Game Review: BioShock

9.0 of 10

Platform: Windows XP/Vista (also on XBOX 360)
Publisher: 2k Games
Developer: Irrational Games

I was quite dispirited when I learned that BioShock is not going to be a sequel for System Shock 2, but rather a spiritual successor. Nevertheless, I kept a keen eye on the game's progress. Always, the previews (and now the reviews) say nothing but sing high praises for BioShock. The game is often tagged with words such as "revolutionary" or "innovative". While I'm a bit skeptical about BioShock's promise of gaming revolution and innovation, I still couldn't let this game pass. After all, it's a spiritual successor to System Shock with a dystopian setting...and I have penchant for dystopian fiction.

The player fills the shoes of a protagonist, known as Jack, who accidentally discovers a passage to Rapture, an underwater utopia built, during the mid 1940s, by Andrew Ryan, an industrialist and a radical objectivist, and his elite cohorts in order to escape from -according to Ryan's viewpoint- the world's oppressive collectivism. However, as soon as you step into the halls of Rapture, you'll immediately realize that the city lies in chaos and it is not the utopia it once was anymore.

Rapture welcomes you with a ball...too bad, you missed it.

The grand narrative of BioShock is like piecing a puzzle back together. The only thing is you need find the missing pieces first. Often times, it left me to interpret what little information I have and jump into conclusions, only to be astonished by a sudden twist. For the most part, the main story is told via shortwave radio communications between you and the non-playable characters. Voice recordings of Rapture's inhabitants can also be found throughout Rapture. While it does not really tell the main story the recordings will provide you hindsight on how the utopian city fell into its current nightmarish state.

Graphics and Sound
The moment I entered Rapture I knew that my eyes will happily glut on the visual wonders BioShock has to offer. But I'm not talking about how the shadows dance as they react to a flickering light, or how the shiny puddle of water ripples when you step on it. No, I'm talking about the artistic direction of the game where both macabre and wondrous elements are displayed in juxtaposition to create an eerily sublime atmosphere. Bloodstains on colorful pin-up posters, grotesque human plaster sculpture amidst bright neon signs, and carcasses littered on the beautiful art deco halls are just the few examples of the contrasting imagery in Rapture, making it a perfect dystopian horror setting.

Dr. Steinman's ghoulish art gallery.

The sound in BioShock is nothing short of impressive. The voice acting, especially, is stupendously done. The voices are filled with emotional depth and varying accents, raging from Irish to Chinese, which will more than make up for the loss of NPC's facial expressions. The ambient sound is masterfully recorded too, from the dripping and sloshing of water to the banging of pipes. Though there are times when blazing guns, cursing enemies, and NPC conversations will discordantly play altogether and turn the aural nirvana into a cacophonic nightmare.

The thing I love the most about BioShock is your ability to silence opponents in different ways with a wide array of arsenal. Plasmids, spell-like abilities which can be obtained through genetic modification, are very fun to use. They vary from offensive types that sends electricity from your hands, traps that hurl enemies to the ceiling, and decoys that will confuse your enemies. Tonics also modify your genes but, unlike Plasmids, they have passive effects. Mostly, Tonics improve skills such as hacking, increases armor, or grants stealth. Weapons are pretty much self-explanatory. The camera, however, which is under the weapons category, makes the gameplay a bit more interesting by allowing you to research your enemies. Researching your enemies will increase your damage against them and, sometimes, also yields additional Tonics.

The freeze and carve -with a machine gun- strategy.

The environment can be used against your enemies as well. Rapture is a dangerous place littered with gasoline spills, flammable gas tanks, and a hackable security system. There were instances in the game where I grabbed my enemy's fireball, using telekinesis, and redirected it to a gasoline spill he was standing at. Then as he jumped into a pool of water, I simply fired my Electro Bolt into the pool and watched him die, twice-fried. Sometimes, I also hack the turrets and cameras in heavily guarded areas. Then lure my enemies to the place, go stealth, and watch the massacre as security bots and turrets cut them into ribbons.

The opponents in BioShock, however, can be very generic since there are only a few of them. The main one would be the Splicers. There are five types of Splicers, mostly indistinguishable by appearance since all of them wear masks and are horrid looking. You can only determine them through their type of attacks. The grunts will normally chase you with a lead pipe while an advance Splicer will teleport around you and fry you with a fireball. There's also the Big Daddy, hulking beasts in a diving suit, who are probably the superstars in the game. While they are neutral by default, attacking them or a Little Sister will turn these abominations hostile towards you.

To kill or not to kill, these are the options.

The Little Sisters are the main source of ADAM, an important resource in the game. ADAM is what allows you, and the citizens of Rapture, to genetically modify yourselves. It, somewhat, functions like a currency that allows you to purchase Plasmids and Tonics. However, ADAM can only be acquired from a Little Sister once you have eliminated her Big Daddy companion. There are two ways of extracting ADAM from a Little Sister. The first is to harvest which kills the Little Sister but yields more ADAM. The second method is to exorcise them from their zombified state which yields less ADAM. However, if you manage to rescue a number of Little Girls, through exorcism, you'll receive a juicy reward. The methods you use to extract ADAM also acts as a moral compass in the game, and also determines the game's ending. Although there's only a black and white option presented, there's no middle way, which is a bit disappointing.

Objectively, I can say that BioShock is an almost perfect with only a mote of flaw. But revolutionary or innovative, I can not call it. In fact, it's far from it. There's nothing new in BioShock. Much of the features in the game we've seen already, even the camera (which was probably inspired by Beyond Good & Evil). There's even less options when it comes to gameplay approaches, like multiply pathways and the use of stealth, unlike in Deus Ex. Nevertheless, BioShock should be commended for its exemplary story, high production value, and polished presentation. It's a tight contender for the "Game of the Year" award.