Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Review: Bioshock (360)

I got my Xbox 360 a little over a year ago so I'm still catching up on some games that most 360 owners have probably already played. Case in point: Bioshock. I'm not a huge fan of the FPS, or first-person shooter, but when I saw Bioshock on sale for $19.99 on Newegg, I told my fiancee that I would like that for Christmas, please. I recently finished it and all I have to say is, wow. What a game. And that's coming from somebody who is usually pretty critical of, well, just about everything.

Ok so here's the deal. The game is set in 1960. The main character, Jack's, airplaine crash-lands in the Atlantic Ocean and you appear to be the only survivor. There is fire and destruction all around so you swim to the nearest stable object... which just so happens to be the bathysphere entrance to Rapture, an underwater dystopian/failed utopian society. The radio in the bathysphere comes on and you meet an ally named Atlas, who is set on protecting you and finding you so that you can save his family and get out of Rapture. On the other hand, there is a man named Andrew Ryan who you learn is the creator of Rapture who is hellbent on keeping you from accomplishing your goals. As you progress through the game, you learn more about Rapture and how it got to the state it's in.

The goal of Rapture was to escape the shackles of society and create a laissez-faire society free of the oppression caused by political, economic, and religious forces. This allowed the brilliant scientists that Andrew Ryan brought to Rapture to make rapid advancements in engineering and biotechnology. One such advancement was the discovering of ADAM, cells extracted from a new kind of sea slug that allowed scientists to change the human genome, allowing them to splice genes to give humans special powers. Dr. Tennenbaum found that ADAM could be mass-produced by injecting slugs into the stomachs of little girls, whom they took from orphanages.

Soon, the gap between the rich and poor in the society widened and a hero emerged. Frank Fontaine started programs to help the poor, something Ryan's philosophies did not support, and started a huge smuggling organization that provided people with items from the outside, such as religious materials. He also controlled the plasmid industry, which allowed normal people to give themselves powers by injecting their bodies with formulas. He attempted to overthrow Ryan, but failed miserably and was crushed and reported dead. Ryan seized control of Fontaine's plasmid business, but a new hero emerged, Atlas. Atlas started splicing his own army and on the eve of 1959, Atlas and his forces launched their revolt. Ryan launched his counter-attack with his own spliced army. The result was that Rapture was overrun by gene-spliced freaks that laid waste to everything in their path. To solve the ADAM shortage problem, Little Sisters were mentally conditioned to go around Rapture and extract ADAM out of dead bodies and recycle it into raw ADAM by ingesting it. They are protected by Big Daddies, which you may have seen before.

Scarier than they look once you actually fight one

That's where Jack comes in. Jack arrives in Rapture just as all this is going down. Without giving away the story, suffice to say that you make your way through Rapture, splicing your genes and gaining abilities on your way to try and take down the evil Andrew Ryan. The game is filled with twists and turns and deceit at every corner. You can't trust anyone in this underwater world filled with horror and suspense.
Score: 9/10

The graphics in this game were surprising sharp for being almost two years old. There have been great advances in graphics technology since this game has come out and yet it still looks brand new. It actually looks better than some of the games that I have played on the 360. The game is built on the Unreal Engine 2.5 with some Unreal Engine 3 features thrown in. Even with the occassional freezes (it happened to me only once) and slight glitches, the game looks absolutely fantastic. It fully immerses you into the environment of Rapture and gives you a real idea of just how dismal this place is. The ambience of being so far underwater a miles away from real civilization is very creepy. The graphics contribute to that by portraying Rapture as very dark and deeply depressing.

The creepiest part is the lack of a sky... water in every direction

You never know what is lurking in the shadows or behind a closed door. The character design of the splicers (enemies) are horrifying and the bosses and Big Daddies are scary as hell. I wish there were more games that looked as good as this one.
Score: 9/10

The gameplay was fantastic. The controls were very easy to learn and very intuitive. Sometimes the problem with an FPS is that the controls are too sensitive, or not sensitive enough. That was not the case with Bioshock. They hit it right on the head. One interesting piece of the gameplay was the use of health packs. Many FPS games nowadays do not use health packs and instead just require the player to take cover and rest for a few seconds to recover their health. This was different for me at first but, at the same time, a relief. It made you feel like you really could die at any moment in this place. The sheer volume of enemies that spawn at certain points of the game is very much horrifying and the lack of ammo at certain points of the game makes you feel the desperation that Jack must feel. The game (on the normal difficulty level) is not too hard, but also not too easy. I died a few times, but generally I was able to get by despite lacking ammo or health packs numerous times. The game combines elements of using abilities, shooting, running, and hacking into machines. The hacking element was the most intriguing because the hacking system was totally different than anything I've ever experienced. There are a number of different machines to hack, including ammo and item machines, health stations, safes, and bots and turrets. When you start the hack, you have to rearrange tiles that represent tubing to get from the start point to the end point. While you are doing this, fluid starts to flow from the start point through the tiles you have already placed. If you do not connect the tubes before the fluid gets to a dead end, the machine emits a powerful shock that takes most of your health bar away.

Once you get good at it, it's not so hard... until the end of the game

It was an interesting way of accomplishing this aspect of the game and I actually enjoyed hacking once I got good at it. It's an almost necessary part of the game at many spots throughout your journey so I recommend practicing early and often.
Score: 9/10

The sound combined with the graphics to make this a fully immersive experience. I can't remember the last time I sat on the edge of my seat for just about every minute of a video game, but this game makes you do exactly that. You are constantly hearing sounds of splicers nearby or the thud of the Big Daddy's boots on the ground or the creepy voice of the Little Sister, telling the Big Daddy that she's ready for "dream time." The images of the Little Sisters stabbing their syringes into dead bodies to extract ADAM, combined with the *squish* that accompanies it makes you shudder.

Watch out for that splicer!

The mindless ranting that you hear from the splicers keeps you on your toes at all times, because you know that they could jump out from behind a door or from a bathroom stall at any moment. And that's not even the best part. The music that plays throughout the game creates the eery setting that is Rapture. The game is set in 1960 and the music that plays throughout the game is off of the Great American Soundtrack. You're in a place that you don't know, with eery oldies music seeping through the PA system. Excellent work of using music to further immerse the player in the environment and atmosphere of the game.
Score: 9/10

All in all, this was one of the best games I have ever played. It was just an all-around excellent game. The story was interesting, the gameplay was intense, and the graphics and sound fully immersed me in the environment. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time I played this game. I think the best sign of a great game is whether or not you want to play it again once you're finished. Now that I'm finished with it, I want to play it again already. It was that good. Unfortunately, I have other games that I have to tend to first, but I'm sure I'll pick it back up before Bioshock 2 comes out, which should hit stores sometime this Holiday season.
Overall Score (not an average): 9.5/10

You wouldn't like me when I'm angry

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