Irrational Games’ BioShock had a tremendous impact on single player first-person shooter games when it first released in 2007. Its fantastic setting, unique storytelling, and iconic Big Daddys have been burned into many players’ memories for the past 9 years. The legacy of BioShock has had a profound influence on story-driven shooters and provided a lot of merit for the “video games as art” argument. With The BioShock Collection hopefully on the horizon for this year, now is a great time to reflect on what makes the series great. This will be an opportunity to revisit the series for those who previously enjoyed it and also the perfect entry point for newcomers.
The first BioShock struck such a strong chord with the gaming community due to its incredible storytelling and chilling atmosphere. Set in the underground city of Rapture in an alternate history 1960, it touches on many post-apocalyptic and Ayn Rand-ian themes. Wealthy businessman and entrepreneur Andrew Ryan created Rapture as a sanctuary for elite members of society to live and flourish. Free from government control, Rapture is a textbook example of a utopia.
As science progressed, genetic material known as “ADAM” was harvested from sea slugs which enabled people who harness super-human abilities. Players utilize these abilities alongside traditional first-person shooter mechanics. The start of the game sees Jack, the protagonist, escaping from a plane crash and unknowingly entering the world of Rapture through a submarine found in a nearby lighthouse. Perhaps what is most intriguing about BioShock is the way that it throws you into a completely unknown world with no prior knowledge or back story.
Traveling through Rapture, Jack uncovers various audio logs pertaining to a number of key figures within the secluded society. BioShock is an early example of the audio log implementation that is so common in games today. What made this even more intuitive was the fact that you could listen to them while exploring the environment and fighting enemies. It seems like a small thing today, but it was a big departure from stopping to read text or listening to audio in a pause menu. They were easily accessible to players, which was important since they offered so much insight to the lore.
Virtually all of BioShock’s back story is told through previously-recorded audio logs and journal entries, so that there is a clear divide between past and present. Of course, both then and now play key roles in the overall story arc. The pieces of the puzzle begin to come together through exploration and discovery. There is a lot of motivation to continue playing, not to mention the game mechanics being quite polished.
Rapture is largely abandoned due to a crisis with overuse of ADAM that ultimately lead to the city’s decline. Jack will encounter hostile people who have been completely overtaken by ADAM as well as the mysterious Big Daddy – an insane, mutated fusion of humans and heavily armored diving suits. Big Daddys are sinister and colossal, mentally conditioned to guard their Little Sister counterparts who harvest ADAM from corpses. Big Daddys and Little Sisters have become very iconic, due to their eerie and otherworldly presence. Upon defeating a Big Daddy (which is no easy task), the player decides whether to harvest Little Sisters for ADAM or set them free.
Due to its alternate-history setting, BioShock features technology from the 1950s and 1960s such as diving bells, tommy guns, and reel-to-reel tape recorders. Such a fascinating use of retro technology has had great impact on video game aesthetic in general. The art style and design is imaginative and remembered as a landmark in modern 3D video games.
BioShock 2 saw the departure of creative director and writer Ken Levine, who worked diligently on the first installment. Many felt that the sequel lacked some of the magic of the original game and failed to take the same leaps and risks. Despite complaints of it not living up to its predecessor, it is still a solid story-driven FPS. Its major DLC expansion Minerva’s Den was met with high praise, due to its fantastic plot that was completely separate from the main story.
Following BioShock 2, Ken Levine once again stepped up as creative director and lead writer for the next instalment, BioShock Infinite. Though it features many similar elements, BioShock Infinite is not an immediate part of the previous storylines. It remains unclear if it is part of the same canon or a separate entity in an alternate universe.
This time around, the setting is the floating city of Columbia in the alternate history year of 1912. Far from being the utopia that is Rapture, the city of Columbia is more akin to a police state led by religious zealot and self-proclaimed prophet, Zachary Comstock. Though science fiction plays an important role in BioShock Infinite, its story revolves more around racism and social oppression. Following its release was an announcement that fans can expect many more entries in the series. BioShock is a franchise that will hopefully span many different settings, idea, and time periods.
The BioShock franchise is now in the hands of 2K Games, who will surely have big plans for the future. If you have not experienced any of the BioShock games, stay tuned for announcements and details about the upcoming collection release. One can only assume that it will contain the three games as well as the DLC content. Such important artifacts in the vast library of video games certainly deserves a proper remastered release.