My review of Bioshock for the Xbox 360!
After I finished playing Bioshock, I knew immediately that I'd played an amazing game. That feeling after finishing a game where the game just sticks with you, I felt that with Bioshock. It was an incredibly emotional game. The mystery of the world of Rapture sticks with you long after the game ends. And yet, frankly, at first I had a hard time summing what it was that made Bioshock so amazing. It really left me at a loss for words, and I had to postpone writing this review for several days so I could actually figure out what made the game so amazing.
For starters the atmosphere in Bioshock is amazing. And by atmosphere I mean more than visuals. Sure, the visuals are amazing (a bit on that in a minute), but the whole game's presentation is just immersive and amazing. I don't think I've ever felt so totally involved in a game before. The world of Rapture is just so intriguing and well conceived that, despite it's obvious sci-fi setting, it seems almost plausible. The world is well developed; it's as if the developers actually mapped out every square inch of Rapture. The problem with all of this is that, while the city of Rapture is presented as being this huge underwater world, you really feel confined to the small corridors and buildings the game lets you into. A breathtaking opening cinematic makes Rapture feel huge, but you'll quickly feel disappointed once you find out you're constrained to the path the developers put you on. With all the attention to detail in the world, it's a shame that they confined you so much.
Bioshock is visually a treat. The moody lighting is just so well done, and many of the creepy set pieces will stick with you long after you've passed them up. The models are textures are equally impressive, and I never noticed any major frame rate issues. The game is littered with special effects, and none of them feel cheap or lazy. The way the world interacts with you, and with itself, is also quite amazing. The visual appeal (not to mention gameplay appeal) of being able to send a bolt of lightning at a puddle of water and fry the person standing in it is just so pleasing. Even today I think that Bioshock is a testimony to what the Xbox 360 can do visually when a group of talented developers are really up to the challenge.
The audio never goes wrong, either. Eerie sound effects, spooky music, and amazing voice acting is aplenty in this game. One of the more interesting things about this game's soundtrack (a tip of the hat to Half-Life, perhaps) is the fact that your character never speaks. And, just as in Half-Life, this only ramps up the immersive factor of the game. Putting some generic voice on the hero would really only cheapen then soundtrack. Guns sound satisfying to shoot, and the sound effects when you're shooting fire or lighting are also very satisfying. The whole soundtrack is a tight package used to wrap you up in the game's immersive environment.
The gameplay is also well done. The way this game so seamlessly fuses the audio and visuals into the gameplay makes this game easily one of the most satisfying 360 games you can buy. As you go through Bioshock you'll acquire things called plasmids. These plasmids are used to, literally, modify your genetic code. These modifications are used to allow you to do special things like shoot lighting or fire, or give you telekinesis. The plasmids also often times are necessary to complete some of the game's puzzles, although it will mostly be immediately obvious if you need a certain plasmid to progress. The way the plasmids allow you to interact with the environment makes for some of the most fun there is to be had in Bioshock. Shoot some lighting at a puddle at watch anyone in the puddle shock to death; send some fire towards a path of gasoline and watch the whole path burn, taking anyone in or around the path with it. It's really these small details that make the plasmid system so fun and entertaining. Really, though, the shame is that most of the time you'll discover the easiest way to kill an enemy is the most boring. Shocking an enemy will temporarily stun them, and a solid hit with the wrench will take most basic enemies to the ground without problem. Unfortunately, this means that often times you'll throw creativity out the window in favor of discarding the basic enemies faster. It would have been better had the developers put you in more situations where you were encouraged to use the plasmids in a creative manner. Even at that, though, the plasmids are still satisfying enough that this is only a minor gripe. The weapons, on the other hand, lack the satisfaction of the plasmids. Most of the weapons feel sort of underpowered in comparison to the plasmids. For most of the games your weapons will be your secondary means of attack. This does admittedly make the game feel a bit unbalanced at times. The game also incorporates a hacking mini game into the fun. Basically, the hacking mini game consists of flipping and switching tiles to send some ooze from one spot to another. These hacking mini games can range from incredibly easy to maddeningly hard. Hacking is never required to progress, though, so if you start to feel too frustrated with one of the hacks you can proceed without it.
Difficulty can be a major concern for some games, and this is one of Bioshock's biggest weaknesses. The game is too easy. The game world is littered with Vita-Chambers, and should you die, you'll respawn in one of these Vita-Chambers. To make matters worse, any damage you've dealt to an enemy prior to death will still be in effect, meaning that you can haphazardly shoot away at enemies until you kill them, and dying will never be a concern. Luckily the Vita-Chambers can be turned off. In either case, even with a difficulty on the easy side it doesn't mess too much with the game's overall quality.
The story of Bioshock is one of intrigue. Unfortunately, it's too hard to easily put into words. Thankfully, though, the game does an excellent job pushing you along through the story without having it intrude too much into your fun. An interesting note is that throughout the game you have the opportunity to save or harvest things called Little Sisters. The problem, of course, is that Little Sisters are protected by Big Daddies. After killing the Big Daddy (these are pretty much the hardest things in the entire game to kill), you'll have a moral choice to make. You can either harvest the Little Sister (essentially getting more adam but sacrificing the Little Sister in the process), or you can save her (this will give you less adam, but you'll get the moral satisfaction of knowing that the little girl is alive and no longer possessed). Throughout the course of the game this decision will come up many times, and you'll never be tied to the same decision you made before, so if you decide you want to harvest one Little Sister after saving another, go ahead. This whole moral aspect of the game can be quite interesting at first, but over time it seems to get more in the way.
One of my biggest gripes about Bioshock is its total lack of a multiplayer component. Being able to play through parts of the story with a second player would have been awesome, but I suppose co-op was a worthwhile sacrifice to give you that immersive experience. Bioshock wouldn't have lent itself at all to deathmatch multiplayer, though, so I suppose perhaps the lack of a multiplayer component was for the better. Still, in 2008 a FPS game feels unfinished if there isn't any sort of multiplayer included.
At the end of the day, Bioshock is just an incredible experience all the way through. The story is a bit short-lived, but you'll never feel cheated by it, either. Bioshock has created one of the most immersive worlds of any video game I've played to date. The whole game just drips with atmosphere unmatched by anything else out there. If you're in the market for a good, worthwhile FPS game, Bioshock should definitely be your top purchase choice.
Fun Factor: 10