Before Bioshock, I was blind. I had been running through games for the sake of beating them, not really caring about the gameplay mechanics, the story, or really anything else. I simply played them because…well, they were fun. Then I was told to try this game. This one game that was so powerful, it forced me to care. It taught me that a videogame can be so much more than a mindless thing to do, a story to complete, and a way to kill some time. It changed everything for me, and I appreciate it not just as a game, but as a work of art.
Bioshock begins with a first person view of a man in a plane, smoking a cigarette, holding a picture of what we presume is his family. In that moment we hear the protagonist say his only line in the game. “They told me, ‘Son, you’re special. You were born to do great things.’ You know what? They were right.’” From there, the screen fades to black and you hear people screaming and the sound of the plane falling out of the sky, landing in the sea. You gain control of your character, swimming to the shore of a lighthouse for shelter. After finding a pod that takes you on a tour of a beautiful underwater city, you land in Rapture, and witness a man being brutally murdered by what seems to be the twisted being of a person.
From there you are left to explore this underwater utopia, led by a frantic man on a radio needing your help. What’s interesting is at times Rapture has more character than the NPCs living in it. The world of Rapture is bleak, brutal, torn apart by chaos, and quite possibly the eeriest setting ever presented in a videogame. Your goal begins as pure survival, but evolves into something much more personal. You become driven to discover what’s happened to this underwater paradise, why it was created, and who Andrew Ryan really is.
To survive this world, you must alter your DNA with plasmids, being (for lack of a better word) superpowers in a hypo. These plasmids will give you the ability to electrocute enemies, incinerate and turn them against each other, use telekinesis, and so much more. To get these essential abilities, you learn you must harvest ‘adam’ – a stem cell type substance that can be found in the deceased bodies of Rapture’s civilians. “Little Sisters” have already taken the liberty of harvesting adam from dead bodies, and consuming it. Meaning, to get the maximum amount of pure adam, you must hunt a little sister and “deal with her.”
You can get a lot of the story and background of Rapture by going through the story, but the world is much bigger than it first appears. By picking up audio diaries, you learn more about these intriguing characters inhabiting Rapture, and the history behind it. I strongly recommend finding them. Take my word for it. This is one history lesson you won’t fall asleep listening to.
The characters in the game were created ingeniously. There is a reason behind every action that every character in the game does, and you will begin to think of them not as good or evil, but a cloudy, morally conflicted gray area. Andrew Ryan, the game’s protagonist, other characters are excellently portrayed, but Ryan outshines all. He is a beautiful character obsessed with what makes a man a man, complete freedom, and the powers of choice and morality. Every monologue he does is thought-provoking and will lead you to question your motives as well as your views of the world surrounding you. This is where having a character who doesn’t speak actually comes in handy. You don’t have someone that tells you how to react to the events at hand. This means you are free to form your own thoughts and react without a biased opinion.
The story of Rapture is one that leads you down multiple paths and gives you multiple choices to make. Will you exploit the innocent to survive? Or will you risk your life to save this city and its people? Bioshock will force you to choose. You will have to reflect on it, stop and think, and question your own morals. Thrown in with a ton of memorable characters and a mystery constantly pulling you in, and you have a story that never tires in a world you’ll never want to leave.
A quote from the intro movie of Bioshock says, “We all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us.” The game stays true to this in both story and combat, giving you a large amount of options for customizing your character and letting you play the game how you want. Do you want to hack turrets to attack your enemies while you hold down a position from a distance? Set up wind traps, hack turret bots, and use your crossbow from a distance. Do you want to run in guns blazing and bend an incredible amount of offensive elements to your will? Upgrade your electric bolt, stun them, incinerate another, then blow them away with an RPG . Whatever you choose, you will be able to upgrade it and further your character’s development.
As with all choices, there are consequences. After you choose which gun to upgrade, power to buy, and which perk you want: It’s permanent. You must use it, or accept that you have wasted precious time and resources. This can limit experimentation, but that is the game was created with the option for multiple playthroughs. There are so many creative paths you can take if you experiment, and you’re really missing out if you ignore the less popular powers to just “burn and shock” your way through the game.
Gunplay is easy to manage with simple controls, and the weapon and plasma wheels make switching guns and powers mid-combat a breeze. The AI are also very intelligent, with attack patterns that will keep you guessing. This makes disposal of splicers terrifying and interesting, as these enemies are not your typical soldiers we’ve grown accustomed to in first-person shooters. These are deeply tormented people who have gone insane, and each of them has so much character that it is impossible to not be frightened at some of the things they say or do.
Splicers aren’t the only enemies you will face, however. The Big Daddies are large enemies in diver suits, armed to the teeth with either a massive drill or a large rifle. These enemies are presented in each level of the game, protecting the Little Sisters as they gather adam. Meaning, to upgrade your character, you must fight them to get to the Little Sister. These enemies will take all your strength and cunning to overcome, as they deal insane amounts of damage and take quite a beating before dying. Be prepared for a fight when you come across them. Without a few medical kits and tricks up your sleeve, you will more than likely end up as a bloody smear on the ground…unless you’re on easy.
Because of this and the lack of ammo that can be found, the game can be very difficult at times. However, it does fix itself by having the “Vita-Chambers”, designed to revive you instantly after death, giving you some health and eve back. The same is not true for your foes. If you peppered a Big Daddy with bullets enough to reduce his health to 25%, he will only have that small amount left after you’re revived. Many find this option to be cheap, but it can be disabled in the options menu. After that, you get a simple game over, and restart from your last save.
Given the amount of options you have, Bioshock never becomes stale, and is unrelenting with new challenges. The gameplay is fresh, fluid, and a nice break from the usual cover-based shooters. Bioshock is a game unlike any you’ve played before, but still has a familiar feel. That’s what makes this game stand out in a sea of shooters. Familiar, but brand new.
Everything in Bioshock has depth, detail, and a voice of its own. The characters were designed to be delicately balanced between creepy and depressing, with their voices sending shivers down your spine. The voice acting in this game is spot on, and filled with emotion. One voice in particular that gave me goosebumps was the voice of J.S. Steinman, a crazy surgeon more than likely destined to haunt your nightmares. Hearing his voice shriek in a crazed manor about carving people until they are perfect will stay with you for days. These voices made the characters come to life, and gave you reason to be afraid, concerned, or care for them. They invoked the exact emotions intended by Irrational.
The artistic style of Bioshock is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The dystopia of Rapture is extremely detailed and filled with character. The mix of 1960s architecture and [George] Orwell-esque propaganda create a beautiful world that has been torn to shreds by war. The world is a character all on its own, and you’ll want to get to know every inch of it.
The engine that Bioshock used was a heavily modified version of the Unreal Engine 2. Irrational took this engine to its limits and did some incredible things. To make a plane crash through a glass tunnel and cause a flood was a fairly large feat for this game. To create large environments with load times only in-between chapters. To have so much detail and life running through Rapture with only minimal glitches.These are just a few things that show how much time Irrational took with the engine, and how ambitious they were with the game as a whole.
The soundtrack in Bioshock is beautifully mixed, invoking emotion and creating background music only when necessary. Aside from the occasional record-playing, and music between scenes and heightened points of the story, the game will let you hear the world around you. The cackles of nearby splicers. The sound of a Big Daddies’ footsteps. It does nothing to distract from the experience, and is used liberally.
The most interesting part about Bioshock’s presentation lies in its ability to invoke fear. To create a scary video game is a difficult task. To scare someone, you need a sense of timing that is difficult to control when someone else takes the reigns. Bioshock does this well by using shadows of splicers, disappearing enemies, and creepy moments that will only occur when you’re watching. To walk down a long, dark corridor and hear a man humming while rose petals fall at any given moment builds an incredible amount of tension. Watching a splicer stand in front of you, scream, and then vanish with a flicker of light is unsettling to say the least. To pick up an item, see mist completely fill a room, then hear the faintest breathing behind you… The game puts you firmly in control of the character, while reminding you to never feel as if you control the situations.
Bioshock is one of those rare games that did everything right. It created something brand new (rare these days) and executed it perfectly in the presentation, the gameplay, and the story. If you haven’t played this game as of yet, you’re missing out. Not just on a great game, but a great experience. The thing that separates video games from other forms of entertainment is you. You get to experience it. You get to interpret it. You get to walk through it. No other game will give you this kind of experience quite like Bioshock.
Jake Elsasser is an avid gamer from the United States. When he's not diving into adventures on his pc or PS3, he's playing with his sugar glider Nook. Any questions or hate mail? You can reach him at JElsasser@live.com, or follow him on twitter! @JDElsasser