Review by zeshin_reloaded

"Under the sea, down where it's darker, there is Rapture"

I can safely say that I am not entering this regular tirade with bias towards or against Bioshock. I never had the alleged pleasure of playing System Shock 2, the spiritual predecessor of Bioshock, though making many attempts to do so. The only things I knew about Bioshock were these: You're stuck in an underwater city, the game is based on Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, you get nifty powers, and you have to perform atrocious acts on creatures called “little sisters” that look a lot like regular little girls to get the fuel for the aforementioned nifty powers.

Let's start with the game's presentation, just mix things up a bit. Bioshock's 1950's art deco centric design is continuously carried out throughout the whole game without relenting. Once those details are firmly planted, the developers went further with the ruined, destroyed, and deserted element to your surroundings. The buildings, interior design, and the city's own salvo of in-context advertisements are great for setting the mood and era of the game. The clothing of characters and even their accents, along with the visual details of the technology available, all are great for submersion (no pun intended) into the story.

There's also some great retro music from the 50's that plays during your journey through Rapture, the city at the bottom of the ocean. Since most people who would play this game were not around long ago enough to be exposed to the music in here originally, it does great on making you think “Wow, this used to be a living breathing place,” while still appearing to be very foreign and alien. Please make not that 12 of the game's 22 track OST is available for free online, and includes most of the original compositions for Bioshock. The innovative instrumental pieces are what really set its audio artistry apart from other shooters.

I suppose I've earned a break from any real writing at this point, so I'll just iterate the story to you. The game begins with you traveling on an airplane over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Suddenly, your plane crashes into the ocean and you are the only survivor of the impressive, flaming wreckage. Lucky you, there just happens to be a small island nearby with a lighthouse on it. Inside, a bathysphere takes you down into the city of Rapture, a supposed utopia of geniuses and objectivism. After arriving to Rapture, you quickly that city has, for lack of a better term, gone all to hell. A surviving citizen named Atlas aids you by radio and asks for your help to retrieve his family and escape, all the while dodging the machinations of the insanely violent and mutated citizens and Andrew Ryan, the founder of Rapture desperately clinging to his dying city.

The story is incredibly well written, at least as far as video games go. All the characters have realistic motivations and the voice acting is superb, if not a little dramatic. There's enough depth in here to make a full novel, yet it is not forced on you to take major note of how Rapture fell into darkness, so as to relieve the fragile minds of 12 year-old Halo fraggers.

The only lacking feature about the game's narrative is the ending. You're given either a good ending or a bad ending, based on your actions and choices. Unfortunately, neither ending is particularly worth noting. The bad ending feels rushed and lazy, and while I did appreciate the good ending a bit more for direction, it still feels insubstantial compared to what you've accomplished over the game. These lackluster conclusions don't let you walk away from Bioshock with as much a feeling of emotional reward as you feel you need for your effort. At least the ride to the end is a rush.

One thing that the hype over Bioshock gripped me on was the promised depth of an FPS/RPG. While it nails the FPS part just great, there is a disturbing lack of the latter mentioned. While you can upgrade weapons, plasmid powers, and general health/Adam levels, there's no real persistence in any experience point or leveling system. These upgrades are acquired by simply finding hidden stations and items in the levels. It's certainly deep for a shooter, but it's rather light as an actual role-playing game.

The controls are solid without any visible flaws, but aiming seems a tad sluggish on the default setting. It is, however, easily remedied by a quick visit to the options menu and tweaking the sensitivity.

The AI is also pretty neat to observe when they don't see you. They act realistically and utter mad ramblings constantly as they search for more Adam or their next victim. They also know when to run for a health station if they're getting slaughtered by you and actually react to taking a bullet by clutching their wounds in pain.

The most important enemies in regards to the AI are the little sisters and big daddies. It's nice to see that 2K tried something new by implementing a major boss that doesn't really bug you unless you bug it. Big daddies will wander around an area guarding their symbiotic partners, the little sisters. These little sisters search for dead bodies to snag Adam from in a rather grotesque fashion. Your motivation for interacting with these two types of characters is that you want the massive amounts of Adam the little girls carry, but you must get through the big daddy to get to it.

Big daddies are nasty, in that they are incredibly strong and resilient to damage. It is sometimes a good thing that the game revives you in-game without resetting health levels or the big daddies would be mostly next to impossible to kill. The only problem with this auto-revive feature is that it destroys the game's ability to truly frighten or scare you in any real way.

Once the big daddy is down, you're given a moral choice: Harvest the little sister for a sizeable amount of Adam, thus killing she, or rescuing she and getting less Adam for your effort. Chances are you'll choose your preference early on, but the first interaction in this regard can be a bit difficult to decide on.

You're also given the chance to do some “hacking” in order to create a more favorable environment to your survival. By hacking, you can reduce prices in vendors, turn security cameras and turrets to your side, and unlock safes. I found it rather perplexing that all electronics can be overridden by merely directing the flow of water inside the machines. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense that electronic machinery is powered by internal, ordinary liquid. Still, the hacking puzzles are somewhat fun puzzles that are acceptable when you ignore real world physics.

It's also a lot more linear than what the hype seemed to prophesy. While you are completely free to explore the levels and explore to your heart's content, the main story and missions all follow the monorail of the story. Which isn't to say it's detrimental to the fun factor at all. The linearity obviously provides stable framework for the plot, but I had expected the game to be a lot more open than I expected.

Bioshock has its share of imperfections, but the whole of it is delivered so sophistically that you can't help but be immersed in the water-logged halls of Rapture. Sure, it wasn't the next Deus Ex or System Shock in terms of gameplay, but the charm of the plot and setting remain intact all the way through the game's only half-decent endings.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/22/08

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

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