Thursday, September 13, 2007

VG REVIEW: BioShock


It’s easy, when hearing the unrelenting buzz about the “new great thing,” to adopt an air of weary cynicism. Surely, the movie, TV show or video game that everyone’s clamoring to the skies about, can’t be as awesome as they constantly proclaim.

That’s definitely not the case with “BioShock,” which has been hosannaed in video game circles. It manages to do something few games pull off these days — it lives up to the hype.

The entire game takes place in the underwater city of Rapture. The enormous structure is the brainchild of visionary Andrew Ryan, who bears more than a passing resemblance to “Atlas Shrugged” author Ayn Rand. It’s a utopia where the best and brightest could meet and work free from the tyranny of religion, government and small minds.

By the time your character, Jack, arrives at Rapture, however (his plane having crashed into the ocean), the city has become more of a hell than a heaven.

Now in ruins and littered with corpses, Rapture is filled with crazed, murderous people known as Splicers, who stalk the corridors of the city just eager for a chance to bash your skull in.

Finding out what exactly went wrong here is the main goal of “BioShock,” which offers a number of inventive ways to put you on the path to discovery.

To make your way past the Splicers you’ll need to upgrade your genetic structure using Plasmids — liquids that upgrade your genetic structure. These tonics will give you the ability to set things on fire, for example, or shoot electricity out of your fingertips.

This adds a good deal of strategy to the game, as you can set an attacker on fire, and then electrocute him when he heads to the water to douse out the flames.

Here’s the catch, though. In order to gain important new abilities, you’ll also need to collect ADAM, which is literally housed in the bodies of some rather ghoulish-looking little girls known as the Little Sisters.

You can forcibly remove the ADAM from the girls, but that will kill them. On the other hand, you can heal them of their genetic modifications, which will net you a little bit of ADAM, but not nearly as much as killing them will.

It’s forcing the player to make moral choices like these that make “BioShock” much more than your average first-person shooter. Do you go for the reprehensible choice, which will net you much-needed power in the short term but make you little different from the city’s Splicers? Or do you take the morally correct path, which will make things difficult for you as you progress through the game, with the hope of a greater reward down the line? Which decision you make ultimately affects the game’s plot.

If that isn’t enough of a dilemma, to get to the Little Sisters you’ll have to take down the Big Daddies, mechanical monstrosities that look like old-fashioned bell diving suits on steroids, complete with bloody drill. They guard the girls with a fierce vengeance and taking them down can be one of the toughest challenges in the game.

“BioShock” boasts a stunning look that is best described as “ruined Art Deco.” It calls to mind such classic adventure games as “Myst.” Every aspect of this game seems to have been meticulously thought out, right down to the motivational posters that line the walls.

My physical unease with most fps games (i.e. they make me nauseous) has kept me from getting as far along in the game as I would have liked, but even my limited playing time was enough to make me realize I was in the presence of greatness.

In terms of gameplay, plot and design alone, “BioShock” is a masterpiece and creates an immersive experience. For once, the hypemeisters were right.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007

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