Bioshock is one of those games that you can’t pigeonhole into one category. Is it an FPS? While you play it from the first person viewpoint, and there are guns to shoot, you would be doing this game a great disservice if you write it off as a simple Halo-style blastfest. Is it an RPG? Well, the stat upgrade and skill development systems are almost as complex as any RPG skill tree. Is it a survival horror game? Well, there are things that are just as gripping and disturbing as any Silent Hill game. Considered a spiritual successor to Irrational games’ System Shock 2, BioShock is a blend of several different genres that features a powerful narrative, unique gameplay mechanics, and a breathtaking underwater setting.
BioShock takes place in an alternate reality 1960s. As Jack, the only survivor of a plane crash, you happen on the sunken underwater ‘paradise’ of Rapture. Rapture was created by a man named Andrew Ryan, and the cornerstone of Rapture is a substance known as Adam. Adam is a parasitic-like substance containing healing properties that grants its users various powers and abilities…at the cost of one’s being, as the users would become horribly mutated. Over time, Rapture went into ruin, and Adam became such a vital part of its ecosystem that those who have been deprived of it for too lose their sanity. Guided by a man named Atlas, Jack makes his way through the city.
Your main enemies are the splicers, humans who have been horribly mutated by Adam and driven insane. You also have to deal with Rapture’s still-active security systems such as turrets and security cams. Thankfully you can hack them (via completing a tile-current-flow-pipe minigame) and use them on your enemies. By harvesting Adam from the little girls roaming around (known as big daddies), you can gain and upgrade various abilities (known as plasmids). However, you have to contend with the big daddies, thier huge protectors. These opt-in boss fights are well worth it if you have plenty of weaponry, as the plasmids can grant you anything from electricity, to levitation, to the ability to enrage splicers. However, when you kill a Big Daddy, you have to choose weather to save the little sister and gain a little adam or kill her and take a larger amount. You can also craft items from raw materials and upgrade your weaponry. If Jack dies, then he is automatically regenerated in the nearest Vita-Chamber, which takes always some of the challenge, but thankfully this option can be disabled.
The plasmids, weapons, and the Havok systems give players the ability to approach the game in whichever way they wish. One of my favorite things to do is to use electricity attacks on a water puddle while splicers are standing in it. One of the coolest weapons in the game is the crossbow, which fires a bolt with a line attached to it. You can use it to set up tripwires, or shoot an electrified bolt wire at an enemy to cause massive damage.
You’ll learn more about the story, its characters, and the game’s setting via various audio recordings spread throughout the game. There is some really powerful stuff hidden on these tapes. For instance, there is one recording from a female immigrant and her husband, imploring their daughter to join them in a hotel room, fearing that she may be one of the little sisters. Upon finding the hotel room, you see that the parents have committed suicide via a drug overdose. Another audio recording details a hypnosis experiment, in which a little boy is forced to kill his own dog. Combine this with a plot twist 3/4ths of the way through the game that calls everything into question, and BioShock tells an emotionally gripping tale that will affect you in a way few other games have. If there was ever an argument for games being a form a literature, then this would be an excellent way to support that argument.
If there was one major issue with the game, it’s that there is little incentive to keep you playing after finishing the game. Yes there are two endings, you can always try out different plasmid combinations, and PS3 owners can purchase challenge rooms from PSN and try out a new difficulty level, but there isn’t a whole lot of replay value, especially without multiplayer (although the upcoming sequel will feature a multiplayer mode set during Rapture’s fall). Even with this little caveat, BioShock is a masterpiece on all levels, from the story to the gameplay. The sequel is due out this November, so if you haven’t played this game already, please do so.