Bioshock. Just mentioning the name can create weather changes somewhere on the planet. In fact some meteorologists would claim that the impending release of Bioshock caused last year's national flooding. Al Gore, if he knew better would state that Bioshock IS the "Inconvienient truth". Whichever way you look at it, Bioshock is simply a game. This game had a lot to live up to before its release, it had claimed a lot and been hyped to Mars and back more times than Miss Hilton has gone down on camera.
Here it comes then. Bioshock lives close to its hype, it even thought about moving into the flat down the road that is slightly closer to the hype building so that it could see its gargantuan neon hype sign more clearly. Like most things however it has to keep within its means and that particular flat was slightly out of its budget, so it has to make do with watching children who are skipping school clad in burberry whilst thrashing their stolen mountain bikes around the adjacent Sainsbury's carpark with squashed cartons of cheap drink inserted onto the wheel to emulate a motorcycle. Or so they believe.
Its one of the better games of last year but nothing is perfect, everything has a flaw. No matter how minute. When you insert the disc and begin playing you are inside a plane listening to your characters inner-monologue. You don't get much chance to get your bearings though because the aircraft inexplicably falls from the sky, dropping you in the ocean. You are stunned for the first few moments as you gaze at the water effects and look around at the firewall preventing you from swimming away from the eerily outlined lighthouse that marks the games location - Rapture.
You take your first steps into the lighthouse, its pitch-black. You fully expect the door to slam behind you in typical horror fashion but instead a light flicks on to reveal a huge monument to Andrew Ryan's (Raptures founder) propoganda. This is where your immersion begins, both physically and mentally. After you enter the Bathysphere, that's it. Theres no going back. As you descend leagues under the sea you are given a speech by Andrew Ryan about the virtues of his undersea nation wherein he criticises such favourites as "The man in Washington". Its when you reach the bottom and enter Rapture proper things get weird. The first thing you witness is the murder of a man by a Spider Splicer - a wall-walking variant of the standard enemy you will face throughout the game. Then armed only with a radio, you are urged to step outside by your new ally named Atlas. Its dark, theres luggage and protest signs discarded everywhere. What has Ryan done? You think to yourself as you slowly push on the analogue. Just what are you getting yourself caught up in?
The game continues with the bleak, abandoned and ravished atmosphere throughout. The underwater utopia is now largely a wreck waiting to be reclaimed by the ocean that exerts its immense pressure around it. The inhabitants are almost exclusively hostile to you, the areas largely pupulated with Splicers looking for their next ADAM fix. This is the main drive for the remaining residents and of course, you. Adam is a substance extracted from corpses by small children, they can be used to make yourself more powerful. Obtaining it sounds pretty easy on paper: Extract it from these little girls named "Little sisters" here. Every little girl has an over-protective father figure though, don't they? Well these ones do at least. Big Daddies are overly-armoured and extremely pissed off with anyone who messes with their young travel partners. Herein lies one of the games touted "moral options". Do you liberate the lifeform living within the little girl whilst liberating her of her life for the most ADAM or do you cure the little girl for a fraction less? It isn't much of a choice though because it doesn't really effect much at all. The ADAM acquired is barely much less and beyond that it just changes which ending cinematic you'll see. Your only real choice is whether you'll be a raging psychopath intent on bring Rapture up to the people living on terra firma or whether its more your thing to be a loving family man with rainbows and flowers. There is no middleground.
ADAM is the cause of most of the problems. Evidence you collect on your travels reveals that the inhabitants were using it along with surgery to become perfect but there was another force abusing it to control the populace. Fontaine - Ryan's rival in the war of sorts that wrecked the place. Though Fontaine is now presumed a non-entity. With enough effort, time and ADAM you can turn the whole of Rapture against the opponent. Turning security devices to your colours, flagging enemies so that they check as intruders to the security network. Sabotaging health stations so that they damage enemies that use them or even setting a Big Daddy on your assailants by ducking behind one in a firefight.
Plasmids can be bought with ADAM and range from required to almost pointless. Most are fun to play with. They are essentially a magic-type system powered by syringes filled with a blue substance named EVE which can be found lying around on corpses, in cupboards and mortuary freezers. Plasmids can be used to abuse your surroundings too. Using the electric when your enemy is standing in water will cause them to be stunned temporarily or using flames on patches of oil to bring a whole room up in flames to gain some space. Plasmids are required for certain puzzles like using telekenisis to throw explosives at blockages or melting ice barriers with flames. There are also plasmids that cause opponents to fight each other or bring a Big Daddy under your control. Though ADAM can also be spent on straight stat increases and passive abilities allowing you in theory to build yourself in the way you want to play. Weapons are also fully upgradable by using Fontaines weapon stations hidden in various locations.
Ayn Rand's novel influences Bioshock a lot. The Art deco style that is constant throughout and the final boss encounter look like they were taken straight from the cover. Even the names are possible references from the titular Atlas to Andrew Ryan which can be almost completely used as an anagram to Ayn Rand (ANDRew rYAN).
The graphics stand up as some of the best on the Xbox 360 with a heck of a lot of detail implemented. Fort Frolic, probably the games most lavish and iconic area is filled with bars and shops brimming with post-chaotic detail. Even the various gambling machines are playable. Sadly though, no amount of bloom can hide one of the games most blindingly obvious issues.
The enemy variety is pretty much non-existant. Sure, that's nothing new for games - Final Fantasy has been recolouring sprites for years and scrolling beat-em-ups threw hordes of generic bruisers your way for seemingly centuries. In a game so obsessed with aesthetics that it grants a huge amount of the secondary narrative to the puruit of beauty and perfection it really shouldn't get to the point where you are bored of fighting the same slack-jawed losers who's only variance is the weapon in their hand, hood over their heads or bunny mask covering their features from some masquerade party you evidently just missed. The Big Daddies aren't all that common and when dispatched, endlessly respawn. If you don't keep up with your sister collecting and daddy-stalking then you may forget which Daddy you need to kill until they summon a sister. There are only two kinds of Big Daddy - Rosies and Bouncers which use ranged attacks and powerful drill-based melee strikes respectively. Even the last boss is a little uninspired.
The other enemies consist of machines from the security system. These can be allied by hacking them or through use of security altering plasmid powers. Hacking is a mini-game that reminds you of the old pipe-based freeware games on windows in the 80's. The liquid inside flows constantly and you will fail if it enters a space not occupied by a connected pipe. This will usually set off the alarm. You highlight tiles and flip them to reveal the piece of pipe or alarm tile underneath. You have to snake around the alarm tiles quickly to reach the goal. The flow gets progressively faster as you get further on in the game but can be slowed by freezing your target with a plasmid first.
The battles are falsely extended by the way dying is handled. If you die then the enemy that you are fighting tends to stand around and wait while you respawn at a nearby Vito-chamber. If you have disabled the health stations for enemy use then there is no way for them to regen which essentially means you can just whack away until you die, respawn and then run back and chip away again. You pretty much only have to save if you are afraid that a power cut is coming. You don't get as frustrated but it allows you to soar through even the hardest difficulty with enough patience.
The end of the world
While it may not cater entirely to the hardcore shooter fanbase with its large focus on exploration and narrative. There is no multiplayer, no temporary power-ups and ammo is anything but abundant with its quite tight ammo limits. Especially on the liquid-firing weapon. Multiplayer would only serve to contradict the single player story unless you were forced to play as a varying degree of Splicers of course. Did I say various Splicers? Oh bugger... Oh well. They'd have to make new models.
Bioshock does seem a touch on the short side but the achievements cry out for multiple playthroughs. After completing it you will not be able to get the memorable scenes from your memory for a while but sadly, the frustrating elements are equally adept at sticking with you. In a departure from usual gaming, the voice-acting is also pretty good. Its a very good game and well worth investigating if you haven't already.
9 / 10