Review by renegadeoffunk7

"A is A - Bioshock is Awesome"

I should start by publicly disclosing that I am not a big fan of first-person shooters. I did not quit my job over Halo 3, and even Half Life 2 failed to impress me. That said, I knew that Bioshock was something special from the moment I read about it over a year ago. The concept of being able to use genetic modifications to supplement traditional gunplay seemed intriguing in itself. Add to that a challenging story, gorgeous graphics, amazing sound production, and a brilliant soundtrack, and you have just the right package to make FPS haters change their attitude.

Let's start with the opening of the game, which, for my money, is one of the best introductory sequences in any game ever made. No half-hour intro movies or history lessons ala Final Fantasy or Metal Gear. Instead Bioshock opens with a bang. You crash in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and have to swim to a nearby facility to seek shelter. The design of the water, the ominous banners and slogans inside the first building, the radio conversations and Andrew Ryan's introductory speech – all of them serve to create a truly unnerving atmosphere. The game does such a good job of sucking you into its world that it feels like an interactive sci-fi horror movie and not a shooter.

And the story certainly holds its own against most modern sci-fi movies. Inspired by the atheistic-individualist-capitalist philosophy of Ayn Rand, Bioshock's Rapture is a dystopic vision of good ideas gone wrong. As someone who has actually read much of Rand's work, I can say that the game does an admirable job of portraying the moral corruption of absolute power. Ethics are the driving force behind Bioshock's narrative, and the player is expected to make certain choices that will affect the ending and the game's difficulty.

And speaking of choices, Bioshock offers plenty in terms of gameplay. Bioshock is that rare action game that rewards creativity instead of just brute force or aim. In order to take down the Big Daddies, Rapture's monstrous armored guardians, you will need to learn to use your environment and strategize on the fly. No matter how sharp you are with that machine gun, you just can't expect to take these guys down with firepower alone.

None of that is meant to imply that firepower isn't important. Bioshock offers a nice mix of traditional and unique weapons, all of which can fire three types of ammo and are upgradeable. But the real gems of the combat system are the plasmids. Using gene tonics and eve hypos as fuel, you can unleash a variety of attacks to damage, deceive, or just mess with your opponents. You can fry several opponents at once by using thunderbolt while they stand in the water, or create a dummy version of yourself that will take the heat while you coast by, or make enemies attack each other, or unleash a swarm of hornets to really mix things up.

The possibilities are myriad. Many gamers will find very early on that certain combinations of attacks are more effective than others. Yet the temptation to experiment is strong and rewarding. In this regard, I have to criticize Bioshock's lack of diversity when it comes to enemy types. It's pretty much all gene splicers, big daddies, or machine gun turrets. That along with the lack of multiplayer or co-op makes the extremely versatile combat system feel a bit wasted.

Graphically, the game is a triumph, but bears qualification. In terms of technical detail and resolution, Halo 3, Gears of War, and Call of Duty 4 are stronger. However if you include artistic design and thematic consistency, that is, if you consider how interesting the environment is, Bioshock blows all of them out of the water. The fake advertisements are hilarious and worth stopping to read. The water effects are realistic and distinctly next generation level. Whereas COD4 might have a more detailed explosion or a more sharply defined human face, Bioshock's graphic design is more about the big picture. Rather than just note the detail of an object, Bioshock makes you want to look around.

Indeed, Bioshock is a marvelous example of artistic integration. The music, the sound, the level design, the characters and voice acting – all of it works together to create a totally believable mid-twentieth century world. The characters really sound like they are from the 1940's and 50's. This is in contrast to say, Assassin's Creed, where the main character sounds like a late 80's businessman stuck in 12th century Jerusalem. Everything works together in Bioshock yet each element taken separately is superlative.

The sound production deserves one more mention. The game's soundtrack includes several tunes from the era in which the story unfolds. This is a really nice touch that helps to make the world more real. The music, combined with the excellent voice acting and atmospheric sound effects all set a new standard, as does the game overall with the one exception being the less than satisfying ending. Bioshock will make you take a second look at all the derivative sequels, tired hack and slash games, and contrived shooters and adventure games that still dominate the latest generation of systems. After experiencing Bioshock, you will feel justified in demanding more from developers.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/12/08

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

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