Roughly six hours into 2K Games’s “BioShock,” the game transforms from a legitimately impressive video game to a valid piece of art. As the only game not titled “Zelda” whose storyline I thought more than a second about, “BioShock” uses the first-person shooter as a medium to tell its story – in contrast to basically everything before it, which mangled narratives to legitimize the existence of games.
Upon crash landing into the underwater world of Rapture, your character’s saga begins as he’s guided via radio by Atlas, one of the seemingly few remaining life forms who doesn’t want to exterminate you. Atlas needs you to help him rescue his family from Rapture, whose creator, Andrew Ryan, doesn’t want them to leave.
Ryan’s world was devised as an underwater utopia free of conventional laws and ethics, where genetic modification runs rampant. Shortly into the game, your character goes through his first of many transformations, acquiring the ability to shoot electricity from his hand. These “plasmids,” as they are termed in the game, are acquirable superpowers. In order to progress through Rapture, you’ll have to creatively use a variety of plasmids in conjunction with conventional weapons.
And while the excellent combat mechanics and environments offer a much-needed regeneration of the first-person shooter, the genius of the game is the way it plays off gamers’ presuppositions of how videogame narratives work. The story unravels in an almost “Catch-22”-like way that will force gamers to rethink the merit of their journey and forever alter the way they mentally approach a game.
This is one video game that requires no crappy Hollywood interpretation. “BioShock” is the fucking movie.
Pro-life vs. pro-choice: To acquire plasmids and genetic upgrades in “BioShock,” you’ll have to find ADAM, which is a genetic currency of sorts. The only way to get ADAM is to take it from little, possessed girls who look like they could’ve been understudies on “The Shining.” The problem is, in order to get a hold of one of the girls, you’ll have to go through their bodyguards, the Big Daddies, who kind of resemble the Incredible Hulk in an old-school diving suit. If you’re able to dispatch these guys, which isn’t easy, you’ll have to decide whether to harvest or rescue them. Rescuing nets you less ADAM per girl, but you’ll receive bonuses later in the game, along with the mental clarity that comes from not being a child killer. The game’s ending will vary depending on what you decide to do with the girls.
And EVE: The other half of “BioShock” ‘s creation currency is EVE, which acts as injectable ammunition for plasmids. EVE, along with conventional ammunition and extra health, can be bought from vending machines with cash accumulated from robbed corpses and containers. These goods are overly pricey, and at no point will you feel comfortable with your bankroll.
“Please don’t shoot bees at me”: While I was playing the game an observant onlooker remarked, “Wow, they actually run away when you shoot them.” Novel, isn’t it? Although your foes are pretty much limited to a few different types of zombie-like characters, they’re actually intelligent and averse to you trying to set them on fire. Even on the medium-difficulty setting, enemies will flee when threatened, attack when appropriate and attempt to find health when they’re taking a beating.
It’s a series of tubes: The one blemish on an otherwise stunning experience is the manner in which machines are hacked in the game. In order to get cheaper prices from vending machines or turn evil robots into good robots, you can hack them. Hacking involves rearranging pieces of pipe to get liquid to flow from one place to another. It’s an uninspired mini-game, more of a nuisance than anything else.
Mutilated corpses have never looked this good: “BioShock” looks incredible. Be it the textures of walls or the lighting on weapons, everything appears true to life. Most impressive, the game all but eliminates cut scenes by having almost every plot point occur around you while you remain in control of your character. The near-elimination of cut scenes provides for a more engrossing experience that could only be possible with the game’s stellar graphics engine.
Shooting your roommates is not permitted: OK hardcore “Halo” fans, brace yourselves: There is no multiplayer mode in “BioShock.” None. And you know what? It was a great move. Every shooter since N64’s “GoldenEye 007” has included a multiplayer mode of some sort, and maybe three of them have been any good. Instead of tacking on a multiplayer mode, 2K devoted all its resources to pulling off a polished single-player experience, and it did.
Is it worth a 96 on Metacritic?: Yes. “BioShock” is the highest rated next-gen videogame on any system, and amazingly its 96 is valid. “Halo 3” might be the most-anticipated game this year, but “BioShock” will probably go down as the best.