Review By: David Pulgar
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Calling BioShock “great” is an understatement. In today’s world of over-hyped games and broken promises, BioShock proves it’s still possible to deliver a visually stunning, well-refined game with an engaging story and mechanics that help support it. BioShock is that bit of gold in a river of mud that gives prospecting gamers hope for the future. During the game's 5-year development cycle, many things could have gone wrong. Even I questioned the developer's intentions when it was announced that this FPS would have no multiplayer component, but Irrational Games/2K Boston delivered and far exceeded everyone’s expectations by doing what should be standard for game companies: putting the player before the profits.
BioShock’s story takes place in a defunct undersea utopia called Rapture. Andrew Ryan, an idealist who didn’t agree with society’s norms, created the art deco styled city, a place where “the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist is not constrained by petty morality.” I can still hear Andrew’s distinct voice reciting that line, as it’s from the opening animatic players watch as they descend into Rapture. But this “ideal” society of Ryan’s was little more than a powder keg of deranged scientists and lunatic citizens. In this undersea haven, far, far away from the reach of government and religion, Rapture became a failed experiment. That much is apparent right from the start as players encounter Splicers, Rapture's genetically modified residents. I won’t reveal too much, but Splicers are humans that have gone mad from heavily modifying their genetic code with a material called Adam. There are other enemies too of course, like the game's monstrous poster thing Big Daddy, but the majority are different types of Splicers. Ironically enough, BioShock’s main character uses this same material to modify his own genetic code, granting him the Plasmid abilities that make BioShock so unique.
Plasmids and Tonics are the two genetic modifiers available in Rapture. While Plasmids are active and require players to trigger them (much like a weapon), tonics are passive and are always “on.” The Tonics and Plasmids players select dictate a character’s play style. Anything is possible, from creating a stealth-based character with a devastating wrench attack to creating a pyro-maniac that can walk through fire and torch enemies. A player’s flexibility in their own character development is what makes BioShock immensely satisfying. Throughout the game, I was always looking for the next Gatherer’s Garden, the place where you can purchase Plasmids and Tonics. I wanted to see what new powers became available as I immersed myself in the story. Weapons work in a similar manner. Throughout the game, players will collect machine guns, pistols, shotguns, and even grenade launchers, all of which can be customized to enhance stability, damage, rate of fire, range and more. Each weapon also has several types of ammunition, from exploding buckshot to proximity grenades that detonate on contact.
2K Boston did a great job of keeping players immersed in the game. In BioShock, there’s always something drawing your attention. If it’s not the story, it’s character development; or a new game mechanic; or a new plasmid, tonic or weapon. My point is that there's always something the player is thinking about or looking forward to. And it’s brilliant. Even as a single-player game, BioShock succeeded in capturing my attention and holding me in place while, in my apartment, dirty dishes and laundry started piling up. BioShock’s artificial intelligence helped to keep me interested too. The different Splicers (and other enemies) gamers find in Rapture are not dumb. Enemy A.I. is superb and presents a real challenge, even to seasoned players. I selected “hard” as my difficulty the first time around and found myself respawning frequently. An example of BioShock’s smarter-than-the-average-enemy intelligence came when I ran from Splicers somewhere near Fontaine’s Fisheries. To escape, I crawled under a low-rise pier, where I thought the enemies couldn’t shoot. I was wrong. To my horror, my pursuers simply crouched, looked me straight in the eyes, and gunned me down. I was amazed. In BioShock, enemies don’t run around blindly or lob grenades without regard for their own comrades. No, Splicers are smart and will force placers to use strategy to defeat them. If you see a group of Splicers standing in water, it’s possible to electrify the water and kill them all. The same goes for enemies standing in an oil slick. Or how about using an enemy’s grenades against them? With Telekinesis, you can freeze RPGs and grenades in mid-air (a-la Keanu Reeves in Matrix) and launch them back at your opponent. It’s even possible to hack health terminals so your enemies receive damage when they use health terminals. That’s right, your opponents in this game are smart enough to recognize when they are hurt and seek out the nearest medical terminal. Hacking terminals prevents this. It’s also possible to hack security cameras, turrets, vending machines, safes and anything else electronic in nature to turn it against your foes.
To hack a machine, players must complete a mini-game, arranging a series of tubes to allow water to flow from one point to another. Failing a hack has consequences that include triggering alarms and being electrocuted. Tube pieces are hidden underneath tiles, some of which disguise broken tubes, which will cause a hack to fail if water passes through. Others hide “trigger” tubes that will trigger an alarm. Hacking difficulty increases as the game progresses. It also increases depending on the value of what’s being hacked. Safes, for example, are extremely tough to hack. However, certain tonics make hacking easier, so it’s smart to equip them if your character’s going to be rearranging a lot of tubes.
The game’s voice acting is superb, and is important because BioShock’s story progresses through a series of radio communications between you and the game’s characters. Audiotapes scattered throughout Rapture also help tell the bleak tale of its inhabitants (there’s even an achievement for finding them all). Enemies interact with each other and get into petty squabbles over nonsense. If you are invisible (and you can be because there’s a Tonic for that) it’s possible to just stand and watch the dialog between the morose Splicers and be entertained.
From Plasmids to Tonics to weapon customization to researching enemies, BioShock’s grandeur is most apparent in the little things. Each game element and every level displays an inhuman amount of attention and detail, and I can imagine the sleepless nights the developers spent slaving away at their desks with only a dim light and caffeinated beverage keeping them company. Everything about BioShock speaks to its quality.
In short, Bioshock takes players and makes them feel they are really in Rapture. The visuals, ambient noises, voices and story form a rusty hook that players will just love to run through their cheek.
Posted: 2007-09-06 16:43:48 PST