2K Games launches their big daddy across the globe this week searching for Xbox 360 gamers to harvest. This task shouldn’t be too hard for 2K because Bioshock lives up to the hype and surpasses the high expectations that have been building for months. It’s time to play with madness in the underwater world of Rapture.
Bioshock wastes no time pushing the player into their unique retro fitted world, rich with dynamic atmosphere. The story starts after a plane your boarding crash lands in uncharted waters. It's then when you're only chance for real survival is to swim into the man made world called Rapture. Rapture is a hidden city created and fashioned into an idealistic society who wanted freedom from the restrictions of the modern society at the time to create a more advanced civilization. Of course this setting wouldn’t be good enough; Irrational Games has turned the city into a ghost town, filled with genetic evolution, deranged altered freaks and enough blood and sadistic situations to make the movie Saw look like a day at the beach. The world of Rapture feels alive which helps keep the suspense high and the game fresh. Rapture is a well built idea and it’s executed flawlessly. It showcases what good level design and environment attention can do for a game, it definitely helps shape the quality of a game which in basics is similar to ones we’ve seen and played before.
In Rapture it’s up to your character to escape from its death grip with the aid of one of its inhabitants you’ll twist and turn in the cities many corridors uncovering the secrets of the city while dealing with the twisted inhabitants that walk the halls. The action turns up to ten early on in the game and it really doesn’t let down for more than a few seconds. The pacing isn’t as fast as a shooter like Serious Sam, but given its deliverance and quality, Bioshock gives more to the player then expected. Bioshock also takes the time to give the player a great deal of depth in the worlds history, more than enough scenery to keep your eyes active and a health dose of interesting aspects which blend together role playing with the fast action of shooter. It’s not a surprise given Irrational Games past efforts which include the very similar and equally impressive hit System Shock 2 which I had the pleasure of completing back in 1999. Like System Shock 2, Bioshock should be classified as a Science Fiction, Survival horror shooter, a genre that Irrational Games can proudly proclaim as their yard.
Immediately into Bioshock a few references came to my mind first was the classic RPG Fallout which seems to be an inspiration of sorts concerning the time retro-classic feeling of the world and it’s off beat humour. Bioshock also pulls from the atmosphere and game ideas that where introduced in System Shock 2 which was the first survival horror game to blend FPS action with role playing elements like inventory, psionic abilities and pre-recorded tapes to progress the plot and build up back story. In the control and feeling Bioshock provides I also had a sense of Sega’s creepfest Condemned: Criminal Origins. Both games have the same style and swagger with the combat, enemy style and brutal in your face action. Like Condemned, Bioshock brings the player in and making you feel like you’re in the game rather then controlling some out of touch ultra strong tough guy who barrels through enemies. If you enjoyed aspects of Condemned then you will be delighted when you cash in your money for a ticket to Rapture.
Controlling the action in Bioshock is the standard affair when dealing with a FPS. The only slight difference in Bioshock is that you have left and right hand controls which transfers over to the right and left trigger for activation. On the left side your player has the ability to gain magic like abilities called Plasmid that come in injection form. These abilities like shooting elements from your hand or controlling your telekinesis all happen with the left trigger and the left bumper. Equality matched on the other side is your traditional assortment of weaponry which even includes borrows a moment from Half-Life with the Gordon Freeman wrench. Switching between your selections of weapons is effortlessly and well designed which is important in Bioshock’s case because you’ll need to mix up the attacks and deliver the one-two knockout punch.
The real jewel of Bioshock’s arsenal is the Plasmid abilities that can easily deal a lot of punishment to your enemies. The trick with using Plasmid attacks is conserving ammunition or Eve Hypos in this case. The plasmid attacks are best used when you can get a little help from the environment or from your opponent. The first scenario you’ll come across when you can take advantage of this is with your lightning powers and using water to give multiple enemies a shock, dropping the toaster, Bioshock calls it. Being aware of your environment is very important in Bioshock that makes the player become creative with your kills, especially with the ammunition restraints and lack of firepower. This is the main part of the survival aspect of Bioshock and if you’re not careful you might find your self up against a Big Daddy armed only with the hard steel of your rooster red wrench.
Speaking of firepower, you can even turn Raptures in house defense systems back against them by hacking into each unit and reprogramming for your needs. This goes from everything from vending machines to security camera and sentry drones. Irrational Games turned the hacking aspect of Bioshock into a mini-game that resembles the classic game Pipe Dreams (commodore fans?) The pipe dream concept is basic and easy to understand, although not always easy to win. You basically have to connect pipe parts from one end of a cubed square to another while beating the timer that is liquid that is pushed forward through the tubes. A smile came across my face when I first pressed the X button to hack into a vending machines, if I had one guilty pleasure on the commodore is was burning hours connecting tubes in that basic, yet fun game. Now in Bioshock, gamers who’ve done their pipe time will be able to take advantage of Raptures systems more easily and turn the tide of the battle on their side.
The enemies you’ll come across include the metal monster featured on the box art and a handful of other twisted humans who have been mixed and bent into creatures called “splicers”. The splicers usually come at you full throttle and can be sniped off if your slow on your feet, however when they are in packs the combat will become a demon hell ride. For the guy on the cover, the big daddy, Bioshock lets you pick if you want to be on their side, or fight against them. This brings in the morality issue in Bioshock to help protect and save the little sisters who harvest energy called Adam from dead bodies, or take them down and steal the Adam resource for your own. The problem in this moral issue is that the big daddy is a mean persuader and most gamers probably will take my road, protect and save yourself the hassle of dealing with daddy’s drill arm. The moral issue of the little sisters isn’t introduced right away; you’ll mostly likely be in the game a few hours before you reach the deciding point, so you’ll have some time in Rapture to weigh out the pros and cons.
The Adam resource in Bioshock is used like points to purchase character upgrades that include new powers, improved statistics, or little extras that can help you along your way. A few other concepts that are dealt with in Bioshock is making upgrades for your weapons and other items, along with being able to interact with most items in the game world that even includes smoking and drinking until your vision is blurred. Even though Bioshock can feel restricted with its generosity in ammunition and health, once you get involved in the game you will start to ration yourself properly and if all else fails lock yourself in a room and get blitzed.
Now that I have praised Bioshock lets examine a few of the games short comings, however none are so drastic that it makes Bioshock any less great. First off the auto save system and checkpoints should have been the only option to save during the game. Since they used check point character rejuvenators there is no reason that they have a save option installed. Like other games in this genre it can be abused too much and overly relied on to make it through the adventure. Its not that I think gamers should have a challenge, but coming from a former save addict, it can take away allot of the games suspense and momentum. Another issue I have with Bioshock is that it tires to fool you with the promise of exporting the city and finding your own adventure and turns out to be awful linear in its design. This isn’t a huge issue since you can go off the path slightly, however gamers looking for a little more investigation time will be a little disappointed.
A major selling point to Bioshock is its graphics and audio which is powered by the Unreal gaming engine. Bioshock easily tops the Xbox 360 top ten best looking games along with similar calling in the audio. It would actually be a strong argument to place Bioshock on the pedestal as the best visually stunning next-generation game to date. If one things for sure, the bar has been raised and our expectations have been surpassed of what the next generation of gaming can look and sound like. It’s amazing how far we have come in only a few short years. For the graphics the showcase has to be awarded to the attention to detail in the created world of Rapture and the amazing atmospheric effects that help create suspense and realism throughout the game.
In a turnaround I would have to argue that Bioshock’s sound is almost more important and impressive then the knockout graphics. The sound in Bioshock captures the 1940s time period perfectly and the eerie sounds and despite and lunatic sound recordings found in the city are riveting. The voice actors in Bioshock should be applauded for doing such a great job in an area that can be a little forgiving. Cash one in 2K; you have a strong nomination sound of year winner, it's that amazing.
If you’re on the fence about Bioshock being "just another shooter" put those worries aside and jump off the fence. Bioshock delivers an outstanding adventure deep into a psychotic world filled with wonder and interesting plot developments and characters. The level of polish in the entire project is on the top of its game with some of the best graphics and audio to date. If you every wanted a little more out of your standard FPS affairs then Bioshock will satisfy your needs and give you a few moments of pure gaming bliss. Bioshock is the next-generation of shooters that will no doubt be placed along side the other greats that I mentioned in this review like System Shock 2 and the original Half-Life. Dive in.
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 08.22.07