Bioshock Review

Posted: June 1, 2011 in Uncategorized

Welcome to Rapture.....

Bioshock, designed by Ken Levine, was developed by Irrational Games and released on August 21, 2007. Bioshock is a linear first-person-shooter with some role-playing-game aspects mixed into the gameplay, which takes 15 to 20 hours to beat depending on skill level.  Bioshock is more than just another FPS; it’s a symbol, a timeless monument to what the FPS section of the medium can accomplish as art. Bioshock is now on display at the Smithsonian Video Game Art exhibit, and with good reason. This is one for the history books. This is one for the ages. This is Bioshock.

The story is Bioshock’s biggest draw. The story of Bioshock is told through voice-acting and in-game atmosphere. There is only one cutscene in the game, and it comes at the very end.   Bioshock’s story borrows heavily from Ayn Rand’s philosophy, so if you are familiar with Rand’s work, you are guaranteed to get much more out of this game then those who are not familiar with her writing.

You play as a mostly-silent protagonist named Jack. The opening scene shows that Jack is a passenger on a plane flying over The Atlantic in the year 1960. The plane crashes and Jack swims free of the wreckage and stumbles upon a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean. Within the first 20 seconds of the game, small questions immediately crop up. Who is Jack? Why did the plane crash? Why is there a lighthouse in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?  Jack seeks refuge in the lighthouse and soon takes a bathysphere down under the ocean to the underwater city of Rapture. The story of Bioshock is not about Jack, but instead centers on Rapture’s creator- Andrew Ryan.

Ryan (Armin Shimerman) is the driving force in Bioshock’s tale. He is the main villain in Bioshock and is far above the generic line-spewing-villains that permeate this medium. His ambition, ideas, creativity, and passion are imbued in every inch of the world he created.  At times, Ryan is a sympathetic character (something that most video game villains rarely are).   Why he decided to build Rapture is a mystery that is almost immediately answered by a prerecorded speech given by Ryan while Jack is in the bathysphere (a small pod used to travel from one part of the city to another) for the first time.

“A city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, where the great would not be constrained by the small.”  –Andrew Ryan

As soon as Jack arrives in Rapture, it becomes clear that Ryan’s vision has gone horrible wrong. Most of the inhabitants of Rapture have gone insane due to genetic experimentation. Splicer’s, genetic freaks, travel franticly through Rapture searching for ADAM, the genetic modifier that the scientists of Rapture created.  ADAM, is an extremely powerful and unstable drug  that is one of the central reasons for Raptures’s fall. ADAM can be used to rewrite a human’s genetic code giving the humans modified a variety of powers.

Bioshock is centered largely on a moral choice. Little girls who were living in Rapture have been genetically modified to find and recover ADAM from corpses. Jack can use ADAM to give himself genetic powers (he needs these powers in order to survive in Rapture). The “little sisters” are the key masters, possessing what Jack needs to survive. The gate keepers, “big daddys,” are massively-modified humans, who have been repurposed to protect the Little Sisters. If you want to survive you will have to forcibly remove the ADAM from the Little Sisters.

This is where the key moral choice comes into play.

So I ask you, my friend. If your life was priced, would you kill the innocent? Would you sacrifice your humanity? We all make choices, but in the end our choices make…. us.”       Andrew Ryan

Once you kill a big daddy, you are presented with a choice. If you choose to free a little sister from her genetic modifications then she will be free and back to normal, but if you do then you will only get a little ADAM. If you decided to drain her of her ADAM then she will die, but you will receive a lot of ADAM. It’s a fantastic moral choice, but it is slightly bungled by the gameplay portion of Bioshock.  There are three different endings to Bioshock depending on how you interact with the Little Sisters.

Armin Shimerman deserved an Oscar......

A large part of Bioshock’s success was riding on Shimerman’s performance and he did not disappoint. Shimerman gives the performance of his career and if Oscars were given out for voice acting performances, then Shimerman would certainly have gotten one. The presence that Shimerman imbues in Ryan is comparable only to the presence that Orson Welles gave to Charles Foster Kane in the 1941 classic, Citizen Kane. Ryan’s presence is felt at all times in the utopian City that he created. The world of Rapture is a huge force in conveying the philosophy and ideas behind Bioshock. Look closely at each section of the game. Every meticulously crafted environment works to tell the tale of Rapture’s rise and fall. By the time Jack arrives, Rapture has fallen, but the environments will show Raptures former glory as well as its present misery.  The story is a mystery that’s slowly revealed as the narrative reaches its conclusion.  Because this game is a mystery I don’t want to go into too much detail about the plot for risk of spoiling the game for you.

The characters and voice acting is fantastic. Shimerman is a standout, but every cast member turns in legendary performances: Anne Bobby as Dr. Brigit Tenenbaum, Greg Baldwin, as Atlas, Stephen Stanton as Sander Cohen, Peter Francis James as J. S Steinman, James Yaegashi as Dr. Yi Suchong.  All of these characters are fully dimensional and expertly crafted. It’s surprising how memorable and dynamic the characters are considering the extremely limited screen time each one is given. The characters and story are also developed through fascinating and sometimes extremely disturbing audio logs scattered throughout the levels as well as radio communication between characters.  The story aspect of Bioshock stands as tall and proud as the Statue of Andrew Ryan that you will find in the lighthouse. It’s almost without flaw and will certainly be talked about for years to come.

The technical design in Bioshock is also fantastic.  Irrational Games designed Bioshock using the Unreal Engine 3. Rapture’s technical and artistic design are almost flawless.  The game designers crafted one of the most incredible and memorable game worlds ever made.  You will be seeing a lot of water (which is expected in a game that takes place in an underwater city) which is still some of the best water in all of video games. The details are amazing. If you decide to drink a bottle of whiskey that you found on a table, prepare to have blurred vision while drunk. The soundtrack is also incredible and memorable. It’s a mix of classics like Bobby Darin’s “Beyond The Sea” and original compositions. The one minor flaw in the technical design is that by today’s standards some of the facial animation’s can be choppy, but that’s really not a fair criticism.

The enemy artificial intelligence consists of five types of mentally imbalanced splicers. All five splicers have different attack patterns and are pretty competent.   They were once scientists and artists willing to live in Rapture, now they are crazed ADAM-craving addicts.  They will say things in frantic panicked tones, most of which has no bearing on the current state of Rapture, but are rather clues to the lives they once had. They are sympathetic enemies.  A large focus of Bioshock is on the father daughter relationship between the big daddys and the little sisters. They both seem to genuinely care about each other. The cries of sadness and horror the little sisters emit when you kill their big daddys will probably make you feel like a monster even if you decide to free them. The big daddys will leave you alone if you leave them and their sister alone. This might make you reluctant to fight them.  It can be pretty upsetting to see a Big Daddy run past you searching desperately for his Little Sister, that you just moments ago decided to harvest.  There are some great boss battles too, but I won’t go into detail because they are story related.

The gameplay section of Bioshock is great, but not quite up to par with the other magnificent aspects of Bioshock. The guns in Bioshock are limited and mostly underpowered. As the game progresses the enemies get tougher, which makes the guns seem to get weaker as the game progresses. Jack can use a wrench, a pistol, a machine gun, a shotgun and a few more interesting guns.  All of the firearms have different ammo types and can be upgraded and modified by buying upgrades from vending machines with money obtained from corpses.

Jack also obtains a camera in Rapture. This camera can be used to take pictures of the AI which can be used to reveal information and weaknesses about Rapture’s residents.  The weapons aren’t outstanding, but they work for the most part. Plasmids are basic genetic modifier tools that can be used to give Jack special powers. You need EVE, a liquid variant of ADAM, to use Plasmids. This is where the gameplay truly shines.  Long use or long exposure to Plasmids caused Raptures inhabitants to lose their minds and their physical well being.  Jack can use plasmids to create a cyclone, shoot electricity, and many other things. The way the Plasmids are used is similar to something you might find in a role playing game. The game allows Jack to activate only a few plasmids, so you have to choose carefully which plasmids you want to have directly available.  There are also tonics for Jack to use which allow him to take more physical damage among other things. How you choose to use and experiment with the Plasmids and Tonics is up to you.

Jack also has the ability to hack the vending machines, automated turrets, and annoying flying sentries with a pipe dream mini game. Hacking is fun if you like pipe dream, but if you don’t like the repetitive mini game, then you can choose to avoid this mechanic altogether. It’s satisfying to turn hostile turrets and the flying sentries against the splicers.

A rather irksome flaw with the gameplay is how the moral choice is handled. If you save the Little Sisters, a prominent character will reward you with a large quantity of EVE, so that you end up with same amount you would have had if you decide to kill them. This negates any sort of real moral drama and is rather disappointing. Another problem is there is no death penalty in Bioshock. If you die you revive in one of Raptures vita chambers with full health and all your equipment.  This makes just running headfirst into enemies guns blazing a viable option, because when you respawn the damage you inflicted with your previous life carries over. You can play Bioshock really sloppily and still win.  There’s also an arrow on the screen almost for the entire game telling the player where to go. This discourages any independent exploration which is necessary to find most of the Audio logs.

Despite a few gameplay flaws, Bioshock is an amazing game that no one should miss out on.

9.4 out of 10

  1. “This is one for the history books. This is one for the ages. This is Bioshock.”

    Well said… 🙂

  2. 9.4. I think that’s the highest rating you’ve given a game on wordpress, yet…

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