Review by poncho_poo

"Welcome to Rapture. A psycho infested hell hole you can grow to love"

Hype. The destroyer of games; just ask Killzone. Poor thing was slapped with the ‘Halo Beater' tag before it was even out in the public eye. It was to be conceived in a world where people expected it all yet got nothing, and as a result many scorned it. Hype is almost akin to a virus, a disease if you will. And yet, year after year gamers find a title with promise and have no qualms in taking tickets for the hype train with release day the final destination. Some cannot cope with such a weight of expectation on its shoulders, while others, like BioShock, take this weight in its stride to deliver on a level that not even the most rabid of followers could have imagined possible.

BioShock; the spiritual successor to the critically acclaimed System Shock 2 kicks off with a bang and crash, putting players in at the deep end, quite literally. You play unknowing protagonist Jack whose plane suffers a bad case of turbulence resulting in the plane crashing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Fear not though, as Jack strikes it lucky. He finds a lighthouse in the distance where he can seemingly hide out until rescue arrives. Of course sitting around in some dank structure for a good few hours wouldn't make much of a game, so as you'd expect curiosity kills the cat and Jack soon finds himself taking a sub deep underwater where he discovers a hidden utopia, Rapture. It's an underwater metropolis created with the soul intent of escaping the ignorance and petty squabbles that have tainted the world on the surface. It is a place where the greatest minds could be left alone to think, and ponder. But if films like The Shining have taught me anything, it's that solitude is the food that fuels madness and it's not long before things take a turn for the worst, as players are left to fight for their lives against all kinds of unspeakable evil.

Without wanting to spoil the story, all players need to know at the start is that Rapture has fallen to pieces as a result of its creator gone mad: Andrew Ryan. Mr Ryan is a megalomaniac seemingly drunk on power, and not much of a host when it comes to new visitors such as us. When this mad sociopath decides to cut off all oxygen in the city, it's a pretty clear sign that he's grown weary of your presence. Unlike many games in this day and age, BioShock is a very story driven game that grabs you by the nuts, and you will not want it to let go until you've see the game to its dramatic conclusion. It's certainly refreshing to see this in the videogame world, and it's proof that putting effort into the narrative can improve a game greatly.

BioShock is a shooter at heart but to take it completely at face value would be a crime against humanity. There's a lot more to it than just shooting at a load of crazies. In order to survive this nightmare, players must rely on an astute combination of weaponry and plasmids. The former is self-explanatory, weapons range from a wrench to grenade launchers but even here not everything is as it seems. Each firearm has three types of bullets that are all useful in specific situations. Weapons can even be upgraded to make life in Rapture a little easier. Is your shotgun's rate of fire too slow? Well then increase it. Have you formed a special bond with your wrench? Then augment the damage it deals out and you'll soon be bludgeoning enemies to death at a frighteningly efficient rate.

The plasmids are the main pull of the combat and an area players would be wise to invest in. These supplements of sorts change your genetic make up and give players all kinds of aesthetically extravagant powers at their very fingertips. It makes for a more varied gameplay experience, allowing players to use these plasmids to devise cunning strategies when tackling a hoard of enemies. If there is a splicer standing in oil, use incinerate to set him on fire and watch as he screams in agony, while edging towards you for one final attempt at taking you to a hell far worse than the one you're already in. If you're feeling extremely brutal, then unleashing a swarm of bees at a group of splicers makes for an amusing spectacle. But there is nothing more satisfying than taking the hat straight off an enemy's head using telekinesis, and killing him with it. However, you do not necessarily have to buy and upgrade your plasmids. It's quite possible to progress through the entire game relying on the original ‘one-two punch' of Electro Bolt followed up with a wrench or pistol to finish the job. Players will get as much from BioShock as they put in. Sadly, obtaining these plasmids isn't just a case of picking what you want. It's going to cost you, and the only way to buy more plasmids and other upgrades is with ADAM.

How do you get ADAM? By getting your hands on a little sister; creepy little girls that go around taking ADAM from the dead bodies that litter Rapture. How do you get to the little sisters? By defeating their brutish guardians the Big Daddies. A hell of a lot easier said than done unfortunately. If you aren't interested in attaining new powers then you can just walk away from these battles, as Big Daddies will not attack unless provoked first. This allows for very deep strategy before you even make your first move, and doing this is by far the easiest way of disposing of these fearsome opponents. You can lay trip wires in the hall way, put a swirling wind trap on the floor with a proximity mine just above. There's so many ways to tackle this, and because of the save anywhere feature, experimentation is almost encouraged.

Once you engage in confrontation with the Big Daddy, be prepared for one of the most frighteningly intense scraps you will likely ever experience in a game. For the few minutes you're taking on a Big Daddy, it becomes complete and utter mayhem. Frantically backtracking as you wait for your shotgun to reload for what seems like an eternity, only to be walloped and sent flying across the room into a table. The only reason you're still alive is because you bought a plasmid that freezes the Big Daddy in his place, buying the player precious few seconds to get away and re-group. This is just one of many different and exhilarating scenarios I faced in my many altercations with the Big Daddy.

When you've defeated the Bid Daddy, it's a matter of what to do with the Little Sister. You have two options; the first is to harvest her, which gets players maximum ADAM but sadly kills the Little Sister in the process. The second option is to save her. She doesn't die, netting players a reward but you receive less ADAM as a result. It's a moral decision that players must partake in, you never see what happens to the Little Sister when you harvest her, so it's not quite the ethical dilemma it's been made out to be. What you decide to do though will affect what happens at the game's conclusion, so for those players wanting to witness every possible ending, you will have to complete the game more than once.

The combat in general is of a very high quality; this is all down to the superb enemy A.I. The splicers (of which there are many different types) react in the ways you'd expect. If you've got a group of them covered in a hallway, then some will go around and attack you from behind and side on. If you've got a splicer close to death and they happen to be near a health station, then they will go to it and regenerate their health. One way to combat this little predicament is to hack the station so that it poisons anyone that uses it. If a security camera spots you, feel free to hack the bots and get them on your side. Hacking in general is done through a brief mini game, it's fun at first but quickly becomes tiresome, and you'll soon look to auto hacking and ‘buying out' free hacks whenever you have the cash to do so. The possibilities are endless. If you do die then players will be transported to the nearest vita chamber where you can continue whatever is you were doing. This helps keep a steady flow, the only criticism with this is that players may find it too easy, and that the consequences of death aren't all that intimidating.

Going back to the beginning of the game when Jack resurfaces to behold the aftermath of the plane crash. I had this wonderful moment where I sat still for a good while waiting for what I thought was a pre-rendered cut scene to finish, only to realise that I could move and this was indeed gameplay. Such is the graphical splendour of BioShock. The game is easily in the top echelon of visual stunners alongside the likes of Gears of War. Everything around you is positively dripping with atmosphere, the art direction is quite possibly the finest I've ever seen and on a technical level, BioShock provided me with plenty of ‘wow' moments. It's not all perfection, there are some poor textures here and there and the frame rate does dip a tad when things get a little hectic, but these are so outweighed by the flagrant beauty that is Rapture, that you will find it very hard to care.

Even better than the visuals is the sound. In a game where atmosphere and immersion is paramount, 2K Games has done a phenomenal job of keeping everything at a consistently high level. The music is in keeping with the 1940's art deco theme. Players will be constantly turning around in anxiety as they here a scuttle in the distance. Players will be immediately sucked into the world of Rapture, and Irrational Games can only be commended for building up such a sense of paranoia in the players mind through the use of sound effects alone.

BioShock is a title that gamers spend their whole lives waiting to play. Something that delivers on an absurdly high level in every department, and one that never dips in quality for the 15-20 hours that it lasts. Sure the game is a little linear, contrasting to the go anywhere, do anything nature that the level design maybe suggests. And perhaps the enemies could have been better designed so that they aren't all pretty much identical. Yet, it's just all too easy to cast these minor issues aside to the back of the brain because everything else has been executed to absolute perfection. It's time to put down a deposit, because once you enter Rapture, you will never, ever want to leave again.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 08/23/07

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