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Bioshock Review Rewind

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On 01/03/2012 at 12:00 PM by Nick DiMola

Four years later, does Bioshock still hold up for a first time player?

Bioshock is a game everyone should play, if only to experience the amazing environments and intriguing approach to storytelling and plot delivery.

Despite the apparent quality of Bioshock, it has taken me nearly five years to explore the world of Rapture and the demented mind of Andrew Ryan. After initial hype painted the experience to be something more akin to a puzzler than a shooter, I was extremely excited… until I actually played it. It wasn't at all what I expected and that was enough to force me to shelve the game until the right time. Thankfully I did, because revisiting it all these years later has allowed me to have an immensely enjoyable gaming experience.

Rapture is a stunning world that's completely unparalleled in gaming. In an amazing feat of engineering, a full-fledged city was created on the ocean floor by Andrew Ryan. Upon your initial encounter, it's clear that it was once an active and bustling place, but has since been left to decay. Water drips from everywhere from the damage done to the structure; however, despite the damage, the facility is still functional. Electricity still courses through its veins, the tubes that connect the various underwater structures are intact, and the bathyspheres that allow travel between completely disparate parts also function.

You arrive at Rapture via a convenient plane crash that happens right above the submerged city. When you make your way indoors, it's clear that though in disarray, Rapture is still inhabited. Reaver-like splicers occupy the hallways of the compound. Completely destroyed mentally and horribly disfigured by "splicing" a variety of plasmids, they are walking examples of the radical effects of ADAM on the human body. While not created by city founder, Andrew Ryan, a complex pheromone distribution system allows him to mobilize the creatures at his discretion. You'll eventually come to learn why he has assembled this army of splicers as the game and story progress.

While the game has a definite storyline progression, most of it is explained via your interaction with two characters, Ryan and Atlas, as well as a variety of audio recordings that tell bits and pieces of the larger story of Rapture. Not all of them seem immediately important, but as you collect more and more recordings, all of the pieces start fitting together. It's an unbelievably effective way to deliver the story, as it helps both establish some meaning behind this amazing world you find yourself in and gives you impetus to explore its depths. At the point where the recordings finally paint a picture of what exactly is going on in Rapture, the game takes an amazing twist, which sets into motion the final events of the game.

As a video game world, Rapture is something to behold. Every inch of it seems to be designed with a purpose and in thematic agreement. Posters fall in line with the styles of the forties and fifties, the characters' speech patterns, much of the technology, even though more advanced, seems like something you'd see if the world suddenly took a huge leap in technological advancement. As such, everything is big, bulky, and designed like commonplace items of the era. Combine this with the underwater setting, the decaying nature of Rapture, and the psychopaths that now control the various portions of the city, and you've got one of the most compelling settings and ambiance ever for a game.

Given the degree of care given to both the story and setting, you'd think the gameplay would have a hard time matching up. In some ways, this is true, but it's good enough to remain compelling until the end of the game. Combat is comprised of utilizing plasmids and weaponry. A melee wrench is bestowed upon you at the beginning of the game and by the end, if you play your cards right, it can be one of the most potent weapons in your arsenal. This holds true for any weapon though, as the game allows you to apply upgrades to a variety of things in a few unique ways.

While the wrench is great, plasmids are your new best friend. While the splicers have been destroyed by injecting too many, your body is capable and ready to be infused with these new abilities. For whatever reason, you're able to apply each one and each gives you a different ability. Telekinesis, pyrokinesis, and electrokinesis (among others) become a standard part of your arsenal. In an interesting twist, they're used to not only attack your enemies, but defend yourself and modify the environment.

If there's some spilled oil puddled below some enemies, hit it with your incendiary plasmid and light up all of the splicers. It can also be used to gain access to doors that have been frozen over, thanks to leaking water from the juncture points of Rapture. Telekinesis can be used to fling projectiles back at enemies or turrets. These are the situations in which the plasmid concept really shines; more often though, that's not how you'll use them.

Conversely, weaponry can help you do some of the same things. Over the course of the game you'll pick up a variety of weapons, some of which can supplant your plasmids in a pinch. You can only hold so many plasmids at a time, so it may be helpful to have your chemical thrower on hand to melt a bit of ice to gain entry to a room. Chemical thrower? You may have asked yourself. Yes, a chemical thrower – rather than limiting each weapon to a single function, the ammo you equip gives them up to three behaviors. So the chemical thrower is a flamethrower, a freeze gun, and a lightning gun. While other weapons don't quite have the same versatility, they all have the same "three distinct ammo types" design. It's a neat idea and it helps bring some versatility to the limited weapon set, each with different effectiveness on given enemies.

The versatility of the weapon-plasmid concept is extremely compelling. I don't know that they fully realized the strength of it because most often you'll use them together in mundane ways, like shocking a splicer with an electro bolt and subsequently beating him to death with your wrench. Often, it's easier to skip the whole plasmid interaction and just shoot him down. Ammo is limited, but money can be found in excess everywhere, so you don't have to be conservative as you can just buy more ammo when necessary.

Upgrades are a major part of the game and this is mostly what keeps the combat portion interesting. It's fun to get stronger and interesting to apply different tonics to your character and see the effects. Tonics are like plasmids, but have lasting effects while they are equipped. Some will allow you to become invisible when standing still; others will let you swing your wrench more rapidly; others still will give you more health when using a health pack or even a little plasmid meter (EVE) boost.

These upgrades would be impossible without ADAM, which you must acquire from Little Sisters. These little girls are constantly harvesting ADAM from corpses and producing it on their own, so they are rich with the important substance. The Big Daddies are inextricably bound to these little girls as they are their protectors. Donning heavy weaponry and a giant diving suit, these creatures will defend the Little Sisters to the death. Taking on these brutes was one of my favorite parts of the game. The subsequent moral dilemma following the battle was also an interesting idea. You must choose to harvest the ADAM from these little sisters, or cure them. Harvesting will result in more ADAM, but curing them will offer potential benefits in the future, as explained by the "mother" of these little girls, Tenenbaum.  Needless to say, I saved all of these little sisters, which produced a number of great results and a special ending to the game, yet another interesting side effect from your actions.

Machinery in the game (vending stations, flying security bots, turrets, etc) can be hacked to either be converted to a friendly or provide a discount on items. As such, you'll be hacking all the time. The hacking mini-game is essentially Pipe Mania, but one that's randomly generated each time and rarely compelling. As a matter of fact, it gets to be downright annoying hacking everything all of the time. Worse, while it's by no means required, it greatly reduces threats and challenge throughout the game to do so, which makes it strongly encouraged. Conceptually, hacking was a great idea, but its execution left plenty to be desired.

Needless to say, Bioshock is an extremely layered and loaded game, but one that fell folly to a few design traps. Though deep and layered, the gameplay has a tendency to get repetitive. Furthermore, the game could've done a better job of allowing you to utilize splicers to your benefit given their creepy and aggressive behavior. Instead they become commonplace enemies and nothing more than a distraction in the larger goal of figuring out Rapture.

The end game sequence was also clearly rushed, putting players through a number of fetch quests and culminating with an aggravating escort mission. The end boss fight did help redeem some of this, but it doesn't change the fact that this portion of the game could've used some of the TLC shown to the rest of the experience.

In closing, Bioshock is a game that everyone needs to play. Despite waiting four years to play it, it still holds up as one of the best experiences of this generation; it progresses the gaming medium with its unique approach to storytelling and lays a blueprint for just how amazing levels can be designed with the right amount of care.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Angelo Grant Staff Writer

01/03/2012 at 02:18 PM

I 100% regret giving up my copy of this game, and will be getting it back. In the future, when people look back and talk about important games that came out in this console generation, this will be named as a must play title. I simply cannot get over just how deep it is if you give it's message and content anything more than just a passing thought. It's story and presentation makes it more than just a game, it's actually a commentary piece on the human condition.


01/03/2012 at 03:03 PM

I agree with Angelo, the message and context of Bioshock is very deep. The story, atmosphere, and context is more compelling than the sum of all the rest of the parts of the game. I never found the gunplay very fun and I wasn't in love with the plasmids but I think the mechanics and gameplay still worked well enough in its time.

What enthralled me with Bioshock was trying to figure out Rapture and I had such an unforgettable time wandering around and picking up information that painted the picture of Rapture's concept and the philosophies of Andrew Ryan. I found myself thinking and analyzing in a video game in ways I can't remember doing before. It ended up not having anything to do with good versus evil, there was no princess in a tower, and no apparent victory or loss. It was much more intricate and adult than that. It was more about emotional engagement and an observation of how human emotions and philosophies can have the greatest of intentions but can cause the greatest of conflict simply because the people wielding them are still simply human and susceptible to fear, betrayal, revolution, greed, violence, etc.

Bioshock is a beautiful game and when I say that I'm not thinking about the visuals or gameplay whatsoever. It took me to a completely alien landscape and society and forced me to confront human nature, philosophy, and survival in that alien place.

Mike Wall Staff Alumnus

01/03/2012 at 03:54 PM

@ Michael Nicely said Mike, I think you perfectly encapsulated what made this game an instant classic.

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