BioShock 6-Years Later Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: January 2, 2014
Utopia is an enticing idea. A place to escape from all evils… except those you create. At the beginning of BioShock you become trapped in a failed Utopia named Rapture, which is living out its final days beneath the ocean. Unfamiliar with the city, its past, and its monsters, you have to work with those who are if you ever want to escape. Of course, some residents would rather keep the city's latest guest under the tide, at least until they have had their use of him.
BioShock is a first-person shooter with some RPG elements, thanks to Plasmids. Plasmids are genetic mutations you can apply to yourself to grant you certain offensive and defensive capabilities. You can incinerate your enemies, stun them with electricity, and freeze them into blocks of ice, when you are not shooting them with a collection of guns.
BioShock received an M rating from the ESRB for blood and gore, intense violence, and strong violence, as well as drug reference and sexual themes. I have not made any attempt to censor the screenshots and videos of this review, so if you should not be playing a rated-M gaming, you should probably not be reading this review either.
Should we be caught up beneath the sea or keep our feet dry? Read on to decide.
After six years, BioShock is definitely showing its age. At a distance you can occasionally spot the limited polygon count on some environment objects, and close up the textures look stretched and smudged in many places. Of course, in 2007 high definition televisions and monitors were not as common as they are now, so the textures may have looked quite good then. Guns and many characters models still look good though; not great, but good.
As Rapture is a collapsing city on the bottom of the ocean, the game can be very dark. This can make following enemies like the Spider Splicer somewhat difficult, as it crawls along the ceiling and walls. Fortunately some enemies have lights on them, such as automated drones and Big Daddies, making these particularly lethal foes easy to spot.
As dated as the graphics may be, they do not fail to express the Art Deco design of the environment. Neon lights mark business establishments and just about every door and gate has a pattern of geometric shapes on it like what you would expect on many real buildings of the style.
Being under the sea, it is not surprising that water is fairly common in the game. Sometimes it has pooled to be inches deep in a room, or is just a puddle caused by a leak in a glass roof. For the large pools, the surface is highly reflective to the point that you would almost believe it could be liquid mercury instead of water. The reflections are very satisfyingly distorted by ripples, giving the water some life, but it is still not living. Nothing disturbs the water or the ripples, including you and enemies. The puddles and leaks also are not disturbed by characters, but they can disturb you. Walking through a leak will cause water to splash onto the camera and briefly distort your vision. Though the falling water is just an animation on a plane, they are hard to miss and thus can be easily avoided. Also you can watch for the puddles beneath them, which are constantly splashing and foaming as the water falls.
Fire is another common element to the game, in part because you can cause enemies to spontaneously combust. The most intense example of fire, though, is right in the beginning, as wreckage from a plane crash burns. While this is the most spectacular example in the game, it also shows that one fire in the game is not very different from another. However, this is not very easy to notice when just an enemy is being incinerated, and when that is happening, you can believe they are being immolated. The fire consuming their flesh is nice and thick, making it hard to believe the enemies can still run around before their health disappears.
There are another two elements I would like to discuss before moving onto performance, namely lightning and ice. Bolts of electricity are believable in small bursts, but once you are able to stream them out at an enemy for an extended period of time, you can see how simple they really are. They will look more like blue and white strings attaching you to an enemy than arcs of lethal energy.
The ice that envelopes a frozen enemy is almost comical, but is still effective in its appearance. A layer of reflective and semi-transparent ice will form around the model, with some hard edges and icicles. Really what makes ice weird though, is that when you freeze an enemy, they freeze exactly where they are, even if that is in the air. Until the ice breaks, the enemy will be hovering above the ground
Now we can look at performance, but first my system specs:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Cooling: Corsair H110
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 770 2 GB
- PhysX: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
As one would expect and hope for a six-year-old game, BioShock ran perfectly on my machine, at maximum settings. The only two issues I experienced were black boxes appearing and the mouse settings having some odd behaviors. The black boxes only appeared a few times and only in one area, so I am not sure what to make of them. Obviously a glitch, but also minor as they did not disrupt gameplay and did not lead to any other issues. The mouse behavior, however, has been irritating.
I do not know why, but often when a save game or new area was loaded, the mouse seemed to lose sensitivity. After a bit it returned to where it should have been, but until then it was slower than I preferred. I do not know why this happened, but I did notice that sometimes changing the sensitivity of my mouse with its hardware buttons helped, so perhaps it was some weird interaction between the game and my mouse's drivers.
The years have not been kind to the graphics of BioShock, but its style survives. It does have some places that still look good, but at this point it is best described as 'dated.'
As mentioned in the introduction, the game begins with your character becoming trapped in Rapture. This happens after your plane crashes over water, leaving yourself the only survivor. You must then swim to a nearby lighthouse to get out of the water, and inside you find it is more than just a lighthouse.
Rapture is filled with denizens, not from the deep ocean, but from the darkness of humanity. Splicers who were people that mutated their bodies for power, beauty, or any other reason are now the primary residents, and they all seek a substance called Adam, which is what enables one to mutate their DNA. Little Sisters are young girls that have been mutated and programmed to find dead bodies and withdraw the Adam from them. This would make them prime targets for Splicers, except for the hulking Big Daddies that guard them. The remaining citizens of Rapture are still biologically human, and can be placed in two groups: the insane and those who suffer the insanity.
To escape Rapture, you work with a man named Atlas. He has agreed to help you escape, if you help him save his family. Along the way you pick up a variety of weapons and mutations called Plasmids. Plasmids can give you many abilities, including throwing lightning bolts, freezing targets, and setting targets on fire. In order to collect and equip every Plasmid in the game, you will have to acquire it from the Little Sisters, which requires killing the Big Daddy guarding them. Once he is down, you can either harvest the Little Sister, killing her; or rescue her from this life, which grants you less Adam, but a warm feeling inside.
That is about as much of the story as I am willing to share, because despite the game's age, I would still prefer to not spoil it. There is a lot to spoil too, with the multiple twists the game takes you along.
When you first play BioShock you will very possibly interpret the story as just another action-FPS story. You are trapped somewhere and in order to escape you have to help some people, and as you play you learn more about the place you are in and the people you are helping. On a second playthrough though, you will pick up the little hints throughout the game of the twists that are revealed about two-thirds of the way through. In this respect, you can see how well exploited the almost stereotypical, superficial action-FPS story is, as it pulls you in and gives you no reason to analyze until later in the game.
What I have described above is only half the story; the half told to you by others. The other half is told by Rapture itself, as well as diaries that you can find around the map. This story is of a once splendid place, where people lived, laughed, and loved, but now it is a crypt for the dead and dying who were too foolish and too late to prevent the fall of Rapture. In some places the city has been damaged by the ocean trying to reclaim its territory, and in others the damage was caused by the disturbed and depraved citizens. Nowhere is the city being healed.
The story of BioShock is a well-told example of dystopian truths and how the greatest ideas become the most corrupted. While it is certainly possible to read about the story on any number of websites, it is something best experienced for yourself. In the game you receive the proper pacing of the story, the hints at the truth, and the many shocks and scares only mediums like video games can deliver.
Being a first-person shooter, many of the mechanics of BioShock are standard fare, but not all. One of the primary reasons for the differences is the use of Plasmids. You aim, use, and cycle through Plasmids like you do for your weapons, but because you use both weapons and Plasmids, the system becomes somewhat cumbersome.
By default, swapping between guns and Plasmids is mapped to the right mouse button. Fortunately the swapping animation is pretty short, so that is not a problem, but if you just came from a game where RMB is zoom, you may need a little time to adapt. The scroll wheel will cycle through Plasmids or weapons, depending on which you have out at the moment. For the normal weapons, you may not use the scroll wheel much, because the weapons are mapped to the number keys. The Plasmids, however, are mapped to the function keys, so I found myself relying on the scroll wheel for switching between those. This makes it important to know the order of your Plasmids, which is one thing it does not appear you have much control over. You do have the ability to swap out Plasmids at Gene Bank kiosks, but unless you are supposed to empty and refill the slots (a rather tedious process) I did not find any way to change the order of the abilities.
During combat there are multiple numbers you need to be aware of. Two of these are, expectedly, your health and ammo, and a third is your Eve, the substance that powers your Plasmids. Two more would be the number of health packs and Eve syringes you have. Health packs are applied instantly, but the syringes go through an animation before refilling your Eve. In the heat of battle you will likely not enjoy the brief pause in your action, but your enemies will, so always keep aware of your Eve levels.
Another set of numbers you may want to keep aware of concerns the amount of special ammunition you have. All of your weapons are able to use three different kinds of ammunition, which have different properties and are intended for different situations. Switching between the ammo types takes as long as a reload, which is just long enough that you may want to be ready to swap weapons instead.
Two things that can help you in combat, if used intelligently, are the camera and the AI of the Big Daddies. The camera can be used to take pictures of enemies and unlock offensive bonuses against them as a result of this research. The Big Daddies exist for the singular purpose of protecting the Little Sisters from anything that threatens them. This includes you and the Splicers, but as long as you do not actually harm a Little Sister, the accompanying Big Daddy will ignore you while he just destroys the Splicers.
If you die, you have two options of what to do. You can either reload from a save (BioShock has a quicksave system) or you can be respawned at a Vita-Chamber. Aside from possibly being placed far away from where you were, there is no real punishment from using the Vita-Chambers, which is probably why there is an option to disable them. For the most challenging experience that is what you will want to do, but be warned, unless you scour and scavenge everything, it can be easy to run out of resources.
Bodies of fallen enemies and many objects in the environment can be looted for supplies and money, which can be used at vendors to purchase supplies. Some objects, such as safes, must be hacked before you can access what goodies they have inside. Vendors can also be hacked to reduce prices, and make certain items available for purchase. The hacking mini-game involves connecting an inlet and outlet with pipes by swapping tiles. Some pipes will speed up or slow down the flow, while others will cause the hack to fail and even alert security to your presence. At first this is not too difficult to deal with, but eventually you will find it maddening as you realize that your success is not a matter of skill but of luck, as you build paths that lead to dead ends you could not see before, and the flow is too far to make any changes. Or even more irritating, you have a path almost finished and need just one last piece to complete it, only to find that none are left, and you have no time to make a new path that will work.
That just about covers the gameplay mechanics. The structure of the game is mostly that of a linear action game, but the maps are not limited to just where you need to go to complete your goals. There are other rooms and hidden areas to find, if you take the time to go off the path. The game even encourages you to explore Rapture by informing you if you have missed any Little Sisters to collect Adam from. As Adam is what pays for new Plasmids and other upgrades, you do not want to skip much of it.
It took me about 10 hours and 12 minutes to complete a single playthrough of BioShock. That puts it about in line with many other first-person shooters, but there is more gameplay than what I did. To save some time, I did skip many Little Sisters. This may have made the game a little more difficult for me at the end, but it was (obviously) not unbeatable. Guessing, I would say that hunting down all of the Little Sisters would have brought my playtime up to between eleven and twelve hours.
Adding to the replayability of BioShock are the multiple endings it features, based on your decisions to rescue or harvest the Little Sisters. I am not a heartless monster, so I have only gotten the ending for rescuing each Little Sister I find.
Additional Gameplay Images:
Should we take the bathysphere down to Rapture, or leave it to decay and die beneath the foam and tide? That is up to you. My recommendation is that if you love FPSs, you should get and play BioShock, and if you enjoy games driven primarily by story, you should definitely give this one a chance. If you fall outside of those groups then you can probably let this be.
Do not misinterpret my meaning though. BioShock is a good game and a fun experience! My feeling is just that its time may have already come and gone, and that what gameplay it introduced is either no longer novel enough or smooth enough to earn a stronger recommendation.
Play it if you have it and get it if you want it or think you may want it. Otherwise, you may want to look at some other titles.