Bioshock

Reaching into one of many habitable holes in the walls of Rapture, a man grabs a young girl and, brandishing a wrench, prepares to strike. He never gets a chance though; instead being attacked by an enormous, suited creature. A desperate struggle ensues, in which the man uses brain over braun to achieve a victory, but it is short lived. Immediately after finishing the first creature, a second appears and impales the man with a huge rotating drill on its arm. The second creature then moves to help the young girl. An introductory scene, that plays during the main menu in Bioshock, sets the tone for Bioshock, not in terms of violence, but the moral decisions that await. You play the man lost in the underwater city of Rapture, fighting for survival in a new world, filled with maddened residents driven crazy as a result of life with insane science and a lack of any form of restraint. The one thing that all residents have in common: they seek ADAM, or at least, the powers it enables, the key to which are Little Sisters, young girls evil in almost every way, protected by necessarily-well-armoured guardians, known as Big Daddies. Is the man wrong to grab the Little Sister? There is no black and white in Rapture. Only grey.

Bioshock

You find yourself taking refuge in the underwater city of Rapture, following a plane crash over the ocean. From the very beginning, you are confronted by enraged splicers - regular people turned insane under the weight of the ocean and driven to disfigure themselves in their quest to eradicate any imperfection. A single voice cuts through the madness, via a radio only, that of Atlas, one of the few remaining residents of Rapture with any form of true awareness, to guide you through your attempt to survive. The gameplay that follows is an ingenious blend of First Person Shooter action, exploration, story telling and discovery. The game is phenomenally clever (compared with the standard FPS fare) but the beautiful thing about it is that it lets you discover this for yourself without forcing itself in front of you. As you plow through the game, you gradually unveil the motivations of the city's residents, the moving stories of those that have suffered while living there and the desperate struggle between factions that has brought ruin to the city. On your path to discovery, you undergo your own changes, acquiring new powers, new weaponry and new technical abilities.

Plasmids are the genetic modifications that enable character enhancement in the game. In Rapture, science would never be held back by morality or other constraints that human society would normally impose. The ability to transmit an electric bolt, a ball of flame, or even a swarm of vicious insects; these things are all possible with the help of plasmids developed in Rapture. Powers don't stop with the offensive either. Security bots, cameras, vending machines and other electrical devices can be hacked, and there are plasmids to improve your ability to do so. This is a major key to the game, since the ability to acquire items cheaply is essential in a world strapped for resources. It is hear that the balance is developed so perfectly.

Bioshock

Something that sets Bioshock apart from other shooters is that you are forced to use all forms of weaponry. With ammunition in short supply and very little money available to purchase more, it would be impossible to become reliant on a single weapon. Even utilising the full complement of weaponry at your disposal, it'd be very tricky to get through the game without combining them with the wide variety of plasmid-enabled powers. For instance, why spray precious ammunition around the room when you can stun your opponent with the electrobolt and then shoot them while they stand trembling on the spot? The environment also has a role to play in combat, with certain attacks leading to a response you can use to your advantage. For instance, a favourite tactic is to use a flame attack on an enemy, wait for them to leap into the nearest pool of water, then frazzle them with a quick bolt of electricity. The behaviour of the Rapture residents is so perfectly realised that you can't help but smile when everyone reacts in a lifelike manner. That's not to say it becomes predictable though. If you think you've sussed out a splicer, be prepared for them to do something entirely unexpected next time you meet one.

What truly makes Bioshock the remarkable shooter it is though, is the underwater city of Rapture. The soon-to-arrive FPS behemoth from Sony, Killzone 2, will undoubtedly have the graphical edge, but I may have to eat cucumber (my least-favourite green thing) if Killzone 2 turns out to have better environments. Rapture, the inspired creation of the somewhat-insane Andrew Ryan, was designed as a place where creativity would know no bounds. People would be free from the chains of society to make their own world a better place. Building such a civilization required the underwater world that is Rapture. The real surprise: Rapture has more character than any other element of the game. It feels like a living, breathing entity, groaning under the immense pressure of the ocean above, abandoned by the psychotic residents. As water pours into numerous sections of Rapture, it feels as though the city is soon to experience its final moments, but throughout the more-densely-populated sections of the city, gardens still flourish and shopping areas still carry the echoes of the civilization that once was.

Graphically, there are some improvements over the original version (to be expected given the gap between releases), but the main point to emphasize is how pleasing it is to see a conversion that doesn't take a lazy approach. So many conversions from one console to another are subject to lazy procedures aimed at minimizing costs and scraping a few more sales. Bioshock, perhaps because of the reputation the developers wished to uphold, is given full attention, with a conversion that says a lot for the quality of the team at 2K games. Inevitably, there are occasional glitches - objects that appear to be floating, for example - but they are few and far between, providing minimal distraction from the experience. Bioshock is a beautiful game, with water effects that make real-life water seem boring. Characters have a slightly TimeSplitters likeness, but the whole package works very well. The atmosphere of the game is also greatly enhanced by smoke and other effects employed in various levels, that really give every area a great deal of personality.

Bioshock

The sound effects match the graphical prowess, adding even more to the experience. The game features subtle effects like gentle tapping water, dripping from small leaks in the city walls, through to sharp, jangling music effects designed to add extra tension to particular confrontations. The complete package is wonderful, and the game wouldn't be anywhere near as good without it. The voices of the splicers might start to get a little repetitive towards the end of the game (and particularly on a replay), but they've often got quite interesting (or freaky) things to say, which is a pleasant change from the generic conversation of a lot of other First Person Shooters.

Extending further the life of the game, and providing motivation for tackling the trickier difficulty levels in the game (and the game really does get hard) are trophies. Though trophy support is widening rapidly, it's still nice when a developer has made the effort to include them. In the case of Bioshock, there are many that will simply be awarded for things you would expect to do as part of the game - defeating certain bosses, collecting particular weapon upgrades; that sort of thing - but there are also several which will cause you to try something new or look for something secret. For example, audio diaries scattered throughout the game reveal interesting plot enhancements and a trophy exists for collecting them all. In addition, completing the game on the hardest difficulty setting without using vita chambers (restore points in the event of an, erm, accident) might not be something the average gamer would leap at the chance to try. With trophy support though, there are even more reasons to keep exploring Rapture and, thanks to the quality of the game, it'll always be a rewarding experience.

Bioshock

There's no online play in the game, but that might not be a bad thing. The diverse weaponry and tactics could have led to some incredible battles, but I do not think that the city of Rapture lent itself very well to online deathmatches. Even a co-op mode, something I am always a major fan of, might have felt out of place in Rapture. The lack of multiplayer is something that disappoints me, but not something that surprises me. The game may well be better without these things, leaving the multiplayer mayhem to games like Resistance 2. There is some downloadable content though, in the form of challenge rooms. At a small extra cost, three challenges can be downloaded, each involving a different section of Rapture, with a story that acts as a side plot to the main game (the events don't really tie in with the main story). They provide a significant challenge though, with some particularly tricky target times. In one, you are required to rescue the Little Sister, using absolutely none of your own offensive weaponry. Using only the tools available, you have to work out how to use the scenery to your advantage.

Overall, Bioshock is a game that shouldn't be missed. The conversion to PS3 has been handled brilliantly, recreating, and even improving, the wonder that is Rapture. Bioshock is easily one of the best shooters of the decade; I highly recommend it.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

2K Games

Developer:

2K Games

Players:

1

Online:

Downloadables

Release:

2008-10-17

Trophies:

66

Review summary

Gameplay:

Absolute genius; a terrific game to play

Graphics:

A great conversion to PS3

Sound:

Dripping with atmosphere; haunting voices

Lastability:

A decent story length with good replay value

9.4

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