In case of Rapture, this blog will be unmanned

I’ve been waiting patiently for the release of BioShock, the highly anticipated first person shooter, action RPG, survival horror game for Windows and the Xbox 360. Ever since I saw the first demonstration from E3 ’06 I’ve been itching to get my hands on it. Well, BioShock released on Tuesday to positively glowing reviews and I took the entire day to begin my exploration of Rapture, an underwater city in which the game takes place. Tonight I finished the game. Does it live up to the hype? Well yes! And, er, not really.

First the technical bits. I might have bought it for my Xbox 360 had it not died, but that’s another story. So I recently rebuilt my PC (which was also dead) and I’m running BioShock under Vista on a 2.4Ghz Core 2 Duo with 2GB of RAM and a 368MB 8800 GTS video card. Plenty beefy enough for BioShock and my next gaming obsession: Crysis. But this is about BioShock.

The Plot / Gameplay

The game begins on a flight that crashes somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean in 1960. You (Jack) somehow survive and discover a tower containing a bathysphere which takes you beneath the sea to a utopian underwater city created in 1946 by industrialist Andrew Ryan. Utopias never seem to work out it seems and Rapture is no exception.

It seems the inhabitants discovered a means to modify their genetic code with concoctions called Plasmids. These Plasmids imbue people with powers such as the ability to shoot electricity or fire from their fingertips, telekinesis and more. Using Plasmids requires a substance called EVE and in order to gain access to more Plasmids you’ll need a substance called ADAM. All this genetic tinkering has isn’t without its side effects however. Some of the inhabitants of Rapture, called Splicers, have developed a murderous desire for ADAM which can only be extracted from the dead. Then there are the Little Sisters. The Little Sisters are genetically modified pre teen girls whose function is to extract ADAM from the dead. It would be a simple matter to take the ADAM these little girls extract if not for their protectors, the Big Daddies. The Big Daddies are diving suit wearing hulks that guard the Little Sisters ferociously while they go about their job of collecting ADAM.

Upon you arrival in Rapture, you’ll be guided via radio by a man known as Atlas. Ryan also communicates with you on the radio. You’ll eventually discover clues to what has happened in Rapture from Atlas, Ryan, and numerous recordings left laying about by former and current residents. You’ll also find that you’ll need Plasmids as you journey through Rapture. To get the Plasmids you’ll need ADAM and the only place to get it is from the Little Sisters. To do that, you’ll have to defeat their guardians and that is no simple task. With no guardian, the Little Sisters are helpless and you’ll have to decide whether to try and rescue them, gaining only a modest amount of ADAM, or “harvest” them which gains a much larger amount of ADAM but kills them in the process. How you choose will affect how the game plays out.

In addition to the moral dilemmas the game presents, it also creates an environment that allows you to proceed through the game using a variety of tactics. You can go through guns blazing, or you can set traps, “hack” security systems to protect you, enrage opposition using a plasmid that will cause them to attack other bad guys. The opposition however is pretty smart, as far as video games go. Set them on fire with the incinerate Plasmid and they’ll run for the nearest pool of water, reduce their health too far and they may run to find a health dispenser. There are a myriad of ways to react to the enemy and a good number of responses to your actions.

For the most part the gameplay and story are very well done. The story in particular was engaging and original though there were a few minor problems. As far gameplay goes, weapon selection, movement, and such are handled well. At a certain point, you’ll gain the ability to research your opponents gaining an advantage in combat. This is nice, but there isn’t a means to see which enemies you’ve researched and to what degree. The crafting system is also okay, but there is no way to see what components you’ve gathered unless you go to a crafting station and see what you can build. But these are minor issues in an otherwise solid game.

The Graphics

BioShock runs using a modified version of the Unreal Engine 3 and looks, quite simply, gorgeous. The amount of detail in the textures, the lighting, and of course the water is such that I found myself just standing around and marveling at the scenery at times. But there are a few issues.

First, I immediately noticed some aliasing issues and so opened the graphics options menu to crank the anti-aliasing up to 11, when I discovered BioShock somehow does not support anti-aliasing! After many searches, I found out that the Unreal engine does not support anti-aliasing in DirectX 10 even when overriding the settings from the NVIDIA control panel. It is possible to override the settings in DirectX 9, but then you lose some of the DirectX 10 goodness such as improved water effects. I stuck with DirectX 10 and the occasional jaggies given that water is such a prominent element in the game.

Also, though there are very few scenes with facial animations, the facial animation is terrible. You know how a ventriloquist’s dummy looks when “talking”? Pretty much the same effect in BioShock. It’s a bit jarring given the quality of the rest of the graphics.

Finally, there are reports of issues with cropping on wide screen monitors. I’ve not experienced this problem first hand so I can’t say how badly this affects gameplay.

The Audio

The graphics in BioShock are very good. The audio is great. The ramblings and whisperings of the crazed residents of Rapture, the period music you hear from time to time, the foley work, the omnipresent trickling and gurgling of water, and a great score combine for one of the most impressive aural experiences I’ve had playing a game. I thought the score, in particular, was very well done. Obviously 2K feels the same, they’ve made the entire score available for download. The only complaint I can come up with is that it is sometimes difficult to get a sense of direction and distance of your enemies from the audio cues. This might have been intentional or it might be that I was listening through headphones.


BioShock uses SecuROM as a means of copy protection which has angered some customers as it limits you to two installs of the game unless you correctly uninstall the game. Of course this only punishes those that have paid for the game as pirates will no doubt find a work around. You might think you could avoid the whole SecuROM mess (not to mention having to have the stupid DVD in the drive while playing) by installing from Steam, but you’d be mistaken. Even the Steam version, which has verification system, installs SecuROM. At least you don’t have to worry about the DVD or losing the key with Steam.

The Conclusion

Is BioShock among the greatest games ever, as some of the reviews would seem to indicate? It’s a great game, with a great story, visuals and audio, but it does have some significant issues that may make you want to wait for a pirated later version. If the quirks, glitches, and DRM don’t bother you, buy all means run and a grab a copy.

Now for those that have played the game: Would you kindly leave a comment and let me know what you thought?