Impressions: Revisiting Bioshock

In 2007 I had my Xbox 360 but found myself mostly playing on my PS2 still. I hadn’t found myself totally sold on the upgrade and was a bit disappointed, if I am honest. But I was working for an unnamed game store, and there was a lot of hype, and we were told to push Bioshock, and in the process, I kind of talked myself into it. Loaded it up, and when Andrew Ryan finished his speech and we were given our first look at the underwater city of Rapture, I was completely sucked in. Many years later and I just recently replayed the remaster, and honestly, I still love it.

Bioshock starts you off in a plane crash that leads you to a tower in the middle of the ocean. When you get in, you are introduced to the founder of Rapture, Andrew Ryan, and his Ayn Rand style philosophy (complete with the total hypocrisy that undercuts its own point, but that is a different conversation). Also, why he created an underwater city away from the influence of others. However, the world of Rapture that you are introduced to is dark, disturbing, and clearly falling apart. With the help of Atlas, you are guided through the city to try to help both of you escape. As you work through, the story unfolds, and you learn about what lead to the downfall of Rapture.

Part of what I really enjoyed about Bioshock was the gameplay. The introduces the use of plasmids, a way that people rewrote their DNA to give them certain abilities like telekinesis, the ability to shoot a swarm of bees out of your hand, you know, fun stuff. Using plasmids, players can really sort of out their own way to play this game. Some go slow and stealthy; others like me rely heavily on plasmids and more run and gun style gameplay. Whatever balance you find, the game rarely punishes you for how you play it, which I like. I especially like it because, at this time, First Person Shooters were fairly locked in as far as the ways to play. Bioshock encouraged people to find their own way, and it endeared me to the game a great deal. FPSs were never my sweet spot, so getting a bit more freedom in working it out for myself was appreciated.

Aside from gameplay, though, the look of Rapture and the story is what really keeps me revisiting. The art déco feel of the city is fantastic and just right in my personal aesthetics. I could spend hours wandering around the city just looking at it, especially with the more polished look of the remaster. I am also a sucker for all things ocean, so I really loved the combination of the ocean meets an aesthetic I already preferred. The masks and costuming of the splicers are fantastic, and there are many pieces of the world of Rapture that pop. Simply put, everything about the visuals of the game almost feels like it was designed with me in mind. There was no way I was not going to love how this game looked.

The story really grabbed me, though. The slow decline of Rapture from this Utopian dream into a cesspool of violence, anger, and desire for control is told largely through lore, but it paints a pretty intense picture. The lack of anyone willing to say “no” to the various ideas presented in this world was always going to lead off the rails. There was no one there to tell people to stop when they started pushing the limits of what is and is not acceptable, so of course, people were going to go too far. There is also the problem that the underlying principle of how Rapture would work was never sustainable. Ryan switches from “no rules and no being forced to do the bidding of others” to “we are all part of a great chain that must work together” from moment to moment, depending entirely on what he, and he alone, needs.

The main story itself, and the struggle between Ryan and Atlas, is compelling in and of itself, and if you just speed through the game, you’ll get a lot. However, if you take the time to truly search and find all the audio diaries and lore of the city, you learn a lot more about just how messed up the city, and the people who make it up are. I have played the game several times over the many years, and every single time I am still drawn and completely enraptured (heh) by the story and the characters, even though you spend little to no time with all of them.

That is not to say the game was perfect. The choice in the second game to let you have a plasmid and a gun equipped at the same time was a good one. Switching back and forth in this game is not hard, but it flows much better in the second. The morality choice is also not really much of one. To get a plasmid, you need ADAM, which can be harvested from little sisters. You can choose to save them or kill them. Killing gets you more ADAM quickly; saving them gets you the exact same amount of ADAM just takes a little bit of extra time. And I do mean a little bit. Frankly, there is no reason to go with the “immoral” choice other than curiosity, so I’d almost rather not have it? The final battle is also just… not great. This leads into a sweet but sort of off-tone ending if you choose the save options throughout. Basically, the game feels like it’s leading up to something pretty amazing and kind of just ends with a pop instead of a bang.

However, these complaints hardly stand up to the rest of the game. It is a bit scary, entertaining, has a great and compelling plot, fun gameplay, and a treat for the eyes.

Bottom line, if you haven’t gotten around to this old beauty, you should really do so. If you have, you might want to give it a replay. I am always glad when I go back to it.

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