From The Vaults: BioShock

Admittedly, this wasn’t a favorite review of mine, despite BioShock being one of my all time favorite video games! But, you might think differently… Enjoy.

BioShock

“A man chooses! A slave obeys! A man chooses… A SLAVE OBEYS! OBEY!!!”

Bioshock is a 2007 retro-science fiction themed Action-Horror game. The setting is an undersea paradise that was not meant to be, named “Rapture.” The root of Rapture is the Objective philosophy ruling in full force and eventually caving in on itself. The story of the city of Rapture is rife with tragedy and corruption. Today we venture beyond the sea with Bioshock! (Spoilers ahead!)

In an alternate 1940s, a business magnate named Andrew Ryan came up with an idea. A utopian city that could escape tyranny of the church, the state, and those that would oppress the market with petty morality. And so, Ryan and several other wealthy like-minded folk helped to forge the Atlantian city of Rapture. However, business partner, Frank Fontaine had other plans. He helped to forge the basis for ADAM, which created many genetically warping superpowers. However, with no attempts to regular or keep this in check, Rapture spun out of control as Fontaine and Ryan started to go for each others’ necks. Fontaine exploited the poor in Rapture while Ryan persisted in his Objectivist ideals. (A man creates, a parasite asks, “Where is my share?”) And so, this divide lead to Civil War that caused Rapture to devolve into a battleground of chaos and terror. Following a year of violence, we are introduced to our main character, a hapless man whose plane crashes right by the lighthouse containing the bathysphere to Rapture.

But, what’s a game without twists! If you hate spoilers, skip over this part now! The fact that you’re not a hapless civilian, but an integral part of an elaborate revenge scheme is brilliant! Even more than that, you’re Ryan’s illegitimate son, stolen at a young age for heinous purposes. Fontaine has been playing you for a sap since the beginning and not only does Jack fall for it, so do you! His whole Atlas persona was the epitome of “magnificent bastard”.

Gameplay wise, it’s a simple and effective use of Unreal’s engine that allows for an experience as complex or simple as you want. The main puzzles in this game involve “hacking” similar to System Shock. When you succeed a hack (and this gets to be a severe pain in the ass at times), you can obtain more helpful items and even cause security devices to assist you! As for combat, it’s a fairly simple balance of ADAM superpowers being controlled by left trigger and weaponry controlled by the right. Granted my gameplay experience is limited to the XBox. Playing with this can result in fun combos (like the electrobolt/wrench combo the game introduces in the beginning) and other entertaining ways of disposing splicers.

Now, the soundtrack remains one of my favorite aspects of this video game. Throughout your travels through Rapture, you’re either treated to original works by Garry Schyman or some licensed songs from the 30s – 50s. Schyman’s works are pure genius, creating a cinematic level of tension and intrigue through various stages. From the rising tension in Steinmann’s clinic to the creeping dread of each corridor to the macabre art of Sander Cohen, the original score encompasses all. Now, like the Fallout series, this game also samples era appropriate music to help reinforce the ambiance of Rapture. Not to mention, it creates blatant and at times, terrifying dissonance. This is especially true in Poseidon Plaza. Word to the wise, you might want to skip that “Power to the People” machine.

Another aspect of Bioshock that makes the game is atmosphere and aesthetic. Like any work of dark fiction, especially of the gothic and horror variety, the world of Rapture is one of decaying beauty. This underwater city was an aquatic Art Deco gem, but the surge of hatred and violence is slowly causing the city to crumble. As Atlas put it, “Welcome to Rapture, the world’s fastest growing pile of junk.” Despite the faded glory, Rapture is still a stunning work of art, complete with magnificent urban aesthetic combined with the aspects of a submarine. Indeed, the visuals of Rapture add to the lasting appeal. As for the in-game atmosphere, this city gone to hell creates a chilling atmosphere filled with dimmed lights, burning wreckage, and shifting shadows. While the scares encountered throughout the game are very effective, some are truly clever. Even if some of them are a tad predictable, I refuse to spoil a single moment.

The deranged nature of the splicers adds to the sheer horror in its own right. Typically, they’ll jabber on about their insane lives in Rapture. However, listen long enough and they’ll switch to a moment of nostalgia they just can’t let go. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s depressing, sometimes it’s downright horrific. Indeed, it’s the human aspects that make the “monsters” scary. An example that blends all three is the football player in the Farmer’s market. It’s clear this splicer was a young man forced to splice to improve his game. He’s sick and tired of listening to Ryan and he just wants to go home. Sometimes he anguishes about how he lost his girlfriend and other times he complains about the sports teams.

While I loved this game, I do have a fair share of complaints. The first being “That Level” or “Proving Grounds.” This level consists of clunky attempts to protect a now mortal little sister through your faux-Big Daddy disguise. This level is frustrating and not only do you have to watch (and revive) your health, but now it’s an escort mission. If you die (and maybe go back to the Vita-Chamber), then your Little Sister will probably die before you get back to her. Also, you only had two endings, where’s a neutral one? “Meh, you got out of Rapture… You suck, yup…” But, that’s a minor issue. Also, the surprises and turns aren’t as interesting after the first half of the game. The pinnacle of the game seems to be Fort Frolic, which is fine, but a game should get progressively better.

The dark world of Rapture provides for a fascinating place to explore and uncover, while the dread things lurking inside provide for hours of terror and delight. All in all, Bioshock is a magnificent first person shooter game, but you didn’t need to hear that from me.

8.0/10

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