Game review: Bioshock

13 Oct 2007

Of all the critics you are likely to encounter, gaming hacks tend to be the most prone to hyperbole. Bioshock, probably the most acclaimed game of the year, is a good example. Riding on such superlatives as ‘masterpiece’, ‘epic’, ‘complete’ and, in the words of reputable site Gamespy, an ‘unparalleled achievement’, Bioshock may become a gaming phenomenon.

So, does it deserve the hype? Well, as one who has felt the disappointment of many critically acclaimed games (not to mention films, books, albums and TV shows), I have to admit, that yes, it is that good.

While a decent narrative only holds a very finite source of satisfaction for this gamer, I couldn’t help being hugely impressed by the universe created in Bioshock. An epic melding of Jules Verne, H G Wells and George A Romero, Bioshock takes the player on a creepy, hugely imaginative trip.

The story opens with a plane crash in the middle of the Atlantic circa 1960. The main character (that’s you!) finds a mysterious tower in the sea and takes an elevator down to Rapture, an underwater city that’s the brainchild of a mad scientist.

The optimistic, Fifties-style commercials you see and hear as you descend brag that Rapture is a utopia — where innovation is encouraged and ‘the sweat of your brow’ belongs to you, not to the state (as in Washington) or the people (as in Moscow).

It doesn’t take long to realise that you’ve arrived in a dystopia of crumbling art deco, Frankenstein-esque genetic experiments and deranged citizens. It turns out the good doctor’s experiments didn’t always go according to plan.

Guided by an Irishman on your CB radio (and later a Russian lady), you must negotiate your way out of Rapture, battling (among others) zombie-like inhabitants and stomping robots.

Using the old-fashioned first-person-shooter format, Bioshock has a few tricks up its sleeve. Most notably, you can inject yourself with a syringe that can modify your left arm with unusual new powers. This means that along with the traditional guns and grenades, you can also levitate objects and fire electricity or (my favourite) killer hornets from your hand! The controls are fluid and intuitive.

The science fiction/horror story, which is hugely compelling by gaming standards, is propelled not by interminable cut scenes, but by exchanges of dialogue and recording devices found on your travels. This is a fantastic idea as it tackles the dual problem of delivering narrative without boring the player to tears with animated scenes and it livens up the exploration – nothing like a report on the perils of genetic modification to make a journey more interesting. The dialogue and acting are well above the average game.

Bioshock is dripping with detail and atmosphere. The characters and scenario are so well drawn that it often feels like an adaptation of a long-lost horror classic. A number of details, from the warbled easy-listening music to the shambolic ballrooms and operating tables, paint a terrifying world. You also get to make moral decisions, altering the story’s ending.

Addictive gameplay and a terrific story combine with innovative techniques to make Bioshock a must-have for fans of both first-person shooters and horror.

If you only play one game this year in which you get to fire hornets from your veins, make it Bioshock.

Platforms- Xbox 360 and PC
Price- €60 (Xbox 360) or from €35 (PC)

By Joe Griffin