BioShock Xbox 360 Review

As gamers, we all feel the bite of disappointment. The number of games that have been hyped, built up, presented as something they’re not, to a group of people who believe every word is almost beyond counting. We all know it, and yet we fall for it every time. Games that look so great in screenshots and trailers and interviews and “Official First Impression Play Testing Sessions” turn out to be nothing more than the next great flop. Bitterly, we wait for the next one, even though we all secretly expect another disaster. However, just once in awhile, a game comes along that completely blows us all out of the water. Not only does it live up to the promises and fevered expectations, but it exceeds them. The sort of game that makes you glad to be a gamer. BioShock is one of those games.

From the first moment, Bioshock is a title that will leave you sitting on your sofa, mouth dangling. It’s the reason why we go out and buy ridiculously over-sized HDMI capable televisions. It’s the reason why people become fanatical about surround sound speaker systems. It could even be the reason that you can’t sleep at nights, and makes you scream a bit at the thought of going into the ocean (or an art deco building). BioShock is the game that every 1st person shooter fan, hell, every gamer is looking for. It’s beautiful, it’s immersive, it’s an enigma, it’s art. It’s the first game in years that’s left me gasping at the opening scene.

The game opens with the player seated in an aeroplane, smoking a cigarette and thinking things through. Then pandemonium, chaos, screams. In a flash, you are submerged in icy water, watching debris floating past your face. Fighting against the agony of oxygen deprivation, you struggle to the surface. This is when it happens. Your jaw drops (in real life, that is). The sight of the surface, the flames of burning aircraft fuel, the sinking tail of the plane, the water running down the screen, like droplets on a window, the reflections of all this on the midnight surface of the water. Bioshock hits you right in the face from the very first moment and never lets go – this game is simply beautiful. Every graphical touch, every clever little detail, just takes your breath away. The underwater metropolis of Rapture, wherein you soon find yourself, is a place of art deco fantasy and insane murderous horror. Every environment, sunk into ruin and disintegration as it is, still has a haunting magnificence. The same can be said of the mutated fiends who inhabit the dank, dark depths of the city. Each and every one of them has been modelled with the most careful attention to detail, giving them a lifelike nature so rarely seen in videogames. Run through waist high water and watch ripples float across the surface. Passing through falling water causes it to run down your screen, in such a realistic way that you would swear it was a glass window into the world, rather than a pattern of pixels and textures. Additionally, the sounds and music are superb. Haunting 1950’s tunes waft uncomfortably through the desolate hallways of the city, and the shrieks of madness from the inhabitants are truly chilling. It all adds to the effect, the atmosphere of the game.

BioShock is so sleek, so sophisticated, that at times it feels like 2K Boston (formerly Irrational Games) didn’t set out to create a shooter, but a new form of media – the interactive movie that so many games have tried for but fallen short. Beyond the hyper realistic graphics, lies the heart of a masterpiece of story-telling. Rapture was the city of the future, built in the 1950’s. There, the elite of the world, the artists, scientists, visionaries and millionaires hoped to create a new society, one not held back by the chaff of the population they were leaving behind on the surface. Nothing would be held back – their society would advance without the handbrake of moral restraint. And for a while it worked, with the invention of Adam. Adam was a wonder of modern science, with which the very genetic make-up of a person could be altered and improved, giving them superhuman abilities and powers. Soon, however, Adam turn on its makers, making monsters out of men. When you enter the city of Rapture, you are faced with all the horrors that can be conjured by the insane mind. As a psychological thriller of a game, BioShock delivers on many levels.

BioShock also delivers in the diversity of the actual gameplay mechanics. For instance, the first Adam-bestowed power that the player gains is Electrobolt, essentially the ability to send electricity coursing through the air, temporarily stunning anyone it hits. It can also be used to short out sentry guns. However, by utilizing your imagination, and the brilliant depth of the combat system, the player is encouraged to come up with new ways to use the power. Electrobolt on its own will stun an enemy – Electrobolt when used against a whole group of enemies standing in water will fry the whole lot. Furthermore, enemies will use the same detail to their own advantage. During a particularly satisfying encounter, I managed to light an enemy on fire. Off he ran, blazing and screaming. I followed, thinking he would just run around randomly before dying. Instead of running aimlessly, however, he made straight for a big pool of water in a different section of the level. Reaching it, he rolled around in the water, extinguishing the flames. Unfortunately for him, I quickly switched to the Electrobolt power and fried him. And that is simply one example from a whole gamut of possibilities. Everything from firearms to hacking security systems to your own advantage is available, and the emphasis is firmly on playing your own way.

Obtaining Adam to better yourself in order to survive the frightening world of BioShock is no easy task. Supplies are limited, so recycling was the only option. To do so however, the scientists invented the Little Sisters, small children genetically modified to be able to process Adam into a reusable form once they had extracted it from corpses with a giant syringe and swallowed it. Trust me, the whole process is as disturbing as it sounds. To protect the Little Sisters, the Big Daddies were invented. These lurching figures, clad in steel plating and sporting huge drills instead of hands, represent a serious obstacle in the way of reaching the Little Sisters and their supplies of Adam. Killing the Big Daddy allows the player to get their hands on the Little Sister. However, this presents a new dilemma. Killing the Little Sister is one way to access the Adam inside her, whereas killing off the parasite that makes her a Little Sister leaves her alive, but with far less of a yield of the genetically-modifying goodness. Therefore, the player is presented with a moral question – violently murder a small girl for great benefit, or let her live and risk not being strong enough to survive. Given how lifelike the characters appear, killing in cold blood is frankly traumatising. Again, it’s all left up to the player to make the decisions that will shape their playing experience.

It’s difficult to pin down exactly what makes Bioshock one of the best titles available on any of the current platforms. It’s more a combination, of graphics and gameplay and gorgeousness, with the production values of the very best art house movie. It’s hard to even find flaws with the game. BioShock is one of the finest titles I have ever played, and one which I believe all 360 or PC owners should own. The lack of multiplayer may seem discouraging to those hooked on their Xbox Live, but considering the sheer scale of the single-player campaign, it would be foolishness to hold this against it. If there is any future for our beloved pastime, beyond hyped up sequels and cop-out clones, Bioshock is the blazing standard, the benchmark to which every subsequent shooter will be measured.

In 1999, Half-Life turned the genre on its head. Now, it’s BioShock’s turn. Long live the future of videogames.