Review by Osafune2

"A mature and intelligent game that should be played by everyone"

So, you're on a plane flying over the atlantic ocean and then all of a sudden it spirals out of control and crashes into the sea in a fiery ball of death. You swim over to conveniently placed Lighthouse on a rock in the middle of the ocean and inside you discover the entrance to an idealistic utopian city that appears to have become defunct some time ago. Would you kindly go inside? Well, yes you would luckily because you're just about to enter Rapture, the setting for an outstanding first person shooter RPG hybrid developed by 2K Games.

The city in question was built some time in the 1940s by a man named Andrew Ryan; a man who dreamed of a world not constricted by politics, censorship or morality where scientists would be free to experiment and artists would be free to create no matter what the content. It is the actual city of Rapture that is the high point of BioShock. The design of the place is absolutely staggering, the developers have created a believable environment for you to explore that breaks the mould of first person shooter environments, there are no linear corridors littered with crates but a believable and authentic city that you could actually imagine people living in and going about their daily lives. The technology is both sophisticated and modern but it also retains a retro 1940's feel of the time it was built. There are delightfully cutesy adverts featuring the archetypal perfect American family and their white, beaming smiles inject a dark humour over the often sinister nature of Rapture. You can find many old audio diaries left by the inhabitants of Rapture and some of them talk about scientific advances or repairs that need to be carried out on the tunnels that run deep under the ocean and it are these that help create the authentic feel of a real city fallen into disrepair.

These audio diaries are also one of the main ways in which the story of the game is told along with the secrets of Rapture. Upon entry into Rapture you are contacted by a man named Atlas who says he will help you escape in return for helping his family and this is your task for the early part of the game but later you will start to learn the reason for the decline of Rapture; a man named Fontaine introduced Plasmids that allow you to genetically modify your body and give it astonishing powers. These powers can be spliced into your DNA using a revolutionary discovery known as ADAM and this became like a genetic currency in Rapture and caused a civil war as the inhabitants craved it and were eventually driven insane. The story is extremely well paced and told with a finesse uncommon in the world of video games; there are some twists and turns that we have seen before in many other video games, but they are given a different angle and are far more effective and intricate than in most games. Quite simply, discovering the secrets of Rapture is one of the most compelling experiences you can have on a games console. BioShock is like a thrilling book you cannot bring yourself to put down, you will find yourself turning the console on at 7pm and finally stopping at 7am before your eyes dry up.

The most important gameplay mechanic that separates BioShock from your average FPS are the aforementioned Plasmids. At several points throughout the game you can acquire new and more powerful Plasmids which you splice into your DNA to gain extraordinary powers. You start off with Electro Bolt which enables you to shoot electricity at enemies and machinery, but later in the game you gain the ability to freeze targets, use telekinesis to catch thrown objects, hypnotise certain enemies and even shoot a swarm of Bees from your hand, which is odd, but what other FPS lets you do that? There are many puzzles in the game that involve the use of plasmids, such as catching a grenade and throwing it quickly at some debris to clear a pathway or merely to melt away ice.

In addition to Plasmids, there are Physical, Combat and Engineering tonics. Physical tonics give you improved physical attributes and abilities such as natural camouflage that makes you invisible when standing still. Combat tonics give you better abilities in combat such as improved attack power with the wrench or a physical shield and Engineering tonics improve your ability to hack machines and avoid security systems etc. Acquiring these power ups is largely optional and adds an RPG element to the game, though admittedly without them the game would be extremely hard.

In order to acquire these upgrades, you have to gain ADAM, a substance which acts as a genetic currency and enables you to purchase these plasmids and tonics from bizarre vending machines known as Gatherer's Gardens scattered throughout Rapture. The best source of ADAM is from the creepy little girls you may have heard about called Little Sisters. They travel Rapture harvesting ADAM from dead bodies (of which there are many) and while a little girl doesn't seem like much of a foe, they are guarded by Big Daddies, the huge hulking robot things in screenshots, the front of the box and generally anywhere associated with BioShock. This is where tactics come into play since they are extremely tough to defeat early on, you must use considerable ingenuity to defeat them and running and gunning is an extremely bad idea.

After defeating the Big Daddy you will get the option to either harvest or rescue the Little Sister, harvesting gains you the maximum amount of ADAM but will have serious moral repercussions later in the game and rescuing them gains you half the usual ADAM but will have inevitably less grim consequences. The choice is yours and it is well worth two playthroughs harvesting and rescuing the Little Sisters. Harvesting them is appropriately unsettling and a little bit disturbing though the rewards are well worth it and you are going to have a much easier time in Rapture if you choose the immoral path.

There are some really pointless Plasmids and Tonics that you simply do not need and won't use ever. I got Bee Swarm purely because I wanted to be able to shoot bees from my hand, but I used it once throughout the game and it is a waste of ADAM that you cannot afford to waste if you're being righteous and rescuing the Little Sisters. In fact, you could pretty much stick with the main attacking Plasmids and Telekinesis for the entire game if you lacked creativity but part of the fun is using the Plasmids and coming up with inventive ways of defeating Big Daddies and other enemies, but to be honest, the standard enemies require almost zero ingenuity to defeat.

Plasmids aside, combat is obviously carried out using a variety of guns or a wrench as a melee weapon. The main problem are the enemies; there isn't enough variety in the Splicers. There are Thug splicers which use melee weapons, leadhead splicers which shoot you, spider splicers which crawl around on surfaces and the annoying Houdini Splicers that morph around the area and generally irritate you. Other than Big Daddies they are the only enemies you are going to see aside from the odd Security Bot or Turret and, on the normal difficulty setting at least, they are rather easy to defeat and present little challenge to the point where combat can become monotonous. With the right physical tonic set up you can comfortably use the wrench as your main weapon against many enemies and there becomes little point in wasting ammo on solitary splicers.

In BioShock's defence, the fun you have during combat is largely down to the player. There are a variety of weapons such as a Chemical Thrower, Crossbow and a Grenade Launcher to compliment the more standard machine guns, pistol and shotgun. You can easily beat the game using only the latter three weapons, but that contributes to the possible monotony of combat. If you want the most from BioShock, make use of all the weapons; set up Trap Bolts with the crossbow and lead enemies through it and watch them blow up, use Electric Buck Shot in the Shotgun or douse enemies with Napalm and Liquid Nitrogen with the Chemical Thrower. Merely blasting or bludgeoning enemies to death gets old fast.

To spice up the possible options, there are many machines that enable you to upgrade your weapons to improve their performance and also invent new items and new and interesting forms of ammunition. I can't help but feel that 2K should have forced you into actually using the considerable arsenal more and make the combat varied by having enemies other than just Splicers which are all decimated by Anti-Personnel Pistol Rounds. Much of your ammo tinkering will never be used in combat except maybe against the occasional Big Daddy. Though you can use all of these weapons and creations in combat, it is hard to do so since you can just mow enemies down with your machine gun, there is no real incentive. Bioshock has a great scope for creative gamers, but there is no real necessity to utilise your creativity.

Another gameplay mechanic that gets old fast is the hacking system. You have the option to hack anything from vending machines to get better deals and more items, healing stations to inflict damage to any splicers that use them and also you can hack the security system so it is on your side and will attack enemies. Each time you have to play a really dull game where you piece pipes together as fast as you can to enable the magical hacking fluid to flow across to the finishing point. You have to make sure the pipes don't bump into any alarms and you have to be quick otherwise you will get a short circuit and lose a considerable amount of health. As the hacking game becomes extremely boring, you will find yourself inventing as many Auto Hack tools as possible to skip this drudgery.

The innovative use of Plasmids, which isn't all that innovative since I am told that there was something similar in the System Shock games, raises a standard first person shooter into a fun and absorbing game. But it is really the absolutely outstanding storyline, brilliantly well written characters and atmosphere that will keep you hooked until the ending credits. The voice acting is absolutely top notch and carries across the personality of the characters extremely well, which is extra remarkable since you barely see any actual humans in person throughout the entire adventure. The gameplay is a competent mix of FPS, adventure and survival horror that is very cunningly blended through the use of Rapture as a setting. At times the game can feel a bit drawn out and there are some tasks and objectives that feel a bit formulaic and tedious. There is more than section in the game where you reach a new destination and are then forced to go back through the previously explored area to collect a certain number of items. These tiny instances of frugal imagination can be forgiven when you consider the masterful storytelling of the game.

Graphically, this is an excellent game. The rusting corridors, disused laboratories and derelict shopping malls are all top notch and the use of lighting, or lack of it is fantastic and builds the foreboding atmosphere wonderfully. Rapture looks and feels real and the graphics are the icing on a delicious and extremely well made cake, particularly the remarkable water effects which always seem to be a measure of graphical grandiosity. As mentioned previously, the design of the game is outstanding, giving an authentic feel to a city that you really could see being habitable and the same applies to the enemies of the game. The splicers all possess bizarre mutations and have an unsettling penchant for wearing rabbit masks and muttering darkly to themselves which will send a tingle down your spine, and not in a pleasant way.

There is a delightful 1940's feel to the game, with your combat taking place in formerly plush diners and restaurants adorned with cheerful and humorous advertisements for the latest in gene mutations. The music in the game is rare and not very noticeable, though you will occasionally be treated to an old retro classic being played on a radio somewhere. The sound effects and voice acting are also excellent and overall the presentation and polish on this game take it to another level.

BioShock is a very smart and intelligent game with a morality based storyline that will really make you think. Rapture is a kind of metaphor for our society and human nature, with ADAM being power that everyone is seeking and it eventually corrupts those who come into contact with it. Well, that's one way of looking at it anyway. BioShock is easily a contender for best Xbox 360 game and I would expect it to place highly in future "Best Games of All Time" lists. If nothing else, it is an innovative first person shooter that goes far beyond the standard format of every FPS game on the console. A lack of multiplayer may disappoint some, but it really doesn't need it and don't let the lack of multiplayer put you off. BioShock is a game that should be experienced, Xbox 360 owners who do not have this game are doing themselves a disservice.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/05/09

Game Release: BioShock (EU, 08/24/07)

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