Throwback Thursday – BioShock

Happy Thursday everyone! I don’t have anything new to drop today, so… I decided to dig into my back catalog of reviews. I’ve been meaning to try and catalog all the things I’ve written for various sites anyway and what better way to do that than to throwback to some of my past pieces. This one was the first review I ever wrote for Hooked Gamers. Sometimes I don’t know if I’ve improved my writing or regressed. Anyway, enjoy.


“Every man builds his world in his own image; he has the power to choose, but no power to escape the necessity of choice. If he abdicates his power, he abdicates the status of man, and the grinding chaos of the irrational is what he achieves as his sphere of existence—by his own choice.”

From Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

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Imagine a perfect Utopian world, filled with the greatest minds in the world. Now imagine the world turned on its head, a world virtually devoid of good with almost nothing worth saving, destroyed because of the choices of its leaders. Welcome to Rapture.

You end up in Rapture after your plane crashes in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and being the only survivor you swim to the relative safety of a lighthouse. Why a lighthouse is located in the middle of the Ocean is beyond me but as your only other choice is to swim with the fishes, you will more than likely choose to explore the lighthouse. The lighthouse holds its own mysteries (aside from standing in the middle of the Ocean) and you will find yourself plunging into the depths of the Atlantic where you will set your eyes on a beautiful sight, the underwater city of Rapture.

Once in Rapture you will meet your guide, Atlas, who fills you in that everything isn’t as pretty as the outside may suggest. Not that the destroyed interior of the city or the radio messages from the supposed leader of the city, Andrew Ryan (a play on Ayn Rand’s name), wouldn’t have given it away. You will then meet some of the residents of Rapture, during which you will do something no sane person would do but once it is done the game really kicks off taking you on a journey that is like no other. The journey itself touches on many themes but the primary one is of choice and of control, heavy thematic issues also prevalent in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. A lack of knowledge concerning Rand’s book or her philosophies will not hurt your overall experience but those that do have that knowledge will be able to see more of the intricacies.

With Bioshock, Irrational Games (now 2K Boston/2K Australia) has created something that is truly worthy of your time. But what is Bioshock exactly? Classifying the game into one genre would be of great disservice to both the creators and potential players. For the sake of consistency we will call Bioshock a shooter. However please note that Bioshock is much more than your standard first person shooter, it borrows heavily from the sci-fi, survival horror, adventure and role-playing game genres. Yes you can play it like any other shooter out there but to do so would be depriving yourself of the depth that Bioshock has to offer.

Whenever a new game comes out people always look at a couple things, highest on the list is almost always graphics. From a Xbox 360 standpoint it is the best looking game on the system since Gears of War. It does contain a few graphical glitches that keep it from becoming the new gold standard in graphics but if you base your purchases on the graphical prowess of a title, Bioshock will deliver the goods.

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While Rapture may have looked like 1939 New York when it was founded, today it looks rundown with the lights out, random fires ravaging and mask wearing genetic freaks roaming the once beautiful city. These freaks are called splicers, in reference to the splicing of their genetic code to give them special powers. While you too will splice your genetic code with plasmids (overt skills) and tonics (inert skills) to give you special powers, the difference here is that the splicers have abused it to the point where they are now misshapen and hide themselves beneath party masks.

The splicers are great looking, unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a large variety in their design. By the mid point of the game I felt I was killing the same splicers over and over again. For some games this doesn’t pose a problem, unfortunately this game world is so engrossing that you feel each of these splicers have a part in the story. That they are beginning to look the same after a while really takes you out of the experience. Don’t worry because there is enough to draw you back in and the lack of enemy models is really just a minor gripe.

One of these ways is with the sound design. Good sound design is a must for any game that aims at setting a particular atmosphere. The atmosphere in Bioshock is one of overall creepiness and the effort taken by Irrational to really bring this atmosphere to life needs to be commended. I can honestly say that I haven’t felt this uneasy playing a game since the original Silent Hill. The sound really brings Rapture to life. Was that a splicer in the distance or was it just the dripping water I passed? You can never really be sure. If you take a moment while playing the game and place your controller on the ground you will see what I mean. Rapture truly lives and breathes and it is an experience adventuring through it. There have been some reports that after extended playtime with the game it is prone to freezing, I myself did not experience any of this and played extensively (4-5 hours at a time) for five days.

Games can look beautiful and sound great but, unless the game plays well, all the hard work on those other aspects is lost. Fortunately Bioshock does play well, although if you are looking for a straight up shooter you are probably going to be disappointed. The combat is only a slight bit above mediocre. You will get your standard shooter arsenal and ammo is for the most part in abundance. Yet if you insist on shooting everything that moves you may find yourself running low more often than not.

Weaponry and Skills are selectable by way of a radial menu which is activated by holding down either the RB or LB buttons, you can also cycles through by just tapping them but sometimes you just need that particular weapon right then and there. If it feels a bit clunky that is because it is. But considering the limitations of a gamepad, the radial menu works well. For me though, the firearms paled in comparison to your melee weapon, the wrench. While early on it is under-powered and I found myself shooting more than bludgeoning, once I gained more plasmids and tonics I found myself beating down the opposition, including some of the bosses.

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Yes Bioshock has boss battles, two types actually. The first type is your standard ‘I need to defeat you to advance the story’ type of boss fight, while the other is a roving boss battle against huge lumbering Big Daddies and is completely optional. This second type is more prevalent but it is also the most satisfying and rewarding of the battles in the game. The Big Daddies are the protectors of the Little Sisters. The Little Sisters are little girls who act as genetic scavengers, gathering ADAM, the substance used to genetically alter you to be able to use plasmids and tonics (EVE is the ingredient that allows you to continue to use your skills). However to get ADAM you must capture a Little Sister, and to get at one of the little ones you have to go through their armored protectors. The Battles against the Big Daddies can be a slight bit frustrating at the outset of the game, being as you and your weaponry is under-powered, luckily Bioshock doesn’t really penalize you for dying.

In fact Bioshock’s continue structure is rather interesting. You don’t actually die, but rather regenerate in a set location. The enemy who killed you will still be at the same level of health they were when you left them, unless of course they used a health station. This makes the game playable for anyone but may annoy some gamers who want a little more challenge to their game.

While the narrative deals with the power of choice as an overall theme, some gamers may find the linear nature of the game to be a downside. Despite promising the ability to explore Rapture at your leisure, you always seem to be shoe-horned into furthering the story. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since the story is so engrossing, but the overall feel of the world as being so alive left me somewhat disappointed that I couldn’t explore it further. You will still have a slew of choices to make though, most of them pertaining to your character and how you want to customize him but there are a few other choices that can dramatically affect the way your game will turn out.

How your game and your overall experience with Bioshock turns out, will be completely determined by your choices. This gives an added depth allowing you to replay it and get a new experience each time. Do you want to play it as a run and gun shooter? Be my guest. Would you rather spend the time to explore the Little Sisters and gain the power of ADAM? Go ahead. Do you make your own choices or will someone make them for you?

I have been especially vague concerning aspects of the story and gameplay. The reason for this is because the real accomplishment in Bioshock is in its ability to give you an experience. While spoilers in regards to gameplay and the overall narrative may not spoil the game for you, I can assure you that it will diminish your overall experience on your first play through. My greatest regret is that I cannot experience Bioshock for the first time ever again. The game truly is the sum of its parts and those parts make one great game, possibly the best of 2007 so far. The only real question is why are you not playing it yet?

Originally published 27 August 2007 at Hooked Gamers.

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Jeez, this review is almost a decade old. I’m not sure where I ended up with ranking the game at the end of the 2007 but I do still think it is a pretty solid title, having played it multiple times over the last ten years.

Well now that you know what I thought about it (a decade ago), where do you stand on Bioshock? Is it a modern day classic? Is it over-rated garbage? Let me know in the comments.

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