Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Top 10 Games of the Seventh Generation Consoles - #3: Bioshock and Bioshock 2
The opening to the original Bioshock was an interactive sequence that blew me away when I first played it. Six years later, I still consider it to be one of the (if not the single) best introductory sequences in any video game. While the brief monologue Jack relays moments before his plane crashes into the ocean serve to provide players with some inkling of who he is and what is to come, it’s still deliberately vague. The game takes you (the player) and protagonist Jack from a familiar setting and thrusts you into a strange, dangerous, and yet ever-intriguing environment: the city of Rapture.
Bioshock is a curious game in the sense that most of the story is conveyed to Jack via audio diaries and radio chatter from both Atlas and Andrew Ryan. To tell more than to show is always a risky formula for a game, but having Jack enter Rapture after it has already gone to hell in a hand basket allows players to focus more on the hauntingly gorgeous setting. Little Sisters urge their Big Daddy protectors on to new corpses, blissfully unaware of the walking guinea pigs they have been transformed into. Sander Cohen has Jack go on a murderous scavenger hunt to gain passage through Fort Frolic. And the direct interactions Jack has with characters like Cohen, Tenenbaum, and Ryan cultivate one of the game’s most important aspects – choice.
While the core of Bioshock will remain the same for each and every player, there is a significant degree of freedom to how the game is experienced. Aside from the option to save or harvest the Little Sisters for precious ADAM, players can choose which weapons and plasmids to upgrade. They can choose to explore areas not important to their current objectives to better explore the fallen city, and they can choose to pick up or not pick up audio diaries that would better inform them of what led to Rapture becoming a such a horrifying place.
While most would argue that the story of the first Bioshock is superior to the sequel, I would argue that the method of storytelling in Bioshock 2 trumps that of its predecessor. The ‘stranger in a strange land’ approach does not work particularly well in a second visit to the same locale, and 2K avoided this problem altogether by putting players in the boots of a Big Daddy named Subject Delta. One of the original Big Daddies, Delta is far more powerful and intelligent than the typical Bouncer or Rosie and can wield much more powerful variants of the weapons Jack previously used. Because players would already know the fate of the characters from the first game, there was no reason to pull a ‘smoke and mirrors’ routine. Bioshock 2 gave players the run of the place almost instantly, and expands upon the stories of major characters that shaped the experience of the first game, while also introducing all-new characters who were key in both the rise and fall of Andrew Ryan’s underwater utopia-turned-dystopia.
Bioshock 2 looks better, sounds better, and - most importantly - plays better than its predecessor. Chunks of coral and more heavily flooded areas give players a sense that Rapture has decayed even further since their last visit. The gun controls are more tight and the hacking process distracts less from the core gameplay. As a Big Daddy, you are certainly tougher than any normal human, but then again, the splicers have mutated so far along that they are more dangerous and creepy than ever.
It would be inaccurate to state that the Bioshock titles belong to the horror genre. While certainly spooky, they consistently utilize elements from action, adventure, and RPG genres. But if there is one thing that can unquestionably be stated about Bioshock and Bioshock 2, it is that they are two of the most thought-provoking games of their day, due to the ideologies they bring into play and the questions they raise – not just within the context of Rapture, but also for the people who make and play video games.