This week marks the 10 year anniversary of the first Bioshock game. Where were you back in 2007? When did you first play it? I remember it well. I had borrowed the game off of a friend during the time my parents had gone on holiday and me and my brother had the house to ourselves. I brought the Xbox downstairs to the big TV and had a long-arse Ethernet cable running all the way from the modem up in the study, all the way down the stairs and into the living room. It was a fucking mess. At that age; 19, I was going out partying, having friends over for drinks and games, and having all day gaming sessions. It was a blast. My whole life lied ahead of me.
Come to think about it, I don’t even think it was MY own Xbox. I think back then I was still rocking out the PS2 and buying the PS2 versions of Xbox 360 games during this teething period. My brother, who owned the Xbox 360 (back when he had disposable income, enough to buy a £250 pair of jeans), was out for most of the time, so I borrowed it to play games like Call of Duty 3, Dead Rising, and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. But a friend from work had lent me this strange FPS that was suppose to be quite scary. Normally I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to horror games. I would help with navigation and puzzles, as informing when to reload, whilst a friend would play Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Fatal Frame, for example. I think it had something to do with the controls. They were clunky and awkward (intentionally of course) but I never got along with it. I was better at “proper” third person controls (one analogue stick moves and one looks), as well as being armed with an arsenal of weaponry. Games like The Suffering and Cold Fear, I could handle. But the camera being stuck up in the corner of a room whilst an enemy was out of view but could still hit me, could fuck right off.
So when I saw that this “Bioshock” game played like that, I thought “yeah go on then” and gave it ago, and thank god that I did!
Bioshock is an amazing game… to this day! Of course the fact that you could only have one weapon OR power equipped at a time sucked (which was sorted out in the sequel), but overall the game was solid. The story was interestingly mysterious, the weapons had the right kind of kick to them, the gameplay was fun, the enemies were terrifying, and the locations were amazing.
So let’s look at all these elements shall we… of course this will feature spoilers, but for a ten year old game, you need to really have played it by now.
The story begins simply. You are the classic silent protagonist who is thrown into a world of chaos and must fight their way out. It is nothing we haven’t seen before. But the developers put an amazing new spin on things.
We start off on-board a plane that suddenly crashes and we find ourselves in the middle of a bleak ocean as fires from the plane sink down into the depths, revealing a mysterious lighthouse in the middle of nowhere. The lighthouse leads to a lift, which takes us down into the unknown.
It was at this point that we had not a single idea what the hell was waiting for us down there. It could have literally been anything.
We find ourselves in the underwater city of Rapture; a civilisation who had chosen to hide away from the rest of the world. It is also at the bottom of this lift that we see the first Splicer and think “Can this elevator take us back up?” And we hear the voice of Atlas over the radio. He helps guide us through this hell-hole in hopes of escaping.
Eventually we learn that something is not right here (apart from the obvious killer mutants) as we find out that a material from a strange sea slug is able to be refined into giving people special abilities. We see the Little Sisters gathering ADAM from corpses, and the Big Daddies that protect them. Defeating the Big Daddies gives us the choice of saving the little girls, or pretty much consuming them for skill points. So it ultimately comes down to a decision of being Mother Teresa or Baby Eating.
It turns out that Atlas is playing you for a chump. He is really Frank Fontane; a criminal trying to overthrow Andrew Ryan, and he has been getting you to do his bidding. It gets even more darker as we learn that YOU are in fact Andrew Ryan’s experimental child who has been programmed with a Trigger Phase to make you do the bidding of whoever utters it. It is only then that we realise that Atlas has been saying this phrase, but due to his Irish accent, we didn’t even notice! “Would you kindly…”
It was a beautiful moment of realisation that shocked me to my core when they showed flashbacks of it happening. It was a quality way of making me feel like I was actually under the mind control of Atlas, when in reality there was no other way to proceed. Superbly done.
The rest of the story goes a little downhill from here as we have to then go and fight Frank, and our decision of helping or murdering little girls comes back to haunt us at the very end.
Next was the weapons and powers. Any game that allows me to control a swarm of bees to attack enemies is okay in my books! You had ones that could be placed to set traps, which was very handy for missions where you new an ambush fast approaching. You could fire ice and… fire, as well as lift objects and shoot lightning. It seemed to have it all.
Weapon wise, you started off with a wrench (the classic weapon of this type of game), and eventually you got a revolver, Tommy gun, shotgun, crossbow, and a chemical thrower. So you were never short of the firepower, so long as you conserved ammo, or searched every little nook and cranny.
Gameplay-wise, you moved through the city, searching everywhere and fighting all manner of inhuman… humans who are junked up to the eyeballs and looking for blood. The game is very similar to Bioshock’s spiritual father; Systemshock. Even the hacking mini-game makes a return. Both games are FPS games where you are trapped in a location with mutants and trying to escape, as you batter them with a wrench, and try to find a way to escape. It even has the same second word as that game! It is pretty much a copy and paste job, but just change it a little bit… maybe change the wallpaper. It is the same as Bioshock Infinite, although that is a lot more blatant about being a direct clone of the game it is copying.
While Systemshock was more Cyberpunk, Bioshock went Steampunk, and it really fit the setting perfectly.
The only bad thing, I can think of (other than the one weapon or power at a time), is something that has been done a million times since; audio logs. You find these bastard things everywhere, not just in Rapture, but in nearly every video game made after it. It is not to say that Bioshock was the first, but it was the first one to get on my nerves. While Resident Evil and Silent Hill had memos and notes, which paused the gameplay to have a little look at, these were optional. You can turn off the audio-logs, but then you really do feel as if you are missing parts of the game (more so than a scrap of paper found on the floor), so you feel compelled to listen to it. However, you can never quite hear it as when you pick it up, a bunch of enemies come out and attack, creating an enormous convoluted conversation in which you can’t hear anything.
Recently I was playing Horizon: Zero Dawn on the PS4, and the same thing was happening to that. I would pick up an auto-playing audio log, and I would either have to stand completely still to fully appreciate it, in which case just make it a fucking cutscene, or I would continue and enemies or someone over the radio would start rabbiting, and I couldn’t hear anyone.
In Bioshock, some of the most interesting points of the history of Rapture and how it came to be the way it is now, is given to you in these audio logs.
Anyway, we ain’t here to slate a game on it’s tenth birthday. We are here to praise it! And nothing does this more than the enemies and the environments.
While the standard enemy is nothing too amazing, the Big Daddies were a horrifying foe. You were actually worried the moment you would see one and would have to really plan ahead and wait for the right moment. The changing lights on it would tell you if he was calm, alerted, or blood thirsty, and the moment you were spotted and those lights turned red, you’d better already have that weapon you have been saving up the ammo for in hand.
Exploring the depths of the underwater city was done beautifully. The game was surprising large and gave a wide variety of locations to explore. From the city streets to the domed parks, compete with trees and grass, from the horrifying blood soaked theatres and art galleries, to the ocean floor itself, Bioshock never felt as if you were just exploring the same old boring locations you had done so previously.
I remember the first time I looked out into the dark blue abyss of the endless ocean from one of the observation windows, and I saw fish and other marine life floating by, before turning around and seeing the dystopia of what was once suppose to be the brilliant paradise of Rapture.
Sequel wise, two were made. The first one felt like a copy jobby of the original, only this time the only gimmick was that you were a Big Daddy yourself. The trap thing became key. You could now use other powers within the power trap you had before, so now you could make a bee mine, or a fire trap. You had more weapons that could fire projectiles that stuck to the walls, creating proximity mines. And you could use a gun and the power at the same time. It was great.
The only thing that let it down was the story. It was rather weak and didn’t go anywhere. The game shifted its focus from storytelling to gameplay, and while the game did play better than the original (as all sequels should) the story fell flat.
This was made up for in the sequel; Bioshock: Infinite. This game’s story was really interesting, if not a revamped version of the original game. They had tried to recreate the magic of first discovering Rapture (something that the sequel could never do, given that it was set in the same location), but Infinite never quite got there for me. It was the first game that I really noticed that Troy Baker was a voice in every game, as I think I played The Last of Us for the first time shortly after… and I have just recently finished Uncharted 4 and Telltale’s Batman, which he is in as well.
Infinite was an improvement on Bioshock 2, but the confusing end plot twist made me feel a little cheated. I did like how it linked to Bioshock, and revisiting Rapture (if only for a brief moment) was fantastic, but it was never as good as the original.
This is something we have accepted in films, but we do NOT accept for computer games.
Anyway, I am sure it won’t be long before we see a brand new Bioshock game. 2017 Prey felt very much like a Bioshock game, only this time set in space (so… Systemshock then?) and I did really enjoy that game, but maybe only because it reminded me so much of Bioshock.
I do hope that we do not have to wait so long for a new Bioshock, but I hope that the developers really take the time to remember what made the original game so great. For me, it was the horror; the journey into the unknown, which they recreated with Infinite, but lost horror element along the way.
Overall Bioshock is a fantastic game and one that I would be happy to replay, if I had the time (or if I didn’t have to choose between a power and a gun), but I do not want to ruin this memory that I have of the first time I ventured forth to the mysterious of Rapture.
Now, would you kindly go and replay it.