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Review: BioShock

Russ Pitts | 5 Sep 2007 16:00
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The things that make BioShock outstanding aren't revolutionary or even rare, but finding them all in one game is unheard of. Sound design, lighting, art, atmosphere, character design, level design, collection, upgradable weaponry, loot drops, enemy AI, strategic variables, tactical stealth, combat, weapon models, "magic," character advancement, music, seamless level integration, subtly evil and wonderful boss characters, voice acting, story (oh, God the story) and truly memorable instances of emotion-stirring dramatic scripting are all first-rate, well beyond what I have come to expect from the world of blockbuster game design, where so long as the images are pretty and the booms are loud, the rest of the myriad elements that go into making a fantastic game are given short shrift.

To catalogue the ways BioShock has done it right would take more than the 20-plus hours it will take you to simply play the game. So I can't say this enough: Play the game. If there was ever a game worth $50-60, BioShock is it. It may well even be worth the price of an Xbox 360, it's that good.

BioShock is a game you'll want to talk to all of your friends about, and yet won't, out of respect for the sanctity of their experience. A friend of mine remarked that all of her friends were currently playing the game - and were well ahead of her - but she didn't know a single thing about it, because it had inspired them so well, moved them so deeply, each and every one of them felt invested in respecting her right to experience the game unspoiled. I have the same problem here.

We can talk about Objectivism, but I can't tell you what motivated Andrew Ryan, the games nominal antagonist, to build a city on the ocean floor. I can't tell you why the best and brightest of the worlds scientists, artists and deep thinkers followed him to Rapture, and I can't tell you why, when you first discover their aquatic utopia, not a one of them steps forward to shake your hand in welcome.

I can tell you that Ryan is a believer in The Great Chain, which he believes holds us all together, and which we must all heave at to reap the rewards of a well-lived life. But I can't tell you who all else was pulling with him, and who in Rapture was pulling the other way.

I can tell you that BioShock features a system of genetic modification - plasmids, which allow you to inject a solution called Eve into your veins in order to use great powers like the ability to shoot lightning from your fingertips, incinerate enemies from afar and pick up and hurl objects great distances merely by thinking about it. I can't, however, tell you about the secret plasmids hidden away in various locations in Rapture, or about the special tonics that enhance your abilities and allow you to do things you wouldn't imagine.

Weaponry? Check. I can tell you all about those. Sort of. BioShock is ostensibly set in the year 1960, and the weapons you discover in Rapture look period appropriate, if slightly fantastical. You can enhance them, load them with special ammunition and only certain weapon/ammo combinations will be effective against certain enemies. Like I said, nothing new here, just an old idea beautifully and perfectly implemented.

I can also tell you that the enemies you'll encounter in Rapture are called splicers, and that they are hideous, malformed and insane. But I can't tell you where they came from, how they came to be what they are, and what you can do about it. I can't even tell you about the creepiest of them, who you'll encounter only if you venture off the beaten path. I want to. Oh, God, do I want to. Because it's awesome. But I can't. You'll have to see it for yourself.

You've no doubt seen or heard of Big Daddies and Little Sisters by now, and what you've heard is only the tip of the iceberg, I assure you. You may even learn more about these two iconic and terribly creepy characters if you play long enough. And believe me, I wish I could talk to you about what exactly that is, too. But I can't.

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