The assassin has overcome my final defense, and now he’s come to murder me.
In the end, what separates a man from a slave? Money? Power? No. A man chooses. A slave obeys. You think you have memories. A farm. A family. An aeroplane. A crash. And then this place.. was there really a family, did that aeroplane crash OR was it hijacked. Forced down. Forced down by something less than a man, something bred to sleepwalk through life until they are activated by a simple phrase, spoken by their kindly master. Was a man sent to kill? Or a slave? A man chooses, a slave obeys. Come in.
Stop, would you kindly. Would you kindly. A powerful phrase. Familiar phrase? Sit, would you kindly. Stand, would you kindly. Run. Stop! Turn. A man chooses. A slave obeys.
– Andrew Ryan, Bioshock
These are the words have been burnt into my mind, they’ve become a part of me, they are me. These are the words which transformed a little video gamer, saddened by the delirium of mediocracy and absence of intrigue within videogames. These words, these phrases and philosophies all transformed little Nathan Hardisty from little button masher and into full time critic. These are the words which transformed me into the writer you see today, they are what I defend, they are what I honour; it is my law. Whenever I have doubts over storytelling within our industry, I turn to these paragraphs and I feel proud. I feel proud not just of how brilliant and mind-boggling it is, how twisting and turning the words slowly dripped into my mind… but I felt proud to be a gamer. No one else , besides people who experienced the same, knew or had their life changed. No one else had felt sheer shock at a plotpoint so wonderfully created, no one else could touch it. This was in a videogame, this showed what videogames can do.
Bioshock for me explores every single living breathing potential-ability of videogames. It goes into all the knooks and crannies that we have come to love, and bring them forward into a new age. It has social and political commentary, dark adult themes treated tastefully and a plot which weaves itself around your emotions and mind. It’s a 12 hour experience like no other and just truly goes to show what our medium is afraid to do. It’s not a generic, tied to its addictive multiplayer, and it’s not a string of instant self-gratification: it’s so much more than that. This is just the beginning, this is the title which transformed our console gaming hobby into a full on mature medium. I’m proud to call myself a gamer now, I’m proud to have this experienced and I’m even more proud to know that this could never be accomplished outside of a videogame.
I cannot possibly explain Bioshock to any newcomer, if there still is any of you who haven’t even touched this masterpiece. It is a mess of social intrigue, giant conspiracies and some truly beautiful moments. They will shake your heart, and sometimes even just make you put the pad down and have a good ol’ think. It’s masterfully executed in such a compelling way that it never feels overbearing, or taxing on your intelligence. It explores some of humanity’s darkest secrets, and if you still haven’t played it yet, you are a moron. I do not mean that in a totally rude way, but you are missing out on one of the greatest pieces of art that our generation can ever experience.
Bioshock is one of those titles that you can totally recite in your head. Not because it’s generic or easy to remember, but because it’s so memorable. You’ll be nailing down each line of dialogue on your second playthrough, it’ll be ringing through your ears and singing to the heavens. Its majestic pacing pushes you straight, head forward into a deep pool of nausea, your head will be ringing. The learning curve is so steep that it will scare off the ones who are not brave to tangle with its narrative, this is for the better. It makes sure that those , left after the all important curve, fully understand the entangling plot. While your head spins and rings many hours inside, characters start digging into your mind, their philosophies and voices phoning you in the middle of your nightmares.
This is possibly the most hardest gameplay. To put it basic, it’s a first-person shooter at the bottom of the sea. You’ll shoot crossbows, get spliced up with plasmids (special powers, which never feel ‘simple’), shoot machine guns and hunt Big Daddies. The last part is one giant, tense few minutes. You’re constantly switching positions with the Big Daddy, a giant hulk of metal who can beat you down in seconds if you stand still. The hunter and the hunted, cat and mouse, keep throwing each others stances at each other. At one time, you will be on low off, scarce of ammo and clinging on to the threshold of your thousandth life. At another time, the Daddy will be cowering with low health, trying to finish you off. It’s a tense few minutes which lead to a sad travesty upon this game. The morality test.
As most of you know, there’s a trend going on. Moral choices and human likeliness (our emotions and behavior), are constantly being improved and revised in games. Our morality is what separates us and games can truly reveal many things about a person. In Fallout 3, there are many right, wrong and in between areas. Here, to my dismay, it is a blight upon the game. There is no grey area, once you have beaten a Big Daddy you can basically either kill or save a small girl to gain more currency to spend on your powers. Killing her gives you more money to spend, but saving her rewards you with less monies but a small, normal girl looking up at you with twinkling eyes. It is a sad moment, but why is it so bad? It is sad because there is no moral compass involved. You’ll end up figuring halfway through that, in the end (no, not the actual ending), saving the little girl just rewards you with a lot more money. There is no grey area, and it doesn’t represent anything about any person, it’s saddening.
Another thing is a common tactic called ‘Daddy Bashing’. after dying you are revived at a nearby ‘Vita Chamber’. The Daddy keeps at the same health at what you left him at, so you can basically just keep hitting him without any penalty. The chambers can be turned off, and there’s an achievement/trophy for completing the game on the hardest setting without using any of the chambers. It feels so misplaced in a game like this, which should be constantly a challenge, but becomes just a constant annoyance. It’s another sad blight upon this gem, and I’d suggest just turning it off and doing what I like to call ‘Mass Effect Syndrome’. Constantly saving at every corner or Daddy, especially if you’re playing at the highest difficulty.
If you’re still undecided about this title, or you are totally just passing it up because you think it might be ‘overrated’… hell if even you just touched the demo briefly, or fondled with it a little bit, come back. Fight the urge to play something else, and just finish this. You’ll get there in the end and then you’ll understand. You’ll understand what it means to be a gamer and you’ll be proud.
God bless Ken Levine and every member at 2K Boston/ Irrational Games.