In today’s gaming world, many people may point to landmark titles such as Doom, Marathon, or Halo as games that have defined the FPS genre. I believe in this past console generation we may have one more game to add to this list: Bioshock. Bioshock (as you might have guessed) is a First-Person Shooter with some RPG elements thrown into the mix.
After the opening cutscene, you take control as Jack, a silent protagonist. By now, the silent protagonist trope is old hat, but was the name of the game during the 7th console generation. Jack’s silence allows for players to more fully immerse themselves in Bioshock’s world, and as gamers would come to find out, actions speak much louder than words.
As Jack, you are the lone survivor of a plane crash and after swimming ashore to a nearby lighthouse, your descent into Rapture begins. A quick narration briefly acquaints you with the underwater city, and then after a creepy welcoming, you make your way inside. The atmosphere in this opening quickly sets the tone with music of the era, haunting dialogue with splicers, and shadowy visuals.
The environments in Bioshock are amazing, visual designs boasts beautiful art Deco stylization, and contains lots of steampunk influences; the world they have crafted is entirely unique. Graphically speaking, it looks nice, but its not a showcase of cutting edge technology. Irrational Games used the popular Unreal 3 Engine to great effect. The graphics have started to show their age, but with this stunning art design, many of the flaws can be overlooked.
As the campaign progresses, you obtain various weapons, starting with the now iconic wrench and graduate to the revolver soon after. Now about 20 minutes in, you are introduced to another big part of the game: Plasmids and Gene Tonics. Plasmids are these spectacular genetic enhancements that can give you a literal fistful of lighting. Gene Tonics provide a passive skill increase or ability, such the ability to blend into your surroundings. The main enemies in Bioshock, splicers, are the citizens of Rapture that have over-used these genetic enhancements and have since gone mad.As you make your way through various environs, many more Plasmids (and Gene Tonics) are unlocked for purchase at special vendors known as Gatherer’s Gardens, which take a particular currency.
Bioshock includes some moral choices for you to make. After encountering your first operational Gatherer’s Garden, you are informed how they don’t use regular cash, no these vendors use Adam, a genetic material that allows for genetic changes. Unfortunately, the only way to obtain Adam is by interacting with the Little Sisters, young girls who have gone through some genetic changes of their own. In this moment, you are alone with the girl and forced to make a choice: Harvesting the Adam from her brutally, getting the most Adam possible, but killing the little sister. Alternatively, you can choose to save her, using a Plasmid to rid her of these changes, netting you a little Adam, just enough to get by on.
These moral decisions do add up, and will result in minor differences in the game, culminating in an ending that corresponds to your choices. After dealing with your first Little Sister, you are then encouraged to discover (and save/harvest) them on your own. Unlike the first one you interacted with, all the others in the game are accompanied by Big Daddies, hulking creatures in diving suits. How you choose to take them down is entirely up to you. Big Daddies, unlike other enemies, are not openly hostile. In fact, unless you come near their respective little sisters, they will happily ignore you as they patrol Rapture. Be careful when you do choose to engage them though, they are difficult to take and will require planning.
Many of the encounters in this game will require a little more thought than typical shooters, attacking foes head-on is often not an ideal solution, and will often times be the cause of many Vita-Chamber visits. Bioshock rewards players for stealthy approaches, using correct weapon/plasmid combinations, and using the environment to your advantage. Early on, Atlas (a friend on the radio) gives you the combination of using electro-bolt to shock an enemy, then to use the wrench to smash their face in, which is a useful way to dispatch foes. Knowing to use electro-bolt on splicers in water or the incinerate plasmid on baddies on oil slicks makes each of these hazards an opportunity to wipe out foes. Many of these elements are essential in the many defensive segments.
One area where Bioshock shines is when the player is forced to take a defensive position. Many of the weapons and plasmids favor a trap-setting approach, and it is very satisfying to wipe out splicers (or maybe even a Big Daddy) with a well placed proximity mine, or launching a splicer sky-high with a cyclone trap. Various environmental items assist with this as well, oil slicks that can be burned, explosive barrels to detonate, and water to shock foes in.
As you progress through the various parts of Rapture, you are introduced more weapons and plasmids, as well as improved versions available to purchase. Purchasing these upgrades will be necessary, and the theming of choice extends here as well, you will not have enough Adam to upgrade all of your plasmids and weapons are only upgradable through particular stations that are hidden. If I recall correctly, there are enough to upgrade all of your weapons, but finding and accessing them all will be challenging.
Now what really draws gamers to Bioshock other than the polished gameplay, is the fantastic story and writing that goes into these characters. I’ve avoided talking much about it as much as possible because it is something that needs to be experienced. Atlas is your constant companion in over the radio and he is increasingly interesting as you discover more about him. The various citizens of Rapture have left audio logs detailing life in the city, political issues, and stories about your current environment. Andrew Ryan, the creator of Rapture, constantly harasses you as he considers you a threat sent down from the governments above. All of the voice acting and dialogue is AAA, high production quality.
What sells this title as a landmark amongst other games is the use of theming. Player choice is a mechanic toyed with not only for gameplay sake, but also narratively. The motif of becoming stronger and more of a survivor is something players adapt and will start doing by themselves. Many philosophical ideas are also introduced to players with such ideas like The Great Chain Andrew Ryan constantly crows about in his audio logs. The problems that were swept under the rug in this seemingly perfect society show cracks in its infrastructure and also comments on some of our own faults in todays society.
Maybe I’m digging into Bioshock a bit too much, but still even for casual gamers, this game has massive appeal. It has horror elements, shooter elements, and RPG elements without being overly complicated or convoluted. Bioshock is a game that has so much to offer,if you missed playing this game the first time around, I encourage you to pick it up. By now it should be cheap in stores/used and is on many services for download: Xbox Live, PSN, and Steam to name a few big ones.