Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: 2007
It's been long enough that quite a few gamers have never heard of the System Shock games, two benchmark PC games that set the bar for challenging FPSes and, in their own way, for survival horror. When you hear older gamers talking about SHODAN or crawling through hallways with only a wrench to defend themselves, they're referring to the arguably classic System Shock 2.
(It's also unfortunately out of print. Would it be too much to ask that somebody run off another batch of those?)
Bioshock is a spiritual sequel to the System Shock games, and as such, has been hotly anticipated for years now. 2K Games was showing it off behind closed doors at E3, and if that small sample's any indication, the full game's going to be a legend.
The game is set in an underwater colony called Rapture, which was built in the '40s by an as-yet-unnamed utopian organization, and looks it; the shops and halls you find yourself in have a distinctly art-deco sensibility, much like the kitsch-inspired look that characterized the Fallout games. You play the role of an unnamed everyman, whose mission is no more complex than basic survival.
Rapture is currently in a rapid process of decay. As Irrational's designers put it, "The ocean is trying to reclaim Rapture." At the same time, bizarre mutants are stalking the halls. You'll have to fend off "splicers," insane humans who've become murderous after use and overuse of genetic modifications, as well as the improvised security measures taken by Rapture's survivors.
It's odd, in its way, but Rapture has evolved its own bizarre ecosystem, as embodied by the creepy Little Sisters. Guarded by giant humanoid figures in old-fashioned diving suits, a.k.a. Big Daddies, the Sisters – little zombie girls in pinafore dresses – appear to harvest and consume biomaterial from whatever fresh corpses they can find. That biomaterial will get turned into the local currency, atom, which you can use in various vending machines.
Like in System Shock 2, Bioshock isn't quite as much a first-person shooter as it is a first-person adventure game with shooting as an option. Bullets are at a premium in the game, and even when you have them, you can't be certain that you'll have the right kind. (Armor-piercing rounds work wonders against machines, for instance, but ordinary rounds are needed to take out the splicers.)
You do have options, though. Bioshock, according to Irrational, is a game about choices. In any given scenario the game'll throw at you, while they aren't scripted, you'll have a variety of options you can use in order to proceed. You can sneak past enemies without a fight, use your "plasmid" powers to turn the environment against them, pay atom to activate certain environmental features such as a security override, or simply wait in the shadows for events to resolve themselves. Some of the "enemies" will only attack you to protect themselves, such as the Daddies.
The "plasmid" powers are the most flexible and interesting part of the game so far. You can find them in various areas throughout the game and "install" them at specially labeled vending kiosks. Two of the demonstrated powers were a speed boost, which was used to move past an automated turret before it could draw a bead on the player, and a special cloud of pheromones that triggers an antagonistic reaction in splicers. By dropping the cloud on one of the Big Daddies, the player can trick the splicers into attacking him rather than themselves.
The game's very early right now, but it looks amazing. Irrational's using next-generation graphics and the Havok 3.0 engine to create a visually distinctive, immersive, interactive world that managed to creep me the hell out even at E3, which is about the worst environment possible to demonstrate any kind of horror game.
Bioshock has been slated to come out at some point next year for the PC and the Xbox 360. Unfortunately, you're going to have to wait just a little longer.
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