Review by kilgoretraut

"A FPS that truly stands apart"

Having casually glanced at screens and early video footage of Bioshock during it's development, I can't say that I was overcome with anticipation. This isn't to say that it didn't look like a visually impressive first person shooter, but the game didn't really seem to offer much in the way of innovation. Sure there was a team of designers dedicated solely to developing realistic water physics, but how often has a single element of a game been so well implemented that it transformed a mediocre game into one undeniably worth playing? Needless to say, I was skeptical of the early hype surrounding the title.

Then, just a few months before Bioshock's release, during the absolute onslaught of Internet media coverage, I began to read more and more about elements of the game which I had overlooked. Bioshock would indeed include the most realistically simulated water physics in any game to date, but far more intriguingly would also offer genuine variety in terms of strategic combat and the way in which the player could interact with and advance through the world, a beautifully stylized post-cataclysmic art-deco style cityscape with an intense and persistent atmosphere to match, and, unlike the vast majority of its predecessors, a decent plot line.

I anxiously awaited the demo, which, upon downloading, far exceeded my expectations, but this isn't a review of the demo, so on to the actual game.

In Bioshock, you play the role of a nameless individual who has the extremely unlikely misfortune of being the sole survivor of a plane wreck somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. After being funneled from the remains of the fiery wreck into an ominous columnar building housing a submersible known throughout the game as a Bathysphere, you're given a single option to advance, which, in my opinion leads to one of the least plausible plot events in a game that involves do-it-yourself genetic modification and free thought in 1950's America; you, the player, unthinkingly hop into the Bathysphere, pull a lever, and begin your descent to who-knows-where. My ability to suspend disbelief is pretty strong though and the game has to start somewhere, so I'm really not complaining.

Your descent, it just so happens, is towards the undersea Objectivist utopia known, rather dramatically, as Rapture. You're given this information in the form of the first of many brilliantly voice acted audio segments which serve both to advance Bioshock's plot and flesh out the world of Rapture, primarily through anecdotal accounts provided by its former inhabitants. This device functions really nicely and provides a great deal of depth to the setting and story of Bioshock, essentially populating the city of Rapture which is largely devoid of NPC's to interact with. Although you'll see very few NPC's you'll be too busy fending off waves of roaming enemies to notice.

One of my very few complaints about the game lies here. The vast majority of enemies you'll encounter take the form of Splicers, crazed Rapturites mutated by overindulgence in "splicing", the injection of Plasmids (genetic modifiers that provide the user with supernatural powers). These Splicers not only want to kill you because they've become feeble minded and a bit paranoid, but they also want your ADAM, the substance which allows for genetic tinkering and Plasmid use. While I appreciate that the enemies in the game were given some sort of motivation for constantly trying to kill you, my complaint is that there just isn't enough diversity amongst them. There are relatively few character models that you'll see over and over and over again. The models there are though, are well designed and animated and fit nicely into the world of Rapture. Besides Splicers, you'll also run into the roaming tanks of Rapture, the Big Daddies.

Like the Splicers, Big Daddies were once ordinary humans who have been transformed. Unlike the Splicers however, the Big Daddies have been merged with huge diving suits which afford them both heavy armor and more substantial weapons than their counterparts. The Daddies act essentially as mini-bosses scattered throughout the various areas of Rapture, each one protecting one of many Little Sisters, sinister little girls bent on harvesting ADAM from the slain denizens of the city. It's interesting to note that as long as the player avoids harming either the Little Sister or her accompanying Big Daddy, the pair will leave him/her alone. This very often helps by allowing the player to lay traps for or otherwise better plan an attack on the Daddy and its creepy little ward. It should be said here that this ability to plan and implement an attack in a wide variety of ways is one of the strongest points of the game.

Players have access to an arsenal that consists of only a handful of weapons, but not only are a few of the weapons fairly unique, each can be loaded with an array of ammo types that are more useful in particular situations. Antipersonnel pistol ammo for instance, can be loaded into the pistol, making that weapon a greater threat to unarmored Splicers, but does little damage to armored or mechanical foes. Each weapon can also be upgraded up to three times at one of many Power to the People stations hidden throughout the levels. Upgrades often consist of a power boost or efficiency improvement, but some are unique to particular weapons. Besides weapons, players can defend themselves with a huge variety of Plasmids, which allow the player to do a variety of inhuman things such as cast lightning from their fingertips and hypnotize Big Daddies into allying with them. I have to admit though, that my second largest complaint lies here. There really are quite a few plasmids scattered throughout the game (the majority of which are available for purchase for an amount of ADAM at stations called Gatherer's Gardens) but I can't say that I found too many of them to be particularly useful. By the end of the game I had a huge stock of the things, many of which went completely ignored because they seemed awkward or even useless. This is not to say though, that your choice plasmids will be the same as mine, and herein lies the beauty of Bioshock. Players can choose the weapon and plasmid combo that best suits or most interests them, thus making each play-through more personalized and varied.

In addition to plasmids, players can equip various Gene Tonics in a number of categories. These Plasmid-like items passively alter the game's hero by giving him access to abilities like increased physical strength, more efficient plasmid use, and greater hacking ability. Since I hadn't found a place to mention hacking earlier, here seems as good a place as any. Players can hack various mechanical objects throughout the game, giving them some form of control over the object in question. This ability gives players access to a variety of benefits such as cheaper ammo at ammo distributing vending machines and control of automated security cameras and sentry turrets. As with many of the plasmids, hacking allows the player to interact with his environment in a meaningful way that provides him with a greater advantage against the many foes lurking about Rapture.

In terms of difficulty, I can only attest to the challenge provided by the Medium setting. Although I never found the game truly difficult (I died a handful of times), I didn't think it was so easy as to be laughable or a complete breeze. On this setting, Bioshock took me about 20 hours to beat. I immediately started a new game on the hardest difficulty in order to get the remainder of the achievements I missed the first time through, but I've been consumed by other games since then so I can't comment on the challenge that this particular difficulty offers.

This game is amongst the very most perfect that I've played to date. As mentioned earlier, the environments and character models are all extremely well realized and seem part of a beautifully stylized unified whole. Character animations are fluid and realistic, voice over work is of the highest quality, and the storyline is engrossing and well structured. Level design and pacing make sense and work well, and the ability to try different plans of attack makes the game a definite candidate for multiple play-throughs. Bioshock incorporates slight RPG elements and greater interaction with the environment than many other first person shooters, but it remains at its core a first person shooter. And in this, one of the most painfully stale genres, Bioshock's addition of some extremely well implemented and novel mechanics and its incredible polish make it one of the very most unique and enjoyable FPS's yet conceived.

P.S. I'm giving this game a perfect score despite the lack of any multiplayer element whatsoever. Not every game needs it, and I, for one, am glad that the developers dedicated themselves to crafting the best single player experience they could rather than wasting any of their efforts on the creation of a half-baked multiplayer aspect they could tack onto the game to sell copies (The Darkness, I'm looking in your direction). If Take Two had had the time or will to include a multiplayer game as well crafted as the single player campaign, this game would undoubtedly go down as one of the greats and be replayed forever (Goldeneye, I'm looking at you now). As it stands, I personally think Bioshock will certainly go down as one of the greats, but sadly won't have the longevity that it might seem to offer now, so soon after its release.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 09/13/07

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

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