Retro Review: BioShock
After well over a year of underwhelming “next-gen” games culminating in the letdown that is Batman: Arkham Knight, I needed to cleanse my video game soul. So I dusted off the Xbox 360 and played BioShock, which I had not played in a couple of years but is one of my favorite games of all time. Did it keep its luster after all this time or has it faded away?
You start the game off on a plane that crash lands in the middle of the ocean, and you playing as Jack must swim to safety. You wind up at a lighthouse and eventually travel to the underwater city of Rapture. You encounter your first Splicer very quickly, with no weapons though odds are you would not win in a battle with them.
Luckily for Jack, a friendly and caring man; Atlas comes to your rescue. He instructs you to get a weapon and the similarities to System Shock 2 start to arise.
You get a wrench. For those who played System Shock 2 will know that you had a wrench as well. Ok so maybe Ken Levine recycles some ideas from his games. Maybe BioShock is System Shock 2 just tweaked.
This begins a journey that pits Jack and Atlas versus all of the villains of Rapture and ultimately culminates in a showdown versus Andrew Ryan. Ryan runs Rapture, and the meeting with him towards the end of the game is still one of the most iconic moments in gaming.
BioShock certainly can be described as a parody of the linear first person shooter. The typical first person shooter, or FPS, features a stalwart character emblazoned with a heroic task. Features of the FPS are linear gameplay, pretty environments that you can't explore, and a support character that instructs you on what to do.
The main first person shooter is Call of Duty, a game series where you are guided along a linear stretch of set pieces doing what you are told and shooting whomever you see. Quite a boring concept, yet the games sell very well to my disgust but that is for another day.
BioShock challenges the notion of the FPS and linear gameplay, while it may not be evident for most of the game.
But just because you are a parody of the genre does not forgive the same sins that the game makes. No matter what task you will receive from Atlas, odds are that something will happen so that you have to side track all around the map.
Yes so when you are told to take two steps to the left you can bet that either a door will close or the ceiling next to you will collapse. This can be quite tiresome, but still it does not take too much away from the game. The game still finds a way to fit enemies into the many side routes you will have to take, keeping the pace of the game up.
When playing on the harder difficulties, finding a way to sneak up on the Splicers and Big Daddies can be very tense. As you need to kill Splicers for supplies and kill the Big Daddies to get Adam from the Little Sisters. Battles can be very tense as you are about to run out of ammo and your health is low.
Then you die and the game losses the horror element.
Whenever you die you just spawn in the closest Vita-Chamber with no cost. So after you figure this out there is really no reason to be scared of anything. The game also breaks when you can figure out the right combo of gene tonics and plasmids can mow down just about any enemy.
This in turn then can make getting Adam a moot point. You need Adam to buy gene tonics and plasmid upgrades as well as health upgrades. So you need to harvest or save Little Sisters to obtain Adam, and this introduces moral choice into the game.
Moral choice in video games has never worked well. There is no middle ground: you either are the devil or an angel. The good/bad ending for the game show that well as you are either the destroyer of the world or a savior. And for those who want to get achievements/trophies you must rescue all of the Little Sisters. Pro tip: in the long run, that is the better option anyways.
So combat can be seen as the secondary feature of the game, but the story is what really drives the game. Jack really does not get much characterization, but he does not need much going back to how the game parodies the first person shooter. Rather the game focuses on Atlas vs. Andrew Ryan, the perceived good vs. evil.
You go around doing Atlas’ bidding until you finally confront Ryan in his office. Without wishing to spoil anything for those who have not played the game, one of the best twists in video games comes in meeting Ryan.
Ryan is by far one of the best video game villains because he is well thought out and articulate. He speaks the truth and makes you wonder the whole game if you really are the hero, or if Ryan is the one who is the hero of Rapture.
Would you kindly? A familiar phrase, a powerful phrase.
So you have the iconic meeting with Ryan, and the game should have ended there but it stumbles on for another couple of hours. Saying that the ending was boring and off the map would be an understatement.
It may be hard to classify the game because it is supposed to be a FPS RPG Horror game but really only features FPS elements. Sure some parts of the game may leave you scratching your head wondering “why is this in here”. Still though nothing about BioShock is a deal breaker and everything mentioned above really is just quibbles. Very rarely do we see a game that has such depth and complexity and for that reason it is a must play.