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BioShock (PlayStation 3) artwork

BioShock (PlayStation 3) review

"What once seemed perfect now more closely resembles a haunted amusement park. Water sprays through fissures in the transparent barrier encasing the city. Hallways are filled with rubble. Signs advertising a perfect future hang crookedly and flash sporadically as sparks shower the cracked asphalt below. The laughter of men, women and children has faded away, replaced by cheery classical music that blends oddly with the screams of the dying and the barely living. Vitality once formed the heart of the city. Now it's all but gone."

Imagine a utopia where the fruits of your labor return to you tenfold, where every resident lives in harmony and is free to pursue the arts and sciences. Such a place sounds thrilling and fantastic enough that the realist would call it impossible. That realist never met Andrew Ryan, though, and certainly wouldn't have been welcome in the visionary man's version of heaven on Earth: a little-known city named Rapture. Constructed fathoms under the sea because the project wouldn't work anywhere else, the submerged paradise was built around the time of the second world war and soon became home to some of the world's brightest philosophers and artists.

More than anything else, BioShock is the story of that city and the philosophy behind it. The tale begins years after Rapture's construction, during the Cold War era. A young man is aboard a flight over the Atlantic Ocean when suddenly the aircraft plunges into the sea. He struggles to reach the surface before running out of air. At last he finds himself gasping at the cool night air. Wreckage and walls of flame surround him as columns of thick black smoke fade into the black firmament overhead. Faintly visible in the fiery glow, a distant structure rises from the tumultuous waves. The crash's sole survivor makes his way to the shore, exhausted and drenched.

Against Andrew Ryan's wishes, a stranger has come to Rapture.

As that unwelcome guest, you'll descend into the city's depths. You'll discover that the years have not been kind to the sub-Atlantic paradise. What once seemed perfect now more closely resembles a haunted amusement park. Water sprays through fissures in the transparent barrier encasing the city. Hallways are filled with rubble. Signs advertising a perfect future hang crookedly and flash sporadically as sparks shower the cracked asphalt below. The laughter of men, women and children has faded away, replaced by cheery classical music that blends oddly with the screams of the dying and the barely living. Vitality once formed the heart of the city. Now it's all but gone. The few remaining vestiges of humanity will soon fall prey to the splicers.

It won't be long before you first encounter one of these wretched creatures. Formerly productive members of society, they now roam the decaying streets, scythes and pistols at the ready. They consider their fellow men nothing more than life energy waiting to be harvested. It's a disgusting thought, but if you're smart you won't waste time pondering such things. Instead, you'll blow the splicer's brains out with a quick head shot, or spatter its guts all over the nearest wall in a hail of bullets from your machine gun. If you're out of ammunition, you might even bludgeon your wiry opponent with a wrench. It's survival of the fittest: you or them.

From nearly the moment you enter Rapture, you're in frequent communication with a man who calls himself Atlas. He soon tells you of his dream to escape the city with his wife and child at his side. You can help, he says, and he'll help you. His instructions guide you through the intricacies of the water-logged world around you. He's a competent guide with a serious grudge against Andrew Ryan. As you witness the many travesties around you, so evident in every mangled corpse, blood-soaked crevice and heart-rending diary entry (voice-recorded for your listening pleasure), it's easy to share his perspective.

Surprisingly, your efforts to escape the city take you deeper into its bowels. There, your body soon undergoes an unexpected change: you receive the gift of ADAM. Now you can equip unique abilities known as Plasmids. These level the playing field, since they eventually enable you to send forth bolts of lightning from your fingertips, to summon icy gales and even to make use of telekinetic force fields that send objects flying. Sometimes you'll use these abilities to puzzle your way through odd situations and to access dangerous new environments, but mostly you'll use them for the obvious purpose: saving yourself from splicers and from the city itself.

Rapture is practically a living, breathing creature. Its many corridors are filled with surveillance cameras, turrets and sentries. If you're careless, it won't take long for alarms to start sounding. Water may be pouring through gaping cracks in the walls, but that doesn't stop the city's defense mechanisms from functioning as intended. Gunfire will quickly make mincemeat of your defenses if you're forced to bear the brunt of them, so your Plasmid skills are invaluable. Because you're now infused with ADAM, you can also try your hand at hacking.

Whether you're trying to persuade a sentry that it's actually on your side (quite doable) or a camera that it should watch out for your enemies instead of reporting everything back to Andrew Ryan (also an option), hacking takes place in much the same way. First, you make sure that your target isn't alert--or that you have disabled it with a burst of electricity--and then you place bits of piping so that they allow a current to travel uninterrupted from one point to another. This starts out fairly difficult, since you have to pull away tiles to reveal what's underneath them (sometimes a bomb or alarm) and then rearrange things before time expires. Like almost anything else, though, you can eventually make the whole process painless by improving your proficiency with tonics crafted from ADAM.

One of the most disturbing things about Rapture is the manner in which this is accomplished. You don't simply pick up the all-important material by slaying the common splicer. Instead, you must seek out elusive girls known as Little Sisters. The first time you see one, she's on the other side of an impassible glass wall. A splicer lurks nearby and you'll have to watch as he approaches her with murderous intent. Clearly, he plans to slay her for the ADAM she carries. Before he can strike, a monstrous creature crashes onto the scene and slaughters the would-be assassin. Those defenseless little girls... aren't really.

The next time that you stumble upon a Little Sister, you have options. The first order of business should be taking down the Big Daddy guardian (easier said than done, given their armor and firepower) that waits somewhere nearby. You don't want to wind up like that splicer you saw. But what then? That's when you have a choice. You can either kill the girl for a pleasing ADAM boost, or you can free her from the the influence of Rapture. This is a freakish process as you take her flailing form in your arms and hold your hands along her head and chin as if to snap her neck. Watching the orange glow fade from her eyes and mystical energy coursing through her never quite feels natural. Certainly, it's a strange occurrence. Will you choose to harvest the innocents for more strength, or let them run free for unspecified rewards to come?

Either way, it probably won't take long for you to start relying on Vita-Chambers. They're scattered throughout the city, not as frequent as health-restoring stations (which are useful in and of themselves) but far more important. When you fall in battle--as you almost certainly will on numerous occasions--you'll be back in the swing of things almost immediately. Your corpse is warped to the last of the mystical cylinders that you passed and you'll emerge mostly refreshed and ready to resume your quest about where you left off (all without using up any of your precious inventory). There's no real penalty. You can backtrack to the last turret or Big Daddy or splicer that gave you trouble and get right back into the thick of things with your adversaries weakened by the previous confrontation. This unique setup holds true in every instance except for your final bid for escape from Rapture.

Maybe you'll like the Vita-Chambers and maybe you won't. You'll either appreciate the way they keep the focus on the exploration of Rapture and its fantastic mysteries or you'll decide to disable them from the 'Options' menu. Of course, then BioShock might feel more like a generic video game and less like the incredible experience that it is by default. Whatever your choice, Rapture awaits...

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 28, 2008)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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Lewis posted October 28, 2008:

I recently wrote yet another piece on BioShock for Art Fist magazine. Each time I return to it, largely for journalistic reasons these days, I'm equally stunned. It's simply magical.

I'm glad to see a review focus so heavily on Rapture itself, because it's clearly the starring character in this wonderful videogame. I worry if you may have undersold it, though - you tell the story and describe the experience nicely, but on paper it sounds kind of lacking, which is the last thing BioShock was. Practially the only discussion of the game's quality comes in the final paragraph.

Maybe it should be common knowledge how essential this masterpiece is by now, though.
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honestgamer posted October 28, 2008:

I definitely took some risks with the review, and purposefully avoided direct discussion of the game's overall quality because to me that cheapens what BioShock was for me. Instead, I tried to describe the intricacies that make Rapture so interesting--and absolutely worth visiting. My hope is that it will lead the reader to say "Hmm, I should check it out." So yeah, I'm aware that the review is likely to be hit-or-miss but sometimes I like to take risks with my reviews rather than fall into an all-too-familiar pattern. I really couldn't think of a better time to do that than the present.
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EmP posted October 28, 2008:

BioShock, you say?

I do believe I own this game. Hmmm...
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Halon posted October 28, 2008:

This game is getting way too much praise around here.
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Lewis posted October 29, 2008:

Gary: Don't you darestart.

Sportsman: *sigh*
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psychopenguin posted October 29, 2008:

This game is getting a lot of praise EVERYWHERE.
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Lewis posted October 29, 2008:

And DamnHellYeah it should.

I am really, really hoping that Friday will bring a time when I have a new pet game to ramble on about. Until then, BioShock is the essential current-gen videogame, for me.

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