I played Bioshock recently. Not Bioshock Infinite, this year’s critically acclaimed FPS with a unique setting and a politically charged story, but 2007’s FPS with a unique setting and a politically charged story. Of course, with a game so acclaimed and talked about when it was new, I have little to add to the discussion now. What was most surprising to people that know me is that I played Bioshock at all. I play all kinds of games, just about everything except FPSes. My disinterest in the genre is longstanding; even back when my brother and I found Doom on our uncle’s computer I got bored much more quickly. Still, I like games and Bioshock is so seminal a game that it is hard to be a part of the conversation without playing it. That is how I approach it, as an obligation. I won me over though. Bioshock is a game worthy of its reputation, even for someone who has a decided disinterest in FPSes.
I have played a handful of first-person shooters in my time. My friends moved from multiplayer game to multiplayer game, so I played plenty of Goldeneye, Perfect Dark and Halo 2 at times. I never even pretended to like those games. I rarely complained or anything, I like to play with my friends even if it is a game I don’t particularly enjoy. So I played, having a reasonably good time mostly just due to hanging with my friends. I’ve also played the Metroid Prime games, which are first person, but aren’t really shooters. The last FPS I played was Metroid Prime 3 more than five years ago. The point is, these sorts of games aren’t really my thing and I am far from an expert on them. Still, Bioshock was a wholly enjoyable experience.
Unlike the little bits of other FPSes I’ve sampled, Bioshock’s movement has weight to it. When you swing the wrench, there is heft behind it. Each of the limited, unique weapons has a specific role and feel. The player character doesn’t feel like an unstoppable warrior, he feels like a guy who kind of knows how to shoot a gun. And while the number of weapon are limited, combined with the different kinds of ammo and plasmids gives the player a wealth of options. It really lets the player find their own strategy. I favored a combination of wrench enhancing powers and the fire plasmid. While there are tons of options, any choice the player makes is viable, making for a game that fits to the player’s preference.
The big moral dilemma of the game, whether to harvest or save the Little Sisters, is truly a non-choice. The bonus for harvesting them rather than saving them is small enough that anyone who gives two craps about the story is going to rescue them. To do otherwise is to be a monster for the slightest benefit. There is no dilemma there. One answer is obviously right morally. Anyone looking at it as a moral choice can only do one thing. It is an interesting world building and narrative device, but it is not a moral choice.
The setting is the true star of the game. Rapture is a place unlike anything else in gaming. Looking around the ruins of the great submarine city is entrancing, as is getting to the bottom of just what happened to turn Ryan’s Utopia into the terrifying wreck that it is. Each area makes sense in terms of the construction of the city and is visually interesting. Even if the rest of the game was crap, the setting would be enough to make Bioshock a memorable experience. While I wasn’t as floored by the actual story of the game as most seem to have been, the fact that there seemed to be thought put into it pushes it ahead of most games.
It is really just a truly great game. Even someone who has no interest in shooters should find a lot to love here. I will likely look into the other games in this series, but I’m still not on the shooter boat. They are just not for me.