A Shooter Sea Change
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When 2K Boston and Australia, then known as Irrational Games, released System Shock 2 back in 1999, it was without a doubt one of the creepiest games I have ever played. It's AI villain SHODAN and its scary voice still gives me nightmares to this day. But since then, not much has been heard from them. The only possible exception might have been a survival horror title called The Lost, but it was eventually cancelled once Crave Entertainment decided to change their business structure to budget titles.
And now, eight years later, that creepiness is back with Bioshock. Needless to say with the length between titles, the change in publishers and a vast jump in sound and visual quality, Irrational, uh excuse me, 2K Boston and 2K Australia, have not lost their creepy touch.
Unlike the System Shock series which occurs in the future, Bioshock actually takes place in the past. The year is 1960, to be exact.
As the only survivor of a plane crash in the Atlantic Ocean, you find your way to a mysterious structure which turns out to be the gateway to an underwater city called Rapture. Its creator, Andrew Ryan, wanted to make Rapture unlike any other city. But one you arrive, you can tell that Rapture is not all wine and roses. The city is leaking, dilapidated, and inhabited by once human monstrosities called Splicers.
Upon arriving you are contacted by an unseen assistant named Atlas, who offers to help you get out of Rapture in exchange for finding his family. But of course everything, including Atlas, is not what they seem.
You first can tell that everything is out of the norm once you take your first EVE injection. EVE is the equivalent of magic spells, or what was known as psionics in System Shock 2. After locating a Plasmid (EVE attack,) you can earn unique abilities such as shooting fire, ice, or lightning, be able to move items and even use them as weapons, create cyclone traps, confuse enemies to fight each other, and even summon a swarm of hornets to rip apart unsuspecting prey.
And then of course, there are the Little Sisters. What appear to be sweet innocent young girls are anything but. They seek out ADAM, the mysterious life energy found in all living beings. When used properly, ADAM can be used to increase health or EVE, hold more plasmids, carry more physical or technical abilities at once, and even learn newer, more powerful plasmids.
There is a catch though in getting ADAM, and it comes in the form of Big Daddy, the giant diving suit-wearing monsters whose main goal is to protect the Little Sisters (who refer to BD as either "Mr. Bubbles" or just "Mr. B." And not only are they very aggressive but they can also take a lot of punishment as well. But once the Big Daddy is defeated, a Little Sister can be either harvested (killed) to acquire all of her ADAM, or rescued, but only to receive half the ADAM that she carries. The results of harvesting or rescuing Little Sisters will determine the way the game ends.
In addition to hunting down Splicers and Big Daddies, there is a lot of exploration that can be done. Crates and other various sources will provide items, and audio diaries can be picked up to hear more about the unusual activity going on in Rapture. All of the diaries are of the highest quality of voice acting, as is the rest of the game, and some of the choices of music (mostly recordings from the 1940s) fit the setting of Ryan's underwater dystopia quite well.
Hacking, a Shock trademark, returns in the form of a minigame where the objective is to connect a pipe from one side to another by interchanging pipe segments. A wrong turn can result in a short circuit (minor damage,) overload (near critical damage,) or triggering an alarm (sending out security bots to hunt you down for a short time.) Many vendor machines (including health stations,) as well as security cameras, turrets, and safes can be hacked, and putting that skill to good use will make surviving Rapture much easier.
For those who want to stick with traditional weaponry (after experimenting with Plasmids I can't understand why) your typical arsenal consists of a wrench (another Shock trademark), revolver, Tommy gun, shotgun, grenade/rocket launcher, chemical launcher (shooting napalm, liquid nitrogen, or electric gel,) and a crossbow. Each of these weapons can also be upgraded twice to include abilities such as more damage, less recoil, and faster reloading. You all know the typical upgrade routine. But after becoming a master with Plasmids, you'll never go back.
Bioshock is gorgeous. Considering that it runs on the Unreal Engine, there is no room for ugliness. But what is done here is amazing. The water effects in particular deserve special mention. When walking through falling water, the scenery ripples and distorts as if you are actually walking through a real waterfall, and the effect of flooding has never looked better or more realistic. Flooding actually starts from the source of where the water hits, rather than just filling the room up from an unknown location.
The game never seems to slow down when the action builds up and the environments look like they came from a true 1940s dystopian society (if any of those actually existed that is.)
Bioshock can be beaten in about 10-15 hours, depending on whether or not you look through every desk, crate, and cabinet, or hack into every machine you come across. But with three possible endings, just the gameplay alone will be enough to warrant multiple sessions.
A lot of critics are hailing Bioshock as a possible Game of the Year, and I am one of them. The former Irrational Games is back and better than ever. I'm just curious how life will be after Rapture.
Todd Hargosh is GiN's Product Testing Manager. He enjoys any game that gets his adrenaline pumping. Todd can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.