The average person who doesn't play first person shooters might look at them as shallow, violent, uncreative enterprises. I mean, what can be meaningful or creative about using a gun or a weapon to kill? It's barbaric.
But what if the concept of the first person shooter was used as a building block for something much greater? This defines
2K games' latest, BioShock
. More recent FPS games have expanded considerably upon the idea of survival; most notably BioShock
is an evolution of the video game environment; our character inhabits a dystopian world with others just like them. Instead of shooting random monsters without remorse (or faced with the classic good vs. evil "predicament"), we're confronted by actual individuals whose failed dreams have converted to malice while their genetically-altered bodies are ruled by uncontrolled primal urges. More simply: they are trying to survive in a world which has inevitably failed. Stripped of their possessions, family and well-being, they perceive everything as a threat to their right to live. Therefore, they have no choice but to engage you.
does better than just about any other game I have played is immerse you in an intense, authentic hyperreality. (Sounds contradictory, but it's not). Andrew Ryan's voice booms loudly over a slide show projection at the beginning of the game, revealing an Objectivist argument to justify his building of a city underneath the sea somewhere in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic. "I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose... Rapture, a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, Where the great would not be constrained by the small!..."
At this point, he is little more than your enemy, but as the game progresses, we learn exactly what he attempted to do and why. To succeed against improbable odds? Perhaps. His ideal society was crushed by human ignorance and greed, something unpreventable in any era. Specifically, the late 1950s saw the collapse of his ideal metropolis. It is now 1960, a year which the game reflects well in its hauntingly outdated swing music, absurdly amusing but somehow persuasive propagandist posters, old telephones, weaponry, and language in voiceover messages... everything is strangely nostalgic. Nearly all players will recognize a relic from this decade, maybe not directly but through what other media has taught them.
The moral choices in BioShock
consist of empathy/humanity vs. greed/power. Little sisters (young female children) collect ADAM described by your aural tour guide, Atlas, as "the lifeblood of Rapture." Citizens of the city must obtain ADAM to survive with genetically-altered lives; it is the vital nutrient. However, collecting it comes at a cost for everyone. If you wish to rob a little sister of her life, you must engage her protector -- a genetically-modified, hulking "big daddy" whom will not fall easily. Survival weighs as much on your character's conscience as it does on your own. "Andrew Ryan asks you a simple question: Are you a man or a slave?" A man would echo his humanity and a slave would succumb to his own greed and self-righteousness. Other individuals in the game explain the nature of 'harvesting' vs. rescuing and the moral justifications of each decision.
Along with Ryan's initial intimidating questions, his lectures are disturbing as they are intriguing. There aren't too many games I can think of that encourage you to read literature. BioShock
offers that, certainly, if you have any interest at all in alternative or radical politics. Ryan's are borrowed specifically from author Ayn Rand's magnum opus Atlas Shrugged
. (Andrew Ryan's name even shares a sort of reverse spelling to her's).BioShock
's only shortcoming is related to its difficulty. While wholly consuming, it doesn't feel threatening very often. Several reviews, including Game Informer
's have noted that you feel like a god with your plasmid powers and arsenal of weaponry. I suppose that is true; if, in a sense, that is what the developers were aiming for, then they have succeeded but minimized obstacles. Perfect, if you have never played a FPS before, but tragically effortless if a familiar gamer.
Before I conclude, I'd like to note my revelatory moment in the game. It's an unusual one; among all the astounding enemies and plot twists, I was entranced by a rather ordinary moment thanks to the game’s regard for the perfect ambience and visual beauty:
Two-thirds through the game, when you descend into Tenenbaum's living quarters, her silhouette speaks to you (in that lovely German accent) illuminated in a foggy neon green from behind a pane of glass across the room. She paces back and forth while the smoke from her cigarette rises. I simply removed my hands from the controller and admirably stared into the screen, wholly consumed in the sights and sounds of Rapture. And this, my friends, is the most absurdly beautiful game I have ever seen in my life and why I own an XBOX 360. Now, in the infamous Atlas phrase, would you kindly
run out to purchase BioShock