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Bioshock Gameplay Review (PC)

After surviving a plane crash in the middle of the Atlantic you find yourself in the underwater city of Rapture. After its utter fall from grace you quickly realize there is more to this city than meets the eye.

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INTRODUCTION

The year is 1960. You’re enjoying a smoke while taking a flight over the Atlantic Ocean. In your lap sits a present lovingly wrapped presumably by mom and dad. Taking out your wallet you look at an old photo of the family and remember how your parents always said you were special. That I was “..destined for great things”. Just then all hell breaks loose as the plane is sent spiraling downwards crashing into the water. Finding yourself deep underwater you hold your breath as you struggle back to the surface. You can see the warm glow of flames on the top and with each passing second your lungs become your enemy. With just a few seconds left you make your way back to the surface gasping for the air you so desparately need. In a scene not unlike the movie ‘Cast Away’ you are surrounded by flaming gasoline and not too far in the distance you see the remains of the airplane slipping below the water. The only chance for survival is a small island with a tall tower seemingly out of place here in the middle of nowhere.


Tom Hanks had it easy

Bioshock: The Game

Bioshock is a first person shooter that takes place in the underwater city of Rapture. A former utopian vision of the socialist Andrew Ryan, his dream was to create a world where the sweat of a person’s brow did not belong to society, government or a religious figure but to the person themself. This is where art and science would flourish and new discoveries into the very makeup of our biology , DNA, would be unlocked. An excerpt from the web site sums up the premise quite nicely:

BioShock is the “genetically enhanced” first person shooter that lets you do things never before possible in the genre: turn everything into a weapon, biologically mod your body with plasmids, hack devices and systems, upgrade your weapons and craft new ammo variants, and experiment with different battle techniques in an incredible and unique underwater city.

SPECIFICATIONS

The following is a list of specifications. While Intel and Nvidia are the listed companies for their respective products comparable equipment from AMD/ATi will also work as well.

Minimum Requirements
OS Windows XP
CPU Intel Pentium 4 w/ HT Technology
RAM 1024 MB (WinXP) / 1GB (Win Vista)
Hard Drive 8.0 GB Free space
Optical Drive DVD9 Compatible (None if downloaded from Steam)
Video

Direct X 9.0c compliant video card with 128MB RAM (NVIDIA 6600 or better/ATI X1300 or better, excluding ATI X1550)

Sound DirectSound Compatible, DirectX 9.0c
Peripherals Mouse, Keyboard
Important Note: Game requires Internet connection for activation

 

Recommended Requirements
OS Windows Vista
CPU Intel Core 2 Duo
RAM 1 GB (WinXP) / 2GB (Win Vista)
Video

DX9: Direct X 9.0c compliant video card with 512MB RAM (NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GT or better)
DX10: NVIDIA GeForce 8600 or better

Sound Sound Blaster® X-Fi™ series (Optimized for use with Creative Labs EAX ADVANCED HD 4.0 or EAX ADVANCED HD 5.0 compatible sound cards)
Important Note: Game requires Internet connection for activation

From the looks of these requirements it would appear that smooth gameplay can be achieved with a mainstream system. Well these specs do not tell the entire story as I will elaborate more in the graphics section.

GAMEPLAY

Taking place in the 1960′s Bioshock attempts to deliver a retro-futuristic setting in an underworld city called Rapture. This is certainly no easy feat but one that 2KGames handles quite nicely. Everything in the world fits and nothing seems to be out of place. At times it is very nerve racking while at other times the games makes you think.

You start off by descending under the water in a Bathysphere, an underwater elevator, where you catch your first glimpse of Rapture.

 
Ride the Bathysphere to a wondrous underwater world; Rapture!
(Click to enlarge)

Bioshock takes a new direction with the first person shooter (FPS). Instead of just collecting weapons and ammo the game introduces a few role-playing elements in the form of upgrades and powers, plasmids to be exact. Plasmids allow you to do a whole host of things from shooting electricity from your finger tips to freezing your enemies with ice. Plasmids are powered by Eve, similar to mana in many other games and you must collect Adam, similar to experience points, in order to purchase new powers or upgrade your existing one.

One of the interesting aspects of gameplay here is the Vita Chamber. This is where you will be brought to when you die. If you play on the hardest setting then you will become very familiar with this inside of this thing. The part that most gamers with either love or hate is how this chamber is used. When you die you come back to the closest chamber with a portion of your life and eve restored. With no other penalty to speak of and enemies retaining the damage dealt to them, I have been able to take down a big daddy with nothing more then my wrench, a lot of patience and quite a few bruises. This is done to provide new comers a easy way to progress through the game. For the hardcore enthusiasts this will be viewed as a major flaw in the game. Personally I would have liked to see it used differently at least on the hardest setting.

 
The Vita Chamber from the outside and the more common view inside
(Click to enlarge)

This brings us to the most important aspect of the game, Adam. Adam is responsible for the downfall of Rapture. Well people’s overindulgence of it to be exact. It’s what gives people the ability to enhance everything from their beauty to shooting fire from their fingertips. And who are the keepers of the Adam? The little sisters of course. These adorable little girls have become little more than mindless slaves thanks to the experiments performed on them by the scientists of Rapture. But I am getting ahead of myself.


This little girl is not made of sugar and spice

Little sisters are harvesters of Adam and if you want a spiffy new plasmid or to upgrade your existing ones then you are going to need Adam to buy them. The little sisters are protected by very large and very anti-social creatures referred to as Big Daddy’s or Mr. Bubbles if you ask a little sister.


Wrench vs Big Daddy equals free trip to Vita-Chamber

This is where you are faced with a decision that will affect the entire outcome of the game. Should you defeat a Big Daddy you are now able to approach the Little Sister without resistance. Will you ‘harvest’ the Adam or ‘Release’ the girl? Harvesting the Adam provides you with the maximum amount of Adam but at the expense of the little girls life (Don’t worry, no on-screen death occurs here). Releasing the girl provides you with a considerable less amount of Adam but the little girl’s life is saved.


Will you become the destroyer or the savior?

MULTIPLAYER

Bioshock is entirely a single player game with no multiplayer aspect. Some may regard this as a negative but I would argue that the developers were able to pour their entire effort into making the best single player game possible. I would say they got it right.

GRAPHICS

Bioshock has some very impressive graphics though I would quickly point out they are not the best. Rather the gem of this game lies within it’s story and environment. With that said, I would like to point out how everything in the game looks (and moves) like you would expect it to. The lumbering walk of the Big Daddy’s to the struggle of a little sister to climb into the wall vent, the animation is impressive.

The only reason I say the graphics are not the best is due to the resolution of the textures. I admit that while playing a game you probably won’t spend more than a few seconds staring at the walls, it is my job to point these things out. Running through the levels you would hardly notice anything but slowing down and getting up close to a wall shows that the textures are intended to provide maximum performance across a variety of different graphics cards.

 
Good from afar but far from good
(Click to enlarge)

Turning to the models it is amazing to see how well each character was modeled in this game. Speaking to the deformity of the splicers and the detail of the Big Daddy, the modeling done in this game is some of the best I have seen.

 
Exceptional detail down to the last piece of mutated flesh
(Click to enlarge)

DX9 vs DX10

There has been a lot of talk about the visual quality DX10 brings to the table. It’s important to remember that DirectX 10 is not as large a leap in visual enhancements over DirextX 9 as was DirectX 9 over 6, 7, and 8. Allowing for more geometry, soft particle effects (Smoke, Fire, etc) and AA with multiple render targets DirectX 10 brings a few new things to the table but nothing that would make DirectX 9 obsolete just yet.

With that said there was one key area where DX10 flexed its muscles and that was with water effects. As seen in the pictures below, while walking backwards through the water the splashes looks very fake using DX9 but switching over to DX10 and you can see the water looks very realistic as it deforms accordingly while distorting the objects underneath it.

 
Left – DX9 Right – DX10
(Click to enlarge)

The only other area that I could spot a difference between the two code paths was in the detail of the shadows. Shown here is the subtle difference in quality with the edge going to DX10 for slightly sharper edges.

 
Left – DX9 Right – DX10
(Click to enlarge)

We will all one day be forced to migrate over to Windows Vista. Whether it be tomorrow by choice or a few years down the road by lack of support for XP it is ultimately going to happen. Does Bioshock help to hasten the adoption? From a graphical and gameplay standpoint I would say there is little to be had from the Vista/DX10 experience of this game. Add in the countless crashes, lockups and longer load times with Vista and it’s enough to drive anyone mad.

SOUND

I would say that sound in today’s games has become equally or even more important than graphics. Before you grab the pitchforks and torches let me explain. You see while making great looking graphics is no easy task it is far easier to be broken out of the immersion of a game by a clearly poor sound effect or pitiful voice acting. Thankfully this game has neither.

Each footstep through water splashes like it is about to come out of the screen and hit you. The echoes through the halls of Rapture warn you of bad things ahead. It was so well done I had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up each time I heard an approaching Big Daddy.

Turning to voice acting, it is easy to pick out any game that fails in this area. Often times it feels like the actors are reading lines off a sheet of paper with no clue of the context of what they are saying. Well let me tell you just how well the voice acting is in this game. Creeping up on an unsuspecting splicer and listening to their rants of days gone past actually sparked real emotions. Listening to a little sister yell in disapproval as you try to free her made me feel as though this little girl was really fighting with me.

Bioshock takes voice acting to a whole new level and I can only hope that other games follow suit. It is truly a masterpiece of sound production.

CONCLUSION

Bioshock breaks new grounds in its underwater adventure through Rapture. Adding key elements like upgrades really add to the replay factor of this game. You can try different configurations and even experience different endings based on your decisions throughout the game. The graphics are very well done though not quite next-gen and the sound is amazingly well done. Throughout the game I felt like I was in the 1960′s and the effort spent to give everything that old style feeling was very well done. The game has a few issues but nothing that should stop you from giving it a space in your collection. The implementation of the Vita-Chamber in my opinion makes beating the game only a matter of time and requires little skill thusly. The repetitive nature of the game become apparent about half way through and while the scenery changes it seems like I am fighting the same spliced up creatures over and over.

With that said I feel this is a game that deserves to be on your short list of games to play. When shelling out upwards of $50 USD I take it very seriously when forming an opinion of a game and I feel this game warrants your hard earned change.

FINAL WORDS

To give you a clear picture of how I rated this product I chose five distinct areas of interest and scored them out of a possible 10.

Game play: 8.5 - Realistic motions and cool guns were a plus but the repetitive nature of the game cost it some points.

Graphics: 9.0 - Superb graphics and modeling were plentiful with only minor annoyances in texture quality.

Sound: 10.0 - The first game to earn a ten from me in any area. The sound was amazingly done and really help immerse you into the world of Rapture.

Fun factor: 8.0 – With the mini-games and interesting side story this game does well though after a few hours of doing the same things over and over they stop being fun.

Value: 9.0 – Not your typical first person shooter I think this game does really well at introducing new elements. Deducted a point for poor performance under Vista.

 

Pros:

+  Graphics
+  Big guns & cool plasmids
+  Sound effects
+  Detailed world
+  Storyline

Cons:

-  Repetitive after a couple hours
-  Poor performance under Vista
-  SecuRom

Final score: 9.0 out of 10 paws and the Bjorn3D seal of approval.

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