the corpses of fallen Splicers scattered around the city. Unfortunately for the Splicers however, these Sisters are not totally defenceless as they are guarded by their Big Daddy' a lumbering beast clad in a heavily armoured diving suit, sporting heavy drills and rivet-shooting cannon-like firearms. Unfortunately the Splicers aren't the only ones who need ADAM; you do as told to you by Atlas it is essential for your survival in Rapture.
Once you've dealt with her Daddy guardian you are prompted by the game to either harvest or save the Little Sister. Harvesting will net you more ADAM however, the little sister will not survive the process, choose to save however and you'll get significantly less ADAM but will be awarded later in the game for successive saves. Also note that the sister as the name implies returns to her original state as an ordinary little girl when saved. Morality is a huge factor to this decision and to some extend, will shape how your time in Rapture will play out.
The majority of the games story takes place via radio transmissions sent to you by the games supporting cast of brilliant characters. There are also audio logs that can be picked up and listened to with the touch of a button; these do an excellent job filling in the games backstory and give you a sense of what Rapture must have been like before the events of the game.
Overall BioShock has easily the most immersive and satisfying storyline I've come across in a game in a very, very long time . Not since classics such as System Shock 2 and Deus Ex had I been so enthralled in a games narrative that I, literally, could not stop playing. Even then, the aforementioned titles still struggle to hold a candle to the genius that is BioShock.
Rapture is a masterpiece. Nothing I say can truly do the game's art design to justice. Raptures 50's styled art deco and Las Vegas derivative neon lighting gives the architecture and design a very retro-future look, that is really, unlike anything you've seen in a game before. BioShock's world is constructed in a way that just oozes atmosphere and originality. Rapture is a living breathing world; look out any of Raptures many windows and portholes, beyond the connecting pipes and pathways and see that the ocean surrounding is inhabited by a plethora of fish and sea life. If it's atmosphere you're after, BioShock certainly has you covered.
The graphics themselves are without a question, incredible. The attention to detail in the game's environments and surroundings simply cannot be overstated. From the largest most extravagant set pieces to the smallest details, the level of which on offer is seriously shocking, (but in a great way). Terrible puns aside, not only does it give you a feeling of wonder and disbelief, but at the same time gives you a sense that a place like this could actually in fact exist, somewhere deep below the oceans surface. Definitely, a highly impressive feat if I say so myself.
The variation in the game's environments and scenery in the game is simply amazing; Rapture is a huge place, so naturally, there's a heck of a lot to explore. Over the twenty or so hours it takes to beat the game you'll cover a lot of ground as you explore some of the most inventive, creative and atmospheric locales I've seen in an FPS to date and that's just putting it lightly. You'll be visiting an abandoned medical facility, wharf/dockland, artificial forest and marketplace district to name a few; never does it grow dull or repetitive.
The game sports some of the best and most realistic water effects I've seen in a game ever. It's astonishing to watch it seep through small cracks in the windows, walls and roofs before shimmering as it drops into a large puddle. The lighting effects are also spot on, and offer a level of realism many other titles are yet to offer. The way the lights flicker on and off leaving the room illuminated dimly by the vibrant glow of nearby neon signs, is quite aptly put, spine-tingling. Simply a triumph.
BioShock's character models are unbelievably well-designed and will undoubtedly set the standard for gaming generations to come. Seeing huge lumbering big daddies shuffle heavily across the ground sending particles of dust into the air, is a unsettling yet somehow strangely, glorious sight. The animation is very smooth and exceptionally well-done. The ragdoll physics in particular are some of the best in the business. Shooting a Splicer with a shotgun, will send their mangled body crumpling to the ground in a realistic, yet, suitably gruesome manner.
Some might say even more impressively, I have hardly encountered any slowdown in my many hours of playing the game. Even the most hectic of moments, for example during a Big Daddy fight, the game still continues to run relatively smooth. There a few small bugs to do with the Unreal engine, most notably the limbs and facial animations on some dead enemies you'll come across may jitter or twitch unexpectedly. This makes for some rather hilarious encounters. Don't worry however, I'm making it out far worse than it actually is, it hardly ruins the experience.
Superb. As with the game's visuals, Irrational games have truly hit the nail on the head with this one and produced a quality of sound design that is, unlike no other. So why does BioShock sound so good?
For a start, the game's original orchestral soundtrack is as darn near to close to perfect as you can get. Composer Garry Schyman has undeniably done a marvellous job, his work with BioShock really bringing new meaning to the words immersion and atmosphere. Each piece is a masterpiece in their own right, all of which diverse in nature as they span across the main story events. The majority of themes are focused around the sheer insanity and fear of the events surrounding Raptures demise, each theme showing a different side to the otherwise seamlessly evil ways of it's populace. The level of compassion and understanding towards these beings is overwhelming, and you really get a sense of why they had thought their dastardly actions were appropriate. If there's one thing each musical piece has in common, it would be their status as genuine works of art. While there may only be twelve tracks, each one is a thing of beauty and is crafted to perfection.
The game also features wide and extensive collection of licensed tracks by popular 40/50's artists such as The Ink Spots' and Bobby Darin' which can be heard in various sections of the game via jukeboxes and record players scattered around the games levels. These each do an amazing job adding to the total immersion and really set the scene for Rapture's 50's backdrop. Overall BioShock features arguably one of the best original video game soundtracks of all time, couple that with an excellent licensed soundtrack that features hit tracks from the 30/40/50's and you have the recipe for brilliance. Thus
BioShock's music receives top marks.
The games general sound design is magnificent. As with the games visual design the attention to detail here is incredible, the game's audio diaries even use a slightly grainy overtone to fit in with the games 50's setting . The way the floorboards and nearby walls creek menacingly as you walk through a narrow corridors, really give you an eerie feeling that the whole place could come crashing down on top of you; if there ever was a game you had to play in surround sound to truly experience, this would most certainly be it. The voice acting in general the absolute best I've ever heard in a video game, actors delivering their roles with amazing energy and emotion. From the bizarre and confused ramblings of Splicers to the cute but immensely creepy sayings of the Little Sisters, the voice-work here is just spot on.
So far you know that BioShock is one of the most successful blends of storytelling, visual and sound design in game history; but what about the gameplay? I can tell you my dear readers, it certainly doesn't disappoint. Unlike it's spiritual precursor, System Shock 2, BioShock is almost purely FPS with some role-playing elements thrown in to spice it up a bit. Not that this is a bad thing, it definitely makes the gameplay more accessible and in some ways, even more enjoyable than it's hybrid FPS/RPG predecessors.
The game's structure revolves around visiting every one of the game's ten or so huge levels, dealing with Little Sisters and completing each levels primary objectives before heading off to the next one. It's linear but not in the sense that you're confined to one single path, the game allows you head off on your own path exploring and completing the objectives and side missions at your own pace. It definitely works and provides the some of the best gameplay that I have experienced in a long time.
The actual game mechanics are simple yet unbelievably well done. At first you'll notice the games standard health bar as well as mana bar (known as the EVE bar which I'll go into a little more later) and weapon selection. There's your standard yet powerful melee weapon, the wrench, and a variety of different firearms with different ammo types, eg: the pistol can fire armour piecing rounds and the shotgun can fire electric bucks to deal extra damage. You perhaps might think this is all really nothing out of the ordinary.
Then you'll access your first Plasmid, this is when the fun really starts to ramp up. Plasmids are kind of like superpowers and allow for the changing of your gene code for the use said powers. The creativity here is astounding. There are plasmids that allow you to shock enemies with a lightning bolt from your hand, light them on fire, freeze them momentarily, hypnotise and somewhat bizarrely send a hoard of angry bees chasing after them. The possibilities are seamlessly endless. At first you'll be confined to the use of weaker level one plasmids, but later on as you progress through the story your skills in using them will advance and they will become much more powerful and destructive when they hit the max level cap of three.
There are also special powers known as Gene Tonics, simular to Plasmids except, passive in nature. Gene tonics are made up three different categories: Combat, Engineering and Physical each tonic equipped allowing for the customisation and strengthening of your protagonist. Simply put these tonics allow you to play the game how you' want to play. Combat tonics work as they might suggest improving your combat capabilities. Engineering tonics category improve your skill in hacking (a subject I'll go into more later). Physical tonics are the most diverse of the three, allowing for improvement in health and EVE as well as athletic speed boost and even temporary invisibility when standing still.
Combat is intense and highly satisfying, switching between weapon and plasmid to take out your enemies is unique and rewarding. One of the best aspects of the combat system is the interactivity between weapon/plasmid combinations. Shocking a normal enemy with your electro bolt before beating them with the wrench will usually result in an instant kill, however freezing an enemy with Winter Blast plasmid before smashing them with the wrench will cause them to shatter miraculously into a pile of ice. The environments are also interactive, use the shock/incinerate plasmids a group of enemies while they are standing in an pool of water/oil slick respectively and you'll cause massive damage.
BioShock does not feature a rebounding/regenerating health metre like those seen in standard shooters such as Halo/Call of Duty. Instead BioShock opts for a more traditional health bar, that can be refilled after the use of first-aid kits. Same goes for EVE, the bar slowly is depleted after using plasmids and require the use of an EVE hypo to properly refill. Food items and drinks found on your journey work similarly, however only allow for the refilling of a slight amount of health/EVE. You can hold a maximum of nine first-aid kits and hypos in your inventory and are essential to your survival in the game.
Hacking is a skill needed for necessary progression in the game. You can hack hostile enemy objects like security cameras, turrets and security bots to use to your advantage and aid you in combat, as well as hack vending machines, health stations and the like to reduce the cost of goods. You can also hack armoured safes to view the contents and loot the inside. Hacking itself plays out in a Pipe Dream escue mini game in which you swap around pipe pieces on a grid avoiding obstacles to create a full circuit to connect two points around the outside of the grid. You also have to do this before the onrushing water flowing through the pipe catches up. It sounds complicated but it really isn't, the only shortcoming being how time-consuming it can be. As you progress through the game the difficulty in hacking gradually scales upwards and considering it takes up a large portion of your time later in the game, this can lead to some frustrating moments. None the less, definitely a welcome feature.
The game features a large variety of different enemy types, the AI of which, is freakily brilliant and will ensure that your time in Rapture will not be an easy one. Thuggish Splicers rush at you wielding wrenches while Leadhead and Nitro Splicers prefer to attack at a distance with firearms and molotovs. While the aforementioned enemies prefer a head-on approach, Spider Splicers are a completely different story, as they prefer to perform acrobatic feats clinging to the walls and ceiling while sneaking up on you. While single splicers are hardly a problem, when they form a mob you'd be lucky to get out alive. The way enemies react to environments is, some might say, even more impressive. Set alight your standard Leadhead Splicer with the incinerate plasmid and he/she will run in the opposite direction screaming in agony as they search frantically for the nearest pool of water.
Though none of this can compare to that of the almighty Big Daddy, the most powerful enemy in the game. Big Daddy fights are easily some of the best and most memorable boss battles this generation. Brute Strength is not an option, the Big Daddies when given the opportunity, will make short work of you. Instead you'll have to rely on your wits to overcome these brutal battles. This means setting traps, a vital element to taking down Big Daddies especially at some of the tougher difficulty levels. You can pepper a Big Daddy with a spray of armour-piecing machine gun fire, before guiding him into the path of a group of hacked turrets or explosive gas canisters, the possibilities are seemingly endless.
(As mentioned above), once you've dealt with the big daddy you now have the choice to either harvest or save the little sister. Harvesting will net you more ADAM however, the little sister will not survive the process, choose to save however and you'll get significantly less ADAM but will be awarded later in the game for successive saves. Morality still remains a huge factor in your decision and from a gameplay aspect, you're generally better off harvesting rather then saving as the additional ADAM will really come in handy, especially in the games later segments.
Regardless of whether you save or harvest the Little Sisters, ADAM is an essential element to playing BioShock and is needed to access powerful Plasmids and Gene Tonics which can be bought from Gatherer's Garden vending machines located around the games levels. Other vending machines include Circus of Value' and Ammo Bandito' stores which allow for the purchasing of items such as medi-kits and EVE hypos/ammo respectively, these stores require the use of money found around the games levels. Gene banks allow for the swapping and changing of gene tonics and plasmids, there are also U-Invent and Power to the People stations allow you to invent different kinds of ammunition and upgrade your weapons.
The level design is hands-down some of the absolute best I've ever seen in a video game, let alone an FPS for that matter. The levels start out rather small and confined but gradually scale out to larger quite open-ended designs where at the mid-point, I would say, it reaches complete and utter perfection. Unfortunately the drop in quality in last few segments late in the game is noticeable, it often felt like a completely different team of artists and designers worked on them and ultimately felt a little tacked on and rushed. Fortunately, though still, not enough to diminish the final product.
Another small issue I have is how dying doesn't really effect the gameplay in any way. Say a Big Daddy fight has got the best of you, no problem just revive in the nearest Vita-Chamber' a few rooms away and continue where you left off with no real consequences to speak of. This makes for both good and bad. It definitely makes for a more accessible and frustration-free experience, but it really takes away the horrible feeling of dread you go through when you know your about to die, essentially taking away some of the challenge.
The game is around a 15-20 hour long experience, which I believe is quite respectable for a game of it's genre, especially when considering the average length for a game these days is around 10. Still it could easily be completed in just a couple of days of solid play making the game sound like the perfect rental. Don't, I urge you not to; don't let the fact that the game features no multiplayer feature factorise your decision to purchase the game, BioShock truly is a game that belongs on your shelf regardless of it's length or replay value. In fact the replay value I found was overwhelming. After my first playthrough of the game, I had found that I had covered only half of what the game had to offer and discovered I needed an additional playthrough to really experience the game's world in it's entirety. Incredible.
The game's controls are exceptionally well done, but are unfortunately not without a few small niggles. Though the games default control scheme is excellent, it's a shame that the game does not give you the option to remap it to fit your play-style. While I personally don't see this as too big of a flaw, it is somewhat disappointing when considering what other shooters have on offer in terms of control customisation.
Now for a quick revision
+ Ingenious storyline and concept.
+ Sense of atmosphere and immersion that simply cannot be matched.
+ Art direction and presentation are simply awe-inspiring
+ Graphics are some of the best in the business.
+ Spectacular sound design and voice acting.
+ Amazing musical score.
+ Incredibly fun, intuitive and engaging gameplay mechanics.
+ Brilliant level design.
+ Great replay value.
- Lack of control customisation in console versions
- and that's about it!
The visuals, sound, gameplay and of course who could forget the story all blend so well together to create unquestionably an absolute masterpiece if I ever saw one. It may sound somewhat cliched (something personally I believe should never be used when in association to the game) but if you are reading this review, what are you waiting for? Go out and buy the game already! It just had to be said . My choice for GOTY 2007 and it may be too soon, but I am beginning to consider this my personal favourite game of all time.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 03/18/10
Game Release: BioShock (US, 08/21/07)
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