BioShock (Video Game)

BioShock review (click to see it bigger)Reviewed by Plagiarize

Developed & Published by 2K Games

Platform: XBox 360

Usually hype comes before the fact.

BioShock has always been potentially brilliant, coming from the same people that made one of the most loved scary games of all time, System Shock 2, which wasn’t just scary, but it was the definition of groundbreaking and genre bending.

Was it a FPS or an RPG? It was both and neither at the same time. When BioShock was announced, the people that loved System Shock 2 got excited, but it didn’t go much further than that.

The press has always had faith in BioShock, but then, they’re the ones who got to see it first. It wasn’t until the demo hit the Xbox 360 that the hype arrived for BioShock and it arrived with such sheer force that I’m struggling to remember the last time a game “seemingly” came out of nowhere.

Personally I’ve been looking forwards to the title for years. I picked it as my best of E3 for the site and I wasn’t just picking it as the best horror title of the show, but the best game, period. I’d been hoping for the game to have some recognition beyond the press. Designer Ken Levine and 2K Boston and 2K Australia (both formerly Irrational Studios) have been behind a number of games adored by the press, that didn’t sell one tiny bit of what they deserved.

When the BioShock hype exploded and pre-orders shot through the roof, it was difficult to feel anything but a fist punching moment of “finally!” but as with anything, after a plethora of insanely positive reviews and a wave of hype from the excited people that got to play the demo, I knew that disappointment could well be heading my way.

As much as possible I stopped following the game. I didn’t play the demo. Instead of playing through System Shock 2 to increase my excitement for the title, I played other games.

When I finally dropped the game into my XBox 360 I was nervous. Hype is a difficulty thing to handle.

The game begins with a brief cutscene, something you shouldn’t expect to see much of afterwards. You’re on a plane. You have a gift from your parents and next thing you know, you’re bobbing in the water surrounded by flaming wreckage. No one else has survived. There’s no lifeboat … just a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean where no lighthouse should be.

It’s a moment I’d read about years ago. I swum to the lighthouse knowing what I’d find; a bathysphere. An air-filled transport that was going to take me down into rapture. Before getting in I marveled at the water effects. I fiddled with the options.

BioShock review (click to see it bigger)Finally I climbed in … and Rapture took me.

To talk about BioShock is to talk about Rapture. The city, beautiful but decaying, slowly drowning beneath the water they used to separate themselves from the rest of the world. The people gone, trapped or driven mad from constantly rewriting their DNA with the technology and discoveries of the city set up to pursue science without being held back by morals. Everything in the game, every weapon, everything you see, everything you meet, either has the signature of Rapture on it from the very beginning, or acquires it soon enough.

That is what Rapture is: corrupting. You won’t survive it without walking away stained by it and though Rapture is the excuse for all the gameplay ideas the designers wanted to include, it feels like it happened the other way around.

Rapture was a place where people went to better themselves, but they didn’t know what “better” was. They thought better was plastic surgery and genetically modifying themselves to be stronger and faster. It was a place where people went to improve, but forgot to stay people in the process. They became things and to support this twisted society they forced other people to become things, too.

Even little girls.

The story of BioShock is well presented, but it is there for one reason only; to motivate your trip through Rapture. Not to say it isn’t engaging by itself, it is, but the things you’ll come away from BioShock remembering is all the places you went and the things you saw along the way; every failed escape, every time I was sidetracked from my main mission by an unforeseen turn of events, my response was never “damnit!” Quite the opposite. Every failure meant that I’d see more of Rapture in all its ugly beauty.

There are five types of denizens in Rapture, and very few sane people left who will help you on your way. Don’t expect to see much of them. There are the security systems, the petrol powered sentry turrets and hovering drones that slow you down. There are the splicers, those that dabbled in genetic modification a little too much and have become little more than crazed maniacs. There are the Little Sisters, young girls turned into something a lot less pure, roaming the ruins of Rapture recycling Adam from dead bodies. Finally there are the Big Daddies, the protectors of the Little Sisters and probably the strongest and most formidable foes in the game.

How they interact with each other and how you can interact with them is really the meat of what makes BioShock such an impressive title. Big Daddies and Little Sisters pay you little attention, but if you want Adam you’ll have to save or harvest a Little Sister (saving gets you less Adam, but spares the life of the Little Sister). Adam is the currency through which you buy genetic upgrades for yourself. If you want to survive the traps and splicers you encounter along your journey you’re going to need to upgrade yourself with that Adam, but to get to that Adam you’ll have to kill the Big Daddy.

Now, you can try a full frontal attack, but initially at least that’s a really bad idea. Big Daddies are probably the strongest things in Rapture. Armed with multiple weapons, when all else fails they can just come charging at you slap you upside the head with a giant drill. Unpleasent.

No, what you really need to think about doing is best utilizing your genetic upgrades, which allow you to attack your enemies as well as effects them and how they react to other things in the game. So, for example, you can tag a splicer with “enrage” to make it attack whatever is nearest to it. You can tag a splicer with something that will make the security cameras think its an intruder and send the drones after them. You can tag a Big Daddy with “hypnotize” to make it think you’re a Little Sister so that it protects you instead.

So instead of attack a Big Daddy full frontal, it might be best to use your abilities to stack the deck in your favor. Set up some traps using proximity mines and electrified trip wires (some of your abilities act as traps too). Hack any nearby cameras or turrets to put them on your side. Hack any nearby health stations so that any enemy that goes to use it (yes, enemies can use them, too) will get hurt instead of healed, then enrage a poor enemy into making the first move on the Big Daddy.

BioShock review (click to see it bigger)It’s these kind of interactions that make BioShock so unique and make Rapture feel so alive. Using the environment and the way everything in Rapture interacts, and being able to change those interactions, gives the game a lot more depth than your regular first person shooter.

There isn’t quite enough ammo or money to just shoot through the game. Money is used at some of the vending machines to buy supplies and ammo and they can be hacked to reduce the prices, but even that won’t stretch things enough.

When you’re running low on ammo, you’ll find yourself trying to come up with the most ammo friendly solution to any problem and there’s a lot of ways you can approach any encounter.

As you’re looking around trying to get an edge, you won’t be able to ignore how detailed the world is. The posters, the statues, nothing feels repetitive; the textures are crisp and high resolution. The lighting moody, the water effects jaw dropping. As unrealistic an idea as Rapture may be, it’s been designed with such care and love that you won’t find yourself second guessing it. Few games are as involving and Rapture probably more than any other place in any other game seems to dissolve past the edges of your screen and envelope you.

Something else that gets you to better appreciate the environments and enemies is the research camera, briefly freezing the screen to let you study it in moments of complete chaos.

You see, taking snaps of enemies teaches you more about them. Telling you what they’re most vulnerable to for example. If you keep taking pictures you’ll eventually unlock further levels of knowledge, learning some of their abilities, increasing the damage you do to them and more. Similar to Dead Rising your composition and what the enemy is doing when you take the picture is rated and that goes towards filling up your research to the next level. An enemy lunging at you is going to be worth a lot more than a distant enemy lying dead on the floor. Fortunately taking pictures is easy. Weapon switching is quick enough that you can usually pull out the camera, catch an enemy leaping at you, and have your weapon back out to shoot them before they reach you.

My only complaint is that the game doesn’t let you save your snaps like Dead Rising did, because frankly I caught some hilarious moments and there are other areas of such decaying or twisted beauty that it’d be nice to just have a screenshot of it I could call up whenever I wanted.

While the game isn’t as scary as System Shock 2, it still has its moments and this is where the sound design deserves highlighting. Dripping water, distant old timer music echoing through submerged corridors, the penetrating stomp of a nearby Big Daddy, really complete things. BioShock oozes atmosphere.

It’s the sound of the drones that reminds you that they’re running on petrol. As spider splicers somersault towards you, their blades clinking against the floor and ceiling, your shotgun booming as it spits sizzling fire shells at them, it’s the haunting sound of “How Much is that Doggy in the Window?” coming out of an old jukebox behind you that pushes you over the edge into “what the fuck am I doing here?” territory.

And that, in a nutshell, is BioShock. It isn’t a story you need to experience, it’s a place you need to visit that will leave everyone that plays it with their own stories. Every once in a while a game like BioShock comes along that is just so complete, so polished, so fresh, that everyone needs to experience it for themselves. They aren’t games to be missed.

5 out of 5

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