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Review: BioShock (3 Viewers)



BioShock was without a doubt one of this year's titles everyone was looking forward to. Previews all looked very promising and by all accounts this would be a very special game. In the past week I had the chance to play BioShock and while I will absolutely play the game again a few times I believe I have seen enough to write a decent review. So let's continue shall we?

First Impression
Bioshock comes in three different editions. The normal edition in a plastic cover, a normal edition in a 'metalish' cover and a limited edition that comes with all kinds of goodies. I got myself the metalish edition which makes a nice addition to my game shelf. This edition doesn't have anything else worth noting, it's just the case that's different.

Now, on to the actual game. When you start to play the game and enter Rapture for the very first time you can't supress a small 'wow' as the enormous underwater city dooms up from behind the coral. The overall atmosphere of the city is unlike anything I have ever experienced in a game before. The city of Rapture can not realy be classed as a typical 40's city because it has a many other influences. Take the bricks and concrete from the 40's, add in the steel constructions from historic train stations, put some traditional restaurant tiles on the floor and some 60's neon signs on the wall, mix it all together on the bottom of the ocean and there you have Rapture.
No matter where you go in the city you will never feel like you're in the same place you were a second ago. Rapture was actualy designed as a city, rather then a level per level basis. A restaurant for example looks completely different from the medical pavalion and even within a large level like the medical pavalion the different departments of the pavalion all have their own distinctive look and feel. Examination rooms are done in dirty white tiles and the waiting room just outside is done in friendly wooden accents. Everything in the city feel natural as far as a layout is concerned and in your imagination you can actualy see it function would it not have been for a civil war to shred it all to pieces.

The graphical aspect of the game is not bad at all. The game is build using Unreal technology combined with the Havok physics engine which is never a bad combination. Especialy the water in the game looks extremely good and is said to look even better when the DirectX 10 features are turned when playing the game under Windows Vista. Lighting, shadows, dust effects and damage indicators are all very well done. There also some points that could have been done better though. All persons, friend or foe, you come across in Rapture have the same unfinished look to their face. They have one or two facial expressions which hardly ever change and especialy with the little sisters this is quite noticable. Even if the little sisters are cheering or acting happy they still look to be horrified and scared. Next to that there is not any form of sync with the talking. The mouth is just making a preprogramed loop rather then actualy resembling what is being said. Not only with characters is speech a problem though, if you have subtitles turned on then any kind of dialog wil run out of sync with the subtitles at some point which is extremely frustrating. Some small points which in my opinion deserved more attention.

The start of the story leaves you somewhat blank about exactly what's going on. You crash into the sea and from their your pretty much on your own for a while. A question that instantly came to my mind when seeing Rapture for the first time was 'how can anyone build this place in the 1940's right after World War II on the bottom of the ocean, without anyone knowing about it?'. I know this is just my own personal nitpicking however and since it's still a game things like that should not be payed much attention too.

The gameplay in BioShock is pretty much the basic layout for any shooter. You walk, you explore, you do your objectives and kill as much bad people on the way. Some nice additions to the basic shooter formula are, first and most of all, plasmids. As the story will tell you, Rapture was build to get away from any kind of morals so science could do it's thing and make humanity great. And that's what it did. By being able to alter a human's DNA one was able to give himself super powers by injecting a certain plasmid into their veins. These plasmids give you powers like shooting bolts of electricity, balls of fire and much more.
The plasmid side of the gameplay revolves around two things: ADAM and EVE. ADAM is the genetic good that makes all your superpowers possible, EVE is the substance your body needs to actualy use these powers without wearing itself out and can be compared to Mana in RPG's.
Very early in the game you'll come to realize that you will need plasmids to progress in the game. You won't need them so much to open new areas or unlock certain doors, but you will simply need them to survive. Ammo for your weapons is often far apart, leaving you with only your plasmids and EVE to defend yourself from the whackjobs there were once Raptures population.
EVE can be found every now and then laying around in a save or on a dead body, ADAM however is a different story. ADAM is a good that is caried within the body and can only be extracted and rewon by 1 person: A little sister. These little girls are genetically modified to absorb ADAM from dead bodies and convert it back into a useable form. These little girls are defenceless on their own but don't think getting the ADAM from them is going to be easy. To protect them, every little sister has a huge armored and geneticaly enhanced brute with them called a big daddy. Take out the big daddy and you'll have to face the decision wether to kill or rescue the little sister. The decision you make will influance the story later on thus giving the game and already guarenteed replay value of two.
Another aspect of the game is hacking into various equipment. Throughout Rapture you will find cameras, security turrets, security bots and safes which you can hack to have them work for you instead of against you. You will find this to be a very valuable thing and you'll have to think twice before destorying a security camera as it might come in handy later on. The actual hacking process can get quite anoying though. To hack an item you get a classic game of pipes. You get a playfield of pipe pieces which you need to connect together to help get the waterflow from one side to the other. If you let the machine short circuit you will recieve damage and if the water flow passes an alarm trigger the alarm will go off. The hacking is fun for the first two levels but then gets boring very quickly, especialy if there are 4 security turrets and a camera to hack you're tempted to just blow them up instead of wasting time on hacking them.
Last but not least there is the matter of upgrading your weapons. Throughout the game you will find several Power to the People machines. These machines let you pick out a free upgrade for any of your weapons and will shut down permanently after that. These upgrades are quite important as the slow fire rate of the shotgun or the immense kickback from the machine gun will become a huge hazzard later on in the game when the enemies are harder to kill. They also alter the look of your weapon, leaving you with some very funky looking weapons at the end of the game.

The Story

Attention! This part of the review contains major spoilers for the story. If you havn't played the game then do not read on. The following part is merely for a recap of the story for those interested.

The story in Bioshock is a good one. It's the story of one man's vision crushed under the presure of it's own perfection. Enter Rapture, an underwater city build in the mid-Atlantic just after World War II, in 1946 by Andrew Ryan. It was his vision to create a place in the world where religion and morality did not have an influance on the advancement of the human species. Where the labors of your work were not taken from you by god, the government or the people.
When Rapture opened it's doors, Ryan assembled the world's leading scientists to be put to work in Rapture's labs. One of these scientists, Bridgette Tenenbaum, was the one that discovered ADAM. She discovered a seaslug that produced unstable forms of stemcells that, when inserted in a human body, acted like a benign form of cancer. It would kill of native cells and replace them with the unstable versions allowing scientists to experiment with them on a larger scale. Eventualy ADAM was used to create various plasmids people could use to give themselfs super powers. However in order to overcome the nasty side effects ADAM had on a subject, one had to keep using more and more of it in order to stay sane. To produce enough ADAM to supply everyone, Tenenbaum and another scientist Dr. Suchong started working on a way to harvest ADAM from the dead and make it useable again. They found out that only small female children were useable for this purpose though it is never fully explained why. With the help of Frank Fontaine, a Rapture mobster, Tenenbaum en Suchong had plenty of little girls to experiment on out of Fontaine's orphenage.
To protect the little sisters and their ADAM, Suchong started working on gathering volunteers to become a Big Daddy. They would be given a special treatment, making them stronger and faster then anyone else in Rapture. Then they were given a large body armor that resembles a diving suit. While Suchong was fine tuning some of the aspects of the bond between a Big Daddy and a Little Sister he was killed by his test subject when he smacked one of the little sisters disturbing his research.

A few years later, on new years eve of 1959, a man only known as Atlas started a rebelion against Andrew Ryan, igniting a devistating civil war inside the walls of Rapture. It would eventualy render Rapture half dead, with the only way to survive being ADAM. Whoever survived the onslaught of the civil war was destined for a life as a splicer, doing whatever was needed to survive and gather as much ADAM as possible from corpses and little sisters.

A year later in 1960, a plane crash lands into the ocean directly above Rapture with only one surviver: Jack. Jack swims to the nearby lighthouse and finds it to be the access point for Rapture, stepping into the bathysphere to enter the city. When he enters the city he is contacted by a man called Atlas, one of the few sane people down in Rapture who is, like Jack, looking for a way out of the city for him and his family. Atlas helps Jack to survive throughout the city by giving him clues and hints about what to kindly do next. After some close encounters with splicers, Jack meets up with Tenenbaum who offers him an alternative to killing a little sister for the ADAM. Tenenbaum promises to make it worth him while if he were to resque the little ones.
Jack proceeds deeper into the city, having visions and flashbacks every now and then of the pictures he has in his wallet.

By the time Jack meets up with Andrew Ryan, he has set the city to self destruct. Atlas urges you to kindly find Ryan and kill him so he could use his key to stop the self destruct. On his way to Ryan's office however, Jack comes across a wall full of pictures, including some taken by the security system of Rapture. Also on the board are pictures of Tenenbaum, Fontaine, Suchong and a dead hooker Jack found earlier while doing 'favors' for Sander Cohen. Spraypainted in thick red letters over the pictures are the words: Would you kindly...
Left in a daze Jack chases Ryan into his office where Ryan confronts him with the horrific truth. Ryan tells him that Jack is his son, born out of the relation Ryan had with a prostitute many years ago. With the help of Tenenbaum en Suchong Jack was geneticaly altered to trigger certain commands when a certain phrase was said. The phrase 'would you kindly' triggered a submissive response, doing whatever it was the person asked for without question. Ryan demonstrates this very clearly by telling Jack: Would you kindly kill me? Jack followes the order and kills Andrew Ryan by beating him over the head with Ryans golf club three times. After this Atlas insists to Jack to kindly pick up Ryans key and kindly put it into the self destruct in order to stop it. It's only after the self destruct has been halted that Atlas reveals himself to actualy be Frank Fontaine, alive and kicking. He reveals to Jack that he was a weapon against Andrew Ryan, sent to the surface at the age of two just to be called back after a long time. When Fontaine is done explaining he writes Jack off as useless and unleashes the security system on him. Luckily he saved by a bunch of little sisters who guide him to Tenenbaums lab where she removed a part of the genetic code that lets Fontaine controll Jack.
Jack continues his way through Rapture to find Fontaine. Tenenbaum later claims that the only way to Fontaine is through a series of doors that can only be unlocked by Little Sisters. Unfortunately, the Little Sisters do not trust anyone except for Big Daddies; in addition, there are still many splicers loyal to Fontaine between Jack's current position and his destination, so, to kill two birds with one stone, Tenebaum proposes that Jack find all the equipment needed to suit up as a Big Daddy. Following a tedious search through more laboratories, Jack finds and dresses up in the necessary components of a Big Daddy suit in order to escort a Little Sister through the passages only they can unlock.
At the end of the voyage with the Little Sisters, Jack comes upon the elevator to Fontaine. Fontaine announces over the radio that he's never actually tried any genetic enhancements. Now, however, he decides to use all his hoarded Adam to his advantage, and he tries every splicing technique he knows of. When Jack emerges from the elevator, he finds a Fontaine that is not recognizably human strapped to a metal device with several large tubes of Adam pulsing straight into his body. He is roughly twice the height of a normal human being and possesses fiery, iced, and electric skin, as well as many deadly plasmid attacks. Jack eventually defeats Fontaine with the help of the Little Sisters. When Fontaine is about to kill Jack, the Little Sisters pounce on him with the hypodermic devices they use to suck Adam out of corpses, and they subdue Fontaine.

Warning, both ending spoilers below.

Depending on player actions before this point, one of two things will happen. If during the game the player rescued every Little Sister, Jack passes out when Fontaine is dead. A cut scene takes place in which Jack takes the Little Sisters to the surface and raises them, allowing them a normal life.

On the other hand, if during the game the player killed any Little Sisters, Jack is overcome with his lust for Adam and snatches the nearest Little Sister when Fontaine is dead. The first person view ends and Tenenbaum begins a monologue in which she discusses how disgusted she is with Jack for his cruelty and lack of control, implying that he killed the Little Sisters. At the same time, a silent cut scene takes place in which a naval submarine surveying the downed plane's crash site is surrounded with bathysphere pods from below. The sailors on the submarine's deck gawk as the dozens of bathyspheres pop open and splicers jump out. The splicers slaughter the submarine crew, and the camera shows what appears to be a nuclear warhead on board before the game ends.

Final Scores:

Graphics: 8
Gameplay: 9
Story: 9

Conclusion: This game is a must have for any self respecting gamer and should be bought rather then downloaded. The people working behind this game put all their effort into this and genuinly deserve to be paid for it in every way. This is not EA we're talking about afterall, so do the right thing ;).