Review: Bioshock (Xbox 360)
History proves that for most great civilizations there is often a gradual rise to power before an inevitable descent into subjugation, making way for the next dominant force. Bioshock depicts such a fall from grace, the epic dream of Andrew Ryan manifested in his glorious underwater city, Rapture, that from the outside appears to be a form of paradise but within the vortex dwells the remnants of a crumbled society.
Set in 1960, the story opens spectacularly with Jack, a lone survivor of a crash in the Atlantic Ocean, swimming through the cold water, illuminated by the burning remnants of the ruined plane, searching for sanctuary. A lighthouse perched on a small island offers Jack the solace he needs and once inside he descends beneath the ocean into Rapture, the city lights glowing bright against the enshrouding darkness of the watery depths. Appearances are often misleading and this is the case for Jack who hasn’t even stepped foot in Rapture before he witnesses the brutal murder of one of the city’s residents. Rather than a thriving utopia, Rapture is a city plagued by inhabitants driven to violence against strangers and even each other, rooms and corridors are haunted by the ghostly voices of the dead captured in recorders, while water leaks from the ceiling and has flooded many sections. On his arrival Jack is contacted by Atlas, one of Rapture’s residents who is eager to help you survive in exchange for your efforts in rescuing both him and his family. Your efforts are hindered by the father of Rapture, Andrew Ryan, who will stop at nothing to oppose both you and Atlas.
Though a first person shooter, Bioshock contains many forms of combat. You begin with a humble wrench to floor your foes but soon move on to more priceless acquisitions – a pistol, a shotgun, grenade launcher, machine gun, there’s always plenty of choice. Weapons are wielded in your right hand while your left hand is reserved for the use of plasmids – genetic modifications allowing Jack to wield unique skills such as electricity, fire, telekinesis and so on. To obtain such power, Jack must join the rest of Rapture’s society in the relentless pursuit of ADAM. Produced from sea slugs that have taken root in human hosts, ADAM can be transferred at a Gatherer’s Garden into either plasmids or gene tonics, an array of enhancements that can augment your health, intelligence or strength. The plasmids you wield are powered by a serum known as EVE, which along with your health, are visible as blue and red bars in the top left hand corner of the screen. Keeping your stocks of first aid kits and EVE topped up is vital to survival in the decadent hallways of Rapture. As you gather further plasmids and gene tonics you will have a limited amount of slots to allocate them to so prioritising becomes a mainstay of Bioshock. Maintaining supplies is made relatively straightforward thanks to a plethora of vending machines where you can use any money you have pilfered from corpses or rooms to purchase ammunition, first aid kits, EVE, upgrade weapons and invent new items.
As you progress through the game the story slowly unravels via the advice of Atlas and the interjections of Andrew Ryan, while scattered recordings create the backdrop to Rapture. Atlas will give Jack a series of objectives for each section, whether it’s taking out powerful enemies or individuals, flicking switches or heading to new areas. For every task you are given an arrow will appear at the top of the screen to ensure you are not wandering around aimlessly. Though Atlas can prepare you for many of the challenges that await he cannot predict where and when you will encounter enemies. The bulk of the foes you face will be Rapture’s ADAM addicted residents known as Splicers, many so consumed by their obsession for enhancement that genetic modifications have led to disfigurement and the need to hide their waking nightmares behind masks. Splicers vary with some wielding bars, guns and others able to hurl fireballs at you. Security cameras and turrets are also lying in wait to hinder you but Jack is able to hack Rapture’s security network, not only disabling these mechanical threats but turning them against the Splicers. Such threats, however, are superseded by one enemy that truly defines Bioshock, taking proud place on the game’s cover – Big Daddies. Throughout Rapture you will occasionally come across girls with large syringes that extract ADAM from corpses. These are the Little Sisters and you will need to capture them to obtain their ADAM. However, each Little Sister is accompanied by a Big Daddy, guardians in metal diving suits whose heavy bulk does not prevent them moving at frightening speed to protect their companions. Big Daddies are the most terrifying enemies you will face and there is no avoiding combat with them if you want to progress. After defeating a Big Daddy you have the choice of harvesting or rescuing the defenceless Little Sister. Each girl has one of the sea slugs that produces ADAM inside them. Harvesting removes a great deal of ADAM from a sister but kills them whereas rescuing removes a lesser amount of ADAM but the sister survives and your generosity is later rewarded. Bioshock’s moral dilemma and how you approach it impacts on the ending of the game where three conclusions are possible dependent on your actions.
If Bioshock has a weakness it is sometimes to be found in the combat. Though you can wield both plasmids and weapons, you cannot do so at the same time and will need to switch between the two in the midst of battle. Electrocuting a Big Daddy to stun him then switching to a shotgun to fire off a couple of rounds forces you to work fast and at times I was pressing buttons so quickly that I sometimes inadvertently changed weapons or plasmids rather than firing them. Bioshock is rated 18 and justifiably so with many violent exchanges, so this is unsuitable for younger gamers.
I’m not usually a big fan of first person shooters but found myself completely absorbed into the world of Bioshock. The combat was easy to grasp, the story was deeply engaging with some clever twists along the way and Rapture is portrayed beautifully throughout as the remnants of Andrew Ryan’s failed dream.
(Game source: reviewer’s own copy)
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