hen BioShock was announced two E3s ago, many wondered if the game could live up to its pedigree — this was, after all, the "spiritual successor" (the developer's words, not mine) to 1999's critical smash System Shock 2. As build after build was shown to industry press over the last two years, most were impressed with what they saw, but few believed that BioShock's oddball story or cerebral gameplay would be able to propel it beyond cult status. As the game neared its release and a demo appeared on Xbox Live, however, it quickly became clear: gamers were clamoring for the world of Rapture.
At its heart, BioShock is a first person shooter with some role playing elements — players are given quite a bit of freedom in choosing how to solve the game's numerous environmental puzzles, and their character will directly reflect these choices via equipment and skill sets. Still, there's plenty of shooting and action, and unlike other less traditional FPSs (Deus EX comes to mind), it would be next to impossible to make it through the underwater dystopia of Rapture without firing a few rounds into its many denizens. Unlike many other FPS "adventure" titles, BioShock is at its core a completely realized shooter. Targeting was spot on throughout the many hours I spent with the game, and the enemy AI always seemed pretty solid when playing through on normal difficulty — enemies would frequently seek cover or employ flanking tactics, though rarely did their actions seem too predictive or unfair.
Atmosphere reigns supreme throughout Bioshock — this is a game that begs to be played with the lights down low and the surround sound in full effect. Though not the prettiest game I've ever seen, it's a far cry from being hard on the eyes. So much care was put into crafting the environments and their inhabitants that the occasional graphical inconsistency (and these are few and far between) is easy to pass over. Still, if I have any complaints with Bioshock, it's with its variety (or lack thereof): though there are plenty of enemy classes which all seem to respond to you in their own unique ways, there isn't nearly enough variety to the models that exist within these classes. Am I to believe that every"leadhead splicer"; purchased their clothing at the same menswear boutique? It's just a shame that a game that's so immersive in every other respect destroys the suspension of disbelief at five minute intervals by reintroducing a character skin too frequently.
I've overheard a few players criticizing BioShock's lack of multiplayer, but I feel this was a conscious (and well-thought) decision on behalf of the developers and not merely the result of a rushed production. Rapture holds many secrets, and it should take even the most hardened player many tens of hours to unlock them all. I don't really see how multiplayer could work with a title like Bioshock without it feeling tacked on. Some FPSs can stand on the legs of their single player stories alone (the Half-Life games come to mind) — why dilute thirty of the best hours you've ever spent gaming by playing on a multiplayer engine that's at best sub par?
All in all, BioShock is a triumph for its developers, and it may be just the title that 2K Games needs if they have any hope of putting their recent financial troubles behind them. With the exception of its absolutely inane ending boss battle, this is the sort of game that begs to be replayed thanks to smart enemies and truly captivating environments. It's also the sort of game that truly earns its Mature rating, not for its graphic portrayal of violence, but for its intriguing exploration of complex philosophical themes which would be entirely over the head of most younger players. Horror, action, and suspense — all in a package that truly asks its audience to think.