Review by ShadowGuardian9

"Next-Gen Shock To The System"

I've played many first-person shooters. Halo, Timeshift, Half-Life 2, Doom; it's a pretty formulaic genre. But sometimes something tries to do something different. Bioshock is that difference. Bioshock is what happens if Half-Life hooked up with Myst and had a little bundle of joy. Name it Bioshock, and you get one of the oddest genre combinations this side of Kingdom Hearts. Check out this shock to the system.

Bioshock follows the trail of Jack, a man whose plane trip is interrupted, leaving him isolated in the ocean wreckage. Upon awakening, Jack is guided by a mysterious lighthouse to an odd island on the sea. Upon exploring the lighthouse, Jack is transported beneath the ocean waves to Rapture, an underwater metropolis formed by Andrew Ryan, the so-called benevolent leader of the city. Ryan's philosophy ignores modern limitations such as government regulation or religious taboo. In Rapture, Ryan believes anything is possible. But is it? As Jack digs deeper into the city of Rapture, he finds lost Little Sisters, creepy little girls who are the key to controlling the resources of Rapture: the ADAM. The city's guardians grow restless and Jack is hurled into an adventure that could not only reshape the city, but reshape himself. Bioshock places a majority of its emphasis on the excellent story, showing off themes and concepts that feel new and intriguing all at once. The world is constantly thickening, and with each new goal, there's another rabbit hole to explore. Bioshock has one of the most involving stories around and with decisions that affect the ending, there's much more to Rapture than meets the eye. And trust me; you'll want to see every nook and cranny of Rapture. It's just that compelling.

Controls in Bioshock mix up the action pretty well. The A button is the interaction button that lets the player examine different environment aspects. Use X to reload weapons, Y to jump. Left analog stick to move, right analog stick to aim. R-Trigger for weapons, change weapons with R-Bumper. L-Bumper controls the Plasmids, and L-Trigger lets the player let the Plasmids loose. The controls make combat a bit clunky and it takes some getting used to, but after practice and exploring in the first few stages, the game picks up at a solid pace. The controls cater to the game's exploratory aspects well, although combat can be a bit confusing at times, especially against multiple or stronger enemies.

After reaching the underwater metropolis of Rapture, Jack discovers that he's not alone. Creatures known as Splicers inhabit the city with a knack for firearms and throwing explosives. The guys are smart and will notice if you make a noise or fire a weapon. Along the way, Jack also encounters the Little Sisters, and their guardians the Big Daddy creatures. The Little Sisters hold the energy of Rapture and a major part of gameplay is finding the Little Sisters and either sapping them of their ADAM energy or rescuing their nasty little necks. This decision shows the ever-popular morality system, which is actually integrated rather well in Bioshock. The ending will depend on how you go about encountering the Little Sisters. But the Little Sisters won't go down without a fight, or in this case, they'll sick their fast, strong, and nasty Big Daddy creatures on you. These guys are a pain to battle and will constantly kick you around the room unless the preparations are darn near flawless. It is difficult taking them down, but the game manages to keep the player on an advantage by getting damage to carry over on enemies even after dying. It does remedy the hazardous difficulty, but a bit too well. As a result, there is no serious consequence for dying except of not knowing where to go next. But the game even covers that by offering hints and directions throughout. In the end, the game makes a good difficulty, but instead of a simple medium, it seems that the game dashes from opposite sides of the spectrum to keep balance. But the moments are generally fun to play, even though you'll no doubt find gameplay to lose symmetry frequently.

The Plasmid system manages to introduce some interesting RPG elements in Bioshock. Plasmids can range from something as simple as an electric attack to more subtle changes like allowing you to hack better. These different aspects are plenty interesting and there are plenty of chances to experiment. You can only carry a certain amount around, but you can switch specific Plasmids at banks. Weapons can also be upgraded with specific ammunition, along with entirely new skills. It's pretty addicting to see how you can approach a situation with specific Plasmids. Along the way, you can collect health packs, along with more energy for Plasmids, money to spend on items or to bribe machines, along with other necessary items which later on could be helpful. Checking everywhere is important and rewarding. A cool inclusion is the ability to hack machines like safes, vending machines, or even enemy security cameras and sentinels. You must create a pipeline of sorts from one end to the other, while narrowly dodging obstacles. It's pretty cool, and although you'll probably be doing it a lot (I mean, a whole lot), it's pretty rewarding and is a clever distraction.

Interestingly enough, Bioshock includes many different types of gameplay in one single game, and it manages to keep the pace together for the most part. At one moment you'll be blasting the crud out of a Splicer, next you'll be narrowly evading detection from a security camera or hacking a safe. Bioshock makes plenty of logical progressions to this subtle little gameplay elements, but in the end, doesn't seem to tie them together particularly well. Bioshock doesn't transcend any specific area of gameplay, but it manages to take small, subtle changes and mash them together into a surprisingly good game.

Bioshock's presentation is definitely worthy of merit. There's a ton of detail in the world of Rapture and it all shows. Lighting effects come into play in the stealth sequences; the overseeing light from the security cameras glows across the room. It's really cool to see how much detail is in each sequence. Pick up some cigarettes and use them, you'll see smoke in Jack's view. The same goes for the sound, which is full of high-quality and particularly well-written acting. Key characters like Atlas and Andrew Ryan himself sound convincing and are portrayed in brilliant ways. The game looks beautiful on HDTV's and the entire package even manages to push the limits of standard def TV's as well. It's plenty remarkable to watch Bioshock's well crafted story flow with the stellar presentation and Bioshock is definitely one of the better looking 360 games on the market today.

+ Interesting RPG elements
+ Fun FPS sequences
+ Great amount of creepy atmosphere
+ Excellent story

- No consequences for dying
- Gameplay, though good, feels secondary to the story

Although Bioshock isn't the absolute must-buy for the Xbox 360 this year and it has its share of frustrations, it still manages to create an interesting and compelling story while still keeping gameplay full of exciting moments. Bioshock's odd Twilight-Zone approach to the many-told dystopian storylines of the past is its greatest strength: Rapture persists in throwing mysteries at you until you instinctually want to find the answers yourself. The story's interesting storytelling and excellent production values make Bioshock an absolute must-play for any even casually interested in science fiction. But besides the amazing story and presentation, the gameplay does manage to make some interesting progressions beyond a simple FPS. The RPG elements are full of unique gameplay methods, and while none of these concepts are particularly new, they manage to keep gameplay fresh and interesting while the story unfolds. Bioshock's story and presentation do tend to take center stage, and the gameplay still feels a bit stuck in the shadow of the rest of the game, but Bioshock is some of the best storytelling seen in a game in years. It can seem easy, and doesn't always show its true potential when it comes to gameplay, but Bioshock's selfless and tantalizing world is really unlike no other. It's a definite and serious rental, but FPS, RPG, and story fanatics will find plenty of interesting elements worth revisiting in Bioshock. Rapture is waiting, and Bioshock is the key to the castle.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 11/26/07

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

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