I’m sitting down to write this and it’s just gone 2:30 PM GMT. I’ve been back from my hands-on preview of Bioshock for about two and a half hours and I’ve still not been able to go for three minutes without somebody asking me a question about the game. Can you hurt the little girls? How similar is it to System Shock 2? How long is the game?
Questions begat questions and this is the first time I’ve been able to sit down since getting back to the bit-tech offices without being hounded to tell everyone about my experience just one more time.
It’s not a problem though, because after playing both the Xbox 360 and the PC version of the spiritual successor to System Shock 2 for a number of hours and after talking about the game for a fair amount of time too, I’m still itching to tell the world about what is possibly one of the most anticipated PC games of the last few years. I’m also still shaking in reaction to what is almost definitely one of the most intense gaming experiences I’ve ever had .
Still, let’s say no more introductions and waste no more time leading in to this article. Bioshock is far too important for that, let’s just jump right in and find out what it is that makes Bioshock the most exciting game I’ve seen in a long while.
Welcome to Rapture
Bioshock starts with a bang; a big, abrupt bang as the main character's plane crashes into the ocean inexplicably and is plunged beneath the surface. With no explanation at all, players take over control as he re-emerges into a ring of burning fuel, the rocking waves lit only by lightning and landmarked only by the pinnacles of flaming fuselage which are risen out of the water. There’s only one path forward, so we start swimming.
Welcome to Rapture, underwater city of freaks
The whole opening to the game is done in first person, a perspective the game never lets the silent protagonist snap out of, and though it feels out of place and slightly sudden at first, it quickly compensates through beauty and sheer, inescapable drama. The situation is rendered on both Xbox 360 and PC (there’s no content difference between the platforms) in all it’s terrifying reality; I’ve only just started the game and have no idea what’s going on, but I’m scared because I know I’m going to drown.
Paddling forward through the water, I watch in horror as the only wreckage left to cling to sinks deep beneath the waves. I feel alone and isolated – and then I see it, illuminated by a flash of lightning and a nearby explosion as a plane engine dips beneath the ebb. At first I think it might be a lighthouse, but then I realise I have no idea what it is; some sort of island, that’s for sure.
Climbing up a staircase leads to safety and I realise the small outcropping of rock is home to a small doorway that leads down to an elevator shaft. I have nowhere else to go, so I head inside out of the rain.
Click to enlarge
This is how Bioshock starts and, pretty soon, I’m being ferried down to the sea bed to the underwater city of Rapture.
Backstory is slowly unveiled to players by Atlas, a survivor of the ruined city who communicates with you via short-wave radio and who tells us that Rapture was founded by a man named Andrew Ryan, who wanted to create a new society formed from the worlds intellectual elite.
Living under the water, Ryan's new society built Rapture in the then-fashionable art-deco style and were left alone by the outside world, with whom they had no contact. That is until the player stumbles across the city's entrance in 1960 – though whether the player's arrival is by accident or design is something that later comes into question.