Bioshock is a game developed by Irrational Games, first released in 2007 and re-released recently, as a remastered edition. Both the original and remastered version are available on Steam now for $19.99.
The plot is that the plane you were riding crashes in the middle of the ocean, and you are the sole survivor. You swim towards a light house (that’s in the middle of the ocean, oddly enough) and enter a submersible (primitive submarine), which takes you to the under water city of Rapture, a nightmarish society that has collapsed after genetic manipulation drove the citizens mad. You work to find out what exactly happened to Rapture before your arrival, and experience the horror that humans inflict on each other and on themselves.
Bioshock is one of my all time favorite games. I remember playing a demo of it for the first time on the Playstation 3, and waiting eagerly for my brother to bring me a full copy of the game back from the United States, several months later. This was in the olden days when online distribution was a foreign concept to me, so I had to wait while my abroad brother came back to visit me in South Korea. I must have played the demo 15 times by the time I got the full copy.
What struck me most about the game back then was how mature the game seemed to be. It wasn’t about getting super powers or gunning down people as a power trip, but doing the right thing in a twisted, destroyed world, as well as desperately fighting for your own survival; usually these two things conflicted with each other. By now, morality in games has been done to death, but back then it was new (at least to me), and I was drawn in completely. Admittedly, the morality falls kind of flat and the game does seem pretentious at times, but I applaud the game for being more than a generic first person shooter (what high standards I have).
The original game was revolutionary when it first came out, and it still holds up very well, from a gameplay, plot and aesthetic point of view. I definitely recommend getting it, even at full price. I suggest getting the Bioshock trilogy set if possible; I enjoyed Bioshock 2, and really enjoyed Bioshock Infinite. I don’t know if I recommend the remastered version, though; I couldn’t get it to run on my computer, and my brother, who’s played it, said nothing but bad things about it. The original still plays and looks fine, so I would just get that.
Bioshock is a first person shooter. What makes this game stand out is the addition of “plasmids,” which essentially give super human powers, like shooting bees or fireballs. The most famous one is the electro bolt plasmid, which allows you to stun and hurt enemies by shocking them, as well as doing massive damage to any one in the water when the water is shocked.
The plasmids add a degree of freedom to the gameplay. Rather than relying just on your guns, you can use your plasmids in creative ways; on harder difficulties, this will be a necessity, as you cannot simply outgun your enemies. The offensive plasmids, such as electro bolt and incinerate, are useful against small crowds, as you reduce the number of active, hostile combatants temporarily. Telekinesis is extremely useful against nitro splicers, who throw explosives.
But the most effective plasmids I have found are ones that let others fight for you, and 3 plasmids come to mind:
- Enrage: you throw a red ball of mushy mass, and whoever is hit by it will start attacking anything near it. This allows the enemy splicers to attack each other, but they will attack you if there’s no one else for them to rage at.
- Security Bullseye: you throw a blue ball, and security drones (which respawn infinitely) will attack whoever was hit by the ball on sight.
- Hypnotize Big Daddy: you throw a green ball at a big daddy, which will then follow you and protect you from harm for a small amount of time.
I found Security Bullseye to be most helpful, because you immediately get an army of robots on your side. This plasmid made taking out Big Daddies, who are the hardest non-boss enemies in the game, really trivial. Big Daddies are neutral and wander around the map, passing by security cameras without triggering them. If you hit them with a Security Bullseye, then alarms go off and the Big Daddy comes under fire by an army of robots for 60 seconds, taking out about a third of its health. The Big Daddy doesn’t see you as a threat, since you didn’t attack it directly, and you lose a small amount of Eve (basically ammo or mana for using plamsids), so you can just keep doing that until the Big Daddy dies. A more aggressive tactic is to run into a security camera, get the security to target you, then hit a Big Daddy or an enemy splicer with the Security Bullseye. You will lose a small amount of health, since the security will shoot you for a bit, but then they switch targets and you can sit back and relax. The advantage of this strategy is that you don’t have to wait for the enemy to wander into the security cameras field of view.
Bioshock has one of the coolest enemies in video games I have ever seen: the thuggish splicer. No, I’m just kidding; it’s the Big Daddy. These gigantic, lumbering, stinking monsters walk the halls of Rapture, escorting the Little Sisters. There are two types: bouncers and rosies. The bouncers are the most famous ones: they have a big-ass drill and many, small, circular viewing ports on their face. The rosies have more modern diving suits, and carry a rivet gun and proximity mines.
Big Daddies pose a serious challenge in early game, beating the player to an inch of his or her life on harder difficulties. The challenge originates from the lack of plasmids in early game; you rely on a pistol, shotgun and machine gun to take down a creature that’s very resistant to physical harm. Because you don’t have cover mechanics, regenerating health or access to explosives, and the halls of Rapture are tight and small, it creates a very tense, claustrophobic fight, where you’re just inches away from the drill. Later in the game, the fights become much easier, as you get access to proximity mines, electric dart traps and Security Bullseye, along with much more powerful plasmids, reducing the Big Daddy to a nuisance rather than a threat.
My favorite aspect of Big Daddies, though, is their history. The poor souls who became Big Daddies were forced into old diving gear and brainwashed to protect the Little Sisters. The fact that they are basically make-shift super soldiers is apparent by their weaponry: a mining drill and a rivet gun. You can actually see the Big Daddies doing maintenance in the game, using these tools outside of combat; you can see a bouncer drilling as you first approach Rapture, and a rosie repairing a leak using the rivet gun. You can also sometimes see the Big Daddies lumbering around outside, in the water. It’s a very haunting encounter: they move so slowly and mindlessly, letting off a haunting moan.
A very important aspect of Big Daddies is that they are not inherently hostile; they escort Little Sisters around the map, and will either push players away (doing no damage) and yell when they get to close to the Little Sister, or completely ignore the player when they are far from the Little Sister, or they have no Little Sister to escort. It’s very funny when you literally run into a Big Daddy when they aren’t protecting Little Sisters; they just push you out of the way and keep patrolling the area without even making eye contact. They just want to be left alone.
The only reason to attack a Big Daddy is to get to the Little Sister (or you’re poor and desperate for money), so you have the advantage of instigating the attack, intentionally or not. If you set up traps around the map, be careful; a Big Daddy may be aggravated by walking into one and come barreling down on you when you least expect it.
Little Sisters aren’t really enemies. In fact, they are victims of Rapture’s obsession with scientific progress and pension for genetic manipulation. In order to use plasmids or modify genes, you need substance called Adam, which is basically undifferentiated stem cells extracted from sea slugs. When Rapture was not at war, and plasmids were a novelty or tool, there was enough Adam to go around. However, the Fontaine and Ryan went to war, a genetic arms race broke out, and Adam was in short supply everywhere. Ryan’s people needed a way to extract and purify the Adam left in dead bodies, and so little girls at orphanages were implanted with sea slugs that could purify Adam. Thus, the Little Sisters were born. The girls were brainwashed to find dead bodies, given syringes to extract old Adam, trained to ingest the old Adam, and purify the Adam within their bodies. However, since Little Sisters were essentially walking Adam banks, they needed to be protected, leading to the creation of Big Daddies.
Little Sisters are at the crux of the moral choice system. When the Big Daddy is taken care of, Little Sisters can either be saved (a small amount of Adam is safely extracted and the Little Sister becomes a normal girl) or harvested (you extract all the Adam you can by ripping out the sea slug, killing the Little Sister), leaving you to choose between your own safety and her life. I have a bit of a quibble with this system. Firstly, the decision is too obvious. There’s no moral ambiguity; one is clearly better than another, unless you think of harvesting as neurasthenia. Secondly, this decision is undermined by Tenanbaum (a side character that wants you to save Little Sisters) rewarding you for saving Little Sisters. She gives you so much Adam for your kind deeds that, even by saving Little Sisters, you aren’t really dying for Adam during the midgame, even on harder difficulties.
The other main enemy type is the splicer. Splicers are the inhabitants of Rapture who have lost their mind from warping their DNA too much, in a bid to change who they were. Interestingly, very few splicers have the same abilities you do; Houdini splicers can shoot fire balls, and spider splicers are very agile, but no real plasmid powers to speak of.
Splicers scared the living crap out of me when I first played Bioshock; it felt like being trapped in a mental asylum where the inmates have taken over. They are hideous, violent and insane, and they have an uncanny knack at sneaking up on you, leaving you in a constant state of unease. Even when you have the Natural Camouflage tonic (which makes you invisible when you stand still), splicers always bump into you, revealing your presence.
The spider splicers are by far the deadliest and creepiest. They use hooks to crawl all over the walls and ceilings, making loud, clanking noises. The scariest moments are hearing the clanking and frantically looking around to find the sources, only to realize that the source is right above your head and is dropping down on you. In combat, they do massive amounts of damage thanks to their hooks, and are impossible to run away from because they are so fast. Even at a distance, they are a nuisance, since they can throw their hooks. Worst of all, they attack in waves, so as soon as you are done with one another is right behind it.
Houdini splicers are more of a nuisance, and lead head splicers (splicers that use conventional guns) are just cannon fodder. I feel that the Houdini splicers are very gimmicky; they throw fire balls, which I feel the game developers want me to catch with telekinesis and throw back, but stunning them with electro bolt and blasting their brains out with a shot gun is much more effective.
The main problem with the game is the balance; even on higher difficulties, Big Daddies are just too easy to take out mid to late game. Bouncers, for example, can be taken out by setting up 6 or 7 electric wires and then shooting them from a distance; they will charge at you, triggering all the wires, and die immediately before even hitting a wall. Rosies can easily be taken out by sticking a bunch of proxy mines onto anything movable via telekinesis, and then throwing that object at the Big Daddy.
But a bigger issue is that Adam isn’t that important to the game. The plasmids and tonics given to you, as well as the bonuses from performing research using the camera, are more than enough to beat the game, not to mention the amount of money and healing items all over the place. I never ran low on health kits on any difficulty, or low on ammo or money, resulting in a fairly repetitive second half of the game.
This issue was temporarily alleviated when you lose the ability to choose what plasmid you have for a short time. During that section of the game, you fight with one hand tied behind your back, forcing you to be creative and think up solutions on the fly. Unfortunately, this section lasts a short time.
One more thing I want to touch up on is that playing the game by saving Little Sisters just isn’t that difficult; due to the fairly large number of Little Sisters, as well as the very generous gifts from Doctor Tenenbaum, you have more than enough Adam to get what you want from the Gatherer’s Garden. The source of this issue, besides the surplus of Adam, is that the Garden doesn’t offer much that the player would be very interested in. You can upgrade your health and Eve capacity, or increase the number of tonics you can have, which are all helpful, but most of the plasmids are worthless. Decoy, Cyclone Trap, Sonic Boom, and Insect Swarm are all either useless or superseded by weapons and plasmids that you will most likely already have. The only plasmid I cared for was Incinerate+, which is a much stronger version of Incinerate. It’s powerful enough to cripple most enemies, resulting in them running away from you looking for health or water, allowing you to shoot them in the back as they die.
From a gameplay, story, and design perspective, Bioshock is a very solid game. I think the philosophical discussion can be heavyhanded at times, and the balance issues in the second half of the game are annoying, but overall the game is atmospheric, intense and philosophical, all at the same time, putting it well above most shooters even to this day. I have played through the game three times, and the first view of Rapture still sends a chill down my spine. I definitely recommend this game to anyone who can afford it.