Publisher: 2K Games
Available for: Xbox 360, PC
We’ve all seen it before: the critical darling praised for its groundbreaking innovation with little to no mainstream appeal. These are the games that everyone should be playing, but aren’t, simply because they’re too artsy, too difficult or both. 2K Games hopes to remedy this unfortunate pattern with “BioShock,” an artistic reinvention of the first-person shooter that is just as concerned with its elaborate story as it is with blowing shit up. The title, which most closely resembles the survival horror element of “Resident Evil 4,” is the scariest video game experience I’ve had in a long time. Creeping around hallways and peeking around corners probably isn’t what Ken Levine had in mind when designing the game, but the environment of “BioShock” is so chaotic and frightening that it’s hard not to wander around without caution. That’s saying a lot, too, since there’s really no reason to be so guarded. An abundance of checkpoints are scattered throughout every level, and you can even save your game at any time.
Nevertheless, the moment the game begins, you’re dragged into a world where, for the first time in the history of the medium, you actually fear for your life. Perhaps it’s the way “BioShock” so carelessly drops you into the middle of the world. The sole survivor of a North Atlantic plane crash, you’re quickly ushered from one disaster to another as you’re forced to swim to an abandoned lighthouse that, quite honestly, most would-be horror movie victims wouldn’t dare enter. But you’re curious, and you have nowhere else to go, so you hop into a submarine transport and head for Rapture, the underwater utopia created by Andrew Ryan, a philosopher whose inspiration for the city was based on the idea that everyone should live to their own standards.
As is evidenced when you arrive, however, Ryan’s plans didn’t work out quite like they were supposed to. The city is now in ruins and overrun with a population of crazed zombie hybrids called Splicers (think The Joker on crack), former citizens of Rapture who have since gone insane from an overuse of genetic modifications created as a result of stem cell research. Referred to as ADAM, and claimed to be the city’s lifeblood, the cancer-curing cells can now only be found in Little Sisters, small girls who walk around Rapture “recycling” the substance from other corpses. If you’re going to have any shot at surviving your stay down below, you’ll need to harvest some ADAM for yourself, but in order to do so, you need to either kill the possessed girls (thus attaining maximum ADAM) or save their lives (earning only a fraction). The choice you make could play a major role later in the story, but before you even make that decision, you’ll have to get by the game’s biggest threat: Big Daddies, large metal diving suits who serve as the Little Sisters’ protectors. These guys are absolute brutes, and some of the toughest video game baddies that I’ve ever come across. There are ways to beat them, of course, but it will take skill, intellect and patience to do so.
Despite the differences in gameplay, jumping into “BioShock” will be a breeze for any seasoned FPS player. You have two combat controls that are assigned to the top trigger buttons. One operates the weapons (pistols, grenades, etc.), while the other controls your plasmids, the supercharged abilities that you attain by injecting yourself with EVE hypos. Giving you powers such as Electro Bolt (a lighting attack), Incinerate (a fire attack), Telekinesis and many more, the abilities work a lot like magic would in a fantasy RPG. You only have a limited amount of juice (or mana) and must refresh every time it runs out by injecting yourself with more EVE. There are other biological enhancements that can be made using Gene Tonics, permanent upgrades to your body in one of three categories – physical, combat and engineering. The first two are self-explanatory, but the last one is new to most gamers. Kind of like the Engineer in “Counter Attack,” players can also become whizzes at working on machines. You can hack defense systems, vending machines and safes the easy way (i.e. find a tonic that will allow you to do so), or you can participate in a “Pipe Dream”-like minigame that, if successful, will offer cheaper prices on items, unlock hidden treasures and turn enemy robots into allies.
My biggest complaint about the game would have to be that it’s far too complex for its own good. As you investigate Rapture for the secrets of its destruction, you come across several audio diaries to listen to (most of them aren’t even important) while also keeping an eye out for surprise attacks. The enemy AI is not only reliable, it’s almost too smart. Large groups of splicers will attack at once, grenade-throwing enemies have pinpoint precision, and should you miss a security camera while running around, you’ll also be attacked by enemy robots non-stop for 60 seconds. At times, it’s all too much to stay composed, especially when it’s so easy to lose your way. Still, it’s hard to deny that there’s something very special about “BioShock,” and unless there’s another game released in the next few months to really give 2K Games a run for their money, “BioShock” is a shoe-in for Game of the Year.