Review by teenymon08

"Bioshock is Art- A visceral affair that might teach you something about humanity along the way"

Video-games, one of my personal favourite media of entertainment, can now join the elite and claim to have spawned art, despite nay-sayers in other industries (Roger Ebert) and its own (Hideo Kojima, creator of the critically acclaimed Metal Gear series.) Long have I believed that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was the greatest video-game to ever grace the world's living-room screens. Long was I correct on all counts. However, since August 21, 2007, I have been suffering a delusion. Why was Ocarina of Time the greatest game of all time? Because it was the first case in which that virtual, interactive world became a blank book in which stories could be written. It was the first game that, rather than simply giving the player a goal and the tools to achieve it, it truly informed us why. Why do we want to save the princess from the demon thief? Not because the game told us to, but because it is our destiny, that we have traveled through trials, tribulations and time to fulfill. This effectively moved video-games up from the level of pastimes to true entertainment.

Now why has that dream been shattered? Because a video-game has been released that not only tells us a compelling story, and makes it fun to continue in learning of the tale, but has told all of its many players something beyond a wonderful yarn. It has taught us about humanity, and so, can be known as nothing other than art. Once a vapid medium filled with mere tears, endless joy, epic adventure and passion beyond measure, video-games have gained substance and now have the potential to be so much more than amazing. They could teach us as human beings what we know best and worst at the same time. They could teach us of humanity. What is the name of the game that has accomplished this remarkable feat? You need only scroll up a few inches to see it. It is called "Bioshock."

The story begins with you, Jack Ryan, surviving a plane crash in the Atlantic Ocean that proved fatal for the rest of the passengers. Up ahead, you see a lighthouse, suspiciously not located anywhere near any major human settlements, or even land. When you go inside, you discover a large sign which reads "No Kings, No Gods, only Man." You then find a bathysphere. A small submersible vehicle which takes you eighteen fathoms deep in a matter of seconds. After you watch a short video-introduction, you see it: Rapture. A city built under the ocean, where man could educate, learn, create and destroy without the hindrance of government, religion and morality.

As you explore the city, however, you discover it is no utopia of man's greatest exploits. Rather, it is man's greatest exploits, destroyed by themselves because they were created by mere humans. Armored, heavily armed creatures the likes of which none has ever seen on the surface, weapons and industry beyond imagination and, of course, science advanced in ways no pious priest or ethical neighbour would ever have us lay eyes on.

Most notable of these scientific advances is ADAM. A stem cell produced by a rare sea slug which can instantly regenerate any destroyed tissue. Needless to say, we, as humans, were not content with the miraculous, we required more. Something at such a level that there is no adjective in this or, I imagine, any, language to describe it. Scientists and engineers set to work. The researched and experimented with the new cells to discover their properties. They discovered that the slug was a parasite. They discovered that it would develop more ADAM if implanted in a host, and they they discovered that the only viable hosts were pre-pubescent girls. Most tragic of all, however, they discovered that ADAM could literally do anything with human cells. With enough of the new found genetic material, a person could light a fire with a snap of their fingers, move objects with their minds and, of course, make themselves beautiful.

Armed with ADAM, man was given the opportunity to create nothing that the world had ever seen before. Being man, however, we could only destroy. Inspired by Rapture, a city advertised to have no laws but that of men, ethics were thrown away as people spliced their genetic code over and over again. Eventually, the mind did not recognize its host, and "Splicers" as they were called degenerated to mindless, destructive freaks.

Enter Ryan, who must fight his way out, all the while finding out the history of the rise and fall of the city and even changing his own genetic code, in the hope that the extra weapons that his body could become would help him survive the ordeal.

What makes this game so different from the countless "You are stuck in a strange place, please kill everything on your way out" games? It is how the people became the terrible mutants that you fight. They, of their own accord, immigrated to and lived in an underwater city in order to achieve the infinite wealth (which government taxes stole,) the endless freedom (which ethics and law barred,) and ultimately, the ability to achieve all the prosperity that we, as individuals, deserve. "How many wars have been started by the phrase 'do what you want'?" asks the founder of the city. Then they, of their own accord, chose to alter their genetic coding until they were perfect, because they could. All this seems like a flawless reality, like marxism, Christianity and laws in general, all screwed up simply because we are human.

This game has stellar sound. The eerie, whale-like moans of the big daddies, the disjointed ramblings of splicer and even the period '50s and '60s music give Bioshock a real soul. The voice-acting in particular is an amazing treat. None of the dialogue seems tacky or cliche, unless it is purposely so to reinforce what is being said, and the voice-actors display genuine talent, something not seen in most video-games. Some well-placed, excellently done emotion here, a couple of genuine-sounding accents there and a dash of detached ignorance or insufferable genius where necessary make this game a rare delicacy in that regard.

The graphics are just as breathtaking. While not as shiny as Halo 3 or as visceral as Gears of War, Bioshock delivers some amazing visuals to accompany its immersive story. Though some of the furniture is rendered rather blandly, there is no argument that the few character models made are done exceptionally well. When they leap up from the ground in a surprise attack, you can watch as their clothes crease with their movements, when you fire lightning from your hands or shoot flaming crossbow bolts at them, you can watch as they *ahem* react realistically. The real star of this graphical juggernaut, however, is the water. Being 18 fathoms down in the Atlantic Ocean, there is no shortage of H2O, and never does looking at it get boring. If you're a graphics maniac, you probably could stare for hours at a puddle on the ground being created by a ruptured ceiling, watching it ripple realistically as every drop hits it and shine everywhere it should and nowhere it shouldn't.

If I had to pick a gripe about this amazing game, it would be its very occasionally lackluster gameplay. On Normal and Easy difficulties, you could easily breeze through the game using only your wrench (with the proper genetic modifications equipped, of course.) While you are given the choice to dance a beautiful ballet with electricity shooting from your fingers, proximity mines blowing up all over the place and forcing enemies to fight each other, no method of death dealing is more practical and powerful than that good old mechanic's monkey. Even if running around brandishing that small club does get you killed, you don't have to worry because you'll be restored at a nearby glass tube called a "vita-chamber" and any damage you've done to enemies will remain. The only way to attain any true challenge from this game (for one experienced with shooters, especially after the first playthrough) is to download the Bioshock content available on Xbox LIVE, choosing Hard mode and turning off vita-chambers. Doing so (and only by doing so,) will make it so you have to be truly creative when outnumbered by enemies or when facing terrifying behemoths called "Big Daddies."

It's true that Bioshock was not rated as well as Halo 3 or Grand Theft Auto IV, particularly the latter. However, despite spending so many paragraphs extolling it, I understand why it was not immediately critically voted the greatest video game of all time. This is not the endless "replay value" with intuitive controls and never-before seen gameplay that critics are used to giving 10/10's. Rather, it is something of so much more intrinsic value to us as gamers, and society that it is beyond today's market. Video Games' audience, critics and players asked for an ornithopter. What they got was a space shuttle. A vehicle that soars into the indefinite beyond, ready to pioneer new paths for mankind, but never quite glides as comfortably and effortlessly on the plane we know and are familiar with as the simple gliders which preceded them.

Story- 9/10: while the underlying story (and history) of Rapture remains pristine, intriguing and powerful throughout, the actual conflict faced by the hero fizzles out a little bit near the end, for reasons not revealed for spoilers' sake.

Gameplay- 7.5/10: Following the three-step process outlined above will raise this score significantly to a 9.5/10. However, since this is a fairly specific (seemingly forced) way to play through the game, making the lower difficulty levels almost redundant, I'm going with the first score mentioned.

Graphics- 9/10: Beautiful, engrossing visuals that are almost flawless. When I shoot a heat-seeking missile at a couch, though, it doesn't blow up... Point off.

Sound- 10/10: Powerful and sexy, the SFX, period music and amazing voice-acting in this game give the rare impression that this world existed before the protagonist arrived.

Overall- 9/10*: It revolutionized our favorite medium of entertainment and was an awesome adventure, shooter and action game while doing so, what more could we ask for?

*Not an average

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/28/08

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

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