Developer: 2k Boston
Publisher: 2k Games
It was a long wait from System Shock 2 before Bioshock, often called the spiritual successor to the action RPG classic, finally came out. But it’s one game that lives up to all its hype and was well worth the wait.
Bioshock is set in Rapture, an entire city built beneath the sea in the 1940s and designed to be an entirely self-contained community. Intended to be populated by the best that humanity has to offer (in the opinion of the founder, Andrew Ryan, at least), something has clearly gone drastically wrong by 1960, when the game is set. The game starts with your plane having just crashed into the sea near Rapture, where you discover the place is now inhabited by insane deformed versions of the former inhabitants called Splicers. Splicers have been driven insane by overuse of plasmids, genetic upgrades giving people different abilities they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Rapture itself is one of the main attractions of the game. The beautiful art deco architecture of the underwater city really evokes a sense of being in a distorted version of the past. This atmosphere is aided by the songs from the early 50s playing in various areas. Posters advertising shops and products can be found on the walls, and when you obtain a new plasmid power (which will be discussed later), a short video in the style of 50s public information films plays demonstrating its use. All of these are brilliantly captured by absolutely stunning graphics. The lighting and water effects in particular are some of the best seen in any game.
I don’t want to say too much about the storyline, since it would ruin the game, and it wouldn’t take very much to spoil some of the major plot points. I can write about how the story is delivered though. Like System Shock 2, the events of the past that have led to the current situation are presented to you by a combination of audio logs, cutscenes and brief ghostly re-enactments. The audio logs are where most of the information will be revealed though, found all over the various structures in Rapture. It’s worth hunting all of these down, as there is some information that won’t be revealed anywhere else other than in the logs. As mentioned, I won’t talk about how the plot develops, but I will say it’s one of the strongest storylines in a game, and definitely the strongest in the often plot-deficient FPS genre.
It’s important to know that Bioshock is an FPS and not an RPG, as some people were expecting. There are some RPG elements, but they are extremely basic, boiling down to the ability to collect plasmids and tonics that give you special abilities. As long as you know what to expect from the game though, there shouldn’t be any problems. Combat is conducted with the usual array of FPS pistols and shotguns and the like as weapons, plus the good old SS2 wrench for whacking people with. But it’s the plasmids where the action really stands out. Plasmids are basically genetic equivalents of magic spells, giving you a variety of (mostly destructive) powers such as electrocution, freezing, shooting fireballs and shooting out swarms of insects. These usually have various interesting ways to be used beyond the standard direct attacks. For instance, zapping a Splicer with electricity directly will stun him for a while, but find a group of splicers standing around in a room with water on the ground and you can take them all out at once by electrifying the water. After freezing an enemy, you can then take out your wrench and smash them to pieces, although you’ll lose out on any useful items they might be carrying.
You won’t really care about missing out on these items after a while though. It seems that every inhabitant of Rapture went around leaving guns, ammo and health vials lying carelessly around, and when you kill a Splicer they often seem to drop an entire shops inventory in items. You’ll rarely be at a loss for a way of recovering your health or Eve supply (Eve is required to use plasmids).
The other types of genetic upgrades are tonics. These are always active and provide boosts to your skills, such as increased damage from melee attacks or better hacking skils, or give you extra benefits, such as electrocuting anyone who hits you. Both tonics and plasmids are placed into a number of slots, so you can only have a limited number at any one time. Unlike other games with similar systems though, you can change which ones you use at Gene Banks, which are scattered regularly throughout Rapture. It means you never have to make permanent decisions about your characters development, but it does also mean there’s the opportunity for a lot of variety in the combat.
Hacking is one of the minor disappointments in the game. Every time you hack something, usually a vending machine, health terminal or something along those lines, you get to play a Pipemania style puzzle game. One of the problems with it is that it starts off easy, and thanks to the tonics that improve your skills, stays easy throughout the entire game. The only times I ever failed were the rare occasions when the board was set up in such a way that the route was blocked. The other is that there are so many things to hack you quickly get thoroughly sick of it. Fortunately you can either buy it out to avoid solving the puzzle at the expense of some money, or use an autohacking tool if you have one.
The only real element of choice in the game comes from whether you rescue or harvest the Little Sisters. Little Sisters are young girls who have been genetically modified to collect a substance called Adam from dead bodies. Adam is the substance needed to obtain brand new plasmids and tonics from Gatherer’s Garden machines. Killing them gives you more Adam than saving them, meaning you can purchase more plasmids, but saving them can lead to rewards later on. Plus there’s the bonus that you haven’t murdered large numbers of small children. Of course, before you get to make the decision you have to defeat their guardian, the Big Daddy. Extremely powerful mutants in huge old fashioned diving suits, the Big Daddies won’t attack you if you leave them alone, but they’re very tough if you attack them or the Little Sister they’re guarding. On Easy difficulty you can just about get away with just shooting them, but on any higher difficulty levels you’d better have a plan on how to deal with them.
The game difficulty is where Bioshock gets things right. The Easy difficulty is actually easy, as befits the name. You can also have a proper attempt at the harder difficulty levels without worrying about it becoming too much to handle, even if you’re not an expert player. This is because when you die, you are reformed at the nearest Vita-Chamber, with all progress kept. This doesn’t make the game too easy, since you can still try and win the battles properly, but it’s reassuring to know that if you really get stuck with them, you still have the Vita-Chambers to rescue you. And if you still find it too hard, the difficulty level is actually changeable mid-game. If only all games were this accessible to people of different skill levels.
Ultimately, Bioshock is one of the best FPS games I have ever played. Its brilliant storyline, wonderful original setting and immersive atmosphere really draw you into the game, and other than the minor annoyance with the hacking, it doesn’t really do anything wrong. A great experience from start to finish, Bioshock comes highly recommended.
Save System Review: Save anywhere, hooray!
Arbitrary Final Score:
Like the game? Hate it? Would you kindly discuss it in our forum?