Everything in BioShock hinges on a deeply woven narrative, brilliantly written and conceived by developer 2K Boston. It’s a centerpiece to a gripping and unbelievably involving title that doesn’t always break new game play ground, but contains an additive edge rarely found in the industry. The effort and style land BioShock with the easy to assign title of instant classic.
The world is Rapture, an underwater paradise created to avoid the problems with the world above the ocean line. Free of political influence and censorship, it should have been perfect. By the time the player arrives, it’s in disarray. Burning, leaking, and filled with psychotic inhabitants, the secrets of this once perfect civilization are breathtaking in their depth.
Presentation is key, as the player navigates varied areas, searching for objects and clues. There’s far more going on here than survival, and a number of tape players that can be found slowly piece together one of the truly great stories this industry has ever seen. Not only does it increase the immersion level, its twists make everything plausible even to video game fantasy logic.
Played from a first-person perspective, calling BioShock a first person shooter isn’t a proper moniker. It’s too broad for a game that offers a wide-ranging freedom of choice. Shooting is only one option when battling it out with foes. Plasmids are special powers linked to the unnamed player character, working in a broad array to extinguish (literally in some cases) any adversaries.
Even with the mass of available choices, BioShock plays more like a frantic search. Objects are scattered everywhere, encouraging exploration of its underwater corridors. This includes those in out of reach areas that challenge the player’s logic and gaming dexterity to uncover. There’s a staggering amount of content at work here.
Complex only scratches the surface of this adventure. Integrated with the shooting and searching, RPG-like elements allow nearly infinite ways to customize the experience at various shops around the enormous levels. It’s hard to imagine anyone playing with the exact same style. The sheer mass of available alterations is unparalleled for this genre.
Moral choices come into play, though those gunning for a well-rounded set of achievements won’t have such a difficult time making their decisions. Little Sisters, unfortunate products of this now dystopian society, take the form of little girls that hardly look a day past 8 years old. They can be harvested for their ADAM, which kills them, a critical segment of the game that allows the player to level up and grow. However, sparing them also leads to securing ADAM, though only half as much. Benefits could be secured later.
As ADAM is so valuable in Rapture, it’s also well guarded. The aptly named Big Daddies are hulking lugs in diving gear. Insanely powerful, their presence is always threatening. Their lumbering pounding footsteps and reverberating moans are always a sure sign of an impending battle for the increasingly precious ADAM.
Even classics have flaws though, and it’s impossible for BioShock to avoid surface criticism. Shooting mechanics are imperfect at best. While the sloppy aim could possibly be explained through the story (depending on how you view it), it’s unquestionably frustrating to find the wrench consistently effective as opposed to a powered-up shotgun.
Death is unique in BioShock, and a definite point of controversy. Simply put, the player cannot die. They are sent back to a “Vita Chamber” which regenerates them with only a small dent in their health. Any damage inflicted to enemies prior to death stays. The only penalty is being forced to return to the point where the battle had occurred and finish off the fight.
This has effects that reach both ends of the game. The design of the overall product, even with its deep complexities, is obviously holding the hand of the player. An arrow is nearly always on screen to guide you, the map is overly friendly, and the handling of death is part of this. It eventually makes sense in terms of the storyline (which is undeniably the clear focus), though that doesn’t become clear until the final hours of play.
The other side is that this eliminates the intensity of the combat. The first Big Daddy appearance is an unforgettable moment, one that sends terror deep into the player knowing they’re about to face this monster. Letting the player avoid death immediately removes that sense of fear, as does the number of encounters with these creatures. They become far too routine as the game moves on, though they always sap the player’s resources to the fullest. Less would have been more.
With the exception of the title’s death handling, these are minor nit picks in what is dangerously close to becoming a perfect piece of interactive entertainment. This new original IP (loose ties to System Shock not withstanding) has officially raised expectations for first person titles.
BioShock is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language. This game can also be found on: PC.