Review by Pirate_Higamaru
"Water, water everywhere, So, why not take a drink?"
Bioshock was released in 2007 to unanimous praise from both critics and gamers. It was lauded for it's complex plot and inventive mechanics. It was also one of the main games in the "Are Video Games Art?" debate. Bioshock was a hit in the truest sense of the word. It sold well, it was beloved by just about everyone and it was even considered to be a work of art. So, is Bioshock truly the work of art everyone proclaims it to be?
Few games start off as strong as Bioshock does. The beginning scene is absolutely mesmerizing in just about every way imaginable. Bioshock starts out with you being absolutely helpless which creates a very terrifying feeling as you slowly sink beneath the waves. Afterwards you float back up and you see a gloomy lighthouse looming over the water and flames. The first five minutes of Bioshock fills you with so many emotions ranging from awe to absolute terror. The experience feels so real and it's so immersing that some players may be too frightened to move (as I was). In fact, Bioshock is able to continuously do that throughout the entire game which is an incredibly impressive feat.
Bioshock's plot is probably one of its greatest strengths. Like I said, it starts off strong and it never lets up. After docking in Rapture, you are introduced to Atlas, the only normal man in all of Rapture. You'll soon find out that Rapture isn't the utopia that it was built to be and everybody in the city is hiding a secret or two. And when I say everybody, I mean everybody. Bioshock's entire plot is plot twist after plot twist. It really drives the action forward even in the game's slowest moments. It wonderfully ties together Rapture's past and present events (in-game of course) and it ends up creating an incredibly satisfying experience
Bioshock's characters are really well done. The villains are all wonderfully fleshed out whether it be through actual dialogue or though the numerous audio diaries scattered throughout Rapture. They range from off-the wall insane to a more, sophisticated, quiet , unnerving type of insane. You've probably noticed that I use the word "insane" a lot and that's because it's a main focus of Bioshock. Just about everybody is insane and 2K really ran with this idea. The massive amount of spins you can put on this simple idea is staggering and the best part about it? It works just about every single time. Even the most generic enemies have some fascinating dialogue due to how complete over-the-top and crazed they are.
Your allies, who are few and far between, aren't as well done and often lack the overall memorability of your enemies but they all have their moments. One in particular has a fairly large role and they might be one of the most fleshed out characters in the game. Even Jack, the main character and a silent protagonist, is amazingly well done and superbly put together. It's not often you see a silent protagonist feel like a three-dimensional characters however this game manages to pull it off.
Bioshock's writing is also absolute genius. Even ignoring the fantastic lines that are spoken by your ever-present enemies, the game is still filled with brilliant lines. Much of the dialogue is very ambiguous. It's often hard to tell if a character is lying to you or not. It's also hard to see what they're true goal is. It's touches like these that make me truly appreciate how well-written this game was. Bioshock is also relentless in its attacks on Objectivism. They're never petty insults however, instead it's always a very intelligent point that is generally illustrated either by an audio diary or Rapture itself.
The audio diaries themselves really add something to the game. Instead of the game going into long flashbacks it allows you to collect audio diaries that you find lying around. These diaries often show the original dreams and ideals of the people who made Rapture what it was and then they go on to show how it all came crumbling down. They're all absolutely fascinating to listen to as they make the game feel even more immersive and even more real. Having them as collectible items that you simply find lying around was a great idea too as an incredibly long cutscene would break the flow of the game and Bioshock has a very steady pace that never really grinds to a halt.
Bioshock is an extremely well-crafted game. Its plot is absolutely riveting and it drives the game forward with such emotion that you can't help but get emotionally invested. The developers made Rapture feel so real that you can't help but feel almost enchanted by the underwater hell. The characters are all vibrant and bursting with life in the most disturbing ways imaginable. They're both fascinating and terrifying at the same time all while being incredibly well fleshed out. The audio diaries certainly help drive the game along and clear up many of the mysteries surrounding Rapture. The best part however is just how ambiguous Rapture remains after the credits roll however. The game never reveals everything. It doesn't give you all the answers and many things are left open to interpretation. Nothing is simply black and white in the world of Rapture and that's part of its genius.
Bioshock is no slouch in the graphics category either. Even with the hit it took when it made the voyage from PC to consoles, it still looks absolutely stellar. 2K did everything in their power to make sure Bioshock was one of the best looking games on the market. They wanted it to look great and they also wanted it to convey Rapture's dismal atmosphere. It did both. And it did both so well.
Rapture is something that needs to be experienced to be believed. Simply watching somebody play the game won't be enough. Part of Rapture's beauty is just looking around and looking at the amount of detail put into every nook and cranny of the game. It's simply something that must be experienced first-hand.
Rapture really conveys a believable atmosphere. I could really envision the place as a major metropolis in the vein of New York City or other major cities. Unfortunately, Rapture is more of a nightmarish relic than a bustling metropolis. Glass is all over the place, walls are stained with blood, entire areas are flooded and the the lighting is on the fritz. Thankfully, this just adds to Rapture's "charm" in a way. It really strikes you as an underwater prison almost. The second area in particular is almost straight out of a horror story with its blood-soaked walls and numerous corpses lying about. It's absolutely wonderful.
The fun doesn't stop there though. On top of Rapture being an absolutely terrifying city, it also manages to feel incredibly oppressive. Drab colors and dim lighting really help drive the oppressiveness home and once again, it makes the game feel even more immersive. It may help that a lot of the game takes place in a residential area. Anybody who lives in a city can easily make connections between Rapture and their own city. It's really feels quite powerful and it should hit close to home for some. Another huge factor that adds to the oppressive feel is that Rapture is entirely underwater. For whatever reason, being at the bottom of the ocean really makes you feel almost hopeless.
2K made the odd choice of having Rapture stuck in the 1940s/1950s and you know what? It's perhaps more effective because of that. There's just something so odd about seeing all of this high-tech scientific sorcery next to an old 1950s-ish theater (for plays and the like). Once again 2K show that they knows how to insert an odd amount of charm into even their most disturbing games.
The enemy designs leaves something to be desired though. While I'm generally not one to criticize, after such a strong performance in every other category (when it comes to graphics) I would expect the character models to be a bit more up to snuff. In fact they're generally quite ugly and look kind of primitive. The enemy design also leaves something to be desired with most enemies not looking as messed up as one would expect. The only ones that really appealed to me were the famous "Big Daddies". Hulking monsters in diving suits that closely guard "Little Sisters". Part of what makes them so great is their intimidating design yet their fairly harmless nature. It really goes to show how nice the enemies can look when 2K gives it their all.
Bioshock has some nice touches though. For one, the enemies take visible damage. When you set them on fire, their bodies will be burnt to a crisp. It's gross but it's cool nonetheless. You can also crack glass and break boxes among other things. It's all minor stuff but I thought it fairly interesting. It's small things like that which really make a game memorable.
Bioshock is a fantastic looking game. The visuals wonderfully compliment the plot with the setting being just as dismal and oppressive as the characters make it out to be. The amount of detail put into every area is amazing and the stained walls, the flooded hallways and failing lights really help drive the mood home. The character and enemy design leave something to be desired but when you compare that to how much work was put into the rest of Rapture, it really doesn't matter.
Despite my numerous praises towards the game so far; I'll be the first to admit, Bioshock isn't flawless. The first time you start to see cracks is with the music. For the most part it's on the lackluster side. A lot of it tries to be tense and moody but it never really works in the game. On its own it's fine but it really doesn't compliment the game too well. There are a few songs which have a very 1950s vibe to them and those work well but those songs are often few and far between which is disappointing to say the least.
Part of the reason the atmospheric music doesn't work is because you can barely hear it. Unlike the quiet Silent Hill, Rapture never shuts up. I know I said the dialogue is absolutely fascinating to listen to and my opinion still remains but much of the enemy chatter overshadows the music. The enemies are almost like grade-school kids with their non-stop talking. The enemies aren't the only loud things though. Guns are fairly loud and explosions are plenty. They look nice but once again, they really make the quiet music almost impossible to listen to.
Despite my complaints about the enemies, the voice acting for them is quite good. It's a bit over-the-top but considering where Bioshock takes place, it's no surprise. The rest of Bioshock's voice acting is pretty good too. It isn't groundbreaking nor is it as good as say Uncharted but it gets the job done.
Part of what makes it so good is that it's riddled with all sorts of accents. Considering Rapture is home to many different ethnic groups, this is no surprise and all of these different accents really add some variety. A few of the accents can be a bit heavy though which could pose a problem for some players but there are subtitles so it's really no worry. Some of the voice acting is admittedly hammy but it generally works due to Bioshock's odd charm. For whatever reason, you're still able to take what they're saying seriously...most of the time. On occasion (mostly when somebody gets really angry) they completely lose it and their performance is laughable because of it. It never gets B-movie bad but it certainly isn't blockbuster quality.
Bioshock's a mixed bag in the sound department. The songs are good but because of the loud sound effects, you can barely hear them. There's an option to lower the volume on the sound effects but they shouldn't have been that loud to begin with. It sounds like a nitpick but I found it to be a huge problem. The enemies never shut up either; Thankfully, their voice actors did a good job. The main characters's voice actors did a great job as well and they really helped bring Rapture to life.
Bioshock certainly does everything right; presentation-wise but how does it hold up in the gameplay department. Well, much like the sound...it's a mixed bag. That's not to say it's bad or anything...just that it isn't as good as it could have been.
Like I said before, me calling Bioshock a mixed bag gameplay-wise doesn't mean it's terrible. It just means that some parts are great and other parts have obvious faults. The first thing that springs to mind is the hacking minigame. This minigame is the guide on how to screw up a otherwise good minigame. Let me explain; You have to hack vending machines, security cameras and other gadgets in order for them to benefit you (Lower Prices, spots enemies, etc.). This is essential if you want to survive in Rapture as the game can be pretty Scrooge-like when it comes to money sometimes. Now the way you hack is getting a liquid from Point A to Point B using tubes and stuff. You have to have the tubes connect to each other or the machine will short out and hurt you. In addition to that, you must flip over tiles and hope that you find the tube you're looking for. It's easy enough and you'll be hacking everything you see as it really isn't a chore. Later, the game decides to add trap tiles which is fine. Challenge is appreciated. However during the last half of the game, the liquid flow speeds up, trap tiles are everywhere and it's near impossible to find the right pipe in under 2 seconds. It gets to a point where it's unfair. I don't mind a puzzle that makes me think but this was just too much. I wouldn't have minded so much if the minigame didn't pop up all the time but there's at least one hackable thing in almost every room in the whole game. Thankfully, the game is generous enough to give you an "Autohack" tool which is what I ended up using later on. Simply put, this minigame became too hard, too tedious and too frustrating for me to care. It was a good idea but they cranked up the difficulty far too much.
Perhaps the controls were at fault here though. After all, Bioshock was developed with the PC in mind. I can see this mini-game being way better with a mouse and a keyboard. Mice are generally faster and more accurate than a joystick anyway. I know the controls can be faulted for item management at least. You see, in the PC version, you used your mouse's scroll wheel to scroll through your weapons. It worked especially well during the cramped, tense battles the game likes to throw at you. In this, you use the bumper buttons to scroll through your weapons. And you get tons of weapons. Near the end, you're going to have to dig and dig before you find the right weapon.
Another problem is the continue system. In Bioshock, you use things called "Vita Chambers" which revive you with half-health. Now this doesn't sound too bad but...it quickly becomes a nuisance especially earlier in the game. Since you don't have that much health in the beginning, you're really just going to end up in the Vita-Chamber again and again if you aren't careful. Even if you are careful, you're going to end up in them and it's annoying as possible to get your health back. There's also the chance that you'll end up halfway across the map and you'll have to make the long and tedious trek back to where you died. It's a flawed mechanic and one that was addressed in a patch that 2K put out thanks to numerous complaints.
Bioshock also appears to be having a minor identity crisis. It can't really decide if it wanted to be a "Shoot it Until it Dies" game or a "Fight or Flight" game. This is most evident with the enemy health especially later in the game. It is far too high, even with fully upgraded weapons. In fact, a regular late game mook has more health than the first boss. This is common in some games but it's not so common in FPS games and for good reason. A lot of these enemies grind the action to a halt. The plot still moves at a nice pace but the game is prolonged because of how long a simple mook takes to die. I suppose they die faster if you use you wrench however you take a chance of getting absolutely wrecked by enemies if you move in close for a quick kill. It's a risk/reward system that could have worked...it just didn't.
The morality mechanic isn't really something to get excited about either. It's not terrible but it certainly isn't anything special. It basically consists of having you kill Big Daddies so you can either rescue or harvest Little Sisters. The catch here is that harvesting, while evil, will net you ADAM which is basically currency for spells (They're not called that but that's what they are) and upgrades called Plasmids. The game basically asks you, "Do you want to make the game easier on yourself and harvest or do you want to do the right thing and save the little girl?". It tries to create a sort of morality question but it doesn't do it so well. The issue is very black and white. There's an obvious good choice and an obvious bad choice. Really, the only things I felt guilty about was the fact that you had to kill the mostly harmless Big Daddies.
Thankfully, the negatives stop there for Bioshock. Everything else is well-done. For starters; the guns in this game are so much fun to use. They're you basic pistols, shotguns, rocket launchers for the most part. You also get a few unique weapons along the way. While they won't rock your world, they're all fun to use. The wrench, in particular, is super fun to whack people with. Each weapon has a few different functions, most of it having to do with different ammo types. Normal ammo is well...normal while special ammo often does more damage. The catch here is that it's more expensive and there is significantly less ammo for these special rounds. This adds a whole layer of depth to the game as it makes you carefully ration your supplies, especially later in the game. It gives it a survival horror feel without ever feeling like a real survival horror game. It's not exactly "original" per say but I certainly enjoyed it.
However, gunplay and wrench-combat aren't the only ways to fight in Bioshock. Over the course of the game you get "Plasmids" which are basically just magic spells that you gain by injecting a serum. They even come with their own magic meter called "EVE". It's a really cool system as it works like a RPG would work with each attack spell having two or three variations which can make it stronger. There are also three other types of serums which help you hack with ease (They barely help), survive longer or perhaps become stronger. The only way you can buy these is by paying with ADAM, a substance you can only get my harvesting Little Sisters. If you choose to harvest the sisters, you'll often have to make choices (and maybe take a chance or two) about what upgrade you want as their is a good chance you'll miss out on at least one. Plasmids are certainly fun to use and they really add some variety to Bioshock. Nothing is more satisfying than freezing your enemy and shattering them with a wrench.
Collectibles in this game are fairly basic. In fact, there really isn't much to collect. The only thing that really sticks out are audio diaries and most of them stick out like a sore thumb. This isn't a problem however. In fact it makes a lot of sense considering 2K wanted you to understand the story without throwing a whole cutscene of exposition at you. I really appreciate that move by 2K as it makes the game's pace a lot more fluid. There are also other collectibles but those are more in the vein of upgrades than anything else. You can upgrade your guns, invent items to make the game easier, and try to buy all the Plasmids but aside from diaries there isn't really much to collect. It's kind of disappointing but it isn't a huge flaw considering just how many diaries there are.
Bioshock certainly has problems in its gameplay department. The hacking minigame has a promising start but quickly becomes a nuisance, the continue system is a mess and enemy health becomes far too high later in the game. The game is still fairly fun to play though. The weapons while not original are overall satisfying as possible and incredibly fun to wield. The Plasmids are both original (in a sense) and incredibly fun to use. They really add some much needed variety to Bioshock's kind of bland, yet fun, gunplay. The lack of collectibles is kind of disappointing but I think the diaries more than make up for it due to their content and their sheer number.
2K did a wonderful job in making Rapture feel real. The setting is dark and intense, the plot is complex and engaging and the game even has a cinematic feeling to it. The voice acting, while not perfect, does a great job of bringing the decomposing city to life. The music is somewhat weak though. While not "bad", it's often overshadowed by loud noises or it simply doesn't fit with what's going on in-game. The gameplay has its faults too whether it be obnoxious minigames or simple mooks taking too long to die but the overall experience is solid. For the most part, the weapons and Plasmids are both fun to use and fun to experiment with. For all of Bioshock's faults, 2K for than made up for it with its presentation. I would go so far as to say Bioshock is one of the best looking and sounding games of this generation despite being technologically inferior to much of its competition. 2K managed to make Rapture such an engrossing and absolutely beautiful place that any 360, PC or PS3 owner should try Bioshock out. It's one of the few games that I consider to be a masterpiece despite not exactly being all that fun to play.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/29/12
Game Release: BioShock (Platinum Hits) (US, 12/31/08)
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