Review by oneshotskye

"Game of the Year? It's definitely a contender."

It seemed unlikely that there would be a sequel to the 1999 sci-fi shooter System Shock 2, with the disbandment of the development team Looking Glass Studios during the following year. And when 2K Boston (previously Irrational Games, who had also worked on System Shock 2) took the helm with their announcement of BioShock for the PC and Xbox 360, it seemed even more unlikely that the new horror game would live up to the legacy of two predecessors. However, 2K not only succeeds in delivering both an emotional storyline and immersive world for gamers to explore, but they successfully incorporate these two elements into a comprehensive, intelligent FPS that almost fully delivers what 2K promised: a game that redefines the way we view the shooter genre.

The world of Rapture is one that immediately grabs the player, partially due to the visual spectacle each room provides - a vivid color palette and unique art deco architecture - but after the initial allure of the underwater metropolis wears off (complete with decorative statues fit for the cover of Atlas Shrugged), the compelling storyline entices players to continue their search through the waterlogged corridors of the dystopian society. Following the recent trend of “emotional games” like The Darkness and the forthcoming Fable 2, BioShock presents its protagonist with a difficult decision to make early in the story.

Before that issue is addressed, there's the overall scenario. You don't know much about your surroundings when you first arrive at Rapture's doorstep: You seem to be the sole survivor of a plane crash and find refuge in a lone lighthouse erected, oddly, in a location without any land in sight. Using a submarine found at the basement of this building, you take the plunge underwater and subsequently find yourself in a society created by the enigmatic Andrew Ryan. From a brief video that plays during the descent, you gather that his intent was to fashion an undersea civilization of like-minded intelligentsia; however, something had gone awry during the past twenty years and all that remains of his utopia are demented humans called Splicers, and trace elements of a powerful essence called Adam that they yearn to remove from the likes of you.

Also looking for this Adam are child extractors, Little Sisters, and their formidable escorts, called Big Daddies. These hulking creatures are pacifists until either their lives or their guide's is threatened; once this initial, violent contact is made, be prepared to combat one of the more difficult enemies ever placed into a shooter. Big Daddies come in two forms: The first you'll encounter utilizes a disorienting preliminary attack where he stomps the ground near you before charging at your unsettled form, delivering a near-fatal blow with his drill arm that requires you to frantically heal yourself before he charges again. The other replaces the drill with a gun; one successful hit causes you to lose half your health.

However, you are not completely helpless. Your arsenal is fairly standard for a FPS: The initial lineup includes a revolver, machine gun, and a wrench that functions like a slower version of Half-Life's crowbar. And like some more fantasy-based first-person adventures, such as Oblivion and Undying, you have the ability to deal magic-based attacks, called plasmids. Unlike some of these other games, you'll find yourself achieving a far better success rating if you attack the environment and not the enemy himself. For example, you can stun more Splicers by striking the ankle-deep water they're sometimes wading in with Electro-Bolt, rather than aiming at the individual enemies themselves. Cause more damage by casting Incinerate on an oil spill at your feet. Lob grenades back at enemies using the power of Telekinesis. Additionally, you can make enemies fight on your side through two different options: Hack security bots through the means of a mini-game to make them patrol the present area for you; for living creatures like Splicers and Big Daddies, you have the ability to hypnotize them for a time, granting you the option to have these enemies attack others who may be lurking in the same hallways.

To anyone who is familiar with the controls to an FPS, BioShock will come with a short learning-curve. The right trigger controls your firearms and the left your magic. As in System Shock, you will have to control your resources carefully because of the short supplies both EVE (your magic meter) and bullets come by. Yes, there are machines located throughout each level that distribute health items and ammunition, but even after being hacked you'll find that something as common as standard pistol bullets are still on the steep side: Approximately twenty dollars will give you six bullets. Through quick maneuvers, many Splicers can be taken down using only the wrench, which may cheapen the feel of the encounters. Even the Big Daddies' attacks can be avoided to a certain extent by using the jump button, though you still will find yourself dead if you rely on this method alone.

Not to worry, though. Vita Chambers are located throughout the world of Rapture, and these electrically-charged compartments function in revitalizing your fallen form whenever you find yourself on the receiving end of a Big Daddy's drill. This is where the main complaint about combat mechanics takes place because players receive no penalty for dying. Their EVE bar is completely regenerated, their money still intact, and their weapons ready to attack the enemy they lost to a moment earlier. The enemies retain the same amount of health that they had when you died, which means that in theory you can charge a Big Daddy with a wrench and, through multiple trips back to the Vita Chamber, eventually take him down. You will never be forced to change your tactics or adapt to the difficulty of later enemies; rather, you can fight (and win) by employing the same techniques you used in the first level of the game, until that security bot, or Houdini Splicer, or Big Daddy is lying dead at your feet.

And once the Big Daddy is out of commission, you can focus your attention on the Little Sister trembling before you. This is where the aforementioned difficult decision is addressed: In order to level up your character in the game, you need to gain access to Adam, and to gain access to this Adam, you need a Little Sister. You can either play as a humanitarian and allow the little girl to escape, which nets you 80 Adam, or if being powerful is your main objective, you can choose to harvest Adam from the girl, which will double the amount of the essence you yourself receive. Either option you choose affects the plot in a significant way later on.

Just don't expect the sacrificing of Little Sisters to come easily. In addition to amazing visuals, the voice acting featured in the game is impressive, which functions to create a bond between the player and the various NPCs at an early point in the game. You can grasp the Little Sisters' innocence by the way they associate with their guardian “Mr. Bubbles” and you can also comprehend the pain in your own guide, Atlas, when he begs you to locate his wife and child, who are still lost amongst the rubble of Rapture. The Splicers convey both their malice and madness through clips of conversation. They'll throw threats your way when they know you're approaching and utter (sometimes nonsensical) spurts of dialogue when they don't. A Big Daddy's enraged cry, a whale-like bellow, can successfully stun a player the first time he hears it, and the other sound effects scattered about the world are equally unsettling. Oftentimes, the only noises you'll be hearing are the falling of footsteps and the occasional creaking of unstable walls, which both serves to reinforce the uneasy feeling of isolation the game excels at delivering, and create a rush of alarm once a foreign noise echoes through the hallways. Music, too, is memorable, with unsettling fanfares being cranked from nearby supply machines and off-key string arrangements drawling in the background to some rooms. It's a shame that some of the in-game scores failed to make it to the three song EP that comes packaged with the Limited Edition version of the game, because the Moby techno-influenced tracks, although fun to listen to, fail to convey the same eerie feeling that flows through the background music.
Does BioShock revolutionize the FPS? Not necessarily, since the core game mechanics function much like other recent entries in the genre. Although we see some originality in terms of the stress placed upon environmental objects, BioShock works much like its System Shock predecessors did when it comes to combat. Anxiety levels rise with the overwhelming sensation of isolation the player experiences as he explores each area, fitted with low ammo supplies and a lone, disembodied voice of a stranger (SHODAN and Atlas) guiding you through the different areas. Like System Shock, the game shines in its realization of a new world - an undersea metropolis as opposed to a spaceship - complete with a fantastic visual design and unsettling soundtrack. And although the game has its moments when squaring off against the small assortment of enemies, most notably the Big Daddies, BioShock will be remembered more for its plot than its combat. There is little doubt that BioShock succeeds in its creation of an emotionally engrossing experience for players, and it is for that reason alone that the FPS stands out as one of the best games in the Xbox 360's growing library.

- Deep storyline will keep players intrigued for the 10+ hours needed for completion, searching the world of Rapture for clues as to what caused Andrew Ryan's society's downfall.
- Stunning visuals that fully utilize the Xbox 360's power. Lighting and water effects are both jaw-dropping and the art deco style used for the interior is unique.
- Top notch voice acting and sound effects help unnerve the player and break the even more perturbing silence that follows you from room to room.
- Game is on the longer side, taking approximately ten hours to complete.

- Combat is on the easier side, with no penalty given to character death. Veteran gamers will breeze past most enemies.
- Not a wide variety of enemies, with only three basic types (excluding bosses) scattered throughout Rapture: Splicers, security bots, and Big Daddies.
- Replayability is not high, with no side quests to explore.

Overall Score: 9/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/04/07

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

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