BioShock is a well-crafted first-person shooter with fantastic characters, an unforgettable story and an intriguing universe.
With BioShock, ambitious developer Irrational Games has done the unthinkable. This spiritual successor to System Shock 2 is a well-crafted first-person shooter with fantastic characters, an unforgettable story and an intriguing universe and the game surpasses its predecessor in every single way. But BioShock’s most meaningful triumph is that even if you’re not familiar with System Shock 2, Atlas Shrugged or Ayn Rand’s work, this mature adventure is still enjoyable from beginning to end.
The story of BioShock takes place in the year 1960 after the plane you were in falls in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. In the game, you assume the role of a man named Jack, the sole survivor the plane crash. Soon after the accident, Jack finds himself in an underwater city known as Rapture, an isolated utopia created by magnate Andrew Ryan. But when the inhabitants of Rapture discovered ADAM, a plasmid that grants people superhuman powers, the underwater community collapsed. The genetic material not only has consumed the underwater metropolis, but has also turned its former inhabitants into prowling monsters that will attack anything that comes from the surface. The task at hand involves escaping the metropolis, but to fulfill that objective, you’ll need to use ADAM to your advantage. Unfortunately, the only way to obtain the genetic material is by killing Big Daddies and taking their Little Sisters.
Little Sisters are fragile children that are always guarded by Big Daddies, gargantuan creatures that have drills attached to their hands. The large enemies roam around the environments and they seem quite docile at first, but should you decide to attack them, they become vicious. They’ll chase you, stab you with their giant drill and follow you wherever you go. This makes the Big Daddies one of the most menacing and memorable enemies you’ll encounter in a video game. At the same time, they are part of one of the game’s moral questions: do you kill Little Sisters in order to harvest the ADAM in them or do you let them escape? ADAM works as experience which you can spend on spending machines called Gatherer’s Garden where you can upgrade your health, get additional slots for your plasmids and tonics and so on.
Plasmids are powerful spells you can use to attack enemies or defend from them. You can incinerate enemies, shoot lightning from your fingertips, throw objects thanks to telekinetic powers and so on. But these genetic alterations consume a lot of mana and when you run out of the magical energy, you’ll need to rely on the varied arsenal of weapons the game puts at your disposal. Firearms include pistols, machine guns, shotguns, rocket launchers and more. Weapons can be upgraded and there are different types of ammunition that make the combat feel fresh and entertaining even after hours of playtime.
One of my favorite aspects about the combat is that you can combine weapons and spells in creative and exciting new ways and the game always rewards your creativity. You can approach scenarios in a stealthy way or go guns blazing, you can shoot and hide in places that are unreachable to large enemies, you can lure enemies into water and then electrocute them or better yet, you can incinerate them and wait until go to a pool to put out the fire and then electrocute them. There are dozens of different combinations when it comes to the combat and there are so many weapons, ammunition, plasmids, types of enemies and mechanics at your disposal that the game’s constantly encouraging you to think of new scenarios. Apart from the combat there are hacking minigames, a photo taking mechanic, dozens of audio logs to collect, stealth elements, vending machines, moral choices (this is a morality-based plot) role-playing elements and so on.
Apart from the role-playing elements and the combat, there are multiple aspects to take into account. You can use the research camera to take a photos of enemies and analyze them. This works as a risk-reward system, since taking photos of enemies leaves you unprotected for a few seconds, but if you’re successful, you receive benefits when you’re fighting that same class of enemies. Defeating adversaries also grants you money which you can use at the different vending machines that are scattered around the environments to purchase ammunition, health and other equipment items. There are special vending machines called “U-invent” which let you combine spare items to create better weapons, items and special ammunition.
Finally, hacking is a prominent part of the game and if you take the time to level up this attribute, you can get different rewards. You can hack cameras and turrets that attack enemies for you, safes and locks to find treasure, vending machines to get cheaper items and more. Interestingly, the hacking mini-game is remarkably similar to Pipemania, since you reveal hidden tiles to try and create a connect paths using pipes.
BioShock’s universe is remarkably well-crafted. For starters, the game looks absolutely stunning which definitely helps bring this unique world to life. Exploring the different environments feels organic, since they give the impression that one place leads to the next and that you’re exploring a fully realized city. At no point did looking around felt tedious and repetitive. If anything, that’s one of the game’s best parts. One element complements the other and the result is a cohesive adventure that’s entertaining from beginning to end. My only criticism is that the moral choices (rescue or harvest the Little Sisters) feels too “black and white” and the result of your choices is a good ending or a bad ending, which feels lazy. Also, some the game relies heavily on trial-and-error and should you die, you’ll magically re-appear on the nearest vita chamber.
In the end, BioShock is a provocative experience that is rare and special in multiple ways. The world is well-crafted, the story makes reference to objectivism and you can compare it to George Orwell’s films or even to universally acclaimed pieces of fiction like Atlas Shrugged, the art deco design simply fits and the combat and RPG elements make BioShock entertaining from its introduction to the credits. BioShock is the kind of forward-thinking game that will keep coming up in conversations long after its release and it’s easy to see why.