The last generation consoles offered many highlights in terms of games that either meant a lot to us or enveloped us in something truly thought provoking. Of the games that fit into either category there is few that standout as the best examples of what made the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 generation great, but if we were to look back we can see one clear example of the game that truly defined the last generation of consoles and still to this day is a highlight of the overall game industry. This game is of course Bioshock, Irrational Games (as they were known as when developing Bioshock Infinite) worked hard to bring us this game which is as fun as it is driven, and of course a game that allows us to look back and reflect upon the wonder of the experience.
It is not easy to put my thoughts on Bioshock into words, let alone say things that nobody else has said and I know for a fact I cannot, but yet still I will talk about Bioshock. Bioshock is a clear example of how to do everything right when you make a game, whether you are establishing right ideas, a truly thought provoking world and a game that sets out with a goal and actually achieves it. I don’t think it is possible to say a mean word against Bioshock while its ideas may seem commonplace in the modern game industry this game is still where most of it began and stays as the standard for future games.
Bioshock welcomes us to Rapture, a city built under the sea for mankind to truly excel and to follow a simple guideline set by one man’s belief. In Rapture a man owns what he creates, man is free to do whatever they choose so any goal that they have can be done and all of this is helped by a chemical known as ADAM. This chemical changed the world opening it up to new possibilities and the advancement of the world down in Rapture, this city acts as a playground as the game’s opening moments builds up the world as a utopian setting where man is not owned by any higher powers and instead only has to live up to themselves.
Just as a simple guideline to the story this is fascinating, a city built by man for man and this is a big part of what lies ahead. Enter our character Jack, after surviving a plane crash he makes his way to a nearby island wherein he discovers a submarine, with nowhere else to go he heads in and is welcomed to Rapture. This opening moment is one of wonder as we see our first glimpse of the city, this moment got me excited to explore a place built for greatness and to see a wonderful utopia. However upon arrival we quickly discover things aren’t quite as good as they seem, the utopian dream is actually the opposite as we find ourselves in a nightmarish dystopia full of death and destruction. From here is where things get interesting as my curiosity got the best of me and I stepped out to explore the city and discover what happened to the city and its residents.
In fact, this is one of Bioshock’s strongest points, at no moment is there chance to think about other things as at nearly every turn you are trying to piece together the jigsaw puzzle that is Rapture’s story. Few games have managed to intrigue me in this manner, Rapture is mysterious and I wanted to know what happened, I wanted to understand every story and of course uncover all of Raptures mysteries.
All of this is helped by the true character of the story the people, Raptures citizens have been transformed into monstrosities, mere shadows of their former selves driven by a deeper goal. However the story of Bioshock as a whole is not simply told by the city and what its citizens became, it is shared by every individual person you come across, whether major to the story or just a one off character, each one adds to the game and your understanding of Rapture and its citizens. There is no pointless character here, everyone has a place and everyone is important, whether for state of mind or a greater exploration of Raptures collapse, it was truly interesting how a character as simple as a random enemy can even deliver such sadness and thought to the game. Was I a monster clearly picking on their transformation and slaughtering people who had lost everything and everyone, the game never made that clear but still I honestly cared about every detail.
This is all assisted further by the additional details shared across Rapture thanks to a whole series of audio diaries, nearly every important moment in regards to Raptures back history or the cities collapse is shared along the journey. But these are not always things simply left in your path, Bioshock encourages exploration to see every detail of Rapture and find all the varying logs hidden throughout the city that fill in more of the story. This game is filled to the brim with character and everyone is just as important, constantly I felt myself urged to explore even the smallest corner in the hopes of discovering a new story.
For me though one of the things that made Bioshock most noteworthy was also the side characters we encountered, these characters show the effect of the mind and how the ability to create to a higher level has altered them. We explore these characters stories and can come to terms with truly understanding how minds were altered, and how someone as simple as a surgeon can completely change as there standards improve and they grow unsatisfied by the regular boundaries. This all goes without discussing Andrew Ryan and Atlus who are your constant guides through the game, these two alone provide many thoughtful moments, and Ryan particularly makes you think about why he built Rapture for greater reasons. These more major characters which are equally fascinating and often act more as their own individual stories that act as extensions of the main plot without intruding, they fit in seamlessly which made me enjoy them more.
The characters of the game are important but in the case of Bioshock the most important character is that of Rapture itself. Many stories are nestled in the waterlogged corridors of the city, but the city while also being a truly deep setting is really built as its own character, the city is the dream of its creator Andrew Ryan and it houses everything that you encounter, and across every corner of the city the character that is Rapture itself is shown and really captivates you with further questions.
Bioshock is a truly deep and atmospheric game, this world is not one of joy rather one of deep sadness and even a surprising level of fear. Around every corner lies a new story of sadness and heartbreak, along with the tense feeling of being watched or followed as we hear the sounds of splicers in the distance. It’s hard not to feel on edge while playing Bioshock and exploring Rapture the city is full of death and the depressing tale of the city torn apart by war, this place has seen better days and you never know what nightmarish splicer will turn up around the corner next. This whole issue of feeling tense is helped by the darkness found all over the city and the eerie glow of the ocean water reflected through the windows of the city.
For me personally it is the story of Rapture and its citizens that makes up what I love about Bioshock, but beyond this factor there is still more to love and in turn this is the fantastic gameplay that fully complements the game as a whole. Bioshock may be a shooter but the game goes above and beyond the regular calls of such typing as it expands into a truly different and enriching experience. This is benefitted mostly by the role playing game mechanics added into the games core systems allowing for ways to choose how you want your character to be better in places, these role playing game mechanics however are lightly used and are never intrusive.
The big part of Bioshock is the use of plasmids, in a sense these are mostly introduced as part of Raptures story and looking at how the world advanced with use of such materials, while also driving the users mad. Basically plasmids were created to make the users life easier, fire at your fingertips, shoot lightning for whatever reason, teleport around, plasmids essentially benefitted and messed up the citizens of Rapture but to survive these make up a primary part of the gameplay.
Basic form of Plasmids are simply abilities such as fire and lightning, at times these are used more in the sense of problem solving, but more often these are used to combat foes and are necessary to survival. If you have ever played a shooter you know what you’re in for at the games basic level which is essentially grab a gun and shoot your enemy, however with the use of plasmids Bioshock expands beyond the standard means of shooters and expands into a much more strategic experience. You can balance gunplay with a quick use of your powers in order to quickly set an enemy on fire then deliver a few quick shots from your gun to wipe an enemy in a quick burst.
This style of gameplay makes Bioshock feel unique as you balance time old mechanics with a secondary power which overall benefits the gameplay with fun abilities, while also adding in a flare of the city itself. These powers allow you to look at the game in a more observational manner, and actually utilize your environment to deal with pesky foes such as shooting lightning into a pool of water and frying all those unfortunate enough to be in it. It is honestly surprising how much fun plasmids offer to the game, and it is the benefit of the unique touch of Rapture itself that helps these powers shine. They are not just forced in as each maintains its own benefit to the world as a whole and are actually relevant to the story and a look back at the dream that Rapture was. Simply it is just more room for thought as to what the scientists tried to achieve in Rapture, and what these powers became used for after the city was torn apart.
However, Plasmids are not just utilized as a combat mechanic, many are offered in a more passive sense. This in turn is where the role playing game mechanics come into effect, beyond the combat brand there are many sub-branches fitting expanded combat, hacking and medical. These points are where you define your character and the way you want to play, as you steadily unlock new powers throughout the game you can help raise the effect of melee combat or the effectiveness of a first aid kit, or even make it easier to hack machines. I came to be heavily reliant on ensuring my character had abilities that fit my playstyle and this game offers room in all shapes that would work for most players.
Speaking of hacking this plays a huge role in the game and helps a lot, basically in Rapture you can hack just about every machine to have them help you, from a security camera to a turret hacking these items can assist quite heavily throughout. Though hacking is not as simple as tap a button, each time you choose to hack a machine you are treated to a minigame (which becomes progressively harder as you get further in the game), in this game you need to connect pipes from one point to another. In theory this sounds easy, but you are constantly threatened by traps and the flow of water going through said pipes, you need to work quick to successfully hack items and these can prove quite challenging. Arguably though these do get repetitive and I did grow tired of hacking things the further in the game I got, thankfully you can buy your way out of a hack to instantly unlock things. Personally my favourite use of the hacking mechanic was for the Circus of Value machines so I could get even a minor discount when buying first aid kits which I constantly needed.
At no turn do I ever feel happy in Rapture, I love the setting and the story but it is not a happy place and often we need to make choices that are truly heartbreaking. In Rapture power costs ADAM which you need to buy upgrades to help you through the game, but to get ADAM you need to make a choice of being heartless or being to caring. Among most levels in the game you encounter Big Daddies and Little Sisters, the latter are your source of ADAM but when it comes to it you need to first defeat a Big Daddy. I will first note that these battles are tough, when threatened Big Daddies attack relentlessly and they are hard to defeat, although there is something so fun about fighting them, and taking them down provides a short lived feeling of triumph.
I have to say I feel bad every time I take a Big Daddy on, they are simply doing a job and protecting their charge and so putting them down actually upsets me and it isn’t helped by the emotional tears of the Little Sisters. However to help yourself you still need the power and this is where you are offered a choice of taking a life for power or saving for less, personally I hate the idea of killing a little girl for power so I never did, but either way this decision was extremely emotional, and I hated having to go through it multiple times. It’s a great idea for the game but it breaks my heart every time.
Without spoiling anything I have to note the games conclusion, I have seen many complain about Bioshock’s ending saying that the game ends poorly but to this I must disagree. I won’t go into detail but for the particular ending I saw each time from my choices in game I felt like it was short, sweet and to the point. Even the last few moments of gameplay are rewarding to me and offer a fitting and satisfying conclusion to this game, some of my questions may not have been answered (at least as far as I was aware) but I end the game happy, and without losing anything that had me excited at the games beginning.
Bioshock is a wonderful game, whether you played it the day it came out or sometime in the future this is a game that continues to impress. From Bioshock’s story, to its setting, to its depressing themes that induce fear and even dread into me there is nothing that Bioshock doesn’t excel at. As far as games go Bioshock is a standard for story driven experiences, I won’t soon forget this game and I don’t want to Bioshock has a lot to remember and these moments continue to make me think. I love Bioshock and I can honestly say it is one of the best games ever made and it certainly is one of the most thoughtful experiences I have ever had.