Bioshock is a first-person, survival horror game set in an alternate 1960. You begin the game aboard a flight that crashes into the ocean. You land near a small island and find a pod that takes you to the undersea city of Rapture.
Bioshock’s aesthetic reminds me a lot of Portal 2 (more on that below), with a big splash of horror. The combination of futuristic technology with the retro, art deco style gives the game a steampunky feel. As I entered the city, I was reminded of the Charles Urbach’s artwork for the board game, Infinite City. This is immediately quashed, however, when you get into the city and see the horrors of the inside. I won’t give away what happened, but I will say that the designers instilled fear right from the very beginning. The game maintains the sense of fear by constraining your resources. Unlike many other shooters, weapons and ammo are very scarce, and every bullet matters.
Rapture is a city built on the principles similar to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. As someone who has read nearly every piece of Ayn Rand’s literature, I quickly recognized phrases like “is a man entitled to the sweat of his own brow?” While I think some parts were taken to the extreme (at one point there is a banner that reads “altruism is the root of all wickedness.”), I think it’s an interesting look at how any belief system, in the wrong circumstances, can lead to utter disaster. By having a city’s founder, Andrew Ryan, build his world-view around an unwavering devotion to a belief system, the designers were able to make a maniacal, yet believable, villain.
I only chose to play on medium difficulty, but I can still feel the stress in my heart of playing through the first two hours of Bioshock. The intensity I feel as I progress through the game is similar to the intensity that I felt playing Portal 2, only much more amplified. In Portal 2, for example, there were no baddies looking for me; it was just a matter of solving the puzzles. With Bioshock, however, I have the added fear of facing zombie-like beings that chase after me, often with guns, called “splicers.” These aren’t the slow moving “Night of the Living Dead” zombies, either; they’re more like the “28 Days Later” type with much more personality.
Like many games of this type, Bioshock is not on rails. You have control of your movements, but you are “gently guided” in the direction that the designers intended for you to go. While a few of the set pieces (like your first introduction to Andrew Ryan) had the feel of an amusement park ride, I generally didn’t feel like the game was holding my hand or forcing me to do anything I didn’t want to do.
Throughout the game, you can find recordings left by previous occupants of Rapture. As I listened to these recordings, I was reminded of the patient recordings left throughout Batman: Arkham Asylum. This mechanism of peppering a game with background elements is wonderful because it adds depth to the game without giving you a long introduction or (and I’m looking at you, Metal Gear) a 45-minute cut-scene.
One bright note about the game is that it allows you to freeze weapons systems like Turrets, sentries, etc., and hack them to work for you. The hacking process is a pipe connection minigame that requires you to connect a flow path between an inlet and outlet pipe. If you can make the connection quickly enough, the machine will defend you against your enemies.
Now, I’m playing this game years after I had already seen extensive reviews on NoobToob and was aware of a lot of the spoilers. As a result, when I hear things like “would you kindly” at the beginning of the game, I already know what it means (WARNING: DO NOT look that phrase up if you don’t want to have the game spoiled). In a sense, I have the feeling that the half of me that doesn’t know the stages or enemy locations is playing through the game for the first time, while the other half that knows the storyline is playing through the game a second time. It’s a weird feeling, and I haven’t quite reconciled whether it is a good thing or not. I have already decided that I am going to take the good track on all of the moral dilemmas in the game (those that have played it will know what I mean).
One thing I noticed about the sound was a slight inaccuracy in the surround sound. In this game, the surround sound always seems to bring the sound from the direction of the thing generating the sound, regardless of what is between you and the object. For example, imagine that you have a stairwell on your left side, and you know there is a splicer downstairs. If the splicer below is on your right, then the sound comes from your right even though the only place that the sound could be coming from is the stairwell (to your left). This may seem like a strange observation, but it can be really disorienting if you are relying on the sound to tell you where things are.
I guess the ultimate question is whether or not I will return to this game after the April Challenge is over. The answer is an emphatic YES! While I was uncomfortable playing the game at times, every time I shut it down I found myself wanting to start it up again to see what happened next.
Quick note: I once saw a real jerk at a GameStop suggest this game to a mother for her 9-year-old child. For heaven’s sake, this is not a game for children. Other than the fact that first person shooters are always better on the PC, the main reason why I chose to play this on the PC over the console was because the console was in our living room. I didn’t want the kids to accidentally walk in and see Daddy bludgeon someone with a wrench.