Great narrative helping to refresh a stale gaming genre
Going into Bioshock uninitiated is a tough one.
Not only has it been plastered all over the gaming press both online & offline, it's also won some major acclaim from standard press due to (in most part) it's sublime graphical presentation. Despite seemingly appearing from nowhere in-between all the heavy hitting new releases of 2007, thanks to Microsoft's substantial press machine and it being the spiritual successor of System Shock the kids literally all went mad for this one.
Judging by the amount of editions Bioshock was released in - one including a rather neat figurine. It'd seem an almost fool proof way to tell if a game is deemed important enough by its publisher that it's going to recoup all this grandiose investment.
Chances are (short of having your head stuck in the sand since early 2007) that you know at least a little about the wonders of Rapture, Bioshock's submerged location.
Once you've settled down with the game a few hours, you start to realise that it's not just the inventive twists on a FPS system that sell the experience for you. Instead, it's the unexpected surprises in the games narrative that makes the title stand up and violently grab your attention. One could argue this as another triumph of good storywriting refreshing a stale genre, similar to what Half Life did almost 10 years ago.
While essentially at it's core the game is a FPS similar to Medal Of Honor or Call Of Duty, it borrows heavily from the survival horror genre in creating suspense and atmosphere. With the assistance of the Unreal 3 engine there really is nothing quite like it out there in terms of presentation. Rather than make you feel like an indestructible marine on a mission of destruction, the game does a remarkedly good job at making you feel vulnerable, confused and amazed at the situations that the game manages to throw at you.
The gameplay is a good length of around 15 hours, possibly more if you decide to explore the underwater city to it's full extent. The story itself is full of twists, turns, shocks and surprises and never seems to drag on too long. You also get a handful of morality choices sprinkled around which rather than feel tacked on severely affect the entire game and its ending.
Weapons that you find feel suitable and while maybe not as in depth as military based shooters, they still serve your needs well. The game also has a magic system presented as more scientific in nature named plasmids. These also perform their job of making your progress through the game less of just a straight forward shooting grind and more a playground of your own invention.
The voice acting is of an extremely high standard as is the use of BG suspense music and sound effects to really scare the pants off you when need be. In the UK the game carries an 18+ age rating and probably with good reason. Some of the scenes you encounter can really be quite disturbing, yet in context they all fit the game environment perfectly. Little girls shoving needles into horribly deformed corpses, heck why not?
As a 360 title it's achievements are some of the best presented this year. The game rewards you for progress and for exploration & experimentation. It really is a shining example of what all games should do instead of being a blatant attempt to keep their multiplayer servers busy ready for money grabbing expansion packs. Despite the huge amount of great things the game has going for it, there is a handful issues that detract from it's rating.
As you may have noticed, I've failed to mention almost anything about the story's narrative. This is for your own good!
Depending on how much you bought into the hype surrounding the release, this factor has the unexpected side-effect of either making or severely damaging Bioshock's experience as a whole for you. If you managed to avoid all press release videos, reviews, previews, achievement descriptions etc. and go into the Bioshock experience completely blind. I have no doubt that providing you're fairly competent with the concept of controlling someone in a first person perspective then this game will totally blow your mind.
On the other hand, if you're aware of what abilities you'll command, what kind of people and creatures you'll face and even what moral situations you'll find yourself in. Then that's essentially the core of the games 'shock & surprise' value taken away from you.
Another mention is that Bioshock contains no multiplayer which while making sense from a gameplay perspective also lessens it's already negligible amount of replay value. The game is also sadly far too easy. For a vast portion of the experience you'll find yourself immensely overpowered and combined with the inability to actually die, you can really fly through huge chunks of the game with little to no resistance.
The few bad points aside it still looks impressive, has cascades of atmosphere, plays fantastically and has a strong & competent storyline. It's a game that you should almost certainly play if not just to be able to give an opinion to your friends on the state of modern gaming and the direction it's travelling. However, (if at all possible nearly 2 years after release) the less you know about the game the more you'll find that you get out it.
Paw Rating: 4/5
Good: Immersive Story, breath taking visuals, original premise, good achievement set-up.
Bad: Easy difficulty, Little replay, lacking online play.