I spent a good few months at uni watching one of my housemates play through Bioshock Infinite, and it got me hooked. The aesthetic of these games is amazing, and I fell for the setting and the surreality of Infinite. While Bioshock does have a different setting to Infinite, the aesthetic is pretty consistent.
Bioshock is set in Rapture, an underwater city. The player character and protagonist, Jack, crashes near the entrance to Rapture. Inside the city, a range of enemies, all obsessed with ADAM, a genetic modifier. The enemies are a mix of ADAM-crazed inhabitants of the city, and robot ‘Big Daddies’, which serve as the boss enemies. The goal? To escape Rapture.
The history of Rapture is scattered throughout the game, mostly in audio files the player has to seek out. These are not items required to progress, so be careful to fully explore all the areas if you’re wanting to learn the full background to the game. The history of Rapture is incredibly detailed and it’s really rewarding to find the audio files as it adds a new depth to the game, but it’s entirely possible to miss the majority of them. I really enjoyed this way of adding in background, because it allows the player to learn about the city slowly as the game progresses. Discovering the audio files makes the slow development of the city’s history feel really naturally built into the story rather than an info-dump. Deciding whether or not to seek out extra items like this is one of the elements the game adds to make it lean a bit more towards the RPG genre.
While technically not an RPG, as I just said, there are elements of this game that feel very RPG. The player is able to decide what strategy to take, and is able to personalise their character in certain ways. The character’s name and appearance is set, but things like moral decisions (we’ll come back to this), the areas the player chooses to specialise in, and the weapons you focus on is entirely up to the player. The weapons in this game are plentiful, so take your pick! The player also has a few different options for ‘levelling up’ as the game progresses, so you can choose to focus on life, shield, or EVE. EVE allows the player to use plasmids, a variety of magic abilities, which can be incredibly useful in combat, especially if you run low on ammo. The options for customisation are what kept me sucked into this game, and definitely gives it a decent amount of replayability.
Another way the player can level up is by the use of ADAM. ADAM can be spent on different items, including new or upgraded plasmids. While EVE and health can be found just lying around the area, the collection of ADAM is a more complicated matter. In each level, there are a certain number of Little Sisters, protected by the Big Daddies. Upon defeating a Big Daddy, the player is faced with a moral choice: save the Little Sister, or kill her, and harvest her for ADAM. If the player chooses the former, they will be rewarded with bonus ADAM for every few times they save a Little Sister, but this amount will be lower than if they choose the latter. Depending on the choices you make throughout the game, the ending changes.
Earlier, I mentioned the aesthetic of the game, which is one of my favourite things about it. The combat, while fun, doesn’t really capture my imagination. The chaos of the city, futuristic and abandoned, is what sucked me in. Just the idea of the high-tech underwater city is enough to grab me, but the consistency and complexity of the level design was really impressive. There are options to explore pretty much throughout the game and, though the game is fairly linear, it doesn’t feel that way. The levels are expansive enough that the player doesn’t feel forced through, and I did manage to get myself lost on occasion.
The game was let down slightly by the blank slate that is Jack, the player-character. While the player is able to make the moral choices as Jack, I felt there could have been more room to explore the character himself. With a non-RPG, I do like the player-character to have some amount of personality, but instead he felt very much like a blank slate. Admittedly, in an underground city where the majority of the inhabitants are trying to murder you, there isn’t much space for character development, but a bit more wouldn’t have gone amiss, just to give a bit more of an emotional connection between the player and Jack.
Overall, Bioshock is a great game. The setting of Rapture is genius, and the mechanics of the game are captivating. I do wish I’d made more use of the plasmids and EVE throughout my playthrough of Bioshock, because that was one area that I neglected a bit in favour of focusing on the variety of guns I collected on my journey (which were plentiful and extensive). But, who knows? Maybe I will go for another playthrough…