Picture yourself as the lone survivor of a plane crash, suddenly ditched into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. As you swim through the flaming debris, the only means of your survival looms out of the darkness in the form of a strange man-made structure. Within its walls sits a bathysphere beckoning you to some mysterious destination.
Thus begins Bioshock as you are transported through the deep to the underwater city of Rapture. The year is 1960 and the environments have that retro look with futuristic overtones. Labelling this game as horror suspense is really quite apt, as everything you encounter while working towards escape is quite chilling and horrific. Your passage is often blocked as the city falls apart due to structural problems and leaks, but you are not alone. A man named Atlas is communicating with you via radio transmission and guiding you through the maze. In return, he asks you to help him and his family escape his nemesis, Andrew Ryan, the founder of Rapture. Your presence has not escaped Ryan's notice however, and as he ponders over who you are and your mysterious co-operation with Atlas, you become a marked man to be destroyed by any means possible.
Along the way, you will learn of several key characters to the story through the many recorded diaries lying around Rapture. Andrew Ryan is not your typical villain and the main theme of this story will have you visiting the moral question of whether the end justifies the means. Although Ryan's dream is a utopian society where all men are free, even of government, it seems there is no escape from man's base nature and corruption abounds. You will also face a host of hostile citizens and although some are agents of Ryan, the motives of the general population don't stem from inner evil but are a result of genetic tampering. Through horrific experimentation and the misuse of a substance called Adam, a variety of mutated humans called splicers roam the city lamenting their fate.
Included among these victims are children called Little Sisters who have been deliberately engineered to harvest Adam from the dead bodies of its users. In order to survive and be effective against your antagonists, you also will need this raw Adam in order to purchase genetic enhancements in the form of various tonics and plasmids. As only Little Sisters are able to gather it, this forces you to choose between killing the children for the large amounts of Adam or saving them from its stranglehold to become innocent again. However, guarded by other engineered humans called Big Daddies, they are invulnerable to either choice until you kill these giants. Typical to this story, these monsters also engender sympathy as they roam around the city mournfully banging on wall vents to summon their small charges.
There are many characters in this game and the audio very much plays a big part in creating the atmosphere. The story is rich and full of plot twists and turns. If you don't pay attention, you won't understand why your character is doing what he's doing. The graphics are very passable and even though there is often a run down look to the city, you can see its former glory in the developer's use of vivid primary colors. Graphics have improved in Bioshock 2, but there's no real complaint here.
As to gameplay, unlike some games where the enemy keeps pace with the player's abilities, in Bioshock upgrading actually does give you some advantage. In addition to picking up a compliment of standard weapons, you are able to purchase various plasmid and tonic skills with Adam such as having fire and electricity at your fingertips. As there are more options available than accessible Adam and slots, how much of it you acquire will be a moral choice. After or during the use of plasmid weapons, they need to be replenished with another substance called Eve, which is automatically injected if you have enough in store. Adam and Eve - cute. There are also machines for modifying weapons as well as vending machines with various supplies such as health, Eve and ammo that can be acquired for lower prices by hacking the machine. On the downside of this, the game has you hacking practically everything in sight, which is sometimes enough to bring you to tears. Seems you can't turn around without having to hack something and it's not only tiresome, but I found the method used to be very physically tiring as well. Acquiring hacking tools became the only thing saving my sanity.
Another feature that becomes available to you is a camera and snapping photos of any given enemy or security device improves your skill against this type. I liked the concept of this, but with its control being on your weapon cycle and the response slow, it proved somewhat problematic. Snapping a photo interrupts the game and getting back in requires two clicks, which often left me still holding the camera when I wanted the weapon. Weapon reload also doesn't work very well in my opinion either. The game does keeps you totally immersed as a single-player with lots and lots of things going on and choices to make. There were one or two technical issues, but they were solvable. I really liked this game and would not hesitate to recommend it. It did create a lot of controversy when it was first marketed with limited installs and DRM. This created a huge backlash and these have since been removed. Bioshock 2, here I come.UPDATE July 2016: The Bioshock Collection has been announced for release in Sept of 2016. Although it includes all three Bioshock games, only Bioshock 1 and Bioshock 2 will be remastered editions and it will not include Bioshock 2 multiplayer. For those that already own the first two, the remastered editions will be a free upgrade.