In the city of Rapture things are not always as they seem. Choices will be made, secrets will be uncovered, and genres will be redefined. Irrational Games latest foray into the FPS genre brings with it extraordinary storytelling, imaginative environments, and a collective of moments that are unrivaled in any other game currently on the market. Sure the mechanics are similar to just about every other game in the genre, but it’s the way it executes them and the freedom it allows players throughout its entirety that make it a must-play experience for anyone who considers themselves a gamer.
Your journey begins on an airplane to an unknown destination. All of a sudden while staring at photos of your family and admiring the gift from your parents on your lap the plane takes a nose dive towards the chilly ocean waters. The screen fades to black and the title of the game paints across the screen, and think this is only the first cut scene. When you surface you are surrounded by a ring of fire as you watch the tail end of the plane slowly sink into the abyss as you begin making your way towards a distant structure that seems to be calling to you.
The first time you lay your eyes on the city of Rapture you will immediately notice its vacant beauty. Neon signs still burn, giant billboards are scattered about, and the sense that this used to be a thriving community are evident all around you. It’s the minor details that make you want to investigate more to uncover the mystery behind this city such as phrases painted on walls in blood, dead bodies impaled with surgical needles, and stacks of Bibles scattered in dark corridors. The world of Rapture is a dark mystery that invites you to discover all of its secrets at your own pace.
The story follows your progression to uncover the mysteries of this subterranean utopia which begin by figuring out why Andrew Ryan created this place. Ryan is a wealthy industrialist who believes the world is full of parasites whose only goal is to keep exceptional people at the bottom of the totem pole. Ryan created Rapture to allow creativity to breed thus making the most creative the top members of society. The rest is up to you to discover, but be warned your actions and choices in the game will ultimately decide its outcome, which is one of the reasons BioShock delivers on a level that some games can only dream of.
With all of that out of the way let’s get down to business. From a purely game play perspective BioShock is best described as a first-person shooter with a hint of RPG elements thrown into the mix. You still have access to a wide array of firearms including your staples such as the pistol, shotgun, and machine gun with a couple of not-so-standard issues such as the chemical thrower and the crossbow. Each weapon can be upgraded twice giving it more ammo capacity, damage, or quicker rate of fire that is of course, if you can find all of the upgrade stations scattered throughout each level.
Each weapon can also carry up to three unique types of ammunition that you can purchase, discover throughout the environment, or even invent at separate stations using items obtained throughout the game. These different ammo types also tie into your research you conduct during the game that will give you hints as to which type of ammo each enemy is weak against. The amount of depth put into just this mechanic is impressive, while not being overcomplicated at the same time.
In addition to your physical weapons you will also discover genetic modifications throughout the game known as plasmids. These plasmids give you powers such as flame bursts, electric shocks, freezing, insect swarms, among many others. These genetic weapons add a new layer of strategy to your encounters and give you the option of handling situations more than one way. Outside of these you also can obtain other upgrades known as tonics that give you passive powers not necessarily evident in combat. These range from faster and easier hacking abilities to shortening alarm times when caught by a security camera. These tonics can also increase your health and EVE limitations and just like the ammo they can be earned, invented, or simply found scattered about the world.
While neither of these approaches is really new to the genre, it is the way BioShock injects them into combat scenarios that really stand out. Each encounter in the game is unique thanks to variables such as the environment and the unpredictable AI patterns. The most common enemy you will run into is called a Splicer, which are residents of the city that have overindulged in genetic mutation and consequently lost their minds. There are several variations of these enemies; some crawl on ceilings, some carry heavy firepower, and some even sport the same plasmids you can wield. Engaging these enemies usually results in chaos as they have no repeating AI patterns, they will run for cover, and they will even use the environment to their advantage such as using health stations and even re-programming turrets to fight alongside of them.
This behavior puts BioShock in a class all of its own and creates some of the greatest game experiences in any title to date. One instance that comes to mind is an area early in the game where a group of Splicers came barreling through a door towards me. I noticed a stream of flammable fluid at their feet and quickly switched to my incinerate plasmid. Once on fire they began running towards a cool body of water to extinguish the flames at which time I zapped the water with my electric plasmid; good times. Moments like this are common in the city of Rapture and they are what make it stand head and shoulders above everything else that has come before it, not to mention setting the bar for all future titles.
Outside of the general Splicer encounter you will also run into hulking enemies known as the Big Daddy. These mammoth beings are the protectors of the Little Sisters, which run rampant in Rapture harvesting ADAM from “angels”. This is where the morality in BioShock takes a turn as you are never forced to encounter either of these characters. Instead your motivation for eliminating a Big Daddy is either driven by greed or sympathy. See each little sister can be saved or harvested for amounts of ADAM, which in turn allows you to purchase new plasmids and slots to hold them in. Harvesting will of course garner you more, but the question is can you do it without feeling guilty.
As you stalk a Big Daddy you will come to realize that it is literally impossible to hate them. They are passive until provoked and watching them kneel down to allow a Little Sister to climb on their backs is very touching. Their main purpose in the game is to protect the carriers of this valuable resource and it is left up to you to decide which path you want to take. Without spoiling too much you are rewarded for either path you choose in the form of the ending, so even if you decide to take the greed route and harvest them all you can and will want to come back for more.
Moments like these are common in BioShock and are the heart and soul of what make it the masterpiece that it is. Being able to tackle the game any way you see fit is a task that most developers boast but fail to deliver upon. Ken Levine and the team at Irrational Games (now known as 2K Boston and 2K Australia respectively) have crafted one of the most engrossing experiences in the history of interactive entertainment. If you own an Xbox 360 or a PC it would be a disservice for you to miss out on this incredible experience. I cannot recommend this game enough; in my twenty plus years of gaming I can honestly say this is the kind of title that I dream about playing and I am just glad that I got to experience it. For those of you complaining about me-too sequels and the same old crap being pushed to retail on a weekly basis now is the time to speak with your wallet. Pick up BioShock and get lost in the city of Rapture.