Imagine the horror of being submerged miles and miles beneath the Atlantic ocean in a dystopian underwater city with no immediate means of escape. The isolation. Now, imagine being stuck there with a megalomaniac, a power hungry nut job and hordes of lunatics possessing superhuman powers. Well, thanks to 2K’s spectacularly immersive environments in critically acclaimed title, Bioshock there’s little to be left to the imagination. Yes, Bioshock is a game that cleverly defies the “typical” first-person shooter genre in which it is branded. With elements of an atmospheric horror carefully weaved into it’s shooter foundations, Bioshock takes the FPS genre one step further. 2K have spent this past week celebrating 10 years of Bioshock and in light of this, I deem this a felicitous opportunity to talk about my insatiable love for this totally twisted FPS. So, without further ado “Would You Kindly” endeavour to read why exactly this gruesome title will forever hold a place in my heart and a spot in my game collection.
For those unfamiliar with the title, Bioshock follows protagonist, Jack who’s plane “coincidentally” crashes in the Atlantic ocean in close proximity of a lone lighthouse. Upon taking the spherical sub inside said lighthouse, he finds himself stranded in the murky depths of the ocean in once intended utopia, Rapture – i.e hell. In due course he becomes acquainted with a mob of ex-Rapture residents that want to kill him alongside founder of the city/ crazed narcissist, Andrew Ryan. Jack however, soon comes to realise his only means of escape from what lurks in the dystopian city is to fight his way out. “Conveniently” enough, some Irish sounding fellow called Atlas comes to his aid via radio and proceeds to guide him through the fallen city. Although Jack takes Bioshock’s leading role, he is somewhat of an anomaly. The player is offered no real context for a vast portion of the game. Yes, you are kind of just expected to turn up, accept the nonsense and get on with it. By utilising the weapons at his dispense and splicing himself using plasmids – genetic mutations made from a substance called ADAM, granting the user powers, our protagonist ploughs his way through Rapture’s now deranged residents in order to get bottom of his own backstory and the surface of the ocean. Rapture is quite the setting for a game. Despite the feel of imminent danger that looms over the city like a bad smell, the art-deco style city still manages to maintain it’s aesthetic. The city man be overrun with madmen and brimming with carcasses but nevertheless, there is something pure and natural about seeing a cluster of marine life glide through the water through a nearby window. Or in admiring the organic area of Arcadia from which Rapture’s oxygen is sourced by means of the elegant plant-life situated there. Yes, Bioshock features an eccentric story line and takes absolutely no shame in how far-fetched it is. Instead they make it so rife with lore that you’d feel mad not to welcome it. By also not revealing a great deal, the path to discovery is your incentive to play on.
Bioshock shrewdly plays on a number of generic fears. Claustrophobia is the most paramount of which. A confined setting based deep in the dark, uncharted parts of the ocean. Having to share such a small space with those who want you dead. The inability to escape. 2K effectively developed Bioshock with the ability to constantly unnerve you. They’ve also attentively blended some traditional horror elements into the game. The crippling of the intended utopia thanks to ADAM has left the rupturing glass hallways and once beautiful residential areas of the city littered with pools of red and rotting corpses. Blood spats riddle the walls alongside shadows of the nearby splicers who hunt you. Everything about Bioshock is intensely grotesque and it makes progressing through the differing parts of Rapture nothing short of a terrifying experience. If you couldn’t already tell, 2K really enjoy toying with you in this title. Nothing twists your stomach like lights suddenly switching off when in pursuit of a splicer’s shadow, then flickering back to life to reveal no trace of them. You’re left feeling vulnerable and unaware. You feel your palms begin to sweat, your teeth clench tight. Then as you turn to leave a hideous scream fills the room as the same enemy launches at you from a nearby cupboard. Nothing is more gut-wrenching then making your way somewhat confidently down a seemingly safe passage only to be abruptly interrupted by a wheelchair that rolls out in front of you. Blood-ridden doll slumped in the seat. Wheels squeaking in accompaniment to eerie horror music that chimes in accordance. Your stomach drops as you anticipate whether or not anything will emerge after it. 2K strive to have you consistently on edge, indefinitely anticipating that jump-scare that may or may not occur. 90% of the time however, 2K aren’t looking to scare you, but to discourage you. Most enemy encounters feel almost staged. It’s a forceful if not slightly cruel way of facilitating Bioshock’s ability to immerse and completely involve you and quite frankly, it’s downright genius. The developers have really hit the nail on the head. Regardless of how many times I’ve played this game and how fully aware I am of what I am encountering and when, I’m still completely taken back by Bioshock’s compelling atmosphere nonetheless.
Bioshock is infested with political lore like a maggots in a rotting splicer corpse – trying to maintain the gruesome theme here, once again taking it one step beyond your typical shooter. The fall of Rapture to a civil war caused by the discovery of ADAM. The rise of Splicers and Big Daddies that compete for the substance have all but stripped the stunning 60’s art-deco themed city of it’s former beauty. It has however, really fluffed out Bioshock’s plot. The ransacked remains of the city merely act as captivity for the tyrannous former residents. Splicers come in all shapes and sizes and are another phenomenal asset to Bioshock’s success. Spider Splicers scatter about the ceilings like well, spiders whereas Houdini Splicers up and vanish if and when they choose, usually materialising behind you when you’re distracted – again an example of 2K preying on a players fears. Splicers are creepy and consumed by their own vanity. They have no sense of morality or empathy and this makes them a scary enemy to deal with. However, none of which quite top a daunting first encounter with a Big Daddy. These metal brutes are colossal enemies. They are once humans grafted into heavily armoured diving suits armed with huge drills. If you can’t hear them coming through their low frequency whale calls – they sure give Dory a run for her money, their presence is made apparent by the ground shaking under their enormous feet. Big Daddy’s protect Little Sisters. These are young girls corrupted by exposure to the ADAM they are forced to harvest. Upon defeating a Big Daddy, you are given a choice. You may decide to harvest the child, effectively killing them but obtaining more ADAM. On the other hand, Jack possesses the ability to save a Little Sister, reducing the amount of ADAM obtained but ultimately making you feel like less of a heartless monster. In incorporating these moral choices, 2K succeed in adding a whole new level of immersion to Bioshock. These aren’t crucial in governing the course of the game but they do make you question your morals.
Although at times you may feel inclined to play sluggishly and with utmost caution, Bioshock actually expresses it’s FPS finesse as you get about two thirds of the way through the game. Yes, Bioshock is definitely at it’s finest when you are armed with more beastly weaponry, possessing more plasmids than you have fingers and toes combined and beefed up with tonics. This change of pace is quite something when you find yourself taking down the Big Daddies that once terrorised you as easily as you could swat a fly. At this point in the game it’s safe to say you can un-clench, wipe the sweat of your brow and reestablish your nerve. Bioshock also rewards the player for being thorough. By researching the onslaught of maniacal enemies using the camera provided, you develop damage resistance from them and the potential to deal additional damage to them. It’s great for maintaining some means of pace to a playthrough and ensuring you aren’t likely to be left stuck losing to the same enemy fifty times over.
I’m like a Splicer to ADAM when it comes to this totally unhinged title. Whether this outlandish game has moved me with it’s greatness or scarred me with it’s vulgarity, I’m unsure. What I do know is that it’s had me right from the get-go, ever since I was first plunged deep into the blackened ruins of Andrew Ryan’s utopia. Bioshock possesses me with tension for the entirety of each and every playthrough. That sheer power to ensnare me in it’s corrupt premise as it does. These are all reasons I will forever credit it as one of the best games I’ve played. It’s mastery of establishing such a convincing, immersive environment is something other developers could learn from. Water dripping from a crack in glass walkways. The echoing voices of the Splicers that conspire to murder you. The weighty footsteps of a Big Daddy that send your Dualshock (in my case anyway) into a fit of vibrations as it draws nearer. 2K know exactly how to completely engage you as a player, so much so that you feel you yourself are investigating the treacherous remains of Rapture. Bioshock is the perfect balance of an atmospheric horror and an FPS and in finding this equilibrium, they have developed a most memorable title that I will forever be in adoration of.