I know Bioshock came out for the Xbox 360 in September 2007 and the PlayStation 3 in October 2008, but I got distracted by other games. Even after several "game of the year" awards, I kept putting it off. But with Bioshock 2: Sea of Dreams announced for release this fall, I finally decided to give the original a shot. And after being glued to my couch for the past few days, it's obvious I need to pay more attention to "game of the year" awards.
Players start the game in 1960 as Jack, an average guy whose plane has just crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. The sole survivor of the crash, Jack swims to a nearby structure and wanders the building looking for anything that could help him, which leads him to a rail station that travels to the underwater city of Rapture. On the ride to the city, an automated message tells Jack about the idea of Rapture, envisioned as a Utopian society free from the intervention of government and religion.
But once you arrive in the city, you quickly learn that nothing is the way it was meant to be, as the city lies in shambles and gangs of genetically spliced people want to kill you under the orders of Andrew Ryan, the city's founder. Even stranger are the little girls harvesting ADAM (a form of advanced stem cells that can re-write the human genome) from corpses while being protected by a mechanical super-soldier known as the Big Daddy. With constant radio assistance from Atlas - a citizen of Rapture who's looking for a way to escape with his family - you have to fight for your life against splicers, destroy the Big Daddies, and decide whether you're going to save the girls' lives or kill them to obtain ADAM and grow stronger.
The storytelling in this game is different, to say the least, but in a good way. The main story has multiple endings, depending on the player's decision whether to save the children harvesting ADAM. That provides a good reason to play the game multiple times - to see how your actions can change things. And while you can follow the main story without exploring much, the inquisitive will be rewarded with recordings that offer secrets such as passwords for locked doors and the motives of Rapture inhabitants. At the same time, listening to the recordings can also trigger events that lead to more enemies swarming you. It's a unique style that keeps players on their toes; you really won't know what to expect next.
Game play is entirely from the first-person perspective, and you have a large arsenal of weapons, from a wrench to a device designed to shoot napalm or liquid nitrogen on your enemies, with upgrades to make your weapons more powerful and reliable. The coolest idea by far is the introduction of Plasmids, a form of biological modification players can use to give themselves supernatural abilities, such as shooting fire from their hands or releasing a swam of killer insects to attack enemies. The superpowers have uses in the environment as well: You can melt ice with the fire, electrify the water with a lighting burst, or grab distant objects with telekinesis. The play works well, and it feels gratifying to spark an oil slick to trap your enemies in a wall of fire.
Once you set your eyes on the city of Rapture, you'll quickly realize that you're playing one of the best-looking games available, even after all this time. The bottom of the Atlantic Ocean provides a sinister atmosphere, and the dark water reflecting the city lights adds to the sense of dread. The voice acting contributes to this dark aura, as well, with several scenes of insane spliced citizens preaching their brutal lifestyles and treating weapons like their children. Sounds in general can play a major role during game play, with quiet, stealthy approaches working in your favor to take out an enemy before he can cause you problems. At the same time, you need to keep an ear open in case an enemy is sneaking up on you instead. It all plays a part in an edge-of-your-seat experience that's filled with suspense.
Game-of-the-year awards aren't just handed out to anything that comes out during a year, and Bioshock is proof of that. With game play that's both fun and interesting, a deep story hidden within layers of mystery, and a presentation that blends perfectly with the story, it is by far one of the best games made in the past few years. You'll definitely want to play it before the sequel hits shelves.
Bioshock is available for Xbox 360 for $29.95 and PlayStation 3 for $59.95. For this review, the author played the Xbox 360 version and completed both the story's endings.
Luke Hamilton is a buyer, creative designer, and online coordinator for Video Games Etc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.