Every so often a special game comes along, something we all know will succeed and be fantastic. These games are rare, like rocking horse number two, but when one finally arrives it's worth the wait. BioShock is that game. I'll be honest though, when news of this game broke the surface I wasn't too interested, the trailer stirred feelings of confusion and a small amount of interest but it soon settled in favour of anticipation for games like Halo 3 and GTA4. Something changed that and I ended up buying the game the morning of its release, I wasn't disappointed.
The game starts by showcasing the excellent water effects, your character is in a plane crash somewhere over the Atlantic and, faced with the dangers of the ocean, he swims for the nearest structure which happens to be an ominous lighthouse. Once inside the structure you descend many fathoms below the surface and are contacted by a man called Atlas over a service radio and through communications using the radio the truth is slowly revealed. An enormous city called Rapture was built at the bottom of the ocean by wealthy industrialist Andrew Ryan with the intention of being a safe haven for the world's elite and so scientists, businessmen and socialites of the 1940's flocked to the place where their fortunes were theirs and not that of the poor, God or everyone else. In such a free environment it's inevitable that scientific breakthroughs would be made and that's exactly what happened with the discovery of Adam, a compound that allows the genetic manipulation of humans. At first it was used to cure the crippled, touch up unsightly scars and put to other medicinal uses but it was soon used for military applications allowing the user to control objects with their mind, freeze people or even enrage people to do your fighting for you. The carriers of these powers are called plasmids and they form an integral part of the combat in BioShock. Alongside the novel plasmids we have tonics which allow a passive effect to be bestowed upon the user, such a system allows the player to create a character of their choosing.
Plasmids add another dimension to the game play allowing inventive combinations such as shooting a gas canister once to create a spurt of flame and then using the telekinesis plasmid to pick it up and throw it at an enemy or setting an enemy on fire and then shooting a heat seeking missile at them, you could even set an enemy on fire and then electrically charge the water as they jump into it, there are many more ways to manipulate the environment to your advantage and plasmids are usually at the core of such an action. Even so it wouldn't be much of a FPS if guns were lacking, thankfully this is not the case with weapons ranging from a simple revolver through a machine gun all the way up to a chemical thrower and grenade launcher. Each of these weapons (except the wrench you start with) has three ammo types and it is important to pick the correct ammo type for the enemy you're facing if you want to conserve ammunition, one gripe I have is that it takes a long time to switch ammunition but this is a rather pedantic upset.
If you've heard anything about BioShock you've heard about the Big Daddy's. These behemoths lumber around acting as a guardian to a Little Sister, essentially a little girl who dances around as a regular little girl would harvesting Adam (as a regular little girl wouldn't). Ordinarily this wouldn't be a problem but if you want to get through Rapture alive you'll be needing that Adam so you'll be needing to get the Big Daddy out of the way. I'm going to leave that there because the Big Daddy's are a joy of the game and the less I say about it leaves you with more to discover for yourself.
Speaking of discovering things for yourself, audio diaries have been left strewn all over the place by the previous citizens of Rapture and they document their thoughts and feelings about various things, these diaries are sometimes required to drive the plot forward but more often than not they are there for the plot hunter to try to fill in the gaps. They are excellently done and really show off the brilliant voice acting of the game and the great ambient sounds since not only does the character speaking sound genuine but it is very obvious the kind of environment they were in at the time of recording from the sounds in the background. Aside from the audio diaries the sound is terrific, there is always some sort of sound such as the movements of the ocean, the insane ramblings of the denizens of Rapture, moving machinery, the groans of a Big Daddy or 1940's music (as that is when Rapture was built). It really serves to make you feel that you are just another character in a living, yet derelict, city.
The graphics are also stellar. The water, as aforementioned, is beautiful both in the ocean viewed through windows and in the multiple drips the broken city has and the place really does feel like a city that was in its prime in the 1940's but has since fallen apart. Various '40's style posters decorate the walls, furnishings are lavish where they need to be and downright twisted in places like the surgery and everything has been destroyed to a certain degree by water, fire or impact damage. Even though the game is overall a linear affair you really get the impression that you are in a large city that happens to be underwater and the linearity rarely feels imposing. The characters are also beautiful... at least from a graphical perspective since they're aesthetically ugly as sin, I have however noticed that very occasionally the overlaying textures of a corpse do not load for a second and so I'm left with looking at the blank framework until they do, again this is only a minor trouble.
The enemies are pleasantly intelligent, we have to keep in mind that these individuals used to be socialites, they're not going to be highly trained commandos and they don't act like it. There is no co-ordination between them, they don't use the cover to reduce the distance between you and them and all of this makes sense given the story. These are desperate, and mutated individuals who do not take kindly to strangers, they therefore attack you with everything they've got and run away screaming when you set them on fire. They may not be professionals but they do put up a hell of a fight and so the save/load system along with the 'lives' system is a blessing. First, the game allows you to save and load whenever you want, theoretically you could just save every few minutes 'just in case' but this makes no sense given the 'lives' system. This system scatters structures known as Vita-Chambers around Rapture, Vita-Chambers are another proof that Rapture scientists were light years ahead of their surface counterparts. They essentially reincarnate the player upon death negating the need for traditional lives or reload points. Although they are basically reload points in themselves the game does not reset upon death, things continue happening and you re-enter the game at the same point in time. It's such a simple thing but it really helps to keep the player involved. Aside from the human enemies (known as 'splicers' after the act of splicing with Adam) there are also automated security systems to contend with including machine gun turrets, cameras and flying security bots all of which can be 'hacked' to bend them to your advantage. Hacking has been reduced to Pipe Dream, the arcade game and starts off very easy but quickly evolves into something far more challenging.
When all's said and done BioShock is an absolute terrific game. The graphics, sound, game play and plot all combine into a game with a special feel to it, it sucks you in and refuses to let go and when you manage to pull yourself away you're left with a fuzzy feeling inside that lets you know you've just witnessed something special. I've struggled to keep Rapture's mysteries a secret in this review, I've given you a start but if you really want to find out about the place you're going to have to dive in for yourself and I highly recommend you do.