BioShock Xbox 360
Published by: 2K Games
Developed by: 2K Boston & 2K Australia
Release Date: Out Now
BioShock has been dubbed by many as the spiritual successor to System Shock 2. Many regard System Shock 2 as one of the greatest games of all time so it's fair to say that BioShock has a lot to live up to. It's quite amazing then that BioShock actually does manage to live up to all of the expectations that fans of the System Shock series had for the game. Part FPS, part RPG, part adventure, BioShock is a difficult game to pigeon hole into a genre. The game's story is an intriguing one and will keep you engrossed until the game has finished. In fact BioShock is one of the finest games we've seen on the Xbox 360 and is certainly in contention for the best game of 2007. Whilst the game is subtitled, it's not as kind to deaf gamers as it could have been.
You'll begin BioShock on board an airplane that's just about to crash. Thankfully you'll survive the crash (and let's face it, it would be a short game if you didn't), with the airplane landing in the ocean. You swim to the surface to find flames all around you. Just as it seems hopeless and that the flames are all encompassing, you spot a lighthouse type of building sticking up out of the ocean. As it's possible to swim to the building without getting scorched, you do so and find an open doorway. Entering the building you'll walk in to what seems like complete darkness but with every step that you take, a light seems to flick on and illuminate your path down towards an elevator. You'll enter the elevator and descend to Rapture, an underwater city, that's quite unlike anything you've encountered on land. It's not long before you discover that all is not well in Rapture and that things have gone seriously wrong. You're guided by the seemingly helpful voice of a man named Atlas and through recorded messages, which you'll find as you explore the city, you'll get to piece together the events of what's gone wrong in Rapture and the picture you'll piece together is far from pretty.
Rapture is controlled by a megalomaniac called Andrew Ryan and it's no exaggeration to say that he's a bit of a lunatic. Rapture was essentially Ryan's own utopia with his own ideals that eschew all of the traditional political and religious conventions of a typical society. Scientists were able to work without restrictions and eventually they came up with ADAM, a substance that allows many genetic modifications to take place. ADAM makes both Plasmid powers and Gene Tonics (which consist of Physical, Engineering and Combat Tonics) possible and you're going to need both to survive Rapture. ADAM is highly sought after and many of Rapture's inhabitants are literally prepared to kill to get their hands on it.
By far the most numerous of your enemies are the Splicers. Splicers, of which there are several different types, are the wrecked citizens of Rapture. They were normal once but thanks to the overuse of Plasmids and Gene Tonics they are now evil, almost zombie-like wrecks that will attack you on sight and are desperate to get their hands on any ADAM they can find. The main enemies you'll face are Little Sisters and Big Daddies. Little Sisters are little girls with big syringes that are used to extract the ADAM from dead bodies. Having access to ADAM means that Little Sisters are a target for all those Splicers who seek it and therefore they need protection, which the Big Daddies provide. Big Daddies are essentially large beings that walk around in metal diving suits. In order to get the much needed ADAM from the Little Sisters you'll have to take out the Big Daddies. Once you've dealt with the Big Daddy you can then turn your attention onto the Little Sister and here the game gives you a bit of a moral dilemma. You can either choose to kill the Little Sister for maximum ADAM or you can rescue her (essentially restore her to being a normal little girl) for less ADAM for the promise of a reward later in the game.
Combat in BioShock is quite enjoyable if a little unconventional. You'll have the choice of using weapons such as a machine gun, pistol and items such as a wrench or you can use special powers known as a Plasmid. Plasmids essentially alter your genes to give you special powers. The more conventional weapons have both traditional ammunition and special ammunition such as armour-piercing bullets for the pistol for instance. Each weapon can also be upgraded by using the Power to the People machines you'll find in Rapture. Each machine can only provide one upgrade however and each weapon can only be upgraded twice so you'll have to be careful in choosing your upgrades. Your first Plasmid power is Electro Bolt which enables you to zap gun turrets and security cameras. You can also use it to stun enemies from range and then move in close to finish them off with your weapon of choice. As the game develops you'll acquire other Plasmid powers such as Telekinesis and Incinerate which allows you to roast your enemies. Initially you'll only have two Plasmid power slots and when you obtain your Telekinesis power you'll have to choose which of two powers you want to be active. You can purchase more slots from machines called Gatherer Gardens (money can be found lying around and can be gathered from fallen enemies and corpses that you'll find lying around Rapture). Plasmid powers are fuelled by EVE which is a serum that gives you the strength to use these powers. As you use your Plasmid powers your EVE will drain. Fortunately you'll find EVE Hypos scattered throughout the game and these can be used to top-up your EVE supply. The Plasmid powers can also be used to solve numerous puzzles throughout the game. For instance, you'll come across a huge chunk of ice that's blocking your path fairly early in the game and you can guess which Plasmid power you'll need to remove the ice.
You can power-up your character through the course of the game with items known as Gene Tonics. You acquire Gene Tonics from Gatherer Gardens but you can also find them in the strangest of locations, usually locations that are a little off the beaten track or somewhere that requires a bit of effort to gain access to. Early in the game you'll come across a body that waiting to be put into a furnace. You might think to simply search the body and then move on. To be honest I did just that at first but a few minutes later I decided to push the button to send the corpse into the furnace. Moments later it came back out with a little power-up reward. It's little things like this that encourage you to fully explore everything in the game and not simply go from A to B in a quest to finish the game as quickly as possible. As with the Plasmid powers, you only have a couple of slots to allocate Gene Tonic enhancements but you can also purchase extra Gene Tonic slots from Gatherer Gardens.
There are various puzzles to be solved in Rapture. There are ones that require you to use your Plasmid powers or physical strength and there are those that will test your hacking skills. You'll have to hack various kinds of locks and you can also choose to hack the various vending machines (where you can purchase EVE Hypos, ammunition and other things) and other machines that you'll find in the game. Hacking is essentially a mini-game that's very reminiscent of the old Pipemania games where you have to redirect a circuit flow by uncovering tiles on the grid and swapping the pieces you need to direct the progressing flow from its starting point to exit point. You can encounter hazard tiles that can increase the speed of the flow and it's even possible to set off the security alarms (which will bring enemies upon you) so you have to be careful. Choosing to hack a vending machine will allow you to obtain items that you normally wouldn't be able to acquire from that particular machine as well as items that are priced lower than the ones you can purchase in the usual way. The hacking puzzles vary in difficulty. Some are easy whilst some are really quite challenging. You'll come across auto-hack tools that will automatically complete the hack if used. There is also a Gene Tonic enhancement that can make your hacking much easier. You can also pay a hefty price for a hack to be completed. Security bots can be hacked and made to fight alongside you, which is a nice inclusion. You can be hurt if a hack attempt fails however.
One of the main irritating features of console games is how they normally won't let you save anywhere you want to. Even those games that do let you save anywhere usually only record your progress to the last checkpoint you've passed. BioShock does actually let you save anywhere and when you revisit the game you'll pick up exactly from the point you reached on your previous play. Throughout the game you'll come across booths known as Vita-Chambers. Should you be killed, you'll continue from the last Vita-Chamber that you passed with some of your health restored and a small amount of EVE.
Does the game disappoint in any way? Well if I'm being completely honest I would have liked the game to have been quite a bit longer. You're going to struggle to get 20 hours out of the game on the first time through. The game kind of makes up for this by encouraging you to play through multiple times. Some of the achievements certainly require you to play through more than once. Some may see the lack of a multiplayer mode as a problem but BioShock was only ever meant to be a single-player title. To simply tack on a handful of multiplayer modes that had nothing to do with main game would have been a mistake. Not every game needs to have a multiplayer component and single-player games that are this impressive certainly don't need Deathmatch and Capture the Flag variants to enhance the overall experience.
BioShock is easily one of the better looking Xbox 360 games to date. Rapture has a decidedly Art Deco look to it which gives the place a real personality and makes a change from all those sterile, futuristic style games that we so often get these days. Some of the character illustrations used to deliver the tutorial messages are reminiscent of those used in the Fallout games. The character models in the game all look good but it's the games various environments that really steal the show as they look superb. Some of the textures used in the game do look a little too shiny which gives certain objects an unnatural, plastic look to them. The load times are acceptable and the frame rate is generally fine although there are a few dips here and there it's nothing problematic.
The game does offer subtitles but the subtitles are not enabled by default. When you first play the game you don't have the opportunity to enable the subtitles so you'll have to sit through the first cutscene without being aware of what's being said, fortunately it's not that much. Once the first cutscene is over you can press the start button and enable the subtitles from the options menu. Both Art Subtitles (the manual says these are subtitles for 'signs and other in-game graphics') and Dialogue Subtitles can be enabled. The game's subtitles have the name of the speaker displayed next to the text so you'll know who is talking. If there is one complaint I have with the subtitles it's that the subtitles can often appear before the dialogue is spoken. This can seem a little disjointed as subtitles are displayed in advance of the events being spoken about. The text appears in blocks too rather than a line at a time and you don't always get an adequate amount of time to read all of the text before it disappears. Not all of the speech in the game is subtitled. The thanks that the Little Sisters give you if you choose to rescue them, for instance, aren't subtitled. During the game you'll receive radio messages from a man named Atlas. These are displayed in text and a radio icon appears on the bottom right of the screen to alert you to the fact that you're going to get a message from Atlas. You'll also see character portraits appear on the bottom right of the screen when you pick up and play diary message recordings. All tutorial messages are shown in text. When you come across objects for the first time you can press the back button to bring up extra text information on those objects and you're notified in text when this is possible. Objectives are shown in text so you'll always be aware of what you need to do. Your objectives, or goals as the game calls them, can be recalled at any time. The map will show you the location of your current objective so you'll have a good idea of which direction you should be heading in. Quest arrows will also show you the general direction you should be heading in (these can be disabled if you don't like the idea of them). You can also recall any messages you've collected from either Atlas, diaries or other sources. Any help messages you've acquired can also be recalled. You can also access text hints for your objectives. You're also given a text message when you've managed to take yourself out of a security camera's field of view.
Given the wealth of information deaf gamers are getting in BioShock you might think the game is absolutely fine in its support for deaf gamers. Whilst BioShock provides subtitles for deaf gamers, there are no visual clues to make deaf gamers aware of the eerie environmental sounds. Hearing gamers will be aware of the sickening cackles and movements that are some way off from your character. They will hear a variety of sounds, and sometimes speech, that denote a nearby enemy presence. Hearing gamers will also be aware of the whir of the security cameras (although they do give off a red light and sometimes you can see the red light before you come into the camera's line of sight) and the noise that indicates a gun turret is preparing to unleash of volley of bullets in your direction. Deaf gamers won't have any such advantage. Good use is made of the force feedback however, and you'll be well aware of enemies such as Big Daddy being close by thanks to the 360 controller vibrating rather forcefully with each step that he takes. There are times when deaf gamers will simply have it rough however. One instance springs to mind when I was searching for Dr. Steinman. The lights went out and several Splicers ran towards me, one at a time, from different directions. Hearing gamers could probably make out from which direction the Splicers are coming from but it would simply be impossible for deaf gamers to be aware of where the Splicers were coming from until they were being attacked. There are several instances such as this during the course of the game and it can make things very tricky. On the whole though I think BioShock is a game that deaf gamers will still be able to enjoy despite there being some problems but it's a shame the subtitling hadn't been done better and more visual clues given to not leave deaf gamers, literally, in the dark at times.
The build up to Christmas 2007 truly begins with the release of BioShock. From now until Santa sits in his sleigh and takes up the reigns on the night of December 24th, we are going to see many games released, quite a few of which are highly anticipated. Not many of them are going to surpass BioShock however. As I write this review it's pretty amazing to see that the game is on course to be one of the highest rated games of all time given how many gaming magazines and websites are giving the game full marks. We have to agree that the game is immensely impressive although there are some question marks over the game's deaf gamer friendliness. On the whole we think it's possible for deaf gamers to enjoy the game but it's a shame that more care hadn't been taken to ensure a more satisfactory experience for deaf gamers as there are some moments when deaf gamers are, quite literally, in the dark about things and that's not good. As a game however, BioShock is certainly one of the most impressive games you'll play on the Xbox 360 this year.
BioShock is a very impressive game in many respects but it has to be said that it's not as deaf gamer friendly as it could have been. The subtitling is a little sloppy and there are times when deaf gamers are really disadvantaged. The problems are not insurmountable but they are problematic.