Bioshock: A review

Again, for posterity.

‘No Gods or Kings, Just Man’. So is the premise to the fictional underwater city of Rapture, a kind of utopia set up by one Andrew Ryan, consisting of the crème of humakind; artists, scientists, people who excel at their field. A city rejecting big government, both capitalism and communism and god:

“I am Andrew Ryan, and I’m here to ask you a question: Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? No, says the man in Washington. It belongs to the poor. No, says the man in the Vatican. It belongs to God. No, says the man in Moscow. It belongs to everyone. I rejected those answers. Instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose—– Rapture. A city where the artist would not fear the censor. Where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality. Where the great would not be constrained by the small. And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well. “

So he creates this kind of Ann Randian Utopia underneath the Atlantic Ocean in 1946, away from post World War Two society. Rejecting any form of socialist projects, it is firmly some kind of capitalist society of several thousand people, all unrestrained from censorship and, most importantly, not guided by any form of morality, either from government or religious organisations. Each person, guided by their own free will, would be able to create and succeed in their respective fields, not being constrained by society and authority. After several years of growth, mainly in the field of genetics, things start to go wrong; the lower classes start to rebel against the increasing authoritarianism of Ryan (so much for his ‘utopia’) and riots ensue, resulting in the destruction of rapture; enter dystopia and the protagonist.

Bioshock is a first person shooter (FPS), no doubt, but it has role-playing elements in it, such as building up your character through the use of ‘plasmids’, created from a substance called ‘ADAM’ which alter your genetic code to make you more powerful; essentially, processed ‘ADAM’ created stem cells in its host which allowed new genetic material to be ‘spliced’ into the DNA of the host. something that the scientists had discovered from a deep sea species of slug. These plasmids became Raptures ‘drug’, resulting in many of its citizens going mad from its use. And this is what you see when you first enter Rapture; a underwater city in ruins, with ‘splicers’, citizens who suffer from excessive plasmid use, roaming around.

I do not usually play FPS games, but I make exceptions for ones with a good storyline and not just mindless killing; Bioshock contains a fantastic plot, probably one of the best plot for an FPS to date. It is a ‘spiritual successor’ to the System Shock games, being made by the same company, Irrational Games who created System Shock 2 (SS2). In fact, the way the game plays out is very similar to SS2, which was a kind of survival horror game set in space. I found SS2, released in 1999, to be an incredible experience, again with its RPG elements, its use of audio tapes found throughout the levels detailing what had happened to the space ship and the use of music, which underlined its scary atmosphere. And Bioshock is set in a very similar vein; its a survival horror FPS with RPG elements – this time set in some kind of steam or cyber-punk setting – and equally as scary. Musically it excels as well, with 1950s era songs contained throughout the game, such as Billie Holiday & Django Reinhardt. Always nice to be scared witless out of your chair whilst the Jitterbug Waltz is playing in the background…

Bioshock is also probably one of the first FPS games to contain a quite important moral element to its plot; you have to decide whether to save what are known as ‘little sisters’, little girls who go around collecting ‘ADAM’ from dead splicers/citizens. Your choices are to either save them, or kill them for their ‘ADAM’. Saving them can alter the way you play the game later on. One of the reasons why I avoided Bioshock when it was released in 2007 was due to this fact; after playing the demo, and not really understanding the game that much, I found it quite distasteful. However, there is a moral issue here which I found to be quite novel for a computer game, and fits in well with the storyline.

I don’t usually like telling the world that I play PC games; at my age I guess you could get quite embarrassed? No? But due to its intelligent storyline, questionable morality and intense gameplay, I think it (hopefully) will set a standard for future games, or at least make companies create FPS games with slightly more depth other than mindless killing, which I think are just not good. If there is a message, or at least a moral to the storyline in Bioshock, then maybe its that without guidelines, whether they be of an ideological or theological one, or at least have some underpinnings of each, then perhaps we would be doomed? It also raises the question on how far genetics should go. The theme underpinning the storyline is the results of excessive misuse of genetic modification, resulting from an idealistic utopia into a hellish dystopia. Also, Ann Rand was totally against any form of socialism, or socialised society, placing the individual and free market above all; if Rapture would be the logical creation from her philosophy, then it certainly would result in a, well, total breakdown of society. Noam Chomsky called Rand (according to the wikipedia article):
“one of the most evil figures of modern intellectual history.”

I hear that they are creating a sequel, and also a film version, directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean and The Ring director), which should be more than interesting.

I wrote this brief review before I had actually finished the game; well, I have just finished it. All I can really say is that it probably is one of those gaming moments that live with you for a long time; games come and go, none really passing the excellent mark, but just serve as to waste away time in front of a virtual experience. Some games however you do remember, either for their new ideas incorporated into the gaming world, their storyline or how well they captivate you into their world. Over the years, being a gamer, there are few that have really struck me as being really good. I find it also strange that the ones which I do remember fondly are actually from Irrational Games, or Looking Glass Studios; System Shock and the Thief series of games had defining gaming moments for me, more so probably than Half Life, which is seen as a ground-breaking FPS. Both Thief and SS2 were games that actually scared you, I think probably SS2 was the most scariest game I have ever played, although Bethesdas ‘Call of Cthulhu’ came pretty close as well. So what are we looking at here? I think it is a combination of having a well written storyline, intense gameplay, great level design, with music and background sounds playing a key underlying role. Good graphics help too. Both SS2 and Bioshock contain all elements.

The ending of Bioshock is pretty spectacular; you kill the bad boss at the end of the game, and as I stated in my review above, how you dealt with the ‘little sisters’ during the game has an impact on the final scene, as there are two different endings. I chose to save them (well I don’t think I could have actually been as mean as to hurt them seeing as they were savable), so you get the final cut scene of being thanked by the now-ordinary little girls, helping you all escape from the hell that was Rapture, and living back in the real world, where they grow up, get married….oh well you get the picture. It was a happy ending. I know this game will stick with me for a long time; I might replay it, because there is a lot of audio tapes which I missed first run though as well as other things, but the main thing about Bioshock was its intelligent plot. Good game.


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