How's this for a story? A man becomes annoyed with the current world, a world where the great are taken for granted and told that their toils are either for the people, for God or for the government. In response, he creates a fantastic environment, free from all of these turmoils. A place where all the great men and women of the world can create their own inventions without fear of consequence. In this place, men and women could do what they wanted.
If this sounds like Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, you'd be correct. However, in this particular case, it's also the background story behind Rapture, the under-water city that takes centerplace in Bioshock. Many words have been bandied about about video games and their ability (or inability) to become art; you have folks like Roger Ebert saying the medium as a whole can never attain that goal. My personal thought on this matter was that, as a medium, games haven't made enough strides toward that lofty goal. But Bioshock certainly takes a huge step forward.
Andrew Ryan is a visionary the likes of which his namesake Ayn Rand would possibly write about in Atlas Shrugged. He exemplifies the qualities of a Randian hero and showcases Rand's philosophy of objectivism. He created the city of Rapture and filled it, much like John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, with the visionaries of his land. Rapture soon was a thriving city that emphasized science and growth and the importance of the individual. They dabbled in creating plasmids that changed a person's DNA, enabling them to do feats the likes of which had never been seen before.
Then something happened.
Flying over the Atlantic sea, you are Jack, a person who was destined for greatness, if you ask his parents, and whose plane is now crashing into the sea. Jack is apparently the only survivor of the plane wreck and swims to a lone building, a light house it seems, that beckons him onward. Eventually, he goes into a blathysphere and enters into the world of Rapture. But this isn't the Rapture originally envisioned in the pre-recorded film he watches as he journeys into the city. It is a city comprised of deadly machines, once-human monstrosities named Splicers who are insane and, of course, the Big Daddies and Little Sisters.
Bioshock concerns itself with the gray area between right and wrong. This dichotomy between right and wrong is what fuels everything in Rapture. Roaming the landscape, the Little Sisters are twisted abominations of little girls who locate corpses (which they call "Angels") and harvest Adam from them with a long needle. More grotesque is that bottle at the other end of the needle that the Little Sisters drink from. Dutifully following them are the Big Daddies, giant brutes in ancient diving gear. These...things...are at the heart of the story and Jack's survival depends on them and whether he can harvest the Little Sisters or set them free.
The conscience of the gamer is represented in two mysterious figures, Atlas (another allusion to Rand) and Dr. Tenenbaum. Atlas seemingly wants Jack to save his family and explains that the Little Sisters are anything but the human girls they appear. He nudges Jack to put them out of their misery and take the Adam they harvest so he can survive and save Atlas and his family. On the other shoulder perches Tenenbaum, another mysterious individual who created the Little Sisters and seems to want to do anything possible to save them. They are the obvious angel and devil sitting on Jack's shoulder, but the question is...which one is the angel?
To go into further detail would be to spoil this amazing story. Along the route, twists and turns abound with moral, ethical and philosophical questions aplenty. What's interesting is the way Bioshock presents a stark opposition to Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. Rand's heroes always contain the same qualities that Andrew Ryan exemplifies. But here, the artists behind Bioshock seem to be questioning these qualities by presenting a situation so familiar to Atlas Shrugged, and yet, so far removed.
It is literate, thoughtful, disturbing and moving. Even if the gameplay didn't live up to the story, Bioshock would be worthy just for this reason.
Luckily, that's not the case. For the gun hungry, sure, Rapture is filled with guns aplenty and even presents opportunities for you to craft your own upgrades. But that is just scratching the surface. Everything goes back to the story. Plasmids are located across the ruined debris of Rapture and contain the keys to recreating your DNA. Some early examples of Plasmids are the ability to shoot electricity from your hands to being able to set things on fire to telekinesis.
But these plasmids aren't only used for fighting. Minor puzzle-solving crops up, some of which require plasmids in the same way as gear in Legend of Zelda. The biggest puzzle is how to take down the game's variety of enemies. While you can definitely charge in, guns blazing and sometimes survive, cases will present themselves where such tactics will end with you on the bad end of the Big Daddies' drill. Instead, you can create your own traps and war zones. Using plasmids, the environment and, of course, your weapons, you can create elaborate traps that will bring a smile to your face.
A lot of games coming out right now that use the Unreal 3 engine don't look as spectacular as they could. In particular, character models tend to look shiny and/or completely ugly. This is not the case with Bioshock. Everything comes together, from the disturbing scenery, the art deco architecture to the the insane creatures and characters populating the world. Shadows and lighting also create a sense of atmosphere that drips heavily, much like the water pouring down the walls. It's stunning. The only complaint (and it is minor) is that the frozen portions you can melt don't look very convincing. When things melt, they don't leave anything behind. The only reason it sticks out is that the rest of the game is absolutely beautiful and amazingly crafted.
None of this would be as effective, though, without superior sound. And Bioshock has that (mostly) in spades. The voice work is stunning throughout and the actors provide a great sense of dread. The audio diaries do an exemplary job of providing the backstory, but also work the best in crafting dread and terror. Some of the most disturbing things occur listening to them. Unfortunately, sometimes the characters' lines are repeated too often, ruining the disturbing nature of their dialogue. Musically, the game is also amazing. It flits into the picture at key moments, increasing the tension before it will flow away. You might not even notice it's there, but that's why it's so good.
You know, the funny thing about hype is how people react to it. Game journalists can go blue in the face trying to get people interested in forgotten gems such as Psychonauts, Beyond Good & Evil and Stranger's Wrath, and since they weren't financially successful they become these gems. When a game sells incredibly well and is hyped to the max (both of which fit Bioshock), people say "over-rated."
Ignore the hype machine. I know you're tired of hearing about it. But give Bioshock a try, if you haven't yet. Download the demo for your PC or try it on the Playstation 3 Network. It is a game that's definitely worth everything that's been said about it and more.
It is art. And no words by ignorant movie critics will change that.
Bioshock is a first-person shooter that takes place in an underwater "Utopia" where things have gone very wrong. In addition to the typical arsenal of weapons (guns, wrenches, grenades), you are also able to modify your character to take on special attributes such as shooting electrical bolts, fire, telekinesis powers, etc. The idea is this allows you to use the environment more effectively (such as zapping bad guys standing in water with your electrical bolts or freezing them and then … more
Pros: Amazing gameplay, scary, great story, fantastic graphics Cons: nothing worth mentioning The Bottom Line: The creativity and amazing gameplay set the bar a notch higher. This is next gen gaming, friends. Bioshock was never supposed to be a huge hit. It was a modest title with a modest budget. But it became the sleeper hit of the year and was at the top of nearly all lists of best games of the year. Does it live up to the … more
I liked this game a lot. It has atmosphere, a good interface, and a story line that keeps you going. It can be addictive. As a dad of two teens, I usually don't play much. More often I tell my sons to get off the computer and do their homework. Number one son, who is a gamer, insisted that I try this one, and he was right. Although I am not good at first person shooters, with his advice I was able to stay alive. It is a very well done game. My son finished the game in a few days, but still rated … more
I was the editorfor Ctrl+Alt+Del Media, a sister site to CAD Comic. I have also contributed to Amazon.com, VGViews.com and a variety of other online sites. I currently am looking for more opportunities … more
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BioShock is an innovative shooter in development at Irrational Games, a wholly owned 2K studio. Set in a rich underwater utopia gone horribly wrong, BioShock features emergent gameplay driven by player choice which seamlessly integrates RPG, adventure, and shooter elements.