Bioshock Review: A new age in Interactive Storytelling

November 27, 2008 § Leave a comment

This review is of the PS3 version of the game and not the Xbox 360 or PC version. As such some of the technical notes made in this review may not be applicable to other versions. Neither other version was considered when writing this review.

It’s sometimes hard looking back on it to think of Bioshock as a game. Make no bones about it, it’s a great game, but you’re hardly going to remember it for that reason alone. Bioshock’s attraction for the most part comes from its incredibly immersive and well-told story, the success of which is not solely due to some of the greatest voice acting and writing seem in a modern game.

Your story begins on a plane crashed in the middle of the ocean, where you enter the only structure for miles around to find it’s the entrance to an underground city, Rapture. You’re soon recruited by a surviver of this city, a man by the name of Atlas, who asks if you would kindly rescue his wife and family from an almost certain death at the hands of Andrew Ryan. Predictably though, thing’s aren’t that simple, and your task soon spirals out of control, taking you to the heart of this once great society of scientists and artists not confined by the constraints of morality and law.

Without a doubt Bioshock’s story is the most absorbing part of its experience. It’s told with a degree of subtly that many other games don’t posses, and all around the world exist clues to add to the narrative. Surprisingly, considering its rich story, Bioshock opts not to use any cutscenes in the game outside of the beginning and ending cinematics. The game is shown from a first person perspective throughout, all the while allowing player control. Whilst the addition of multiple endings has minimal bearing on gameplay, their existence adds much to the game’s ending, which manages to convey a real sense of involvement on the part of the player.

Mechanically the game falls heavily into the category of “could do better.” Bioshock was clearly designed with other platforms in mind, and the controls don’t feel right on a Dualshock 3. Even after playing the game for several hours getting quick accurate shots on enemies is difficult, but thankfully this never gets overly frustrating. In a word the controls could be described as “imprecise,” analogue movement and aiming has a distinctly floaty feel to it, and the PS3’s “marshmallow” triggers shouldn’t have been chosen to control your weaponry.

Considering the lackluster shooting, it’s perhaps lucky that a major feature of the game gives you an alternative way of fighting. Plasmids – or magic to you and me – add another dimension to combat, with the ability for you to not only cast your standard elemental attacks (fire, bolt, ice) but also some genuinely inventive powers such as the ability to enrage enemies making them attack each other or a tag which will cause enemy defences to attack an individual. These plasmids add a hugely satisfying layer tocombat, and with some creativity can be greatly enhanced. You could for example set an enemy on fire (causing them to rush to water) before electrocuting the water itself. The scope for the use of these plasmids is limited only by the creativity of the player, who can have much fun just trying out different combinations of attacks.

Finishing Bioshock you’re not the same person as when you started, thanks not only to the story. Throughout the game you face off against miniature bosses named Big Daddies, who guard Little Sisters, the gatherers and guardians of ADAM. ADAM is then in turn used to upgrade your many abilities, which include hacking, photography and of course plasmids. It’s an interesting system helped by the moral choice you’re given with when faced with an unguarded Little Sister. Do you harvest her, killing her but reaping maximum ADAM? Or do you instead save her, getting minimum ADAM but continuing safe in the knowledge that your immortal soul is safe for another day.

You could argue however that whether you take the easier road or not is meaningless due to the game’s implementation of respawns, which are in effect infinite. When you die you’re taken back to the last Vita-chamber you passed, and revived with half health. The enemies health however, remains where it was when you died, and so it’s possible to continually die and return to the fight rather than use skill to beat them the first time.

Graphically the game does nothing too impressive. Environments have enough detail to convey the amazing atmosphere present throughout the game, and enemies have suitably sinister animation, displayed most prominently when you observe them from a distance going about their moping. Death animations are inexcusably choppy, with enemies which have no more than around three frames of them in the process of death. When the rest of the game looks as competent as it does such sloppy occurrences contrast hugely, and break the flow of the art design.

Everyone with even a passing interest in great storytelling should play Bioshock. It’s fun, engaging and ultimately a very enjoyable game hampered by a very small number of rough edges. It’s an experience which is ultimately worth reaching the end of, memorable for every reason a game should be.


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