is easily the most anticipated shooter of the year. Finally a shooter that's released straight to PC and not just on consoles (although it's released simultaneously on XBox 360). FPS games should be played on a PC, but I'll stop beating that dead horse. Until the next shooter is released of course.
Anyway, Bioshock. Much hype, much controversy, both pre- and post-launch. The hype was mainly about the superb graphics and RPG-influenced gameplay as shown in multiple trailers, and the controversy was about the game's moral ambiguity
and later about the SecuROM copy protection
that came with it. So let's put the hype and controversy both to the test, shall we?
Bioshock starts out promising. It's 1960, and you find yourself in the ocean as the sole survivor or a plane crash. You swim towards a tall structure that emerges out of the waves and find a doorway. Once you step in you're on your way down to Rapture, an underwater city build after WW2 by a mad scientist type called Andrew Ryan. The style of Rapture is very 1950's Art Deco, which gives the game a unique look & feel. It's a refreshing change from all the sci-fi shooters from years past. You'll still find yourself scurrying along dark corridors and eerie hallways, only now instead of hi-tech futuristic textures and equipment you'll find fifties era jukeboxes and that disgusting wallpaper your old aunt still has in her living room.
All is not well in Rapture apparently, which is a good thing otherwise it wouldn't be much of a shooter. One of the technologies this Andrew Ryan fellow came up with involves genetic manipulation on-the-fly, resulting in superpowers like shooting bolts of electricity from your fingertips and setting stuff on fire from a distance. Jolly good fun. Only it seems that abundant use of these genetic enhancers causes people to go batshit insane, which is good for you, the player, because it means you get to shoot them.
You also get these genetic boosts yourself, only you don't seem to be affected by the mind-altering side effects. Though one can argue that rampaging through an underwater city shooting at almost everything that moves to be a sign of a less than fully coherent mind. These plasmids and gene tonics, as the gene boosters are called, are fun to use. They're a bit like Force powers from the Star Wars Jedi games, only they're more visceral and, well, bloody.
There are several types of genetic upgrades, some of them with permanent boosting effects and some that require a special type of fuel called EVE. This EVE stuff glows blue and you'll find it throughout the game. You shoot it directly into your veins like a craving smack junkie. The first time you see yourself doing it is quite unsettling, but you get used to it quickly, which in itself is a bit disturbing.
You can buy more genetic upgrades with a substance called ADAM (EVE, ADAM, get it? Yeah, the game's creators aren't that subtle). This ADAM stuff can only be gathered from creatures called Little Sisters, which is where the moral ambiguity starts. Little Sisters are small girls, roaming the city in search of corpses. They harvest ADAM from these corpses, and you can only get ADAM from these Little Sisters if you either harvest or rescue them. Rescuing a little sister sets the girl free from the parasite that has made its home within her, and you get a little ADAM from it. Harvest the girl however and you forcibly extract the parasite from her, killing her in the process. This yields twice as much ADAM, but whether you feel comfortable killing the girl is a choice you'll have to make for yourself.
Not to mention the fact that the Little Sisters are protected by lumbering brutes in armored suits called Big Daddies. You need to take them down first before you can either harvest or rescue a Little Sister, and a Big Daddy is no pushover. Prepare to empty entire clips into one of them and still see it coming at you. Fortunately there's quite an arsenal of weapons to choose from to release your opponents from their mortal coils. You have the basic stuff, like a revolver, a machine gun and a shotgun, but there are also more exotic weapons like the crossbow, grenade launcher and flame thrower. Not particularly exciting, every shooter has pretty much the same set of guns, only in Bioshock you can load them with different types of ammo.
The revolver for example has standard bullets, anti-personnel bullets and armor piercing bullets. The anti-personnel work best against standard flesh & blood adversaries, and you'll find yourself saving the armor-piercing rounds for when you need to take down a steel-plated Big Daddy. All weapons save one come with different ammo types, each one proving useful in a different situation. The only gun without different ammo types isn't really a gun - it's a camera. Yes, a photo camera. You can use it to snap pictures of your enemies to put in a big scrap book and show to your mommy. Seriously, every time you take a picture of an enemy you 'research' it, which means you do more damage against this type of enemy and you get a hint about what type of ammo works best against them. It's a bit of a challenge to snap a picture of someone shooting at you, but it pays off in the long run.
Additionally you can upgrade your guns at special vending machines, giving them more kick or bigger magazines. Regardless of these little gimmicks, the weapons in Bioshock aren't particularly novel, and you'll find yourself sticking mostly to the basic set of guns until you run out of ammo and urgently switch to the flamethrower before that Big Daddy stomps on your skull and makes it go squish.
There are multiple types of vending machines in the game, offering everything from ammo and health to weapon upgrades and plasmids. You can hack most of these machines, as well as automated camera's and turrets. The hacking itself is a sort of mini-game where you have to guide a stream of glowing blue stuff through a series of tubes. it's pretty straightforward and will get boring fairly quickly, so you'll find yourself using auto-hack devices a lot if you have them or simply clicking the buyout button where you spend some cash to automatically hack the machine.
The game's story, adeptly told through voice-recorded diaries and a fellow called Atlas that talks to you through a radio, is pretty straight-forward at first but it has a plot twist late in the game that elevates it a bit from the standard "work your way to the supreme bad guy and repeatedly shoot him in the face
" fare of most shooters. Also the two ways of handling the Little Sisters provides some replay value, as it seems the ending is somewhat dependent on what you did with them. The first time I've played through it I devoured all the Little Sisters, so I got to see the 'Dark Side' ending. I'm playing through it again, only this time I'm rescuing all the darlings.
In terms of graphics Bioshock looks superb. The system requirements are a bit on the heavy side, but if your PC has enough RAM and a decent video card it'll be smooth playing. Just make sure you keep the graphic settings low if your PC isn't state of the art - the game looks really good on low resolution settings anyway. The water effects are superbly done, as are the lighting and textures. Every room in Bioshock is unique as well, you never feel like the makers have reused sections. The same can't be said of textures, but then how many authentic 1950's wallpapers can you come up with before it becomes repetitive, right?
So is Bioshock worthy of the hype? Yes. Despite some flaws (unremarkable weapons, quick to play through, repetitive textures and enemies) it's a great shooter and a lot of fun to play through, although it suffers a bit from the FEAR effect - the first time you play it, it can get a little creepy so you'll find yourself dosing your gameplay and logging out once every few hours to catch a bit of a break from all the nerve-wracking action. The second time around the game isn't so creepy anymore, as you've come to know what to expect.
Is Bioshock worthy of the controversy? Not really. Sure the killing of parasite-possessed little girls can be misinterpreted entirely, as seems to have happened, but the game offers you basically the same choice as the average Star Wars game: Light Side or Dark Side. It's nothing new and experienced gamers won't lose sleep over it. I do think the game is deserving of it's M rating, as it's not for the young or faint-hearted. But then again, what shooter is?
About the SecuROM copy protection, I understand game developers' need to combat piracy, but it's an uphill battle anyway. Every copy protection scheme will get hacked eventually, but developers need to keep trying. It's either that or develop games exclusively for consoles, where piracy is much less widespread. It would be a damn crying shame however if games would disappear from PC's, so I'll gladly fork over cash for a good PC game in order to support the industry. And Bioshock is very much deserving of my money.
Total score: 8.5 out of 10.