Director: Ken Levine
Developer: 2K Games
Console(s): Xbox 360, PC
Rated: M for Mature
"Andrew Ryan asks you a simple question: Are you a man? Or a slave?"
In the underwater city of Rapture, where a man can be "entitled to the sweat of his brow," the utopian ideals of city founder Andrew Ryan have gone horribly awry. Built in the 1930's as a utopia where people could come to live away from the "parasites" of the real world, Rapture is the brainchild of Andrew Ryan, and when you accidentally step into his now-broken dream, looking to find an enigmatic man named Atlas--and, through him, a way out--Ryan is not pleased in the slightest.
As you explore the dark corriders of this city of dreams, you will unearth evidence of Rapture's genetic enhancement industry and resultant degeneration. Citizens use a material called ADAM to create "plasmids" and other substances to enhance their bodies and minds. However, when you enter the city during the 1960's, the citizens have gone crazy with "plasmid sickness," and attack you on sight.
To find your way out, you too will have to splice yourself, and to do so you need to find "Little Sisters." These genetically mutated little girls gather ADAM from dead bodies, but to take their ADAM you will have to kill the lumbering golems known as "Big Daddies," who protect the girls at all times. Either kill the Little Sisters for ADAM, or save them by turning them back to normal. The choice is yours, and the consequences could change your life.
Bioshock, the spiritual successor to 2K Games' previous System Shock offerings, quickly transformed over the course of its release month from a nebulous, hyped-up title to what just might be the greatest video game of the past year. Everything from its graphics to its fascinating plot is near-perfectly crafted into a powerful and influential experience.
The game utilizes the vaunted Unreal Engine to great effect, rendering an amazing number of objects, textures, and particle effects inside of massive levels. I've heard the Unreal Engine's style described as a "gritty sheen," and that is just what one sees in Bioshock. The other important attribute is the game's distinct art deco flair, and the truly inspired art direction that went into creating it.
The realism in the graphics is astounding, though occasionally a few points take away from the experience. The first is the rare (though sometimes persistent) lack of textures on objects, causing some players to simply stop and wait until the texture is rendered. Second is the laggy jump when you change areas and the game loads the new sector of the level. Even these problems, debilitating in other games, cannot take away from the amazing visual feast that is Bioshock.
But when you step into Rapture, it will not be the graphics, but the story, that will captivate you. The game is so rich with backstory, conflict, and culture that players will find themselves completely believing in the world 2K has crafted for them. From the moment you step off of your first bathysphere, you will find trust, treachery, and mad ambition within the walls of Rapture, and the story's twists are some of the most compelling of any recent game.
Bioshock is played much like other first-person shooters, with a dual-analog control scheme. However, the left trigger uses your plasmids, and the two bumpers pull up on-screen "wheels" that allow you to select your weapon or plasmid on the fly. The sheer number of options for both weapons and plasmids are insanely extensive: There are well over 20 plasmids to be used, each with up to two upgrades possible. And when it comes to weapons, you are supplied over the course of the game with six projectile weapons (as well as a wrench and camera), and three different ammo options for each. (Anti-armor bullets, electrifying shotgun buck, etc.)
When you use these skills together, you can create some truly devastating attacks. Drop a proximity mine and whirlwind trap in front of a door, and the next splicer to run in is launched into the air, then lands on top of a bomb. Light an oncoming splicer on fire with an Incinerate! plasmid, then watch him stumble back into a puddle of oil, setting it ablaze and injuring the line of enemies rounding the corner. It is these brilliant game design choices and room for improvisation that make Bioshock such a delight to play through. In addition to all of these gameplay elements, there is also the ability to use gene tonics that boost certain attributes, and to hack robots, cameras, safes, and pretty much anything else.
Without creative game design and open-endedness, Bioshock would have little to no lasting appeal. Afer beating the game on easy or normal, veteran gamers will no doubt want to come back for more, seeing if they can beat a Big Daddy on hard mode, or perhaps find a new wy to kill that horde of splicers. Either way, for a 10-20 hour game, Bioshock will be able to suck some respectable time out of your life.
Bioshock clearly deserves many of the accolades it has received, and it deserves a place among some of the best first-person shooters of all time. If the intense level of on-the-spot problem-solving does not keep you interested, then the captivating and finely crafted story surely will. The game has been winning Game of the Year awards left and right, so would you kindly stop messing around and play Bioshock already?