Back in 2007, 2K Games published a first person shooter that would become one of the most critically acclaimed games of that year. Not a small achievement, considering that Valve released their smash hit Half-Life: Episode Two just a month later. The game was Bioshock, which was not only a successful game by itself. It was also the start of one of the most acknowledged non-war first person shooter franchises we’ve seen, perhaps only rivaled by the Half-Life and Mass Effect series1.
I tried the Bioshock demo when it was released, but the game didn’t sit well with me. I’m not sure why, but one reason might have been that The Orange Box consumed me at the time: I played Half-Life: Episode Two and I had just discovered what an awesome game Portal was. Then, the Bioshock-fever eventually cooled, and even though Bioshock 2 (a direct sequel to the original Bioshock), Bioshock Infinite and the Bioshock Infinite DLC Burial at Sea have since been released, I’ve never played any of them. Why? Because you can’t jump into the middle of an acclaimed series, of course.
But last week, the opportunity to make up for everything came along when Humble Bundle launched their Humble 2K Bundle. Among other games in the bundle were all the Bioshock games - sans the Burial at Sea DLC - at a ridiculously low price.
So off we go then, back to 1960, to Rapture, a city under the sea where something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.
You play as the protagonist Jack, who, after an airplane crash, finds himself in the ocean near a bathysphere terminus that leads to the underwater city of Rapture. The city is built by Andrew Ryan, a business magnate who intended for the city to be an isolated utopia, but it has instead turned into a terrible dystopia. The discovery of ADAM, a plasmid which grants superhuman powers, initiated the city’s turbulent decline. The player, as Jack, tries to find a way to escape while fighting ADAM-obsessed enemies, such as splicers and Big Daddies. In addition to various weapons, Jack can also use plasmids that give unique powers like telekinesis and the ability to set fire to his enemies. Neat. There are still a few sane people left in Rapture, and with their help, Jack might be able to find a way to escape.
A gun-ho, guns and fireballs blazing-only approach will not work very well in Bioshock. You need to use your arsenal combined with cunning stealth and your puzzle solving skills to make it through Rapture in one piece. You also have to make morale choices of saving or killing characters when you make your way through the city. Will you go for a short-term gain or take a chance that there’s a long-term benefit?
Graphically, Bioshock holds up well for a 7 year old game. The modified Unreal engine isn’t delivering Frostbite quality, but that’s not to be expected either. The graphics are still decent by today’s standard and it makes Rapture look like a place you really don’t want to be.
But while the graphics play a major part in setting the scene, the sounds effects, sound engineering and voice acting really pulls everything together. Hearing a screaming, mental splicer running around in the half-lit, leaking corridors of the abandoned city under the sea makes the hairs on my arms and in the back of my neck stand straight up. That hasn’t happened since I first played through Half-Life and was crawling around in the dark, hiding from head crabs while clenching my trusty wrench.
When released, Bioshock was particularly praised by critics for its morality-based storyline, immersive environment and its unique setting. All of these hold up great today, and the setting really is a unique one. The storyline is very engaging and while the game tells you much by using the odd but very much utilized “people throw dictionary pages everywhere” (in this case audio recordings), the story it tells makes you want to not put the game down any more than you really have to.
Bioshock is, without doubt a great game, and while there’s a good chance you have already played through it if you’re into FPS games with an actual story line, you definitely should give it a go if you haven’t. Or perhaps do another play-through if you have.
The Mass Effect games are arguably war first person shooters, but they are a lot more than that compared to for instance the Battlefield franchise. There are, of course, many other successful non-war FPS franchises, like Borderlands and Dues Ex, but how you rate them is - like pretty much every else - a matter of personal preference. ↩︎