Reviews: Bioshock

Rapture is a mixed bag, but definitely worth a visit.

OK, let's get one thing out of the way first: Bioshock is about as soft as sci-fi gets. Your "plasmids" (power-ups) supposedly work thanks to genetic re-engineering, but their abilities range from shooting fire out of your finger to conjuring magical tomatoes out of the air that you can throw at enemies to mind-control them, defying the very laws of physics much less physiology. So if you're looking for a game that makes any darned sense, turn back now.

That said, Bioshock has a surprisingly good story — or rather, backstory — told mostly through "audio diaries" (personal tape recorders) you pick up as you go. It's a toss-up whether the best aspect of the game is this or the visuals, which are absolutely jaw-droppingly fantastic, in terms of design as well as graphics quality. And the level design is mostly well thought-out and believable, with linear paths cleverly sculpted out of a once-nonlinear city layout.

Unfortunately, once the gilt is stripped away — as the game itself is kind enough to do for you in the third level — the game's flaws become clear. The main one is combat, which feels clunky and unresponsive even when your enemies are dropping like flies at your feet. There's almost no feedback; just a HUD bar that ticks away until they die. Which is a shame, because combat is supposed to be the big selling point of shooters.

However, what combat does offer is spectacle. Siccing swarms of bees on enemies, blowing up Big Daddies with their own proximity mines, and throwing dead corpses at live ones with your gravity-gun-like Telekinesis plasmid never gets old, and there are enough solutions to any given combat scenario to make for serious replay value. Which is good, because if you're like me you'll want to revisit the city over and over because, as I said, it is GORGEOUS.

Bioshock is not without its minor annoyances. There's the hacking mini-game, which you'll have to play a lot in order to unlock useful items and get past security. It gets old really fast, and there are only so many opportunities to bypass it. And there's an escort mission towards the end, and you know those are. But neither was enough to be a deal breaker for me.

It's hardly the flawless masterpiece it was hyped as, but Bioshock crafts a world you simply have to visit, even if just as a rental.

A man chooses. A slave obeys.

Let's cut to the chase here. If there's one thing to extol about Bioshock, it's the story. A mix of science fiction and Objectivism, it tells of one man's attempt to build a utopia and how it failed. There's really no way to explain it in 400 words here; many points of the game (the final twist included) will leave you speechless.

Now that we've got that out of the way, gameplay. It's mediocre. Sure, versatility of combat is an excellent innovation, but more than often you just want to go with the direct approach. The difficulty twists and turns like a rollercoaster; at one point you can burn through hoards of splicers with ease, while another will force you to use Vita-chambers just to wear down one Big Daddy's health. Hacking is at the very least a chore and at most an annoyance. While the game advertises a variety of plasmids and tonics to use on enemies, some are incredibly broken (Target Dummy + wrench and trap bolts + crossbow come in mind). Aside from PS 3 games, there is no New Game Plus, so restarting the game just to get all of the audio diaries or the Little Sisters may become monotonous.

That being said, this game is certainly an unforgettable experience. You can find it used for $10 or $30 with The Elder Scrolls IV, so just try it out.