Just before or during the summer holidays. Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 have gotten this treatment and this year it’s the turn of Bioshock, 2K Games’ latest first person shooter and the spiritual successor to the System Shock series.
Welcome to Rapture! The city that gets rid of Capitalist, Communist or Religious oppression! The city, created by visionary Andrew Ryan, that truly gives people freedom! At least, that’s what it should have been and of course things have turned for the worst.
It’s the late 1950s and you’ve just survived a plane crash. However, you’re in the middle of the ocean with no possibility to survive when you see a small tower. When you manage to reach it, you enter a bubble and start to descend. Descend to the Rapture and at a time that couldn’t have been worse. Once you team up (over the radio) with one of the inhabitants who’s separated from his family, you quickly find out that the city is going to peaces and there’s plenty of insane people running around with nothing better to do than kill everything and everyone that moves. You’re only hope seems to be to find your friend and escape together with him and his family. But then of course you’ll have to reach him first.
As usual you get a ton of weaponry at your disposal with heavier arms becoming available in the later levels. Each weapon also has different types of ammo that can be used on a variety of enemies. But conventional weapons won’t be enough in Bioshock, plasmids is what you’ll want.
After changing your genetical structure, you’ll be able to use these things that can be seen as power-ups that give you supernatural abilities. There’s the possibility to shoot electro-shocks that stun your opponents (or electrocute them when in water), incineration plasmids that let you burn your hostiles to ashes, freezing bolts that make your enemies look like popsicles, and so on. And that’s only the offensive stuff. There’s engineering skills like hacking powers, defensive measures that emit electro shocks when hostiles hit you with a melee weapon, and so on. The list of possible configurations is truly impressive and there are plenty of places where you can change them to fit your liking or the situation you’re facing.
To really be able to use these powers to the most, you’ll need ADAM. This is a substance you get from a parasite that’s present inside little kids (called Little Sisters) that roam the city and collect the stuff from the remains of corpses. To get to these children, though, you’ll need to get past the Big Daddies, tough monsters that have only one goal in their life: protect the Little Sisters and make sure nobody harvests them.
Up to now, from what I’ve written, Bioshock might look like your everyday shooter but that’s far from the truth. The level of configuration you have on your character is previously unseen and can almost compete with that from RPG’s. And then we haven’t even touched the atmosphere that truly immerses you into the world of Rapture.
From the first moment on you’ll really feel part of this world that has gone insane and have no difficulty believing this is actually happening. At every corner danger awaits and as the storyline progresses, you’ll really want to get to the bottom of things. To make things even better, the choice between harvesting Little Sisters or rescuing them (and getting less ADAM) actually has an emotional impact on you as the player. Magnificent how the developers succeeded in getting this right.
Of course, the graphics and sound are for a very large part responsible for this and even though we’ve seen more games that have great graphics, this is the first one where everything fits together so perfectly. Gameplay, graphics, sound, storyline, puzzles, hostiles and friendlies… it’s all part of the whole and there’s not one element that shatters the illusion of reality.
Is there nothing bad to be said about the game? Well, if we go into detail we could say that the game is set up so great that you want more, more and more. More different types of hostiles with all having their own stories, more intelligence in the reactions of other characters, even more freedom than you already have, and more opposition from enemies like the Big Daddies who are surprisingly easy to kill. Indeed, the AI isn’t the best we’ve seen but it does come close to that of for instance F.E.A.R. with hostiles looking for health packs when they’re hurt and such.
Still, this is all nitpicking so you shouldn’t worry about this. In a couple of years it will probably be possible to design 200 different hostiles in a game but today that isn’t the case. I do know that if we then get another Bioshock game, it will probably again be the best shooter available at the time. Just like this one is now.
Bioshock is a single player game only. No multiplayer. Some may be disappointed by this fact, but the game actually doesn’t suffer from this. The amount of changes you can do to yourself by means of the plasmids and other upgrades, the tons of stuff you can search and find, the way you can manipulate hostiles and security bots, the different playing styles you can use to get to the end, … these all make that every time you start up the game, it will be different and that makes for excellent replay value without the need for multiplayer.