BioShock tells the story of a man who enters a utopia far away from our own society, one designed to bring out the best in humanity’s greatest minds without limits, which has fallen into ruins less than ten years after its construction. A man who discovers this paradise by accident after a fatal plane crash and has to traverse through its mostly abandoned depths to discover the secret of its collapse and the truth behind its leader. Although entering alone, he soon makes a friend that aids him across a journey of understanding, revenge and bitterness.
The game is set in 1960, and features ideas set around the themes of paradise, or what “the future” looked like for those optimistic in what humanity had to offer. That’s what makes the game stand-out the most, the retrofuturistic postmodernist blending and exploration of concepts that seemed not so far away at the time, but now we know are not reality.
If you look at the surroundings as you walk around, this belief and creation of an underwater paradise feels real. Even if you’re playing the original or the remastered version, the world design that’s shown throughout the game is incredible. I know, it’s very cliché to say this but it really makes you feel like that it could’ve been real. Looking around each different area of the submerged city and you’ll find that unique interior and exterior design – it’s not just the ideas of the era that are in the game, but the architectural design that was used in the 50s and 60s is there too.
At this point it seems obvious – the entire game has huge influence from the 50s-60s. The currency used are dollars and the guns that can be used are ones that would’ve been in fashion at the time. If you’ve ever seen those adverts from the time that the game takes place, you’ll probably get a gist of how upgrades in the game are shown towards you – it’s not misleading, but based on conceptions that people had about the human body and what could be possible. It’s funny looking back in retrospect at how wrong everything was, yet so intriguing to explore those ideas and seeing how they were seamlessly put into the game.
The game could’ve easily gone the generic route of having the guns look like what they do in every other game, but instead we get something even more interesting; they’re designed to embody the experimental style of the post-war era (which I mention later on) and the models have unnatural designs and colours but are still easily recognisable as guns and weapons. There’s even a crossbow in the game, and I don’t even remember crossbows being around commonly in those days but that might just be me.
But there’s one thing about it that seems quite pivotal and I don’t think is mentioned quite enough – it’s ideological messaging. A lot, and I mean a lot, of BioShock that is littered with religious implications – most of the areas that you explore have these connotations, like Apollo Square; Neptune’s Bounty, Point Prometheus. And probably the most obvious is the juxtaposition of ADAM and EVE, which are used to restore health and plasmids.
Plasmids are one of the game’s unique mechanics. It’s not just about using guns to navigate and explore the ruins of a now dystopian city, but to use special abilities granted to you to dispose of foes that stand in your way. I think incorporating the retrofuturism with the concept of plasmids and gaining genetic mutations is something that doesn’t feel out of tone for that time where people were extremely ambitious and experimental with what humans could be capable of, even though I’ve seen a few people criticise its inclusion for not fitting with that period. The idea of these mutations are even explored with some of the enemies in the game – showing that even the ideas people had at the time weren’t perfect and were (very obviously) prone to fail.
There’s also a camera that you unlock that allows you to research the enemies that you encounter and discover their weaknesses to fight them better. In a way, BioShock taking familiar FPS conventions and adding more interesting things to what’s already expected such as the previously mentioned camera and using the plasmids and giving them logical reasons and backstory to exist in the universe is what makes it stand out against other games such as Call of Duty and Halo.
Not every weapon should be used in every situation, and you have to wisely think about whether you want to use more powerful weapons or smaller weapons to deal with enemies, because you’ll quickly find yourself in a battle that you can’t win – and in the harder difficulties that can be very bad when you take into account how rare ammo is to come by, especially the specialty ones that could give you an edge later on.
Andrew Ryan, Atlas and all the other characters are so phenomenally well written, as is the rest of the game – from the backstory of the game to all of the smaller things that make Rapture feel alive. Every part of the world surrounding what the player walks through on their journey through a ruined paradise has that feeling of that it could have happened in the real world. Maybe not in a literal sense, but the way some of the character act and interact with each other and how they view each other in different ways is interesting and insightful and explains why Rapture turned out the way that it did. Honestly, I don’t know if BioShock was the first to do them – but the audio diaries that you can discover in each map gives a lot of insight into these characters and although it feels like the trope it beaten to death in recent games, the way that BioShock did it is the way that did it the best and it will always be my favourite version of that trope.
It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime gaming adventures that can’t be replicated. The same setting could be done again but it wouldn’t feel as gratifying as it did to play BioShock for the first time. And even with the remastered version of the game, it still has that same feeling that the original game had back in 2007. The updated graphics have really made Rapture look better than ever and now feels more complete than it already was before.
BioShock masterfully blends retrofuturism, interesting storytelling and fun gameplay to create one of the most unique experiences for a first-person shooter. It’s one of my favourite games ever made, and rightfully deserves a spot as one of the best singleplayer experiences ever, too.