I just completed Bioshock (2007). For thirteen years I’ve heard the praise, the acclaim, the celebration of this game as one of the greatest ever made. So I picked up the remastered collection and dove into rapture. I must say, it certainly lives up to its hype, even if it is, understandably, dated. Here is my review.
Welcome to Rapture
The setting of Bioshock is the first thing that pops onto your screen and it is something to marvel at. As you step into the bathysphere, it takes you through the entrance to this underwater city. The atomic punk/biopunk aesthetic mixed with clear nods to George Orwell and Ayn Rand is beautifully rendered, and the city feels lived in and dynamic. The audio tapes, which you can pick up throughout the world, fill in many of the missing details of this mysterious story, with wonderful voice acting and powerful writing. There is so much lore here that I am sure I have only scratched the surface (or subsurface). As you sift through each part of this underwater city, you get glimpses of what existed before your arrival and how it’s changed since. The soundtrack, a mix of old 40s and 50s classics blended with grand orchestral scores fits the themes well. The graphics, for a game in 2007, with a light remaster treatment, still hold up to this day. The art direction is ingenious. A cocktail of different inspirations driven by Ken Levine’s clear vision for this world.
Would You Kindly…
The story of Bioshock touches on themes of authoritarianism, political revolution, class struggle, and anarchy. The dystopian aura accents the real world issues engaged with here. There are twists and turns that keep it moving at a brisk pace. There is one twist in particular that will leave you in awe, and its broader fourth wall breaking implications begin to seep in as the credits roll. There are major characters who all have a unique personality, deep backstory, and appropriate connection to the greater themes at play. I must say, however, that having most of the story told through over the radio transmissions is not ideal and more could have been shown rather than said. Nevertheless, the narrative is as strong as the world built for it.
Guns, Plasmids, and Big Daddies
Bioshock’s gameplay is deep and fluid. The large suite of special abilities available to you lets you cater your approach to your own preferences. It allows you to mix it up, thinking about how an ability fits into a particular circumstance. The weapons available are not plentiful, but just the right amount to cycle through as you progress through the story. There are RPG elements which keep you constantly scrounging for items to gather the necessary materials to upgrade your character. This keeps things addictive. And there is choice in how to upgrade, letting you tailor the character to your liking. The FPS action itself isn’t groundbreaking but it’s competent enough to keep things running smoothly. I have to say though that the constant collecting of resources can get repetitive after a while. There is a deliberate scarcity of materials in the world, and you run out of ammo and health very quickly. I found myself perpetually in short supply and I would have preferred more opportunities to really play with these weapons and abilities without constantly having to scavenge through every corner. There was a “protect this person” section which I could have done without. It’s more of a personal preference, but I find those types of missions frustrating when the AI makes mistakes and starts to become a burden rather than a companion. Finally, I did come across a few geometry glitches and clipping. Overall, however, Bioshock’s gameplay has enough depth and variation to carry the heavy story and world building occurring in the foreground.
Bioshock is a tour de force. An inviting setting, a compelling story, a deep gameplay system, and rich level design all make this game a must play, almost thirteen years after its initial release. Although at times the game reveals its age, there is no uncertainty as to why it is considered one of the greatest pieces of interactive entertainment ever created. A gamer’s utopia.