BIOSHOCK – my review
Genre: First Person Shooter/Horror/Adventure
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Irrational Games/2K Boston/2K Australia
Rating: Mature (17 and up)
By Philip Ortiz (Xbox Live Gamertag: scytherage)
September 9 2007
In this day and age, it's quite difficult to find a First-Person Shooter game that's radically different from everything else. They're either set a thousand years in the future, with the player cast as some supersoldier, armed to the teeth with various implements of death (machine gun, rocket launcher, etc.). Or, they're set in World War II, and the bad guys are the Nazis (who ever gets tired of shooting Nazis?) Of course, there is the present day shooter where its terrorists versus counter-terrorists, with the usual set of weapons (again, machine gun, rocket launcher etc.). And while I doubt that this successful formula will change anytime soon (Why should it? It works!), it's nice to see a game that tries to evolve the genre, placing more importance on story, pacing, presentation and delivery. That game, is BIOSHOCK.
In BIOSHOCK, it's 1960, and you're the lone survivor of a plane crash that somehow manages to land you near the entrance to an underwater city, interestingly named Rapture. Later on, you find out that Rapture was built by an enigmatic entrepreneur named Andrew Ryan, a man who sought to create a place where scientists and artists would be given free reign in their creative endeavors, and not be constrained by things like ethics or, in his words, petty morality. As a result, scientists discover a way to modify one's genetic code so that people are able to summon and control the elements of nature and are capable of superhuman feats. When you arrive in this city, however, most of it is in ruins, and its citizens have become violent and disfigured. A lone survivor named Atlas then begs you to help save his family and escape from Rapture unharmed. Thus begins your journey deep into the heart of the city of Rapture, not only to save Atlas's family, but also to find out what happened to this once-prosperous metropolis.
To call BIOSHOCK a story-driven game is a huge understatement. Most first-person-shooters assume the title 'story-driven game', but then every level is essentially room after room of mindless bots. You go to one room, destroy everything in sight, then move on to the next room. BIOSHOCK's gameplay is different: you go to a room, encounter enemies, then investigate, think, ponder, plan....At least, that's how this reviewer 'experienced' this game. On the back of the game box, it says that 'no two gamers will play the game the same way'....and to a large extent, that statement is very, very true. BIOSHOCK is a horror game, a role-playing game, an action game, and an adventure game all rolled into one. And it seems to me that it can be a very different game for a different gamer altogether. There are going to be gamers who will rush through this game, shoot everything that moves, and not appreciate the story or the scenery. And there are others who will play this game slowly and methodically, investigating every little nook and cranny, appreciating every bit of story detail and immersing themselves in the setting and the unique experience that it provides. Surprisingly, both types of players will find a rewarding experience in BIOSHOCK.
The action-oriented gamer will appreciate the seamlessly implemented combat system. You have, other than the usual repertoire of guns and ammunition, a set of abilities called plasmids, which enable you fight using nature's elements or take advantage of creatures or objects in your immediate surroundings. If you find yourself trapped by several enemies, you can turn them against each other with the Enrage plasmid. If you end up spotted by a security camera, you can use the electro bolt plasmid to disrupt it, then hack the device so that it will work in your favor. And despite all the chaos that ensues when you do use these plasmids, the action never skips a beat. The framerate is solid, and it can even be increased to a smooth 60 frames-per-second simply by changing one of the in-game settings. Furthermore, your enemies (or allies) don't seem to be prone to getting stuck, running the wrong way, or getting lost. In fact, it's the incredible artificial intelligence system that's programmed into the game that helps make it even more immersive.
The story-driven gamer also has a lot to look forward to in BIOSHOCK. The game delivers its storyline through audio recordings left behind by Rapture's citizens and through characters who will contact the player from time to time. The voice acting for these recordings is very well done; they do a great job in giving each of the different characters a unique personality. Another element of BIOSHOCK which I found interesting is the way it occasionally tells a story without saying anything explicitly to the player. Sometimes you'll encounter a particular room or setting where, upon investigation, you can figure out what happened on your own (with occasionally surprising or terrifying results). For example, there's one area in the game where you'll find a dead body hanging with the words 'SMUGGLER' written above. Approach and investigate the scene, and you'll find out what exactly this person was smuggling...which then will give you some insight on the world of Rapture and some of the reasons why the city is in ruins. This isn't the only scene in the game where it tells a story without explicitly telling the player; there are many, many moments in the game where this type of narrative is executed flawlessly. The developers of this game are very skilled at telling the story of their world interactively. This results in a very rewarding experience for players who enjoy thorough exploration. In that sense, the game provides a sense of adventure that you'll rarely find in most first-person shooters. Lastly, the story-driven gamer will enjoy the element of choice that the game presents. To survive in Rapture, your character needs to acquire an element called 'ADAM' from little girls wandering the halls, called Little Sisters. However, you cannot take this element without killing them in the process. At the same time, you need the element to survive the later areas of the game. What do you do? The choices that you make in dealing with these Little Sisters will affect the way you play the various levels of the game, and they also have an effect on the way the story ends.
Does BIOSHOCK deliver gaming perfection? If I'm going to answer this question I think I need to talk about an element of the game's design which will be controversial for most: the Vita-Chambers. These are devices located in each level of the game which resurrect your character upon death. In a nutshell, if your character dies, you get resurrected immediately in the nearest Vita-chamber, with most of your equipment intact. So, it's entirely possible to 'cheese-out' the game. Case in point, if you're trying to take down a Big Daddy (one of the stronger creatures in the game), you could attack one recklessly until you die, then resurrect in a Vita-Chamber, then look for the Big Daddy where you left it, and kill it while its health is still low. The truth is, different players will handle the situation of dying in different ways. For me, I didn't really bother with 'using' the Vita-Chambers; every time my character died, I usually just end up reloading my saved game, because I thought that the reason I died was because I didn't handle the situation efficiently (you have very limited resources when it comes to ammunition and healing kits). Other players may handle this differently, and they can opt to use the 'cheese out' method I've specified above. Does this break the game? After completing it, I realized that the developers must have wanted most players to finish the whole story. The decision to include the Vita-Chambers must have been made so that the game would be more inclusive to gamers of different skill levels, so that, with patience, everyone who plays the game will see the entire thing from start to finish. I'm sure that this will be a sore point with the more hardcore gaming crowd, but lets face it....there aren't really that many hardcore gamers out there, and the hobby does need to become more accessible to more people.
...Which brings me back to my original question: Does BIOSHOCK deliver gaming perfection? For this generation of games, I haven't quite seen a game that can match BIOSHOCK in terms of delivering the most complete single player gaming experience. Perhaps the only unfortunate thing about this game is that it's a mature title; literally, buckets of blood flow aplenty, and that does reduce its appeal (a whole lot more than the 'problem' with the Vita-Chambers). Also, the terror factor that the game has will discourage some people from even getting beyond level 2. Let me just assure players who get too freaked out: just keep at it, you'll get used to the freakish denizens of Rapture soon enough, and at that point, the game's action pacing feels more like Halo than Doom.
Gaming perfection? Damn close.