On this blog, I speak of my love for Halo so many times, but there is one game I have yet to discuss that I adore equally.
Bioshock astonished me in ways few games have since. I might have enjoyed Halo immensely, but Bioshock blew me away. It was the perfect combination of story, gameplay, and atmosphere, and I consider it to be one of the best video games of all time.
There aren’t many games I call a masterpiece, but Bioshock is one of them.
So for today, I thought I’d take a dive into why I think Bioshock deserves any and all accolades it receives.
Setting matters in video games, more than you might think. In a movie, the setting is a backdrop to what goes on in the narrative, serving the story. In a video game, a setting is an actual place that players inhabit. You are surrounded by and interact with a game’s setting. If you’re not sold on a setting in a video game, you have a rough few hours of gameplay ahead of you.
Few video game settings compare to Rapture.
Rapture is the underwater city where Bioshock is set in. The place is teeming with personality. Areas aren’t just made for the sake of traversing through them. Restaurants, bathrooms, galleries, all assist in immersing the player in the world the game is creating. Rapture is so full of character, it feels like its own character.
Just by walking around, you pick up key details of the story. You absorb it through the nuances of the room you’re in, the furniture strewn about, and the advertisements that are fading on the walls. Bioshock’s story is assisted by these environmental details.
So not only is the atmosphere of Rapture entertaining, it is functional and informative. You learn about what happened in this once-glorious city before it collapsed into ruin. And the fact that it is dilapidated and slowly filling with water makes the whole experience uniquely eerie.
Seriously, if there was a walking simulator game set in Rapture, I’d be happy for hours on end.
Story from the Sidelines
The manner in which Bioshock’s story is told takes a minimalist path. Cutscenes are abandoned in favor of audio logs placed strategically in areas. Fantastic voice actors bring life to what people might have behaved like while living in Rapture. These audio logs not only give players glimpses of Rapture’s history, they can also provide helpful tips and clues on how to proceed.
In addition to these audio logs, the story is told by “objective givers,” off-screen characters that instruct the main character on what to do. While this story-telling mechanic gets overused in many video games, Bioshock’s use of this method leads to one of the best video game twists in history.
Another reason for why Bioshock’s story resonates with players so well is its connection to real-world ideologies.
Rapture is quite clearly based on Ayn Rand’s idea of objectivisim. Rand put forth the notion that man’s most moral purpose is to achieve his own happiness, and when applied to Rapture, this leads to a collection of businessmen and artists working to achieve their greatest dreams.
While this all sounds fine and dandy, and Andrew Ryan, one of the game’s antagonists, sure sells it as a noble pursuit, this kind of ideology at its core relies on selfishness. Each person is expected to do the best they can do for themselves for their own rewards.
But if an artist is living it up in Rapture, working to make great art, who is the person who cleans the floors, attends to sewage, and repairs mechanical issues? It’s clear to see why Rapture failed. Bioshock, through audio logs and contextual clues, reveals the flaws in this belief.
And it is this connection that makes the game feel emblematic of something greater than itself.
Bioshock mixes RPG elements with those of a first-person shooter. Players can upgrade weapons and the plasmid abilities they collect while roaming the halls of Rapture, defending themselves from the hordes of Splicers that attack.
The system encourages experimentation. Electrifying enemies before finishing them off with pistol shots buys players time. Utilizing security cameras and turrets around you can make for lethal distractions. Handy oil spills can mean some incineration is in order. Bioshock’s gameplay is all about catering to the imagination of the player as they fight their way through Rapture.
Even the system of saving (or killing) Little Sisters leaves the choice in players’ hands. Taking down the Big Daddies that guard the Little Sisters is a hefty risk, but once you get past them, you can reap a fine reward.
Plus, Bioshock slowly introduces new elements to the gameplay so that it always feels fresh. There is never a moment where it feels stagnant. Whether you’re introduced to new plasmids, new weapons, upgrades, research points, or crafting, the game has a very natural progression that keeps it feeling like a challenge.
I’ll frequently recommend games if I enjoy them. There’s nothing I love more than being able to share something I loved with another person.
But that’s a very subjective process, because a game I enjoyed wouldn’t necessarily tickle someone else’s fancy.
However, Bioshock is an absolute must for a gamer period. No matter your taste, it is an exemplary model of what video games can achieve when separate elements within them reach perfect harmony.
I rate Bioshock an instant-classic-to-anybody-who-has-played-a-video-game.