First-person shooters are rarely more than virtual shooting galleries. Great fun, yes, but not exactly thought-provoking.
Thats why its nice when an FPS comes along that's trying to be something moreand even better when it actually succeeds. Sometimes you know it in the first few minutes: Take Half-Life. Unlike every FPS before it, the landmark game didnt start with you blasting away. Instead, you found yourself on a train bound for work, and you knew right away: This is gonna be different.
BioShocks opening scene feels like a grandiose homage to Half-Life. Youre treated to a submarine fly-by" of Rapture, a sprawling metropolis built under the Atlantic, and welcomed by the citys mastermind, Andrew Ryan, via a prerecorded greeting. Ryan (a play on Ayn Randthe games concept draws heavily from Atlas Shrugged) confidently explains his vision of a society founded on the principle no gods or kings; only man: a place where the elitescientists, artists, and entrepreneurscould fully realize their potential, unhindered by the dead weight of morality, laws, and lesser citizens.
Ryan makes an impassioned case for Rapture, and it looks stunning on approach, a monument to art-deco design. But then you dock and see theres trouble in paradise.
The citys in ruin, with only hints of its former glory: Flickering lights reveal rubble-covered marble floors, waterfalls of seawater roll off elegant balconies, and rotting corpses wear flashy suits and cocktail dresses. Worse, most of the survivors are twisted from isolation and splicingRaptures genetic-modification program used to make the populace stronger, faster, smarter, and . . . apparently psychotic. Whoops.
Also wandering Rapture are Little Sisters, pale, ghoulish little girls who skip from corpse to corpse, harvesting genetic material from the dead. They run with muscle: Big Daddies, their hulking escorts who are clad in armored diving suits and speak in low, resonating moans that sound like whale songs. The pairs generally ignore you, but if you so much as point a gun at one . . . watch out.
Ultimately, the Little Sisters are the key to unraveling what the hell happened in Rapture. How to deal with them is less clear. Via radio, two strangers urge you to take completely different courses of action: One tells you the Sisters are no longer human and that they should be harvested (i.e., killed) for the resource theyre collecting; the other tells you the awful process that made them Little Sisters can be reversed, and to have mercy on them.
Each accuses the other of lying. So when youve finally brought down a Big Daddy after the fight of your life and are holding a struggling Little Sister in your handswhat now? Harvest the little monster and grow stronger, or free her and face Raptures crazed citizenry defenseless?
It quickly becomes apparent that BioShock is a game of ideas, moral conundrums, and the horrors of a utopia gone wrong. As you walk through the slowly drowning city, the spectacles are many. There's a mother weeping over an empty baby carriage, the ruined theater where a lunatic artist entertains an audience of mannequins, and the eerie Little Wonders complex, where the Little Sisters were made: a perverse morgue cum preschool littered with childish crayon drawings of their gruesome profession.
That BioShock looks and sounds better than any other gameand plays just as beautifullyis just the cherry on top. If our scale went to 11, BioShock would earn it. It is, in a word, rapturous.
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