Review by Boatz!
Slightly buggy controls don't stop this from being the most immersive and atmospheric FPS ever created.
What with all of the hype surrounding Bioshock prior to its release, and a full 12 months of my gaming chums telling me what an astounding game it is, I was expecting Bioshock to rock me to the core with infallible gameplay, beautiful graphics, a roller-coaster of a story line, and spine tingling atmosphere, from the first second to the last kill.
Well. Three out of four ain't bad.
Bioshock, the proud brainchild of 2K Games - developers of the critically acclaimed System Shock 2 and the brilliantly underrated Tribes: Vengence - is a game that truly stands out from the pack. But in a far different way than one might expect. Plot twists, gruelling violence, stunning artsy graphics, and tension up the wazoo - all tied together in the best 15 hours of single player FPS action you will ever experience.
The game starts with a plane crash in the middle of the sea, where you (you being main voiceless protagonist only known as Jack), are forced to swim to a nearby lighthouse as the sole survivor of the crash. Not noticing the weird happening of there being a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean, you go on in looking for help. However, there is no crew manning this lighthouse, and the only piece of working technology nearby is a strange looking sphere, which looks like its travels one way - down into the ocean. There is no other survivors or rescue boats in sight - so you take your chances and jump into this sphere, which, sure enough, take you down into the ocean - to the city of Rapture.
Rapture was a city built purely for humanities best and brightest. The city's builder, Andrew Ryan, built Rapture for a place where "the strong would not be constrained by the weak." But as your vessel hits Rapture dock, and you look through its front window, you can clearly see that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. Mainly because you see an insane lady disembowel a cowering man, using the two rusty hooks strapped to her hands. All this while the wall lights flicker and die and sea water leakage plagues every wall.
Welcome to Rapture.
Now, Bioshock is an FPS, and it works just how FPSs normally do. You start with a wrench, before moving on to a revolver and advancing to more powerful weapons such as a crossbow, a grenade launcher, and a classic 50s tommy gun. Just like in other FPSs, you point the shooty end of your gun at whatever it is you want dead, and press RT to fire. Simple.
However, what is DIFFERENT about the guns in Bioshock is that each weapon has two different types of ammunition, in addition to bog standard metal slugs. For example, the tommy gun has regular bullets, but also anti-personnel bullets, which give a damage bonus to normal human enemies, or anti-armour bullets, for armoured defences like gun turrets. Like wise, you have standard shotgun shells, but you can also choose from Exploding Shells, which can set the target on fire, or Electric Shells, which can stun the enemy with an electric shock.
I quite like this nice addition to the guns, it spices up the gameplay well, however, unless you look in every single nook and cranny of Rapture, you'll often have a distinct lack of bullets to use. For a game which is purely about killing and in no way encouraging you to conserve ammo, this is a bit of a flaw. Also, there is an aim feature on most weapons, wherein your sight zooms in, for a better shot at your enemy. But this is quite awkward, as this action is mapped to the pushing in of RS, and that lose you a few precious drops of life in an important firefight. And, as discussed in another review here on GameFAQs, you can't change the mapping of the buttons at all - you either like it, or lump it.
So, weapons-wise, its your standard FPS. But what makes Bioshock not so standard is the additon of Plasmids, a special kind of drug that changes the genetic code of your body in order to do magic powers. (Hang about, what decade are we in again?)
Throughout the game, you can gain many powers for use against your enemies, from shooting bees at your enemies to setting them on fire with a click of your fingers, to throwing chairs at them using telekinesis. Or, you can enrage one of your enemies and have it attack someone else other than you. But, these little gems of power do not come under an unlimited tap - you need EVE, a special drug which powers up your plasmids, and appears as a little blue bar underneath your health. You can keep this topped up using the EVE Hypos that you can find on the corpses of dead bodies in Rapture.
My only issue with Plasmids is that most of them aren't particularly useful. The three mandatory ones that you get in the course of the story are the only ones that are useful throughout the game - and thats Electro Bolt (for shorting out gun turrets), Incinerate (for clearing ice from an entrance), and Telekinesis (for returning enemy grenades and using items as shields). These three attacks also have nifty little effects on the environment around you. See some enemies in a puddle? Use Electro Bolt and they're all toast. Is there an oil slick leading towards a gunman? Use Incinerate and he's...well, toast again. And Telekinesis? Well, everything around you can be thrown at enemies or used as temporary shields, should you need time to get to cover or reload. There are a few other plasmids in the game, but their uses are limited to very specific situations, and even then, once you've changed to the Plasmid you want, that situation will probably have passed - the citizens of Rapture are no slouches. In addition, these additional Plasmids all have one huge downfall each that make them very awkward to use in battles - for instance, Winter Blast, which freezes an enemy, kind of gives the same effect as Electro Bolt - a temporary stun. But if you kill an enemy who has been frozen, you smash him into a million pieces and get no loot. Just a tad silly.
Of course, you only get three plasmids from playing through the story. If you want some new ones, you'll have get your hands on some ADAM. And this is where the Little Sisters come into play.
You need ADAM to spend at Gatherer's Garden machines that are dotted around Rapture, and these machines can give you new plasmids, improved versions of old plasmids, or maximum health bar/EVE bar upgrades. But to do that, you'll have to find a Little Sister. The little Frankensteins of Rapture, these seemingly innocent little girls collect ADAM samples from corpses around Rapture. So they'll be full to bursting with the ADAM you need to buy some shiny new techniques. However, every little sister has a bodyguard - otherwise known as the Big Daddy. Big Daddies come in two flavours - Bouncer, who wields a huge drill arm and is a melee attacker, or Rosie, who sports a huge Rivet gun to do massive damage at long range. Only when you eliminate the Big Daddy can you get to the Little Sister, and thats no cakewalk. Big Daddies are tough, strong, and can whittle your health down quicker than child's teeth on Easter. But, if you do manage to beat the escort, then the little sister is at your mercy, and you can either choose to HARVEST her, for maximum ADAM, or RESCUE her, for less ADAM, but you'll receive the odd gift along your travels.
Gatherer's Garden machines can be used to trade ADAM for Plasmids, but you can also buy Tonics - passive abilities that improve your aptitude in battle. For example, you can buy SportBoost in order to run and do melee attacks faster. Another example is Electric Flesh, where you take less damage from energy based attacks. But the number of Tonics and Plasmids you can have equipped is limited - the right choices before battle could make all of the difference.
There are many other types of vending machines in Rapture as well. There is the 'Circus of Value', where you can buy First Aid Kits and food, the 'Ammo Bandito' for Ammo topups, and heal stations, which will heal you to full health. Of course, these things come at a price - but not ADAM this time, only dollars, and this can be found on pretty much every enemy you kill. Other machines on the walls of Rapture include 'Power to the People', which gives you a one-time upgrade of any weapon in your arsenal, and the slightly unnecessary 'U-Invent', which lets you create Ammo, items, or tonics from the raw materials you collect in the game. 'U-Invent' seems quite pointless, however - the ingredients you get from enemies is purely random, so you have no rock solid way of getting one particular material you need.
Any of the machines above can be hacked by you, in which you play a mini game not unlike the Arcade game Pipe Dream, in which you must guide the fluid through a series of pipes to get it to the exit. A successful hack on a machine will result in a price decrease of all the items in it - quite useful if you have a perpetual hole in your pocket. This mini-game is quite fun the first few times, but it gets quite boring and repetitive, and some of the endgame hacks are exceptionally hard. After 20 or so hacks, you'll probably want to pay the extra money for items just so you don't have to hack!
One more aspect of the gameplay is how death is dealt with. Well...it isn't. Vita-Chambers are dotted along Raptures streets - if you die, you'll respawn at the last one you passed, with half health and half EVE. This really makes dying more of a minor inconvenience than a real punishment, since nothing else respawns no matter how many times you do - for instance, if you fight a Big Daddy and get it down to half health when it kills you, it will still be on half health after you track it down for a second time. Very unchallenging - makes dying almost comparable to corpse runs in World of Warcraft. In fact there were even times where I thought ' You know, I would rather die and get revived than waste a first-aid kit here." That statement just SCREAMS bad gmae design.
Riiiight...that was12 paragraphs on the gameplay. Yes, there are many things to do in Parture and most of these twelve things compliment each other quite well, but the awkward switching between gun and plasmid and the fact that some plasmids are hardly ever useful don't work at all. Kind of like how cheese compliments ice cream.
BUT, like I said, this game will impress you in a very different way. After three hours of playing, you will be sucked into the wonderous world of Rapture and forget these minor gameplay flaws.
For starters, the story is masterfully woven, with plot twists and set pieces brilliantly choreographed. You can get a good chunk of the story just by playing through the with minimum diversion from the true path, but searching the nooks and crannies of Rapture can reward you with dicta phones of the old citezins of Rapture, which tell the secrets and facts about the city under the sea. In addition, every tape makes sense on its own - missing a tape every so often will not leave you with huge gaps in the plot.
The game is also very, very pretty. Especially in its water graphics (but what d'you expect, its set underwater!). The rooms and chambers of Rapture are perfect, and capture the 50s era in perfect style. However, I think the character graphics could've used more work. He we are, in a beautiful realistic looking city, and yet some of the characters look positively - comic book like. It kinds of puts a dint in the rest of the glorious visuals - but I'll be honest, its not much of a dint.
But, if there's one thing that puts Bioshock ahead of the other next-gen FPSs is simple - the atmosphere. Every room as flickering lighting, some has none at all, you can here the shrill cries of enemies from quite far away so you're always looking over your shoulder, and, even though there Vita-Chambers everywhere, the atmosphere alone makes you want to survive, and makes you want to not have to open those damn Vita-Chamber doors every five minutes. Even better is the fact that you hardly ever see any friendly characters - you only catch glimpses of your buddies over the radio - and this just heightens the tension further. Plus, the jolly and happy music of the 50s really does contrast beautifully with the violent slaughter and screams of dying people.
HOWEVER, there is one huge disappointment coming up. And thats the ending. I'll try and get through this paragraph without spoilers, but you really do have to be told. The time it took from the last bullet to hit the last boss, to me seeing the main menu again was a grand total of seventy seconds. SEVENTY SECONDS???? The last two hours of Bioshock are a pulse-racing thrill-o-rama, but this thrill is stopped dead when the end of the game comes so fast!! Its like trying to break a car going at speed, except you don't use the breaks, you use a wall made from iron girders. Seriously. Major disappointment. That right there lost this game a whole point.
AND, there are two different endings depending on how you treat the little sisters, an evil and a good one, but they differ so much, its like comparing Martin Luther King to Adolf Hitler! Its hard to see how 2K games will squeeze a sequel out of that.
Bioshock, then. It loses a point for the minor gameplay flaws, and it loses a point for the crashing-to-a-halt-super-quickly ending(s). Regardless, if you own an Xbox, then this is most definitely a must buy. Despite the flaws, it truly is a remarkable game. And, I think, its a huge step forward for FPS games in general. We've got the basic gameplay system of an FPS down now, all we need to do is make great stories for them, and we'll be up to our ears in masterpieces.
This isn't a masterpiece. But it brushes so close...I do feel sorry for it.
A solid 8 out of 10.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: BioShock (EU, 08/24/07)
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