Sunday, December 19, 2010

Game Review: Bioshock


"Fallen, fallen is Babylon"

Playstation 3 / XBox 360 / Pretty Much Every Computer Format, 2007

Publisher: 2K Games

Developer: Irrational Games

Time to Complete: 15-20 Hours

Some time soon, I'm going to get around to playing and reviewing Bioshock 2. Because of this, I thought it was a good time to review the first game, which I played not once, but twice over the past two years. I'm going to go right ahead and say it: Bioshock might be the best game of the past decade. Maybe. It's definitely on the shortlist, and I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who would give it that distinction. I'd give it Top 5 status for sure. It's so good that it's available on every major HD gaming platform possible, including the PS3, XBox 360, and -  as dweebs, geeks, nerds, and dorks of all stripes already know - computers.

What is Bioshock? A great first person shooter. Then again, calling it that is like calling Lebron James a "good basketball player". It goes way beyond the expected level of quality. Also, it's so much more than just an FPS. It's one part Resident Evil 4, one part Metroid Prime, one part Blade Runner. Add HD graphics, a heaping plate of modern political philosophy, and an incredibly unique setting, and you get Bioshock. Speaking of unique, somehow this game manages to be both futuristic AND retro with the location and storytelling. It flat-out makes me proud of the people who made it. The only way Bioshock could be better is if the whole game were Tina Fey wearing a burlesque outfit and playing an accordion while sitting atop the luckiest piano ever.

To even begin to scratch the surface of Bioshock's greatness, we must look at the setting. Bioshock takes place in the city of Rapture, located in the depths of the ocean. This technological marvel is basically frozen in time due to events that caused a complete breakdown of civilized society after a certain point; clues in the game indicate that this point was around New Year's Day, 1959.

If it isn't already apparent, the game is fairly dark in tone. Rapture is a city drowning in its own dysfunctional immorality, and this is reflected in the haunting imagery found throughout the game. Ultra-realistic graphics bring Rapture to life even in death. This is a game that can and will scare you at some point. If being chased by a hulking maniac doesn't do it, one of the game's numerous mind-tricks will. For me, this happened at one point when the lights went out in the game, then back on to show an oddly antlered shadow suddenly on the wall in front of the main character. Spin around, and whoever it was has scampered off... or have they?

This game is off the charts in overall quality, but one place that it suffers a bit is the music. Out of the music that exists in the game, most of the tracks aren't particularly memorable. The game chooses ambient sound over music for the most part. For connoisseurs of game music, this is a little bit disappointing, especially alongside the majesty of the game's visuals. It's obvious what the designers were going for with the sound, though: atmosphere. And they succeeded.

I've played both the XBox 360 and Playstation 3 versions of the game. The PS3 version followed a year after the 360 version, with similar graphic quality and some new gameplay additions. These new additions are, for the most part, pretty minor. There's a new hardest difficulty level, and it's definitely brutal. I played it, all the way through, and had a blast. It's difficult, but it draws you in like no other. There's a good reason why this is the only PS3 game that I've ever bothered to get a Platinum trophy in. The gameplay is flawless and the controls are completely responsive; the player's skill is the only thing between them and success.

There is also a great character-building system at work here - collecting and upgrading Plasmids (what many other games would probably call "spells") in addition to weaponry is a a highly entertaining and central part of the game. The Plasmids in question have a lot of variety; one freezes enemies, one confuses them, one causes them to be attacked by any machines they cross the path of - and there are many more. They often have several uses to them, so experimenting with any given Plasmid is encouraged. For instance, sending an Electro Bolt into a pool of water will electrify anything in that pool, while using Incinerate on an oil slick will start a blaze along the length of the oil. The one knock on the gameplay - and the game itself - is the fact that it can get redundant at times, especially what with fighting the same limited number of enemies repeatedly over the course of the game. This can be an issue with just about any game, though.

While the great gameplay draws you in, the storyline keeps you there. This storyline could hang with just about any movie thriller out there. As you progress - fending off scores of genetically-enhanced people who attempted to play God and paid the price - the catalysts behind the fall of a once great city become clearer. It's outright chilling how easily things went to hell over such a short term. That's what this game is really about: figuring out what exactly happened here.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the game's villain. Andrew Ryan, the man behind Rapture, is one of the more fascinating "bad guys" to come down the pike in some time. His conviction in the power, potential, and promise of the city he himself conceived is nothing short of awe-inspiring. A bit like Lucifer attempting to rule his own kingdom below after his exile from Heaven, Ryan leaves the laws of the surface world behind to create a place without the "shackles" of religion, morality, or government. His complete and unwavering belief in the monster he ended up creating makes him a formidable foe as he manipulates events from his control room deep within Rapture.

Andrew Ryan is one of the reasons why this is the "smartest" first person shooter out there; that said, nearly all of the game's characters are interesting and well-defined. These characters really are puzzle pieces in the story of Rapture. The game keeps that story moving at a brisk pace, and by the time the huge twist occurs late in the game (even though most people in the gaming world probably know at least something about it by now, I'll refrain from any further spoilers), the player is so invested in the story that it actually means something.

Those are two of the things I live for: storytelling, and storytelling that manages to mean something. Stories that stick with you, leave a lasting impression, and maybe...just maybe... show you something about yourself. Bioshock does all of that, somehow. This is one of those games that, at its best, transcends the very medium of gaming. It's a title that other games of its era should be judged against.

In's pretty cool.

Rating: 10 out of 10

1 comment:

  1. Wait, you get chased by a hulkamaniac? How are you supposed to get away from someone running wild like that?