Bioshock review

System Shock 2 left the audience with a cliff hander, we’ve all waited for a System Shock 3, but unfortunately due to bad marketing, System Shock 2 sold poorly and that left Looking Glass Studios start loosing its business. EA refuses to make another System Shock game no matter how much we begged them. However, Irrational Games survived and aligned with 2K games to make the spiritual successor of System Shock 2. But since EA still owns the rights to System Shock, they had to make a setting that video games never made before, while take the gameplay from System Shock 2 and make a whole new series. That game is Bioshock! Even though it is its own series, I still would still consider this as a “Shock” series, so let’s see how did they do with the third game of the shock series and how is it as a spiritual successor of the beloved PC gem.

Premise

The game is set during the 1960’s (departing from System Shock’s futuristic setting) where the game’s protagonist Jack is a passenger of a plane that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. He was the only survivor of that flight and he swam for land until he stumbles across a lighthouse. He entered that lighthouse and step into an elevator/podship that sunk underwater and transported him to the underwater city called Rapture.

Rapture was built by its owner named Andrew Ryan who made the underwater city for a utopia that for society’s elite to flourish outside of government control. Scientific progress greatly expanded, including the discovery of the plasmid ADAM created by sea slugs on the ocean floor; ADAM allowed its users to alter their DNA to grant them super-human powers like telekinesis and pyrokinesis. Upon Jack’s arrival, he sees that this city turned into a warzone where citizens became blood thirsty monsters driven through ADAM and how corrupt the city is.

A man named Frank Fontaine who sought to overthrow Ryan. Fontaine created black market routes with the surface world, and together with Dr. Brigid Tenenbaum, created a cheap plasmid industry by mass-producing ADAM through the implanting of the slugs in the stomachs of orphaned girls, nicknamed “Little Sisters”. In the months that followed, a second figure named Atlas rose to speak for the lower class, creating further strife. Atlas led attacks on the factories making Little Sisters, and Ryan countered by creating “Big Daddies”, plasmid-enhanced humans surgically grafted into giant lumbering diving suits who were psychologically compelled to protect the Little Sisters at all costs. Ryan also created his own army of plasmid-enhanced soldiers, named “Splicers”, which he controlled using pheromones distributed through Rapture’s air system.

Now entering in the city of Rapture, Jack is contacted by radio with Atlas who is there to guide you to kindly help him save his family and stop Andrew Ryan at all cost. From here on out, the player witnesses the horrors of Rapture, learn how to become more powerful with Plasmids by the power of ADAM, save or destroy the Little Sisters, and stop Andrew Ryan’s reign of terror.

Gameplay

Now, System Shock 2 was a huge game that had a lot of variety of choices of character growth and a strong narrative. Bioshock was promised to improve on that game and made everything much more easier to handle for all players. But I’ll be judging this game on its own merits and compare Bioshock to System Shock 2 another day.

Bioshock is straight forward a first-person shooter horror game. This game emphasizes on shooting everyone who wants to kill you, exploration, collecting, puzzle solving, and accomplishing mission objectives. Like other FPS, you’re given a variety of weapons from the wrench, pistol, tommy gun, shotgun, grenade launcher, chemical thrower, and crossbow. Amazingly, the player can wield them all in their own arsenal of weaponry throughout the game. Each of them have an effective feel of damage towards everything that you shoot at. But there are certain number of enemies that can probably withstand the punishment of a bullet so each gun has their own ammo variety from standard rounds, antipersonnel  rounds (that do twice the damage against Splicers), and Armor piercing rounds (that do twice the damage against armored enemies like Big Daddies).

Besides using your own weaponry, you have the superhuman powers from Plasmids fueled by ADAM. Plasmids are these powers which grant Jack the ability to unleash special attacks or confer passive benefits such as improved health or hacking skills. With the power of the plasmids, Jack has the ability to shoot lighting bolts, incarcerate, shoot swarm of bees, telekinesis, freeze enemies rock solid, and much more right out of his left hand. Using plasmids is what actually mades the combat in this game really incredible because you can switch to the gun that you’re holding to the plasmid power of your choice in a split second once you click the gunfire trigger or plasmid shot trigger. But just like guns and ammo, plasmids uses your EVE meter which is the blue meter below the health bar on the top left of your screen. When you use a lot of plasmid power and ran out of EVE, you have to look for these things called EVE Hypo which refills the EVE meter once you inject with the fluid.

You can earn these Plasmid powers from a vending machine called Gatherer’s Garden that gives you the price of what plasmid to buy.  Gatherer’s Garden allows the player to purchase Plasmids, Gene Tonics, Plasmid Slots, Gene Tonic Slots, Health Upgrades, and EVE Upgrades all of which improves your character’s skills and abilities. Tonics are these special serums made from processed ADAM that introduce modified stem cells into the body, allowing for genetic modification and mutation, giving the user special powers. They can give the player a higher advantage by giving them damage resistance from certain causes of death, increase damage against certain enemies and objects, improve hacking abilities towards certain hackable machines, shortening or stopping alarms, double the EVE injection, double the health injection, turn invisible when standing still, increase ammunition capacity, and so much more! You can do all of these amazing things that makes playing a superhuman into an FPS to feel really remarkable!  Unfortunately, you can’t buy any of that stuff with money in Gatherer’s Garden; the currency requires ADAM that came from these little girls called Little Sisters.

Almost every area has at least one or two Little Sisters and it’s a big requirement to find and take ADAM from them, but it’s not as easy as it sounds because you have to face the toughest enemy of the game, the Big Daddies. These guys are so hard to defeat that it requires a bit of strategy on how to take one down. After you take a Big Daddy down you have a moral choice to make; either harvest the Little Sister and get all the ADAM she carries within her or Rescue the Little Sister and get half the ADAM she carries & set her free.  I love having the choice to do either one because it makes you feel like the good or bad guy and since this game has multiple endings, if you rescue all of them you got yourself a great ending, harvest all of them then you get a horrible ending, and if you done in between you get a depressing ending. I love it when a game really rewards the player for playing as the good guy since I always make good moral decisions in my video games.

Like I already said, once you have enough ADAM you can buy Plasmids and Tonics by a certain price or amount of ADAM you’ve collected. You need them for so many abilities that are used as keys to progress through the game by melting ice (incarcerate), activate machines (bolt of electricity), have better advantages against bigger enemies, and hacking. Hacking is another major factor of the game where they place the player in a mini game similar to Pipe Mania in a limited amount of time. I admit that it is tedious to align all the pipes to connect to the goal of where the water leads up to, but at least when you’re hacking its not done in real time. A failed hack will either damage the player or set off an alarm so be prepared for that. Considering that you have a short amount of time to beat the mini-game hacking it’s most recommended to play Bioshock on the PC instead of the Xbox 360 and PS3 version because pointing and clicking is much faster to select pipes and finish the minigame. You are able to hack surveillance cameras, flying turrets, turrets, and so many mechanical objects that can turn from enemy to ally. I admit that it ruins the horror feel when playing this game but Bioshock give the player all the advantages he/she can get when facing all of threat in Rapture. You can also hack vending machines like the Circus of Value which is a vending machine that sells ammo, EVE, health, and more. You can find money anywhere in the game and you use them to purchase whatever you need from the Circus of Value. Since some of them are overpriced, successfully hacking them will give you a discount on all the things sold in that machine.

You also have the ability to take pictures which is a requirement in the later mission allowing to analyze enemies once photo taking them, with better quality photographs providing more beneficial analysis. After performing enough analysis of an enemy, the player is granted increased damage, gene tonics, and other bonuses when facing that type of enemy when facing them again. Honestly, photography was the worst aspect of Bioshock as I hate taking pictures in a video game like “Hey You, Pikachu!”.

The player can die from a lot of damage so keep an eye on med-kits. Once you die you’re teleported to a “Vita-Chamber”, that acts like an in-game check-point, that resurrects the player within seconds. Breaking my rule of not comparing Bioshock to System Shock 2, this is what makes the game a bit too easy due to the fact that there’s no consequences of dying.  Regardless the gameplay has a lot in store for the player and you can play Bioshock however you want to. And that’s what makes the game so special!

Level Design

Bioshock makes the player to journey the city of Rapture, collect items, money, ammo, EVE, health, and Plasmids and Tonics. The game is all structured in a formulaic progression so that the narrative can flow as easy. There are aspects of the game where you have to do backtracking like finding a plasmid that give you incarceration so that you can meld the block of ice to gain access to that area. In traveling through Rapture, you’re witnessing many aspects of the city like the market, laboratory, source of power, gardens, and so much more! What makes using the plasmids feel so satisfying is that there are so many things that can be interacted to your advantage. For example, when there are so many enemies standing in a body of water, you can electrocute them all to death by shooting a bolt of lightning at the water they’re standing in and a puddle of oil can combust into a huge fire. This brings even the environment to your advantage and I’m really glad to see how this game utilizes the realism that games didn’t accomplish till Bioshock came along.

Since there are so many places to go with so many directions, the player can easily get lost. But luckily you have a compass on the top of the screen to tell the player where to go to accomplish that mission objective. If that’s not helpful enough, you can use a map to show the area’s map. The most rewarding thing about Bioshock is that scavenging for any item is really adventurous. The fact that you can collect food, which automatically makes the player eat it, increases your health, but drinking alcohol decreases your EVE meter. Whenever you see a corpse, or kill an enemy, you can search their bodies for any item at random and it can go in your inventory. But unfortunately, there is no inventory system, or anyway to see your inventory, and it is needed for a game like this one that collects a lot of stuff because there were mission objective that asks me to find a certain object and I never knew that I collected it and the compass didn’t tell me if I had it or don’t and still need to find it.

However, just looking at Rapture is more gorgeous than any other video game setting out there. There are so many dark and gloomy areas that have that has that charming look to it like being in an art painting. Most of the time I just want to look through the window to see a nice view of the city while I can. There was one aspect of the game where part of the plane crashed into the tunnel, I was in there and it was letting the water in, but the funny thing is that the place never flooded (level design flaw). In fact, being in a city underwater, there was never a part of the game where the player could drown which is sorta of a miss opportunity to leave us in fear the water and it could of helped the horror.

There are so many aspects of the game where Atlas and other allies give you mission objectives and tell you the backstory of your target and other things about that part of the narrative. You’re a fish-out-of-water character that is set off to witness many part of the city and start finding solutions to this problem Rapture is having. You’re also able to learn much more about it by collecting audio-logs that had characters who lived in that area to give backstory and things they feel towards the situation they are in. This helps significantly to understand what’s going on rather than a single character to just tell you everything.

Being that this is a game that was set in the middle of the 20th century, you can really see elements and designs that reflects back at the era. The time when oldie music was heard on the rise of the radio broadcasting, the time when movie theaters were more colorful yet shows back and white movies on screen, when all women wore dresses and men wore suits, and everywhere you see the place was clean; the environment in Rapture felt like the American dream from 1930’s – 1950’s. Even the menu and update messages look like mid-20th century billboard signs. Plus you got yourself music from that era, all of that actually makes the atmosphere come to life!

Presentation

I’m really impressed with the fast paced nature of the game that really stands out as a real action game. Everything in this game is highly detailed from the fire, ice, lighting, and water elements that really appear like they should and character design that are so original that its pretty fun to battle them. I really love the Big Daddy in the diving suit which was a breath of fresh air from the abundance amount of space marines over-saturating the whole market. Seeing a Big Daddy is so cool that it was great to become one in the last act of the game and in the sequel which made it feel like playing as a Big Daddy. Also, you have the Little Sister that look so mysterious when they still have ADAM in them. Seeing both the Big Daddy and Little Sister as a pair felt like a deep connection between the two. Big Daddies aren’t really that evil as the Splicer, they’ll do whatever it takes to protect the Little Sister and they look very peaceful until you attack them, then they’ll try to crush you like a Rhyno. The sad part is when you free a Little Sister from ADAM to make them normal, they look like cartoon characters because of the big eyes that makes have bad proportion. I never liked the look of the real Little Sisters because they don’t look like a little girl without the glowing eyes; they look like dolls.

Every attempt for the developers to place the game in a certain section, immediately I feel like I’m really there. The feeling of being underwater, the sense that you’re in a garden when you reach there, and everything else. However there is only one attempt that Irrational Games didn’t succeed at, and that’s the horror. Unlike System Shock 2, (excluding the plot twist) I was never once scared at Bioshock because being that this is a game that has a lot of action in it, being too powerful of a character didn’t get me fear some these enemy types. Even when you die, there’s no consequence when resurrecting from the Vita-Chamber. That’s probably the only thing that I say that didn’t work on Bioshock. But even though a game isn’t scary, that doesn’t mean the game is bad, it just worked better as a FPS.

Once again I’m going to praise the mid 20th Century America look because it captures that essence of being in that era and when people says Bioshock is art, you better believe it because this was the game that made interactive media reach this high (technologically) and offer a setting of that nostalgic element to come to life (virtually). I always feel warm inside when I see the gloomy nature of the game that has a great variety of color lighting and plenty of dark shadows to feel dreamy.

Conclusion

Never have I seen a game that created this amazingly, deep world that I want to explore in. I never seen an FPS that wanted to be taken seriously by making itself as artsy, as original, and as creative as humanly possible. I love the story about morality that really is the biggest difference between this and System Shock 2. I really felt effected when I’m rescuing or harvesting the Little Sisters because they stick out to me as the most innocent bystander of the game. Despite the fact that I never once was scared with Bioshock, the crazy variety of what the player can do from plasmids, shooting, hacking, and a sense of exploration, no doubt this is a game that’s up in my alley. Even though most System Shock fans would say otherwise, (despite how similar the story is) Bioshock was a true successor of System Shock 2. EA will never give us a System Shock 3 and the only way we can actually have the similar gameplay as to SS2 is to start the Bioshock series with the developers who made System Shock 2. Novels have accomplished sci-fi originality with Jurassic Park, Movies have accomplished sci-fi originality with The Matrix, and Video Games accomplished sci-fi originality with Bioshock! Bioshock really is one of those games that deserved all the credit that it has gotten and it has been one of my personal favorites from the 7th Generation of Video Games!

Things I love

  • Rapture is an original & beautiful setting that makes the player want to explore
  • Plasmid gameplay that feels satisfying to be a superhuman in a FPS
  • Big Daddies and Little Sisters (they look so cool)
  • Hacking is more rewarding
  • A Great Plot with a lot of backstory and a phenomenal twist
  • Using powers is complex yet easy to use
  • Ethical and philosophical choices that changes the ending of the game

Things I hate

  • Photography; taking pictures is not fun and is unnecessary for a game like this
  • Little Sister’s doll face when you take ADAM out of them
  • Everyone calls Bioshock scary, but I was never once was scared
  • No Inventory System to see what players collected

The Top Lister’s video game score… 5 out of 5

Advertisements