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Rapturous to Behold: A Review of Bioshock

Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageSpring is always a slow time for gamers, so CC2k takes a look back at one of the best games of 2007.

“My parents told me, ‘son, you’re special. Someday you’re going to do great things.’ You know, they were right.” Words uttered while looking at a faded black and white photograph and sipping a glass of champagne on a trans-Atlantic flight. Suddenly the plane rumbles as you hear the sound of an explosion. Your fellow passengers scream as the lights go out. Up becomes down. You lose consciousness as you realize your plane is going to crash.

You come back to a reality of water, resurfacing amidst wreckage and burning fuel. Panic sets in as you realize you are the only survivor. Exploring your seemingly hopeless situation, you spot a beacon in the darkness. Rising out of the water is…a lighthouse? In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?

You enter and find what appears to be an elevator, yet it seems to only go down. What choice do you have? You enter and descend…into Rapture.

Thus Bioshock, the latest first-person shooter (FPS) for the Xbox 360 (also available on PC) begins. Just when you think every possible storyline for a FPS has been done before, a game like Bioshock comes along and gives you something completely new and original. Set in 1960, after this brief introduction on the surface, the bulk of the game takes place in a city built at the bottom of the ocean. Called “Rapture” by its designer, it was undertaken in the mid-1940’s as an escape from both governmental and religious oversight. It was intended to be a place for the brightest minds from around the world to gather and pursue their interests without the restraints of morality or society’s judgment, a utopia of sorts. Of course, it all went horribly wrong.

Rapture is in a state of decay and disrepair when you find it. Mostly abandoned, its only inhabitants now are the dead…and the ones who killed them. Insane and horribly disfigured by “self-augmentation,” they now prowl the confines of Rapture searching for the only thing that matters to them anymore: ADAM.

One of the intriguing elements of Bioshock is the RPG (role-playing game) aspect of character advancement and how the game’s developers have set it up. One of the most active areas of scientific endeavor in Rapture was genetic research, which led to the development and widespread use of “plasmids” by the populace for genetic enhancement. These “plasmids” are still scattered throughout the underwater city and available for you to augment your character, allowing you to gain offensive weapons like projecting blasts of electricity or jets of flame, and passive abilities like camouflage. ADAM is the genetic material used to obtain and employ the “plasmids” (think of it as a type of currency). While you are free (and encouraged) to augment you character as much as you like, you do so at the risk of sacrificing your humanity. But if you are to escape Rapture and return to the surface world, you’ll need all the help you can get.

The graphics of Bioshock are something to behold. I don’t think this game could have been made (let alone made well) for older consoles. For those who don’t know, water is one of the most difficult things to animate realistically and well, and considering this game is set in a dilapidated city at the bottom of the ocean, there’s a lot of water around. It pools, flows, sprays, ripples, shimmers, and does all the other things water does in the real world, and it looks amazing. But the eye-candy doesn’t stop with the water. The game’s developers have cited the works of Ayn Rand, and specifically Atlas Shrugged, as inspirations for the architecture and design of Rapture. This combined with the nostalgic 1960’s setting create an environment that is familiar, yet distinct and altogether creepy. The disquieting atmosphere is appropriate, as it fits perfectly with the central plot of the game. Your objective is simple in theory but Herculean in reality: escape from Rapture. In addition to genetic enhancement, you will find various firearms to aid in dispatching the hoards of homicidal denizens standing in your way. Here again Bioshock’s designers have made things interesting. Instead of simply giving you the standard arsenal of ever-increasingly-powerful weapons with a seemingly unlimited supply of ammunition, they put a twist on the conventions of FPSs. You will find each weapon in a “base” format (i.e. a standard revolver, pump-action shotgun, etc); however, if you are diligent in your exploration you will also find spare parts and random objects that you can use to customize and enhance your arsenal. Also you are going to quickly discover that ammo is scarce. Not only is this more realistic than the copious amounts lying around in other FPSs, but it adds a believable layer of suspense to the gameplay.

With visually stunning graphics complementing an engrossing story and stellar gameplay, Bioshock should take up residence in your Xbox 360 or PC just as soon as you’re able to shell out the $50 (or $60, if you want the limited edition) to buy it. Considering all the awards it has won and will win, not to mention that it will probably rank near the top of my own personal Top 5 Games of 2007, I think it’s a small price to pay for hours of a phenomenal gaming experience.