Review by HighOnPhazon

"A game with no equal on the console. A must play experience."

I've always been a fan of gritty, atmospheric games, no matter what genre they are. Some of my favorite games to date are first person games, be they action adventure games like the Metroid Prime series, or a shooter like Half-Life and its excellent sequel. I was one of the unfortunate bunch that did not get to enjoy System Shock 2 back in its hay day. Disappointed as I was, I did however get to experience Deus Ex, a very inventive action game that seemed to balance a nice mix of exploration, narrative and character building in a shooter/cyber punk RPG hybrid. It was an excellent game, and to date, not even its direct sequel, Invisible War, has come close to delivering the satisfaction of playing through that wonderful story.

When BioShock was announced I was immediately excited. Not only was it a very valid reason for me to invest in an Xbox 360, but it was my chance to enjoy this spiritual successor to the game I should of played years ago, System Shock 2. When the game came closer and closer to release I couldn't wait, and preordered. The day it was released, I set aside about five hours of my night for BioShock and I can honestly say that I was impressed on every level. Right from the beginning of this game you are thrust, literally, into a horrific sequence of events that leads you to one of the most unique and amazing game worlds ever conceived, and I can't think of a better setting for a game like this.

BioShock begins with your main character, whom you don't know much about, on a plane flying to some undisclosed location. Nothing but the cigarette in his hand and the gift from his parents in his lap accompanies him. Suddenly, the plane starts to shake and people start screaming. The plane is going down. BioShock then truly grabs a hold of you. As your character swims to the surface, gasping for air, you witness some of the most amazing water effects to date as you bob at the surface, watching as the destroyed plane sinks below the moonlit waves and fire burns all around you. Swim towards the only beacon of safety, an ominous light house in the middle of the ocean. Interesting, but in this guy's shoes I would of done the same. You are instantly greeted to a distinct steam punk 1950's sci-fi world. Descend down the ornate steps and into a rusty bathysphere, where the adventure truly begins.

As you descend you are introduced to Andrew Ryan, perhaps one of the most interesting characters in gaming to date. He, through a film clip in the bathysphere, explains Rapture, the city of his dreams and the escape from the world government, religion and communism above, plaguing the world. The bathysphere window opens to introduce you to an amazing spectacle: An underwater city brimming with amazing detail. This is truly quite the sight, as I haven't seen anything rivaled in next gen gaming yet. The graphics are truly stunning, especially on an HDTV. Enter Rapture through the last tunnel, seeing the words “All good things flow into this city”. Here is where everything goes to hell and back.

Rapture has seen better days. You just happen to come across this underwater utopia at a very bad time. There seems to be death and despair, ransacked hallways, corpses, blood and outright havoc in the streets. The city is at the aftermath of something vile, and as you delve further into this foreboding dungeon, you learn of what happened and why. The story of BioShock is one of its highest points, and its something that will make your jaw drop as you get further along. Its one of those rare game stories that will, no pun intended, shock you at a certain point in the game. For those who are lucky enough to not get spoiled before they enjoy the amazing story, they are in for a real spectacle. I won't go into ANY details because not knowing any details before hand makes the experience THAT much richer and more exciting. The way the story unfolds is very interesting. You only have a couple of contacts that lead you along your way, but you never get much of a real connection with either of them, so its hard to know who to trust. You learn of the decline and utter destruction of the city through radio logs scattered about the city, in bars, in hotel rooms, along the street etc. These are from former citizens of Rapture and are either diaries or complaints, musings etc. They are all unique and some are just downright horrifying and shocking to listen to. They are all worth collecting to learn about the grand scheme of things. Listening to as many as you can throughout the story will help you understand and make certain twists that much more exciting.

The citizens of Rapture are now shells of their former selves. Something went horribly wrong with them, and it was a direct effect of what eventually happened to the city. Dubbed Splicers, they are genetic mutated freaks that are the closest things to a ravaged junkie you will ever see. They seek death, money, and ADAM, a resource coveted above all else in Rapture. In Rapture, genetic experimentation and free will were valued highly among its denizens and especially Andrew Ryan. Seeking a utopia where people can become stronger than the so called God himself, they could turn evolution on its ear. But this is where things take a twisted turn. Basically, the experimentation ended up a horrible failure, and with a civil war going on in the city, as you will learn, things got messy. Splicers are now creatures only out for their own twisted needs. Coming in various different varieties, from a thug with either a wrench, pipe or a flashlight, to a Splicer that will teleport around the room, flinging fireballs out of his palms at you, you will face each and every one of them if you want to survive.

Things seem bleak. You are in an underwater hell, faced with crazed Splicers that want to tear your head off. But there is something you can do about it, and that is adding a little bit of firepower to your “arsenal”. Early in the game, you take on your first Plasmid, or what you would think of as a genetic mutation power. The citizens of Rapture have all succumbed horribly to the effects of these plasmids but in order to survive this onslaught, you have to take the risk of adding them to your DNA. Injecting Plasmids is like taking a syringe in the arm, and its pretty intense the first time. Once the Plasmid enters your system its free for you to use. Now that you can use genetic powers, you have a meter to use such powers. This is your EVE bar. EVE is like Plasmid ammo. Each Plasmid you use will deplete a certain amount of this bar, and will not regenerate. Luckily, most Splicers and containers around the city will have EVE hypos in them, allowing you to inject yourself for some added usage.

Plasmids are what make this game go. While you have a pretty standard selection of firearms at your disposal that you will come across, like a Revolver, a Shotgun, a Wrench and other things that I won't spoil, Plasmids are what give you the upper hand. Shocking enemies with Electrobolt will stun them, allowing you to get a nice hit in with your heavy wrench to crunch their skull, or blast them with a pistol shot to the face. Add in a pool of water underneath their feet, and you can see the results of your handiwork. You can fry multiple enemies at once with this power when they are knee deep in water, and this opportunity will arise quite a bit. The best part about Plasmids is how you can mix and match them and their effects for your ultimate Splicer disposal goals. You could, for instance, set one on fire. He will run to put the flames out, which then leads him to being drenched in water. Take a guess at what you do next. Things like this are what make BioShock stand out from other shooters. You can use your environment in creative ways to dispatch enemies, and a lot of the time, this is the key method because ammo for your guns is in short supply early on.

Some early powers like Telekinesis stay interesting and powerful throughout the game. You can sling just about anything around with this power, and create all sorts of creative havoc. There are many different Plasmids to choose from and they all serve a great purpose. There are some that serve defensive needs, and some are just there for pure destruction. You can outfit your character however you want, and carry a load out of different plasmids. This is where ADAM comes in, the most important part of your power.

Adam is highly sought after, and rightly so. However you are going to have to work for your ADAM in BioShock. Without going into too much story detail, ADAM is harvested from Little Sisters, which are small girls, who are almost haunting parasites of former children. They will extract ADAM from any dead Splicer in the area. Where there is death, Little Sisters are sure to be there, harvesting from the dead bodies while humming an eerie song or skipping along merrily to the next corpse. A morbid spectacle.
Enter the Big Daddy. This is the Little Sisters body guard, and your most powerful and challenging adversary in BioShock. Big Daddies are huge, diving suit wearing creatures that carry huge drills, anchors, rail guns or proximity grenades. They are heavily armored, fast, extremely aggressive and downright scary. Little Sisters and Big Daddies are passive for the most part. If you get to close to a Sister, the Big Daddy will hide her behind him and point at you, telling you to step back. If you engage in a fight with a Big Daddy, you will suffer the consequences.

Fighting a Big Daddy is one of the more exciting and creative things you can do in BioShock. Big Daddy preparation is one of the greatest activities. You need that ADAM, so you better have a game plan. Big Daddies come in two flavors, Bouncers, who will basically pummel you to death with their drill arm, insane tackling speed and overall scare factor. Then there are Rosies. They have insanely accurate and powerful rivet guns and they will toss proximity mines at you. I find Rosies to be the more dangerous of the two, simply because if you are in the open engaging a Rosie you will probably get shot enough to die a horrible death.

However you decide to and eventually dispose of a Big Daddy, the Little Sister is at your mercy. You will be confronted early on with a choice: Harvest the Sister and take the benefits of greater ADAM use, or save her and receive aid from a mysterious woman that seems to know more than she puts on. Whichever you decide to do, you will receive ADAM, and here is where it gets interesting. Now you can go to a Gatherers Garden as they are dubbed, which look like a creepy coke machine, and buy new Plasmids and passive powers. In the Garden you can purchase slots to add to your Plasmid load out, increasing the number you can carry at once. Spending ADAM will net you increases in these, along with Health and EVE upgrades, and Tonics and their respective slots. Tonics are another unique aspect of BioShock. Like Plasmids, Tonics augment you passively. With ADAM you can buy more slots to utilize Tonics in the categories like Combat, Physical and Engineering.

Tonics and some Plasmids can be found out in the open. Some are bought with ADAM. Tonics are neat because they will add effects to your character. Some Tonics will allow you to take more damage, do more damage with the wrench, cloak if you are standing still, or increase the damage you do with other Plasmids. There are a ton of different combinations to use, and it's a great way of customization. You could use Tonics to benefit your character with more health from First Aid Kits, or add a Tonic that allows you to receive EVE from every first aid kit you use. There are Tonics that allow you to get greater benefits from food in Rapture that you eat and some what help you sneak around. There really is a lot of depth here and you can do anything you want. ADAM is important for customization if not for the coolness factor alone.

There is more to Rapture than just Tonics, Plasmids and Guns. There are vending machines, ammo vendors and inventing machines that you can interact with. In Rapture you will find money on corpses and strewn about that you can use to purchase first aid kits, EVE hypos, ammo and other goodies. You will also eventually stumble across random junk like rubber hoses and screws which you can use to invent with, to create ammo types, Tonics and tools.

If Splicers and Big Daddies weren't enough, Rapture is also equipped with a security system of sorts. There are cameras and Turrets littered around the city that will detect you and kill you if you're not agile enough. Cameras will set off an alarm sending a swarm of mechanized bots after you that will pepper you with .30 cal machine guns. A nice Electrobolt will send these guys down and short circuit them enough for you to get up there and hack them. In BioShock you can hack just about anything mechanical, be it a bot, turret, camera or vending machine. Early on hacking proves to be easy, but as you progress it gets tough. The hacking in BioShock plays out like a minigame of Pipe Dream, if anyone has ever experienced that. As you start you are shown a screen with pipes and random blocked tiles. Its your goal to uncover all the tiles you can and get new pipe pieces to add to the existing pipe structure. As liquid starts flowing from the entry point, you must build the pipe to the exit point for a successful hack to be accomplished. Its quite fun and gets pretty damn challenging on certain things like Safes and some invent machines. There are tiles that will trigger alarms or overload if you direct the flow incorrectly, so its wise to be quick and careful. Its possible to bypass hacking altogether by inventing or using a found Auto Hack Tool but these aren't very common.

In addition, there is a Camera in the game that will allow you to take pictures of Splicers, Cameras and Bots, even Big Daddies and Little Sisters that net you “research”. Each photo will accumulate points towards a research goal, which when achieved will net you increased damage to a particular Splicer or Big Daddy, a new Tonic or Plasmid and of course achievements. This is a pretty neat little idea but can become frustrating to remember to take pictures of every Splicer you come across. The benefits however are worth it, and researching every enemy fully will net you some nice rewards.

There is a just an abundance of content in BioShock. The Plasmids, upgradeable weapons and Tonics and the research and hacking just boils down to one heck of an intense adventure. If you're not exploring the insanely detailed city for upgrades, your battling a Big Daddy for some more ADAM using some creative Plasmid and Tonic load outs. Or your blowing away Splicers with your fully modified Tommy Gun while setting the corpses on fire and flinging them at other enemies with Telekinesis. All of this unfolds in one of the most atmospheric games that I've ever played, with one hell of a back story to unfold.

You would be hard pressed to find another game of this caliber. BioShock is a memorable experience through and through. There are so many different ways to tackle any one situation that everyone will probably do it differently, and that was the goal of BioShock from the beginning. No other game on the market right now delivers the whole package, and definitely not in the style that this game exudes. Finally, a game as intense and enthralling as Deus Ex for the PC has come, and if this game is any testament to its predecessor, System Shock 2, than I missed out on an excellent title. If you own an Xbox 360, this is its killer app, no joke. Do you rent or buy? Its up to you, but either way play it, you owe yourself that much. Play and enjoy one of the best games to come out in years. It has exceeded a lot of my expectations and is on par with some of the great memorable games among my favorite collection.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 09/04/07

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

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