Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: 2K Boston, 2K Australia, 2K Marin and Digital Extremes
Release Date: October 21, 2008
When BioShock was released in the late summer of last year, PC and Xbox 360 owners were treated to one of the more fantastic games up to that point. The graphics were top-notch, the sound was eerie, and the gameplay was solid and fun. What stood out the most from the game, however, was the story. While some argued that it began to fall apart toward the end, no one could deny that the story was the captivating factor that made people want to play BioShock even if they weren't fans of first-person shooters or first-person adventure games. For over a year, PS3 owners have had to deal with rumors of the game coming to their black box while 360 and PC gamers had already played through the title several times over. Finally, 2K Games, along with a gaggle of developers, have brought this acclaimed title to the PlayStation 3. The question is whether or not time has been kind to BioShock and how well the port has been handled. The answer will be a positive one for PS3 players.
For the uninitiated, BioShock starts out with your nameless character reminiscing about being told that he will be destined for great things in his life. Immediately afterward, the plane he was traveling in crashes in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. As the lone survivor of the crash, you swim to a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean, where you discover a bathysphere. After entering the vehicle, you get a little video about one man's belief concerning the societal powers of the time and how he seeks to get away from their rule. Once the video ends, you are introduced to the underwater city of Rapture, where man is supposed to live free of the rules of government and religion. As you automatically head toward the underwater utopia, you get a few radio transmissions, which foreshadow that something is amiss in the city.
When the pod docks, you quickly realize that Rapture isn't the paradise that the short movie reel had promised. Leftover protest signs litter the ground, rubble piles burn and water leakage is prominent. It also doesn't help that the first person you see gets killed in front of your eyes by something that looks barely human. After taking your first weapon and getting knocked out from your first plasmid power-up, you get short blurry glimpses of some of the enemies you will be facing, as well as some you might end up saving if you so choose. Once you recover, you are presented with the short-term goal of rescuing your radio-friend's army, with the longer-term goal of getting out of this waterlogged hellhole.
Ask most critics and gamers what stood out the most about BioShock, and they'll tell you that it was the story. The idea of stumbling upon a once-brilliant city that lies in ruins isn't exactly a new thing for the medium; several other games of various levels of quality have been based on the same premise, but it's the details of the story that elevate BioShock above the rest. It's an intriguing idea that one man had a vision to build a utopia for those willing to live there and that it was he, along with his enemies and colleagues, who were responsible for bringing it down. Hearing about all of the characters in the city that have gone mad with their own agendas adds to the atmosphere, while seeing some of them in action helps as well. The realization that there is no good force left and the big reveal close to the end help solidify the idea that this is more than the typical video game story. Like Half-Life 2, BioShock doesn't flood the player with cut scenes. Instead, the bulk of the background story is told through audio journals that play while you're still exploring the environment. This is a brilliant move that makes players actually play the game instead of sitting through movies in order to get their story.
One thing to note about BioShock is that it requires a hard drive install before playing. Like some of the other big name games to hit the PS3 this year — such as Grand Theft Auto 4, Metal Gear Solid 4 and Devil May Cry 4 — you're looking at a lengthy install time of about 14 minutes. During that load time, you get to hear one song play while you see a montage of advertisements that are littered throughout Rapture, all pasted in what looks like a waiting room. The mandatory install is purely for caching purposes, as the load times in the PS3 iteration are practically the same as the Xbox 360 version. This is by no means a deal-breaker for the game, but you should be aware of it.
A captivating story means nothing if the gameplay is sub-par. Thankfully, BioShock brings great gameplay to complement a great story. The controls are tight enough to provide you with good accuracy while fighting. The quick selection wheels for both the plasmids and weapons prove to be very helpful, considering that you have a plethora of weapons and powers available toward the end of the game. Enemy AI is pretty smart, depending on the enemy type you face. Thugs will always try to rush you with melee attacks, and Big Daddies will both rush you and fire indiscriminately. Shooters will try to stay at safe distances or run away if they get low on health. All enemies will also try to refill their health meters if they sense a health station nearby.
Hacking machines is a fun mini-game you'll get to experience throughout BioShock. Like the old puzzle game Pipe Dream, you have to successfully get the fluid from one end to the other by connecting a series of tubes. Successful hacks give discounts on items or give you control of sentry bots and cameras, while bad hacks hurt your health. Plasmids act like power-ups and weapons, opening up several opportunities for creative combat and hacking. You can freeze a machine in order to buy yourself more time to get a successful hack. You can also grab explosive charges from enemies and toss them right back at other enemies or electrify the water to kill anyone standing there. Finally, you can modify your guns and ammunition in order to be more effective in combat. For example, you have regular bullets for your handgun, but you can also find or make armor-piercing bullets and anti-personnel ammo. All of these help to make combat fun instead of a chore.
Graphically, BioShock still looks better than some of the more recent releases on the system. The character models are done wonderfully, with each enemy looking more deformed than the last in grotesque but believable ways. The Big Daddies are sizeable and give off the look that they weigh tons and are, therefore, harder to kill. About the only character model here that isn't as well designed is the Little Sisters. They look good in their original form, but when they get saved, not only do they all look the same, but their faces seem plainer than everyone else.
The environment is what really grabs people in this title. There's a nice mix of art deco architecture in the city surrounded by glass tubes that give you a good view of the ocean depths, including fish swimming by. Destroyed areas are always dark or flooded with water, which is still some of the best representations of water seen in a game. The atmosphere is well done in portraying a city gone to ruins. In fact, the best compliment that can be made about BioShock is that it looks exactly the same as the Xbox 360 version. The only gripe in this department is the cut scenes. While there aren't too many to be found, those that are present, such as the one dealing with a Little Sister or swimming to the ocean surface after the plane crash, are off center, showing you a white border on both the right side and the bottom of the screen. It's a small but noticeable blemish on a good graphical package.
The sound in BioShock captivates you from the moment the game is booted up. As expected, the sound effects are good and solid, especially in Dolby Digital. Gunfire is nice and loud, while the thump of a wrench against flesh is sickening but satisfying. What really stand out in this department are the music and the voice work. Despite being set in the 1960s, the music all comes from the 1920s and '30s, matching the atmosphere very nicely even during the frantic firefights. The music that isn't licensed also does a good job of bringing out the necessary emotions for a scene. The awe of seeing Rapture for the first time and saving a Little Sister brings feelings of joy and grandeur through the music, while the score can turn horrific once you harvest a Little Sister.
The voice acting brings out the proper emotions and atmosphere required to leave the player immersed in the world. Enemy voices reinforce the idea that you're dealing with deformed people that have gone stark raving mad, while the low moans of the Big Daddies can turn you from trigger-happy to overly cautious in seconds. The most impressive voices are ones in the recordings that you find throughout the game. The voice of Andrew Ryan easily conveys to you the struggle of a man whose ideals are being threatened by a rival businessman. You buy into the story not just because of the script, but because of how the delivery is handled. Some games still struggle to deliver good voice acting, but BioShock will convince you that voice acting in video games doesn't need big-name talent to pull it off correctly.
The one-year wait from PC and Xbox 360 to PS3 has done little to tarnish BioShock. The story is still one of the best that the medium has seen, and the experience is still amazing, even to those who have played it before. With so many top-notch games available for the PS3 this year, it may be easy to overlook this title, especially since it is an older game. Doing so would be a disservice, however, as BioShock will undoubtedly become one of the classic games that define this generation of gaming. Unless you have played it on one of the other consoles, get BioShock.
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