Great Games: Bioshock


Plot 

Picture the scene: The year is 1960. You're sat on a transcontinental flight in a crowded cabin. These are more liberal times so you light a cigarette, sit back and relax. Then you're in the Atlantic ocean. The plane lies scattered around you, broken into several flaming pieces. In your desperation you swim to the only landmark in sight - an ominous lighthouse in the middle of the nowhere.
Inside the lighthouse there's strange propaganda and grandiose decorations. With nowhere else to go you descend deeper into the light house. You step inside a strange submarine like device, the door locks instantly and you begin to descend. Then, in the depths of the ocean, you  see it: A huge city on the ocean floor - welcome to Rapture.
Sure, it looks impressive from the outside. But there
are some serious damp problems in this city.



So begins Bioshock, an FPS with some horror elements and much, much more. Thematically Bioshock serves as a deconstruction of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, one of the longest novels in the English language, and a pretty serious chunk of literature. Atlas Shrugged espouses Rand's philosophy of Objectivism; a kind of ultra conservative capitalism wherein the government is minimal, income tax is illegal, and each person acts in their own self interest.

In Rand's world the many do not feed from the success of the few, instead each man earns what is his, and his alone. In principle this creates a society where everyone gets out exactly what they put in and no one freeloads. However, Bioshock puts these ideas into practice and envisions a society founded on objectivist principles.  

Andrew Ryan's mustache has magical powers.


Enter Andrew Ryan - a conglomeration of Rand and several of her characters - who  sets out to create a place where the business man will not be held back by governments. To avoid interference from  the outside world  Ryan did 'the impossible' and built a city at the bottom of the ocean, because that's just how he rolls.

At first everything goes swimmingly. The lack of goverment restrictions makes Rapture a paradise for entrepreneurs. Science and industry grow quicker than anyone could have imagined. It seems Ryan's free market ideals have created a Utopia. However, the paradise doesn't last. By 1960, when we step into Rapture for the first time, it's immediately clear something has gone horribly wrong. 

Just your standard dentists.

As soon as you're off the submarine you're attacked by one of the cities deranged  and deformed inhabitants known as 'splicers'. You survive thanks to the intervention of resistance leader 'Atlas', however, the submarine you arrived in is now damaged beyond repair. Atlas, instructing you by radio, promises of an escape; but first there's the matter of his wife and child who are being held prisoner on the other side of the city. As the player you must safely reach Atlas's family by negotiating Rapture's desolate remains. In your way are the splicers and the man controlling them - Andrew Ryan. 

Gameplay

A this point it should be noted, Bioshock is not your standard FPS affair. Sure there are some great 50's style guns that come in handy when dealing with splicers, but the real stars of Bio shock's gameplay are the plasmids.
Insert giant syringe in wrist, gain superpowers. Simples.
Plasmids are serums made from the mysterious substance known as ADAM - a material, discovered by Rapture's scientists, capable of creating stem cells able to differentiate into any type - opening up limitless possibilities for modifying the human genetic code. Essentially, plasmids endow the player with various super powers. Take for instance your first plasmid; under the instructions of Atlas you inject your self with a plasmid syringe in order to help you combat the splicers. After briefly passing out from the shock, you wake up with the ability to shoot electricity from your hands. Yeah, it's about as awesome as it sounds.
Bioshock serves as the origin story of Emperor Palpatine.
As the game progresses your arsenal of weapons and plasmids grows. Telekenisis, Pyrokenisis, the ability to freeze enemies, the ability to shoot hornets out of your hand, along with a grenade launcher, a chemical thrower and various other weapons make you a force to be reckoned with by the game's conclusion. The great things about both the weapons and the plasmids is each and every one of them feels unique. For instance, the electrokenisis plasmid enables you to use short circuited door switches. A group of enemies stood in one of Rapture's many puddles? Zap the puddle and take them all down.  

In contrast, when you set an enemy on fire using pyrokenisis they actively seek out large puddles to extinguish themselves, sighing with relief (until you zap them with electricity of course). The guns all have various ammo types, ranging from your standard anti-personel and anti-armour, to the less standard electric and exploding ammo. Guns are switched with R1 or RB and the right stick, and fired with R2 or RT. Plasmids are switched with L1 or LB and the right stick, and fired with L2 or LT. It's an intuitive system that makes it really easy to combine plasmids with guns, a technique that's very effective. 

The guns aren't as fun as the plasmids, but they're every bit as useful.
For instance, in the games early stages the best way to defeat enemies is by stunning them with a dose of electricity, then clubbing them around the head with your wrench. Later on why not distract a group of enemies with a hoard of bees then take them down with the machine gun? Or why not use the 'enrage' plasmid to make your enemies attack each other, whilst you calmly pick of the survivors? There are dozens of ways to go about an encounter, and I havn't even mentioned the passive 'tonics', plasmids which are more akin stat to stat boosts, making you more efficient at hacking machines, or lowering the amount of EVE (plasmid ammo) you use. Other tonics have more pronounced affects. One  releases a wave static electricity each time you're hit, another makes you invisible when standing still.

This leads me on to the RPG elements of Bioshock. Every weapon is acquired over the course of the game's story, and each one can be upgraded, but with plasmids it's a little different. Whilst you acquire a few during the game the rest you'll have to purchase at vending machines which use ADAM as currency. You can use ADAM to buy new plasmids, upgrade your old ones, or buy tonics and other upgrades. The system is simple and knowing how effective a certain plasmid/tonic is going to be requires some guesswork, but in the end it works well enough. Some players might chose to constantly upgrade a core plasmid like electroshock, whereas others might try as many new plasmids as they can afford. Either way you'll never acquire enough ADAM to max out every stat in a single play through, and the choices you make within the game determine exactly how much ADAM you have access to. Getting ADAM is a crucial aspect of Bioshock, as you progress you'll need to expand an upgrade your repertoire of plasmids just to survive. However in Rapture almost nothing is simple, and obtaining ADAM is directly linked to the game's moral choice system. 
A 'Little Sister' - creepy as hell, but still just a child.
ADAM in Rapture is constantly in scarce supply and high demand, but the only place you can find it is with a 'Little Sister'. Little Sisters are young girls brainwashed to go about Rapture collecting precious ADAM from corpses with giant syringes. They then somehow gestate it inside their bodies. Anyone who can get their hands on one of these girls gets their hands on a miniature ADAM factory. And when you, the player, finds one of them, a choice needs to be made. You can either 'save' the Little Sister, removing them from their brainwashing and turning them back into ordinary girls; Or you can 'harvest' them, killing them for their ADAM. The catch being 'harvesting' gets you twice as much ADAM as saving them. The choice will affect which ending of the game you get, and whilst the promise of more ADAM sounds like the better option, saving the sisters has it's own set of rewards. However, obtaining a Little Sister's ADAM isn't as simple as finding them then choosing weather to kill or save them. To get to a Little Sister you must first defeat a Big Daddy.

Drill hand's are always useful. Always.
Big Daddies are the guardians of the Little Sisters, and are some of the toughest enemies in the game. They walk alongside the Sisters as they gather ADAM. Their footsteps create thunderous tremors, they communicate in animalistic moans. There's no set point in the game in which you have to take on a Big Daddy. Instead they roam around the level, completely harmless - unless you try and harm their Little Sister - then it's a battle to the death. On the higher difficulty settings you'll need everything you've got to take on the Big Daddies. Your encounters with these lumbering giants are some of the best in the game.

Tone

It's not just the plot and gameplay that make Bioshock great. There are so many things that a written review can't capture, but that just have to be experienced by the player themselves. There's a very unique atmosphere to rapture, that always manages to be creepy, sometimes tragic, sometimes beautiful.

The game manages to create a fully living, breathing world, and as you walk through the underwater streets of rapture you can't help but imagine how they once looked before chaos broke out. The city takes on a personality of it's own and moving through it is never boring, even if you're just going from A to B
This image can't capture just  how creepy this scene truly is.
It's hard to pin down exactly what makes rapture such a great playing environment; the stylish visuals certainly help, the fantastic dialogue of the splicers, the great 50's soundtrack, all of them combine to make Bioshock something greater than the sum of it's parts, which are already pretty damn good.  

Conclusion 

If you like FPS games, if you like horror games, even if you just like games in general and you haven't played this, you really should.  Some might criticise the lack of multilayer, but this is one of those games that just doesn't need it. It's engaging right to the end and one of the best, most unique, shooters for the current generation of consoles. 

Bioshock is available for £14 from Play.com, and even less elsewhere if you're willing to go second hand. So fish out some cash and buy it now.*


*Okay, I couldn't think of a decent pun. So sue me. 

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