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The main protagonist of BioShock isn’t the player controller character, but the underwater, dystopian city of Rapture. While exploring, players discover devastating weapons, plasmids (magic attacks) and too many tonics (stat boosters) that leave little impact; it’s the city and the citizens that are the driving force for why you should move forward.
What You’ll Like
Rapture is the heart of the story and your enjoyment with the game. Through taunting splicers (once sane citizens who corroded their minds with gene manipulation), audio-logs and environmental clues, the city has a mood and personality all its own. As players progress, you discover how the city was a shining beacon of libertarian ideals and ultimately fell due to internal strife and corruption. Every aspect highlights the ideals of free-choice and why this fantastical 1950’s metropolis was created. The loading screen offers clues to the history of Rapture and makes a traditional low point in games enjoyable; for example, “What would the Russian Bear and the American Eagle do if they discovered our paradise? Our secrecy is our shield!” BioShock manages to capture the feel of 50’s propaganda and ideals throughout the tutorial videos, HUD and character designs.
Characters in Rapture are twisted idealistic versions of the city itself. The father of Rapture built the city to escape governmental control and influence, now micro-manages the city and monitors everything. The chief scientist wanted to create new life, but instead found an effective way to kill. Through interactions with these characters, the player understands the history of Rapture and why it is falling apart. The actors bring forth personality and a sense of self-righteousness to the cast, who ultimately serve as guides to Rapture as well as being fully realized individuals.
Enemies are designed with distinct personalities and behaviors. There is a splicer who climbs walls like Spider-Man and constantly tries to outflank you. Another type teleports around the battlefield, creating a game of cat and mouse. Thugs charge with reckless abandon. All adversaries are clever and use the environment to their advantage, if you ignite a splicer on fire they will run to water and douse the flames. This creates an opportunity to then shock them with electricity for a light-show death. Surviving Rapture, especially on higher difficulties, is about leveraging the environment to your benefit.
The most memorable foes are the Big Daddy and Little Sister. The Big Daddy is a hulking beast whose footsteps echo throughout the level. When you first approach him, he will simply ignore you. Only if you fire first or there is a little to protect will his paternal instincts kick in. The Big Daddy is difficult to defeat and fleeing might be a wiser choice until you have a chance to increase your stockpile of weapons.
Firearms within BioSchock vary from one another and are more than a pallet swap. The revolver is accurate, but doesn’t deal much damage. The crossbow is deadly but requires a lot of time to reload. If you want to be up close and personal, the shotgun is your go to. Each of the weapons will work in most scenarios and the game will never force you to use one over the other outright, leaving players to choose the style that fits best.
The visual style of Rapture perfectly combines the gilt and glimmer of a futuristic fifty’s society with the rundown grime and grit which infected the city. But it is the sounds throughout that truly drive the message home. In rundown stores, previously recorded messages will crackle through loud speakers. The vending machines will mock players as they walk by like an overzealous street merchant. The enemies make plans in hushed whispers, scream incoherent threats or clank their weapons together to unnerve the player.
What You Might Not Like
The first two acts explore Rapture, its creation and downfall. The last act takes a turn as the protagonist’s back story is finally revealed in an exposition dump and the final boss’ motivations come to light. Some might find this twist in the narrative exciting and refreshing. I thought it was an out-of-nowhere game changer that was more distracting then engaging. There was no true setup, aside from a couple audio-logs, to have this plot decision carry any weight. With so many great side characters it is disappointing that the same personality couldn’t be transferred to the main character and antagonist.
The splicers can be creepy enemies who taunt the player with shrieking cries and death threats. BioShock is most griping when you don’t know what will be around the next corner. Unfortunately, there are a few sections when wave after wave will rush in; one cleverly placed foe can be threatening and cause you pause but an endless supply is more of a distraction and time suck then a challenge.
Near the game’s end players will have fifty tonics and a handful of offensive weapons. Unfortunately, earlier gear is near useless as enemies health is ramped up and they become damage sponges. Choice can heighten a game but all of the tonics with their 10% boosts don’t seem to have much impact on the gameplay.
There is a minigame where players hack through security. This can be challenging and fun the first time. But when going through and having to hack every vending machine, camera, turret or safe it becomes repetitive quickly.
BioShock is best when detailing Rapture, setting a macabre mood, introducing delusional characters, taunting the player and using plasmids to interact with the environment. What holds the game back is the paper-thin motivations of some characters, wave of enemy encounters and lack of character-arc in the protagonist.
If you enjoy exploring environments, discovering side stories and don’t mind dispatching the same foes with a multitude of options than BioShock is an experience worth your time.
Score: 9.0 /10
+ Rapture is Fully Realized
+ Personality in All Aspects of Game Design
+ Offensive and Environmental Usage for Powers
+ Side Characters/Missions
– Protagonist has No Story Arc
– End-Game Combat is Repetitive
Upon completing the game I earned 54% of trophies, this includes DLC not required for the Platinum. The most difficult trophy is to beat the game on Survivor without dying. I died multiple times on normal and can’t imagine slogging through the game, saving after every battle to try and meet this goal. Another barrier to entry is all the collectables, many of which are missable. Players need to locate every audio log, plasmid, tonic and weapon upgrade station. Unless you are able to scour each and every section with perfect precision, an open guide is required every step of the way. My normal playthrough was completed in about twenty hours; I could see the Platinum taking fifty hours to earn.
There is a reason why only 1.9% of players achieved the Platinum (36% finished the campaign) and I will not be joining their glorious ranks.
Level Up, Friends!