BioShock Review (Xbox 360)


Bioshock_Icons_XP_by_hentei009In anticipation for the release of BioShock Infinite, I decided to revisit the game credited for popularizing the franchise, the original BioShock for the Xbox 360. Considered by many to be a genre defining classic, BioShock raised the bar for the standard by which subsequent current generation first-person action games are measured. Originally released in 2007, BioShock is not just a standard first-person shooter as the first-person shooting is perhaps the game’s weakest component. Rather, the game is more aptly described as an action-adventure with role-playing game elements played in a first-person perspective. But does BioShock deserve to be played again by the already initiated and newcomers alike? The answer to this question is a resounding, “absolutely.”


Many gamers may be familiar with the now famous introductory scene where players are transported to a sprawling city at the depths of the ocean floor known as Rapture. Originally intended to be a utopia for those who wished to pursue scientific, artistic, and philosophical endeavors without the constraints of conventional social ethics, players arrive to find Rapture is now the home to monstrous human mutations called Splicers; creepy, bug-eyed girls known as Little Sisters; and their monolithic and powerful protectors, Big Daddies, all of whom are in competition to harvest the genetic substance called Adam from the bodies of slain mutants, a source of sustenance and power for the denizens of Rapture. Once a bastion for human ingenuity, Rapture has now fallen into disrepair in parallel to the deconstruction of the social fabric of its citizens. Players find themselves tasked with pursuing the megalomaniacal mastermind behind Rapture’s existence, Andrew Ryan, in an effort to uncover the many mysteries the city holds as well as escape the perils contained within. Intrepid explorers will find numerous tape recordings strewn about the environment which help explain the plot as well as give voice to the eccentric characters behind the horrors of Rapture. Players will find themselves engaged from beginning to end while the narrative of BioShock weaves an interesting tale about the consequences of attempting to reconstruct a social structure in order to serve selfish desires without the scrutiny of society and government intervention.




At a glance, BioShock appears to be a first-person shooter. In reality, players will find that the shooting and aiming precision is lacking when compared to other AAA shooters on the market. However, BioShock requires players to use guile rather than rely solely on hand-eye coordination by allowing players agency in how to approach any given encounter. By using Plasmids players can alter their character’s genetic code enabling them to use powers projected from their hands. This feature gives players an edge in combat since enemies are exceptionally aggressive and violent. For example, players can use Telekinesis to hurl exploding barrels at enemies or catch grenades to throw them back, or players can emit electricity at enemies which briefly incapacitates them making them easier to pick off with a firearm. Success or failure in combat is dependent on creative combinations of Plasmid powers and brute force. But Plasmid usage comes at a dangerously high cost. Purchasing and powering up Plasmids requires Adam, and the only way to acquire Adam is to get it from the Little Sisters by killing Big Daddies. Although BioShock doesn’t have level boss battles in a classical sense, Big Daddy encounters more than make up for this. Big Daddies typically ignore you, but once agitated they are impossible to defeat in a face to face confrontation. Thankfully, clever usage of Plasmids, environmental variables, and traps can skew the odds in the player’s favor. Security cameras and turrets can be hacked and controlled, electrified trip wires and mines can be set, and enemies can be pit against each other using the Enrage Plasmid. Herein lies the brilliance of BioShock, there is no single path to victory in a tough battle. Once the Big Daddy is vanquished, BioShock serves players with an ethical dilemma, the choice of whether to destroy the Little Sister to harvest large amounts of Adam, or to liberate her for a pittance of it. The consequences of these moral choices comes to fruition upon the game’s climax as the ending narrative reflects the player’s decisions made along the way.


Exploration and looting are essential to completing the game. Weapons can be modded and enhanced at work stations hidden throughout Rapture. Specialized ammunition can be crafted using materials looted from boxes, trash cans, and dead bodies. Bodies can also yield health packs, money, and Eve, which is used to replenish Plasmid power after use. Because health pack and Eve inventory capacity is limited, players are forced to balance resource management with survival. Rapture is a dangerous place where enemies lurk in shadows, on ceilings, and even teleport to get an advantage on their prey. Players will find themselves scavenging for health, Eve, and other resources after expending them in order to maintain an acceptable level of security, but the nature of risk/reward involved in exploration conveys a sense of foreboding unease often characteristic of the survival horror genre.



BioShock has admittedly lost some of its visual luster in the five years since release, but it still looks great to this day thanks in large part to the impeccable artistic design. The city of Rapture bears an aesthetic resemblance to 1940s-50s metropolitan America. Advertisements and signs, hairstyles and attire, and technology all appear appropriate to the era. Up close, textures appear blurry and low resolution, character models appear doll-like and plastic, but water physics still impress and effective use of lighting and shadows give the environment personality which lends heavily to the player’s sense of immersion. Audio design excels, as well. Between the eerie banter of Little Sisters, the ominous whale song of lurking Big Daddies, the ambient metal creaking that echos throughout the environment, and the psychotic rantings of approaching Splicers, BioShock’s sound design gives players a palpable illusion of a decaying and perilous world that suffered through an epic calamity. Voice acting is strong and gives credibility to major characters that otherwise only appear as static visages on the corner of the screen. The eerie static that accompanies all audio dialogue effectively serves to promote a sense of dread and isolation for the player whose in game alter-ego is one of the few who has yet to succumb to the madness which has pervaded Rapture. Technically, BioShock runs consistently smoothly and responsively. The game’s options even allow players to to turn off frame lock which dramatically increases the game’s framerate allowing for more fluid animation. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of very noticeable and vexing screen tearing which many may find overly distracting.


BioShock is a true achievement of modern gaming. As a narrative, it is thoughtful and meaningful; an allegory of the human being’s desire for unfettered self-determination. It is mature themed, profoundly disturbing and sometimes shocking. As a game, combat is intense, exciting and strategic, exploration is tense and foreboding, and overall the game play is immersive and fun. BioShock is a true exemplar of a modern game, the result of the amalgamation of a strong narrative, polished level design and game mechanics, and evocative graphics, synergistically coming together. A true classic by any measure, BioShock stands as a progenitor benchmark for game design going forward as we embark upon the impending next generation of video game consoles, and it provides an experience that shouldn’t be missed by gamers past, present, and future.








Lasting Appeal




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