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System: PC, Xbox 360 :: Rating: Mature :: Players: 1
Genre: FPS :: Released: 21 August 2007

By Aaron Robinson
12 March 2008 When BioShock came onto the scene last year, critics and the Internet praised it alike. When I finally caved in and bought an Xbox 360 earlier this year, it was one of the first games I grabbed. It takes a lot to get me interested in an FPS, but something about a horror-themed first-person shooter set in a fictional underwater dystopia spoke to me. It's such a unique concept that I knew I had to give it a shot.

BioShock introduces you to the fictional city of Rapture. Its creator, industrialist Andrew Ryan had, a simple vision: to create a world where everyone has a purpose, where science and industry are not governed by higher powers. To keep the city out of the reach of government hands, Andrew decided to build Rapture on the ocean bed, hiding its presence from anyone who didn't believe in his views. For years, the city was a brilliant success. Thousands of believers flocked to Andrew's side, seeing it as the perfect opportunity to breakaway from the boundaries of the modern world to create their own society. And yet, as luck would have it, things didn't go smoothly in a society without rules or boundaries. Cracks began to form. Greed pushed science and technology at an alarming rate. Before long, Rapture became a war zone, and the once-pristine society began to crumble upon itself.

You never get to see Rapture in its glory. BioShock begins with a plane crash in the middle of the ocean. You play Jack, the lone survivor, who manages to swim to a lighthouse. Venturing inward, you find a bathysphere awaiting you, preset to take you on a trip to Rapture. With nowhere else to go, you flip the switch and take the ride, only to find on your arrival that the city has been torn apart. Luckily for you, the kindhearted Atlas is aware of your arrival, and gives you hints and directions via radio transmissions. Atlas, it seems, wants nothing more than to save his family and escape the city, which at this point seems almost impossible. Most of the remaining citizens have been driven insane from experimental tonics and plasmids which, oddly enough, were designed to make life easier. It doesn't help that Andrew Ryan strongly disapproves of your presence.

The story of BioShock is told in two different ways. Primarily it unfolds through scripted scenes and radio conversations you'll have with the few sane survivors. But throughout your travels you'll also find audio tapes that have been left behind by survivors; their jumbled stories tell you all you need to know. How and why this happened, and who you're up against are all explored. My biggest gripe is that whilst the backstory is almost brilliantly crafted, the in-game story seems to lose balance towards the end. BioShock builds to a big confrontation, only to continue for a few hours afterwards that's when things start to drag.

By far, the greatest aspect of BioShock is the atmosphere, and a lot of that comes from the unique setting. The design of Rapture was inspired by the Art Deco period, and it shows in the layout and design of the buildings. The city is littered with posters and advertisements, all loosely modeled on those from the 1950s albeit with their own twisted messages. The destruction throughout Rapture is mesmerizing. Rubble lies everywhere. Leaking water sprays openly from tears in walls, splashing beautifully across the screen. And there are insane ramblings sprawled across walls. Of course, whilst the game is set in 1960, Rapture's unrestrained scientific and technological growth has caused the technology to be strangely advanced for its time, which means that flying security bots and genetically enhanced citizens don't feel too far out of place.

The most common enemies you'll encounter are the remaining crazed citizens of Rapture. Nicknamed Splicers by Atlas (because of their genetically enhanced physical traits), they constantly roam the streets looking for ADAM and EVE to feed their powers. They will instantly target you, spouting gibberish whilst throwing anything in your direction. The problem with Splicers is that there are only a handful of different character designs in the game. Which means you'll see the same type of Splicers repeated over and over, albeit with different powers. Initially it's creepy to see a religious fanatic pacing around, singing his little song about Jesus, completely unaware of your presence. But when you've seen the same character several times before saying the same thing it starts to wear thin.

The Little Sisters and Big Daddies are the most interesting aspect of BioShock. The Little Sisters are there to help recycle the ADAM that gives the denizens of Rapture power. When they spot a corpse, they'll gleefully run over to remove the ADAM from the subject. The Big Daddies are their bodyguards, never attacking unless provoked. But in order to get to the Little Sisters and gain their ADAM, the Big Daddies will have to be dealt with. Of course, taking these guys on is no easy task. They're essentially walking tanks. The Little Sisters also come with a moral quandary: do you harvest their ADAM? Killing a Little Sister nets you large amounts of ADAM, but saving her leaves you with the knowledge that you protected a child. That, however, earns you only half the ADAM you would have received had you killed her.

So after all this talk about ADAM and EVE, you're probably wondering what they actually do. ADAM allows you to upgrade your character at the Gatherer's Garden machines located throughout Rapture. Upgrades of any sort cost ADAM, which can only be gained by dealing with Little Sisters. There are two kinds of upgrades. Tonics are improvements to certain traits, and are grouped into three types: combat, engineering and physical. Want to be able to absorb more damage, move in a stealthier manner or make hacking less of a chore? Tonics are the answer. You can also give your character plasmids, which basically work as magic. You can use these abilities at the cost of EVE, which can be found at vending machines throughout the game. You can't help but smile when setting a Splicer on fire, electrocuting him when he runs into a puddle of water, setting a swarm of bees on him, then finishing the guy off by telekinetically throwing a dead Splicer at him. It's never really necessary to fiddle around with plasmids, but it's almost always fun.

If the premise of making your own supersoldier by taking on walking tanks doesn't appeal to you, there's also a decent range of normal weapons in your arsenal. By the end of the game you'll have a wrench, pistol, machine gun, shotgun, chemical thrower, grenade launcher and crossbow to help you defeat just about any enemy you see. For every weapon (outside of the wrench) you'll get three different types of ammo, each having different advantages. You'll even be able to upgrade your weapons at Power to the People stations placed sparingly throughout the game. Among your weapons you'll also gain a camera, which you can use to research your enemies. Do enough research and you'll gain bonuses for your character, such as improved attacks against those you've researched.

Alongside the Gatherer's Garden and Power to the People there are a range of other machines you can use to improve your standing. You can fine-tune your characters at Gene Banks, switching around plasmids and tonics. You'll be able to buy supplies and ammunition at vending machines, or heal at health stations. You can even invent items with bits and pieces you've picked up during you're travels. On top of that, practically any machine in the game can be hacked for your benefit. Want items for cheaper? Just hack a vending machine. Want turrets to help you rather than target you? Hack 'em. It's just a shame that the hacking itself gets kind of boring. You're basically just playing a mini-game. Though it's cool to begin with, it winds up being tedious. Thankfully hacking tools become fairly common towards the end.

The actual combat gameplay is solid if unspectacular. The crazed Splicers aren't particularly tactful. If they have a long-ranged weapon, they'll attack from a distance. If they have a short-ranged weapon, they'll approach for a strike. If they have a combination of both, they'll do a combination of both. Things get a little varied later in the game, but for the most part they act the same crazy kind of way. Sure, they will run to a health station if hurt or dive into a pool of water if they're on fire, but for the most part these guys aren't too bright. It's just a matter of keeping your distance and strafing while firing with the correct weapons. Turrets, security bots and Big Daddies mix things up a bit, but they, too, rarely deviate from their set patterns.

Rather than checkpoints, BioShock employs Vita Chambers which are placed frequently throughout Rapture. When you die, you are instantly revived at the nearest Vita Chamber, complete with a chuck of health and EVE. And enemies are left with the same amount of health as when you died. It's nice that they went against the standard checkpoint system, but the Vita Chambers remove almost any consequence from death. Luckily the ability to turn off these Vita Chambers was added later as a download, so if you ever get the feeling that BioShock just isn't that challenging, the option to play without them is there.

When it's all said and done, BioShock is a fun, if slightly flawed experience. If you're looking for an FPS with superior gameplay mechanics, you won't find it here. If you're looking for a tense ride through a sideshow house of horrors in a beautifully crafted and unique looking city, then this may well be what you're searching for. It's just a shame that the game drags on for longer than it needs to. Still, it gets a strong recommendation from me; the story and setting are far too amazing to be missed.

Final Grade: 8.5/10

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