Developer: 2K Boston, 2K Australia, 2K Marin, Digital Extremes
Publisher: 2K Games
Genre: First Person Shooter/Survival Horror
Release Date: 10/21/2008
You may have noticed I’ve ditched my regular style of review this time around. Something just didn’t seem right about reviewing a game like BioShock in a traditional manner. It’s too… the game is… well it’s hard too put it in words that don’t sound like I’m a drooling fanboy working the PR angle. So let’s start with what we all know.
BioShock is a huge success by any measurement. It was one of the standout games for the 360, and was the only game (besides Overlord) that made me even the slightest bit jealous of my friends who had Xboxes. We’ve heard all about it, and I’m glad to say it’s all true. From the very first second of gameplay, BioShock impressed me. Literally, the very first second. You’re the sole survivor of a plane crash and you begin in the water surrounded by flames. The first thing you notice, before the controls, before the fire, before your surroundings, are the drops of water clinging to the screen. Perfectly rendered drops of water, refracting the light from the flames around you, with its intensity and movement mirrored in perfect laws-of-physics-obeying symmetry.
It sounds a bit weird, I know, obsessing over these drops of water. Water droplets do not make a game. They have no gameplay value. Hell, they might have just been added in as a gimmick. But you can’t help but think, “If the developers took this much time with an inconsequential element like drops of water on your screen, what did they bring to the table for the real game?”. And a few seconds later, you’re given the answer.
I’d heard from all my friends how beautiful the graphics in BioShock were. I figured it was just the jump to next-gen graphics that impressed them and that the idea that it was done in an Art Deco style was simply a unique design choice, nothing more. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The level of thought and planning put into the world of Rapture, an entire city built under the ocean, is astounding. From the moment you walk in the first door it’s like you’ve been transported back in time or to another world. It’s not just a couple of old-looking advertisements, or some polished brass; it’s evidenced in every object in the game, from vending machines to ash trays. In fact, the theme goes beyond the graphics into the sound as well. Accents and patterns of speech are different, and while somewhat affected at times, come off seamlessly with the gameplay. The music and commercials/movies all blend into the world as well. Top to bottom, BioShock creates something new, unique, and unforgettable.
So, what are you actually doing in this brave new world? Unfortunately you’ve stumbled upon Rapture during some hard times. Complete and total collapse of civilization kind of hard times. Turns out that large-scale self modification of the genome was a bad idea. The population has gone savage and turned against itself, desperate for its next hit of ADAM, the genetic substance that grants you all the wonderful powers you get to use in the game. And what lovely powers they are: telekinesis, pyrokinesis, electrokinesis, and of course, bee-okinesis. Combined with a selection of upgradable weapons and a heavy duty pipe wrench, you’ll well equipped to deal with the multitudes of insane inhabitants that seem to wander about the corridors.
Encountering enemies is another highlight of the game. Usually you’ll see them before you hear them, crying or muttering or shuffling. Sometimes you’ll see their shadow, cast dramatically on the wall before you get to them. And then sometimes, someone just turns out all the lights and you get ambushed. And then there are the Big Daddies. Big Daddies will kill you. A lot. Did I mention you can adjust the difficulty in-game? You can.
But the Big Daddy isn’t just the game’s icon and a terrifying enemy, they’re also the protectors of Little Sisters. The Little Sisters bring the storytelling element back into focus and give you the option of choice. See, Little Sisters are designed to gather and store ADAM. When you first encounter one of them you’re given two differing opinions. One says that she’s a freakish genetic monster, not a real person at all. The other says they can be saved. “Harvesting” the ADAM from a Little Sister kills her in the process, while “Rescuing” her keeps her alive, but rewards you with less ADAM, which means fewer powers to buy to keep you alive. On the surface it’s not the deepest moral choice a game’s ever had you make, but they make you work for it. The first time you go to make your choice the girl is whimpering, crying and backing away from you on hands and knees, scared at what you might do. The game mercifully blurs the screen during the actual harvesting, but one can quite easily imagine the process of extracting a giant, genetically engineered leech from the body of a small girl.
The rest of the gameplay is pretty straightforward for a shooter. First Aid kits heal you and EVE syringes replenish your fuel for your powers (mana in any other game). There are various vending machines which can be hacked to provide more options at discount prices. There’s also security turrets and drones that can be hacked to convert them over to your side. Speaking of which, much has been said about the hacking feature, most of it negative. Hacking is done through a Pipe Dream/Mania style puzzle, so yes, it’s easy. But given the difficulty of the game sometimes, I think it’s nice to be given a break every now and then. I remember some of the puzzles in Onimusha giving me fits between the hack and slash, and while they certainly didn’t ruin the game, they didn’t help. So yeah, it’d be nice to have a middle ground of difficulty, but of the two, I’ll take too easy over too hard.
We all know this game has been out for a while, so what do we get with our PS3 version that the Xboxers didn’t get? For starters, there’s a new difficulty level: Survivor. There’s also some exclusive DLC promised, but as of this writing it’s not out yet. And then there’s Trophies. I’ll admit, being the collecting fiend that I am, I was excited about Trophy support for PS3. I thought it would open up a whole new aspect of the games, kind of like accomplishments in an Insomniac title. But if this is what trophies are going to be, I think I may pass. BioShock provides upwards of 60 trophies, and while some are pretty challenging and there are a few unique ideas, a lot of them are simply awarded for playing the game. I hacked a vending machine, DING! I killed an enemy in the water with electricity, DING! I hacked a turret, DING! I walked three feet, DING! You get the idea. I’m not saying it’s a bad addition, but when you start it feels like you get a damn trophy for breathing. Achievements should mean something, not be handed out like blue ribbons at self-esteem camp.
Even with this minor grievance though, at the end of the day, BioShock is still a marvel of gaming. It’s one of those classics that everyone should own, and is one of those rarities of modern media that actually lives up to (and sometimes exceeds) its hype.
Story / Modes: Unparalleled
Control / Gameplay: Great
Balance: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Classic
Miscellaneous Factor: Good
FINAL SCORE: CLASSIC GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
BioShock is everything you’ve heard. If you haven’t played it already on another system, you need to get out and get a copy post haste. It’s an incredible games that stands out head and shoulders above the crowd.