David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-02-07 06:34:13
BioShock - Rank S, 2007 Game of the Year
Developer: Irrational Games (now the boringly corporate 2K Boston and 2K Australia)
Publisher: 2K Games
In a year that will be remembered for the unusually large number of top notch games, BioShock earns the title of Direman Press 2007 Game of the Year. BioShock might be the best game I've ever played. It's certainly on the short list. Slap any trite praise you like on it: tour de force, magnum opus, piece de resistance, or fucking awesome. It's worth the cost of calling in sick, ignoring a significant other, holding your bladder, and certainly worth buying an Xbox 360 for. Not only does it play great, but BioShock is that rarest of brilliant jewels: a title that pushes videogames forward as an art form. Non-gamers have difficulty taking me seriously when I get excited about the legitimacy of videogames as art, but now I can elicit meaningful nods from the intelligentsia by extemporizing about BioShock's thematic setting: an underwater dystopian nightmare named Rapture - a veritable Paradise Lost - resulting from the failure of a social experiment founded on Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism.
Ok, you don't need to have read The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged to enjoy BioShock, but it's great to see a title that doesn't treat gamers like unwashed cretins. BioShock is ostensibly an FPS (first person shooter), and you can certainly blaze through the game enjoying just the solid action, but you really should invest the effort to absorb the story and atmosphere. Usually, videogames are like porn. The story is just some bullshit set in place to justify the action. BioShock is the reverse: the action serves as rising tension to drive you to the next plot crisis. There are audio diaries scattered around for you to find. Normally, I hate these stupid collectathons in games (like hunting cogs in Gears of War), but the reward here is another snippet of plot and characterization delivered by convincingly talented voice acting. BioShock is the raw emotional impact of exploring the haunted tomb of Rapture, as it parallels your own character's self discovery.
Rapture itself is the best "character" in BioShock. The art design of this underwater city is phenomenal, presenting a disturbingly oppressive and claustrophobic environment. Its sweeping 1950's art deco style serves as a depressingly creepy mausoleum - a monument to the greatness of humanity betrayed by madness and death. Powering these visuals is technical mastery. Textures are rich and subtle, lighting effects are dynamic and specular and other jargon-type stuff, and you could build a house on the rock steady frame rate. Irrational employed an entire team dedicated to water physics, and it shows. The audio fully complements these graphical achievements. You'd swear you could find the nearest bulkhead by the creaking noise straining through the halls, or know which glass walls were leaking by the trickling sounds. The insane lamenting whispers of your enemies snake through the corridors. All of these strengths are married together seamlessly with the narrative, immersing you deeper and more completely as you delve further into Rapture.
The gameplay is also multi-faceted. The surviving citizens of Rapture have been driven mad by genetic enhancements. Your only hope of taking on these freakish horrors is to juice up yourself. You can splice up with ice powers, telekinesis, or any number of other abilities that suit your play style. You can hack hostile cameras and turrets, electrify water, set spilled fuel aflame, or simply cut loose with the old fashioned automatic .45 chatter of a Tommy gun. Perhaps you prefer deception and choose to confuse your enemies into fighting each other. I had tons of fun beefing up my stealth, speed, and strength so I could bash faces in with a wrench. (Imagine if Half-Life's crowbar remained useful throughout the entire game.) What's cool is that BioShock offers a wide combination of options, and different players can find different solutions to the same problems, that wouldn't have occurred to you.
BioShock will make you wonder why we put up with the dreck that the industry continues to churn out. Irrational Games has made a huge step in the right direction, and we'll hopefully see other development studios striving for the same loftier goals. BioShock is purely a single player game, with no pretensions of offering a watered down deathmatch or nonsensical capture the flag mode. You can therefore complete it within a single rental period, without needing to hang onto it for online purposes. However, BioShock is one of those landmark pieces that I'll want to play through again in a year or two, and anyone with a mindset of building a library of great games should definitely plunk down the cash to purchase it.
Note: Gamers who agree with my assessment of BioShock should consider checking out the 1999 PC game System Shock 2, something of a stylistic predecessor.