The underwater city of Rapture was designed to be a place where the population would be rewarded for their loyalty, and where scientists could experiment freely. But things have gone horribly tits up: after mass rebellion, all thatâ€™s left are mutated freaks and a place in urgent need of a visit from a handyman. Kudos goes to the artists though – they were allowed to let their creative juices flow, making the 1950s art deco surroundings a joy to behold. Thatâ€™s when itâ€™s not smothered in blood or about to come crashing down, anyway.
As a survivor of a plane crash, youâ€™re tasked with working your way through the chaos with the assistance of another survivor hoping to escape with his family. Not an easy task, as the inhabitants lost the plot ages ago, due to injecting themselves with various tonics to improve their physical and mental abilities. It doesnâ€™t help that the mayor of Rapture – the malevolent Ryan – refuses to believe that you arenâ€™t a spy either. Fortunately these tonics are easy to get hold of and bestow a range of abilities, most of which have more than one purpose. For instance, electric bolts can not only fry opponents on the spot, but also open damaged electric doors and cause security turrets to temporarily short circuit. New skills are unlocked regularly, but you can only assign a few at a time.
Imagine that you took the best bits of the superlative Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games, but used a first person perspective instead. Thatâ€™s pretty much Bioshock in a nutshell, with moral decisions, deep narrative, RPG overtones allowing for unique character customisation, and a scarily convincing environment to explore. Then thereâ€™s the graphics to take into account – it looks phenomenal, not just nailing water effects square on the head, but also boasting the best looking explosion and fire effects around. We didnâ€™t actually realise that the intro was real-time until we aimlessly wiggled the analogue stick to discover that the camera moved around.
Before you can really start enjoying Bioshock, you have to get your head around the jargon. The idea is to kill Big Daddies (primitive evil Robocops) to save Little Sisters (possessed children) and use them to gain ADAM (experience points) so that you can buy Plasmids (new skills) from vending machines (vending machines). Or if youâ€™re feeling immoral then you can harvest (kill) the Little Sisters to gain more ADAM and therefore acquire more skills quicker. Saving them has its own reward though. The most common enemies are Splicers and they too have different names, like the Spider Splicers that can run along walls. Later you get a camera, and if you catch them – or indeed any enemy – on film you can learn their weak spots, or if youâ€™re lucky get a new tonic.
The best way to sum up Bioshock is this: everything has been polished and finely tuned to perfection, like some sort of well kept submarine. The puzzles are clever – at one point the underwater forest that provides oxygen to the populace is destroyed, needing a solution – the AI is intelligent – enemies hide in shadows and run towards health stations when weak – and even the hacking mini-game, which is a clone of the puzzler Pipemania, is good fun. Checkmate, Halo 3.