A look back
This review contains spoilers for both Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite
Six years ago Bioshock was released to universal praise and went on to win several Game of the Year awards. It’s no secret that many gamers view it as a modern masterpiece especially because of its complex story and themes. Now that some time has passed and Bioshock Infinite, like its predecessor, has left most of the gaming world in awe I thought it would be fitting to take a look at the first Bioshock. Is it really the masterpiece that everyone claims it is or does people's nostalgia from their first visit to Rapture paint a prettier picture than reality?
Before I get started I have to make it clear that this is my second playthrough of Bioshock and I did play it back in 08 or 09. So unfortunately the game didn’t have the same kind of magic as it did the first time. Seeing Rapture for the first time is amazing and a little scary, the Splicers used to scare the shit out of me. This time around the splicers didn’t scare me and Rapture didn’t seem quite as amazing. A big part of what made Bioshock so great is the first playthrough and not knowing what is around the corner. You explore the world of Rapture as you progress and learn more about the different places of the city and the people who lived there. But the fact the first time was the best, strictly talking about the sense of discovery here, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad game. It just meant that I shifted my focus to the gameplay and story of Bioshock rather than the setting and atmosphere this time around.
Back when I played the game originally I was one of the few people who didn’t enjoy it that much to be honest. Before my second playthrough I always thought about the aesthetics of Bioshock, because that was the part that stood out to me. I love the juxtaposition between the art deco style and the happy sounding music of the 40’es and 50’es opposite the decay of Rapture behind the facade. The reason why that was the thing that stood out to me was because I didn’t enjoy the gameplay. I simply thought that it was frustrating to play, probably because I generally find FPS games to be monotonous and therefore not fun. I don’t know why I feel that way but I still feel that way about most modern shooters. That is also why shooters like Call of Duty or Battlefield don’t do anything for me. I honestly think that they are the most boring thing in the world. So originally my frustration with the gameplay coupled with me being scared of the splicers made the game more stressful than satisfying to play. I’m also one of those people that love horror movies but can’t really deal with scary games. They just become too stressful for me. So you might see why a FPS game with horror elements didn’t do it for me back in the day. It wasn’t exactly my favorite combination of things in a video game.
But playing through Infinite and seeing Rapture again made me remember how much I actually enjoyed certain aspects of the first game, mainly the aesthetics and atmosphere, and I have also wanted to go back to the first Bioshock at some point, to see if I missed something on my first playthrough seeing as everyone else loved the game and I didn’t, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do just that.
My biggest surprise was that I actually enjoyed that combat this time around and in some ways I might even prefer the combat in this game to the combat in Infinite. Yes there are a lot of similarities between the two games: vigors and plasmids are basically the same thing. But the combat in Infinite is a lot more frantic and chaotic where the combat in this game almost seems slow and methodical in comparison but I actually think I prefer the latter. I felt like I was more in control of the combat in Bioshock 1. Most of the time I had a sense of where my enemies were attacking me from and I knew how to deal with the different enemy types. That wasn’t always the case with Infinite where I wasn’t always quite sure who or what were attacking me and If I was doing any damage at all. I had a hard time telling if I was even dealing damage to certain enemies in Infinite. I never had that problem in Bioshock 1.
Bioshock isn’t a perfect game though. It has some serious pacing issues and I have completely forgotten how long this game actually is. I remember the ending happening a lot faster after you kill Andrew Ryan and Atlas reveals himself to be Frank Fontaine. Turns out the game goes on for hours after that point. We are talking 4 or 5 hours of extra gameplay after the big reveal. I had completely forgotten about all that initially because it’s not the best part of the game. The last third is unfortunately also the weakest part of the game. Not only does it drag on for way to long but it also includes an escort mission with a little sister. If the little sister dies during the escort mission you won’t lose the game, you can just go get another one, but you won’t get the good ending anymore. So if you want the good ending you have to load a previous save where she is still alive and keep trying till you succeed. It’s extremely frustrating and I sincerely hope escort missions are a thing of the past with next generation.
Overall the game is still pretty great. The music composed by Garry Schyman is nothing short of fantastic and it does a lot in terms of bringing Rapture to life. You just have to listen to Schyman’s music and you are in Rapture. Fort Frolic is one of the best levels of any game ever and Sander Cohen is a great antagonist for that little part of the game. I almost found Sander Cohen more intriguing than Andrew Ryan or Frank Fontaine to be honest. Also Cohen’s Scherzo No. 7 is yet another piece of amazing music from Garry Schyman. Beating up splicers while the classical piece Waltz of The Flowers is playing is yet a great moment in the Fort Frolic level. The story is okay, I just wish that it was told with a tighter pace. The last third definitely drags on for too long.
I really enjoyed the good ending of the game, because there was a purpose behind the players journey through Rapture. You didn’t have a family; all your memories were fake or fabricated. But by rescuing the little sisters you actually gained a real family and it give the game a real nice human touch in the end. It was almost like the game was telling two stories. The one about Rapture and the rivalry between Ryan and Fontaine and then story about you in a sense not being a real human being. You were a lab experiment and your memories of a family turned out to be fake, but in the end you rescued the little sisters and actually gained a real family. When you died you didn’t die alone, but surrounded but the people who loved and cared for you.
Overall I think Bioshock is a good game, but because of its pacing I can’t give it more than 4 out of 5.