2K Games plunges players headfirst into a world of Rapture. Enough said.
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Mac
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360
Published by: 2K Games
Developed by: 2K Boston/2K Australia/Irrational Games
Genre: First-Person Shooter
US Release Date: August 21, 2007
ESRB Rating: Mature - Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language
Story: Welcome to Rapture - a utopian society built by the great visionary Andrew Ryan and the world's greatest minds, located conveniently on the bottom of the sea. Well, that was Rapture before people started getting cabin fever from being cooped up in a giant sardine can...I'm sure the gene-modifying and mind-altering drugs they were regularly mainlining didn't help either. At this point in the storyline, everyone in Rapture is pretty whacky-bananas; the city has fallen far from its former glory as a pinnacle of human achievement, and has become a leaking, dripping, dark, dank, giant bucket of crazy. Enter Jack (your character): he's your average plane crash survivor, who is thrown deep into Rapture's now-ugly belly, as well as into a desperate fight for survival against crazed mutants and Rapture's mechanical defense system. As the halls of the underwater dystopia become more dark and twisted, so does the story - not long after entering Rapture, you will find yourself becoming gradually more entangled in a web of deception, identity crisis, and conflicting philosophies. Without giving too much away, there is an incredibly (potentially) rewarding morality system the player is faced with at key moments in the game, involving the life or death of none other than children. Of course, the player also has the option to skip out on a majority of these events; I'll warn you ahead of time, chances are you won't get too far in the game if you go this route, but it is possible. That's part of the beauty of BioShock: it's a game you decide how to play, and your enemies AND your environment will be more than willing to adapt to your every move.
OK, remember when I said that you can play BioShock any way you want? THIS is definitely the wrong way. Wrench < Big Daddy
Graphics: BioShock is beautiful. If there is one thing I love about this game, it is the amazingly-warped 1950s theme and persistent sense of foreboding that the art style strongly conveys. The environments leak and rot away with the same dank, grim atmosphere as a deep sewer, the enemies and characters all look and behave like evil, twisted versions of "I Love Lucy" characters, and the special effects capture a sense of realism that makes destroying and maiming feel that much more gratifying (come on, you know you're only playing a violent game like this to quell your passive-aggressive yearnings). It's quite easy to become completely immersed in the sights and lights of Rapture. If you don't have an HDTV, I can't even begin to explain to you what you're missing out on.
Outside of the realistic qualities of BioShock's graphics, the 2K team manages to cram plenty of cartoony, retro-style commercials and advertisements into the mix, adding even more authenticity to the '50s vibe, as well as a large helping of dark humor: watching a cartoon ad of a man lighting another person on fire by snapping his fingers - all to cheesy music and a pleasant, female narrator - is just too absurd of a juxtaposition to take seriously. While 2K has shown us they're more than capable of bringing their A-game to the realistic graphics table, this added retro advertisement bit will reassure anyone playing that they certainly haven't lost their sense of humor.
BioShock is full of faux-retro advertisements and commercials, depicting only the best parts of the '50s: Domestic violence.
Sound/Music: BioShock features some of the most amazing audio this side of Perfectville, USA. The voice acting is incredible: emotion is conveyed in a purely realistic fashion; when a character is afraid, you will hear their voice quiver or go up in pitch; enraged individuals will scream so vehemently, you will swear that spit is flying out of your speakers; even the scattered audio diaries you will listen to around Rapture reveal most of the individuals as bored, exhausted, and teetering on the brink of insanity, despite the lack of visuals.
BioShock's soundtrack is top-notch, featuring authentic music from the '30s, '40s, and '50s, as well as some truly powerful original orchestral tracks by Garry Schyman. But even more significant than the music are the sound effects in BioShock. Sound effects are such an important part of the BioShock experience: ambient clinking, dripping, and the pattering of footsteps make up much of what you will hear. Some of the eeriest moments of the game are spent just...well, listening. Instead of stomping around like a brute the entire time, stopping and listening for telltale signs of enemies is an oftentimes useful strategy, especially since most of them make A LOT of noise (i.e. screaming at each other, foraging through trash for resources, talking/singing to themselves, or in the case of the game's hardass enemies known as "Big Daddies," the menacing stomping of their heavy, metal boots). If you actually take the time to hear what's going on in the game, you'll get a lot more from the experience.
Gameplay: BioShock includes some truly entertaining gameplay features that adhere to all player styles. There are plenty of weapons, special powers (called "plasmids"), and items strewn about Rapture, just waiting for you to discover - using all the weapons and plasmids in combination to find out what works best in certain situations is great. Along your journey, you will find money lying about or on the bodies of the dead, which can be used in vending machines that sell ammo and other items vital to your survival. Weapon upgrade stations, hidden plasmid upgrades, and random audio diaries give the player enough incentive to roam off the beaten path and into the labyrinth of random rooms that make up Rapture. But this is just the beginning of what makes BioShock such a fun game to play.
More so than most similar FPS games, BioShock promotes the use of strategy when dealing with the hordes of enemies found in the halls of Rapture. While it is possible to charge through the entire game like Rambo on bull hormones, some players may find it more rewarding to explore other options - see a large group of enemies in the distance? Why not snipe them off before taking them head-on? Don't want to waste your limited ammo reserve? Hack a security bot to do your dirty work for you. Don't quite feel like fighting at all? Sneak by that group of enemies too busy screaming at each other. I don't want to sound confusing: there are random enemy attacks and sneaky bastards hiding all over the place, ready to jump out at you; enemy AI will adapt to your tactics, and you will be forced to fight (after all, this is a first-person shooter). However, the way you approach much of this game is largely up to you, and therein lies much of the beauty of BioShock.
Raiden's got nothing on THIS lightning. Now if you could just Superman dive across the screen...
Overall: An engrossing story, great visuals, fun and interesting gameplay mechanics, and some of the best audio effects I've ever experienced on the 360 round out one hell of a trip. Multiple endings exist based on certain choices you make in the game, giving BioShock some pretty decent replay value. Still, I wasn't able to give this a perfect 10 out of 10, due to the lack of a multiplayer component (which was added in the sequel). Also, I felt that the frequent random enemy attacks were a bit too frequent: despite being included to prevent lulls in the action and to add an ominous atmosphere, I feel they stopped being intense early on in the game and more of an annoying hindrance. Regardless, BioShock remains one of my favorite single-player experiences on the Xbox 360, enough so that I pre-ordered a copy of the sequel when it recently came out. If you enjoy a good story with a lot of creepy atmosphere (and a lot of offbeat humor), then you may want to take a stroll through the underwater halls of Rapture.
Score (out of 10): 9