I really had no idea what I was getting myself into with 2K Games’s BioShock. I had gathered that this was a FPS game set in a scary, underwater world with the typical wanton, non-military sanctioned violence. I was completely unprepared for a social commentary about what the world would be like without a strong, conservative government controlling things.
The city, named “Rapture”, is the underwater metropolis that was founded by a man named Andrew Ryan. On paper, I found his desire to have a controlled environment to keep out the “parasites” of society was a noble cause. Unfortunately, if the Bible has taught us anything, it is that the true utopia awaits us in Heaven and cannot be found here on Earth. In fact, clearly the exact opposite of what Ryan wanted is what transpired in “Rapture”.
BioShock is set in the early 1960s and the player controls Jack, who survives a plane crash, swims to a nearby lighthouse and takes a submersible vehicle to “Rapture”. At various times Jack meets Ryan and other surviving members of the “Rapture” high society. Clearly, the time away from a strong, conservative value system and religion has caused them to lose their minds. A man called “Atlas” talks to Jack throughout the early part of the game and he pits Jack against Ryan throughout a good chunk of the game. I’ll leave it at that, as I don’t want to give away too many of the twists and turns of the plot here in this review.
One thing I enjoyed about BioShock was the ability for the player to make a moral choice. There are children in the game called “Little Sisters” that are genetically altered little girls that are tasked with gathering a substance called ADAM that has mutated the inhabitants of “Rapture”. Jack can either choose to rescue the girls, making them normal human girls again or “harvest” them and extract more of the ADAM to use for his own gain, killing the girl in the process. Of course, being a morally sound gamer, I choose the penalty of lower ADAM points in order to rescue all of the Little Sisters – and was rewarded with a special trophy and a heart-warming ending to the game. That early choice in BioShock can help suss out the true moral gamer from the sick, disgusting, and opportunist liberal gamer. Little things like being able to make morality decisions really make modern games a step above earlier titles.
The gameplay was quite good and being a first person shooter, it didn’t require the player to make too many ridiculous platforming maneuvers. I hate when FPS games make the player execute jumps or similar tasks that would be better suited to a third person game. Having not played a FPS in a while it took a moment to get the hang of the controls, but before long it was second nature. I didn’t wholly approve of BioShock giving Jack godlike powers of telekinesis and conjuring fire, electricity and bees. While one could construe that BioShock perhaps advocated witchcraft, the game attempts to explain these sacrilegious powers away as after effects of the ADAM “deus ex machina” that is harvested from sea slugs. In the context of the game, it is believable enough so I’ll give it a pass.
BioShock‘s combat is almost entirely “survival” based self-defense so it is justifiable violence. One sequence with seemingly excessive violence becomes “okay” as Jack was being remotely controlled by another character. The player can decide to unnecessarily murder the “Big Daddy” characters that guard the Little Sisters. While killing the ones that are guardians to the possessed Little Sisters is required, the Big Daddies will not attack Jack when they are not actively guarding a Little Sister. A less moral character could choose to murder them for the cash they carry, but I never choose to make such immoral decisions.
The big lesson to be learned from BioShock is that any society lacking a strong, conservative backbone and without a foundation in strict, religious morality will fail to prosper. Even Ryan’s utopia “Rapture” fell in under two decades time; his ‘elite’ citizens getting so hooked on ADAM that they mutated their bodies and minds beyond recognition, becoming even worse than the societal “parasites” they hoped to avoid. If Ryan had founded “Rapture” on a strong religious base things may have turned out differently and he could have created the closest thing to paradise on Earth. Unfortunately, his liberal and Godless whims doomed himself and the other inhabitants to a short life of pain and insanity.