I love rummaging through the bargain bins or checking out used game stores because you never know what you might find for a steal. As much as some people might harp about used games taking profits from the developers, there’s no denying that they help extend the life of a game in the social consciousness & help people who might not have otherwise paid full price experience the game, which could mean increased sales on the developer’s next project. Besides, most people in the industry say that the only profit that matters to publishers is within the first few weeks, as that’s how they recoup their expenses & finance the next game. So theoretically even waiting a month can hurt studios, regardless of the price you pay. Because of this, I felt no guilt buying what is by most accounts a superb game years after its release. BioShock is one of those games that is so often discussed in gaming culture that it’s almost a requirement to play it. I feel like it was a strike against my gamer-cred (if such a thing exists). So how does this game stand up from a fresh perspective looking back?
BioShock is a first-person shooter action game where you play as Jack, a plane crash survivor who finds himself escaping the flaming wreckage into a mysterious underwater city. Completely out of his element, Jack must rely on a voice on the radio to navigate the dilapidated labyrinth filled with genetically mutated monstrosities. But when everyone’s looking out for themselves, who can he trust?
Thankfully, there are many ways to brave the trials ahead. The boring way would be through brute force with the aid of weapons, but the more daring might prefer to alter their genetic code with Adam, a strange substance that lets you do things like shoot bees from your hands. But the only way to access Adam is to take it from the Little Sisters, who are guarded by the baddest monstrosities in Rapture.
Narrative: I mentioned in my first impression that it was impossible to go this long without having some of the game spoiled, so I went in knowing a certain pivotal plot twist. However, I don’t feel that negatively impacted my experience, aside from being a good example of gameplay-as-narrative, meaning the actual mechanics of the game are reflected through the story. Overall, I found the story engaging, but aside from the spoiler nothing came as a surprise to me. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m looking back almost a decade after its release, but a lot of the ideas in the game are pretty standard fare. Destroyed utopia, forgotten past, morally questionable scientific discovery leading to ruin, betrayal… I’ve seen them before, & the game is actually quite good at giving you hints to the twists. All the other plot twists, such as who Jack is relation to Rapture, didn’t come as a surprise. But I do feel the ideas explored are interesting, if a bit trite. The characters encountered all have distinct personalities & are recognizable despite us rarely seeing them. And I think Jack makes a good silent protagonist. I could project myself onto him, but the devs gave him enough history that he’s not a complete blank slate. My only real complaint is that a lot of Rapture’s history is told via recordings, which aren’t bad, but sometimes it was hard to keep the minor characters separate. Overall, though, despite seeming a little predictable now, I thought the story of BioShock was very interesting & engaging. Score: 4
Mechanics: For the most part, I think BioShock strikes a good balance between giving the player freedom to handle situations as they please & not feeling overwhelmed. You’ve got weapons, plasmids (Adam-based superpowers), tonics (grant certain skills & abilities), stuff to buy, stuff to craft, hacking, research through photography… It sounds like a lot, but you can focus or ignore whatever you want, which I appreciated. It lets the player decide how they want to play. Personally, I favored my weapons, sticking mostly with the electrobolt plasmid only when overwhelmed. Between the static charge tonic, armored shell, and natural camouflage (which let me turn invisible when I stood still), there wasn’t much I couldn’t handle. Everything feels fun to use, with one exception. I found the hacking tedious, & odd from a world-building standpoint. Throughout the game, you’ll come across security cameras, turrets & attack drones that will view you as an enemy if you don’t destroy or hack them. If you hack them, they’ll attack enemies for you. But I found the pipe mania mini-games you have to play to do so tedious. Also, are these machines water-powered? It makes sense based on water being readily available, but I’m not sure how semi-sentient machines could be water-powered. Even stranger, you can pay money to override these machines. Who am I paying? Am I bribing the machine? I appreciate having options, but towards the end I was either bribing the machines or using the auto-hack tools. The lock-on system also seemed a bit laggy, especially when enemies are running around, & often seemed to stick to one side of the enemy, making it hard to be accurate during a heavy firefight. Other than those minor points, I felt that everything worked well. Score: 5
Aesthetics: Despite being almost a decade old, the graphics hold up pretty well. The world of Rapture is beautifully unique & atmospheric. Although structurally questionable, I love that so much of the game space shows the city at large & the ocean environment. It really sets up this isolated, alien feeling. Each level feels unique, whether it’s a garden or apartment, & is populated with signs of life, lending to the feeling that this was a thriving city before everything went to Hell. The voice acting felt solid. I don’t recall a lot of music other than a random jukebox, but I did think the sound direction was spot on. Debris skitters, splicers mutter & scratch the walls, & Big Daddies clomp around. Being able to hear enemies is crucial. And the moments when everything is still & quiet can be nail-biting. Score: 5
Replay Value: Moderate. BioShock does have two endings based on whether or not you harvested the Little Sisters, but I don’t think there’s enough difference to warrant a new playthrough. But I do think it’s the sort of story where people might want to go back to find the little clues they might have overlooked. Score: 3
Overall Score: 4
Final Word: It’s hard to judge a game’s originality years after it started influencing the medium as a whole, but any criticism I have of the themes BioShock explored don’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the title. Aside from some minor complaints, I recommend this game for pretty much anyone.
Consoles: PC, 360, PS3
Developer: 2K Games
Publisher: 2K Games Release Date: August 21, 2007