Review by cdm299

Reviewed: 09/09/10

Groundbreaking - Destined to be a classic

Bioshock is one of the finest single player games on the XBox360. As Irrational's masterpiece begins, your plane crashes into the ocean, forcing you to swim through the flaming debris to the apparent sanctuary of a lighthouse. From here you are plunged into the mysterious city of Rapture.

Heavily influenced by the sci-fi novel 'Atlas Shrugged', Rapture is a sprawling underwater City founded by the game's main antagonist, Andrew Ryan. Intended as a refuge for the world's brightest scientists, engineers and free thinkers - free from the political machinations of Washington, Moscow and Rome - the city has turned into a dystopian nightmare. Water leaks into the city from the ever decaying infrastructure, crazed hostile citizens roam the streets, and the survivors fight for power.

The atmosphere of Rapture is superb. Some of the best water effects I have ever seen in a game are put to good effect as the city leaks and the ocean floods in. Flickering neon lights and once grand architecture help paint a picture of what Rapture was like before everything fell apart. The music, along with some creepy dialogue from the residents, does a great job of capturing a 1950s vibe. There will be many times while playing through the game where you will pause to look around and take in the superb and varied environments - ranging from underwater forests to smuggler's caves and hospital wings - each area of Rapture is well executed and feels fresh.

The game plays as a first person shooter. You acquire gradually more powerful guns (pistols, shotguns, machine guns etc.) as you explore the city, learning it's mysteries and combating it's crazed inhabitants. Where the game starts to differ from more straight forward shooters is it's plasmid system. Plasmids are modifications to your genetic code that grant you special powers. There are many of these to collect throughout the game, and most of them are great fun. Some allow you to hurl lightning, fire or ice from your fingertips. Others allow you to hypnotize foes - turning them against each other. The plasmids add a lot to the combat, and the control system makes it simple to switch between your arsenal of guns and plasmids at the touch of a button. This diversity of weaponry and powers means you always have several solutions for dealing with each fight, and experimenting with which powers to use in which situations is half the fun of Bioshock. The environments can also be used to your advantage in fights - electrify the bad guys while they stand in a pool of water, hurl nearby objects at them with your mind, or set fire to pools of oil at their feet to roast them alive. You can even hack into security robots and have them fight on your side.

The majority of enemies in the game are 'splicers' - men and women driven crazy by repeated abuse of the DNA manipulating technology developed by Rapture's scientists. The splicers come across like highly xenophobic, drug addicted lunatics. Many are deformed, and they range from simple thugs to weird double jointed freaks that can crawl over ceilings, hurl fire or teleport in a puff of smoke. While I would have liked to see a little more variation in enemy type, the splicers are a lot of fun to fight, and some interesting and sometimes disturbing dialogue really adds to their character.

The other main enemies in the game are 'Big Daddies'. These hulking brutes stomp around in cast iron diving suits, and they pack a serious punch. Before you decide to face them, you need to be well prepared and come up with a game plan, or else they will make short work of you. Facing these powerful big daddies is usually optional, but it is the only way to get to the 'little sisters' that they protect. Little sisters are freaky, seemingly possessed little girls that wander Rapture harvesting ADAM from corpses. ADAM is a mysterious genetic resource that allows you to aquire new plasmids and other abilities. Once you have defeated a big daddy and cornered the little girl that he protects, the game faces you with a choice - kill the girl in order to extract every last drop of ADAM to spend on new abilities, or rescue her. How you respond to this moral choice has an impact on how the storyline of Bioshock plays out.

Due to this aspect of the game, coupled with plenty of gory scenes and some adult language, this game is definitely not for children, or anyone too sensitive to the horror genre in general. Fans of horror will love these creepy elements though.

Bioshock is a strictly one player game, and a completely different experience to most other FPS games on the XBox.It has a much greater focus on storyline - told mostly through many audio diaries scattered throughout the city - and I enjoyed learning more about the nature of ADAM and plasmids, and about the events behind Rapture's decline into madness, as the game went on . The campaign is pretty long and never dull or repetitive, and the game has replay value since you can experiment with different abilities on each playthrough. Many powers can be customized, and even the less useful ones are still entertaining.

My only complaint would be inclusion of a hacking mini game used throughout to disable security systems and reduce prices in the city's many vending machines. The mini game is simple and involves moving tiles around on a grid to create a path before a timer runs down. It's not a bad feature, but it is seriously overused and I found it got a little annoying after a while. This is a minor complaint though, and the mini game can be mostly avoided by paying a fee to 'autohack'

The game will also respawn you at a 'vita chamber' if you die, while your enemies keep any injuries you managed to inflict before you died. This makes the game a little too easy, but you can always refuse to use the respawn feature, and instead reload your game and try again when you die (you can save your progress at any point in the game).

I had no problems with the control system, which felt smooth and allowed me to switch weapons and abilities quickly in the heat of battle. I would have liked to see the option to reconfigure the controls though, for those who want it. The game's menus are well designed and contain plenty of information on Rapture and it's inhabitants. You also have constant access to a map of the section of city you are currently exploring, so you will rarely have to deal with the frustration of getting lost.

While the game's objectives are essentially linear, there are many areas that are open, with multiple routes, and the game feels far less constraining than most shooters.

Overall Bioshock is an extremely well executed and original shooter. The powers add variety to the combat, the environments are interesting and beautifully designed, and the game never feels too linear or repetitive. I strongly recommend it to anyone looking for an absorbing single player action game.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: BioShock (Platinum Hits) (US, 12/31/08)

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