If you’re like me, you went out early on the 21st and grabbed the first copy of Bioshock available on the shelf. After months of analyzing demo videos and drooling over plasmid effects, it’s finally here and I’m delighted to say, Bioshock is undoubtedly awesome. Since this is a thinking man’s FPS, it may not satisfy the Halo crowd but if you have some patience, this is a fantastic game.
Since I am only about, I’m guessing, a third of the way through the game (it would be really sad if I had finished it already…), I don’t think I can give you a full review but here’s what I think so far. I’m almost sure everyone knows the premise by now (in 1960, your plane crashes and you end up in the underground city of Rapture) so I won’t get any further into that. From the moment you fire up the game, the effects and atmosphere set in. There’s no opening cinematics. You take part in the game from the very beginning and fans of the classic System Shock 2 will recognize similarities immediately as a friendly but ominous voice guides you through the beginning area, that’s quickly filling with water and falling apart. Upon arrival in Rapture, you get your first glimpse of a Splicer, or a genetically modified, mutated human murdering an uninfected survivor. You watch helplessly through a pane of indestructible glass as the man’s blood smears the window…which is just as well since you are completely unarmed.
Bioshock may be a FPS but there are certainly elements of Resident Evil-esque survival horror everywhere. You have nothing but a wrench for a little while as your scrounge through containers, desks and corpses (and there’s lots of them everywhere) for supplies as Atlas, the man guiding your through Rapture on the radio, begs you to rescue his family before the Splicers get to them.
It wouldn’t be the spiritual successor to System Shock if there weren’t an evil voice taunting you as you fend off enemies. SHODAN’s counterpart in Bioshock is Andrew Ryan, creator of Rapture and he throws you some curveballs as you make your way through the underwater city. Unlike System Shock, however, you aren’t without firearms for long and soon you’re carrying more ammo than you know what to do with. Fans of the classic will remember how scarce bullets were and how much that made the game even more frightening than the atmosphere already made it.
Each weapon behaves like you’d expect a shotgun, machine gun, rocket launcher, flamethrower/nitrogenthrower to behave but the real weapons in Bioshock come in the form of Plasmids, which can do anything from set enemies on fire to catch grenades in mid-air. It takes a bit to learn how to use each Plasmid effectively (as well as all the other enhancements) but once you do, your powers become very useful when used in combination with your traditional weaponry. Each weapon can be upgraded as well to add to your firepower.
Another way to add to your firepower is to research your enemies. You do this by taking pictures of enemy units (preferably alive) to increase your knowledge and combat effectiveness. It tells you the obvious (like Splicers are more vunerable to anti-personnel ammunition) but gives you a damage boost as well.
This is mostly unnecessary, I’ve found, since…well, the game is fairly easy on the default setting. You can’t take a massive amount of damage but you aren’t made of glass. If you can aim well (for the head), then most Splicers go down relatively quickly.
Even the game’s cover boys, the Big Daddies, aren’t as difficult as I thought they would be and they become almost a pushover once you upgrade your weapons and acquire some armor-piercing ammunition. Your first one may be difficult (since they’re REALLY fast and hit very hard) but they get easier. Nearly every enemy in the game can be defeated with a lightning shock and then a bullet to the face. Hacking electronics is also quite easy, especially in a day and age where everyone can do a sudoku. Couple this with the fact that there is almost zero penalty for dying (you retain all your inventory and even enemies remain damaged) and the game is far easier than I thought it would be. In fact, I think if you seriously wanted to cheese your way through the game, you could bum rush enemies, die and repeat. Fans of System Shock will remember how almost absurdly difficult that game was. You can save at any time but mostly, it’ll be so you can try sequences over and over again differently.
Bioshock is semi-linear in that each stage gives you the freedom to explore but (correct me if I’m wrong) you can’t go back to previous stages. Because of this, the game reminds you to harvest all the ADAM (“currency” for Plasmids) you can before leaving the level.
The only real source of ADAM in the game is the Little Sisters, who are mutant little girls protected by Big Daddies. Taking down a Big Daddy leaves Little Sisters defenseless and gives you the option of killing them for 160 ADAM or saving them for 80 ADAM. Saving them also gets you benefits from certain characters in the game but you get half the ADAM for doing so. This was a real source of controversy prior to release since you are given the option of killing a little girl. I’m not sure how it is in the rest of the world but here in Canada, you do not actually “kill” Little Sisters. They cannot be shot or anything but if you choose to kill them for 160 ADAM, you get a short cutscene where you catch them and after a fade to black, you end up with a weird black slug-like creature in your hand. I hear that the actual killing was censored. While I obviously don’t condone the murder of children, I also don’t condone censorship. The player was supposed to be presented with a serious moral dilemma in whether or not to kill a Little Sister but since you don’t actually…do it, it feels much more like a gameplay decision rather than a moral one. It reduces the immersion factor but at the same time, let’s not give fuel for morons like Jack Thompson to call Bioshock a “children murdering simulator”.
Don’t get me wrong, the immersion factor of Bioshock is ginormous. In fact, I’m not playing it right now because I’m a bit too freaked out to play it in the middle of the night without the lights on anymore. While there are certainly games with more violence, the violence in Bioshock is extremely disturbing. You see doctors slicing up their patients as they scream in terror on the surgery table. NPCs write cryptic messages on windows in their own blood as they gargle in it. Bodies are nailed against walls by scalpels. There’s blood on nearly every wall and corpses of mutants and humans alike everywhere. Splicers scream tortured phrases as they shamble towards you in their bloody rags and some of the audio diaries will seriously give you shivers. The world of Rapture is amazingly creepy and like System Shock, you feel alone and abandoned in the dark corridors of the city. The developers did a great job of making things look old…like something very, very wrong happened there. There are several jump-out-of-your-seat moments scattered throughout the gameplay.
On the 360, the graphics are among the best I’ve ever seen and the water effects especially are superb. I hear the PC version has even better graphics but I couldn’t find a copy so I couldn’t tell you at the moment but I’ll definitely pick one up soon.
I’m not sure if this is as good as System Shock 2 purely because I think at default (I’ll play hard when I get a PC copy) there’s little challenge but it is definitely a worthy successor to one of the best games of all time. I’m slightly disappointed in the difficulty and I still don’t think the AI is as good as it could be but hey, I had seriously high expectations. There’s no question, however, that Bioshock is as much fun as you can have in gaming right now and I highly recommend it to anyone. I’m going to fire it back up so I can give a final opinion as soon as I…uh, turn all the lights in my house on.