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A Pineapple Under the Sea: Revisiting BioShock

Revisiting BioShock

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or perhaps, at the bottom of the ocean) for the past five years, you’ve likely heard of an underwater, dystopian adventure by the name of “BioShock.” The 2K Games epic in which you traverse an abandoned, decayed metropolis at the bottom of the ocean has won numerous Game of the Year awards and has been the central topic when speaking on the matter of injecting fresh, original ideas into a FPS-market plagued with been-there-done-that gameplay and sequelitis. Recently, my roommate picked up “BioShock” for the PS3, and even though I finished the game on the 360 (again, with my roommate purchasing that copy… sorry 2K) I couldn’t wait to take the plunge all over again. Now, I’ve finished the game twice, on two different systems, and it remains one of the freshest, most satisfying gaming experiences I’ve had in the last decade. So, with the recent announcement of a February 9th release date for “BioShock 2,” I’ve decided to revisit what made the original so special, and provide things I look forward to in the sequel.

All good things flow through…

Rapture; one of the most immersive video game environments ever created. It’s a living, breathing metropolis thousands of feet below sea level, and even though it looks desolate and barren when you arrive, you’ll quickly discover that it is all too filled with life. I can’t tell you how many times I stopped to look out the windows of this fictional city, gawking at its surroundings. Imagine being inside a skyscraper in New York, looking out the window, and seeing nothing but whales and squid.  You look up, and see no sun, but gaze into a brightly-lit, teal-green, liquid sky.

Revisiting BioShock

While Rapture’s exterior may be mesmerizing, its interior is nothing short of breathtaking; this is a real city, folks.  And much like a real city, you’ll find playgrounds, strip clubs, bars, theaters, record stores, etc… Every corner of Rapture is unforgettable and provided a basic ideal in which all developers should follow: Provide the player with a setting that’s as memorable as any character in the game.

Most recently “Batman: Arkham Asylum” achieved this lofty task, and in the past, there were games like “ICO,” “Shadow of the Colossus,” and “Metroid Prime,” all of which provided worlds that were so new and surprising, people couldn’t help but to stop and notice. While I must confess that I’m a bit worried about “BioShock 2″’s ability to provide that same feeling, it’ll still be nice to get a new perspective from unexplored areas of Rapture.

A man chooses, a slave obeys.

The story of “BioShock” was notable for many reasons, but what I appreciated most about Ken Levine’s tale is that it didn’t treat gamers like soda-guzzling, Cheeto-eating morons. “BioShock” is a philosophical tale of absolute horror. Rapture is one man’s vision of an ideal society, devoid of government or religion, but to achieve this “ideal” society, Rapture’s creator left morality above ground. Each of the civilians of Rapture have been genetically altered and now roam its hollowed halls searching for ADAM, a drug which makes its user feel more powerful. The dead litter the halls and blood is often as abundant as water within the horrific labyrinths of Rapture.

Along with its morality issues, “BioShock” deals with choice. Without ruining the story, you or your friends in Rapture may have alternative motives and these motives will take you to the edge of insanity. How you deal with the decisions presented to you will not only affect the outcome of the game, but will affect how those in the world view you.

Revisiting BioShock

Ryan Industries presents…  Plasmids!!!

Genetic mutation is abound in “BioShock,” but it’s not always for the worst. The introduction of plasmids was one of the most refreshing ideas to grace an FPS since “Metroid” joined the genre. Finding various tonics throughout the environment provided you with the ability to perform various attacks with the flick of your wrist. Plasmids allowed you to shoot fire from your hands, unleash ice storms, manifest swarms of insects, and 40 - 50 other memorable effects designed to confuse or destroy any who oppose you.  In “Bioshock” the player never ran out of options, and it not only offered the ability to experiment with these different powers, it demanded it.

Is your enemy standing in a pool of water? Hit him with a dose of electricity. Don’t think you can handle many enemies all at once? Hypnotize a Big Daddy and have the ultimate partner by your side. These options are found at every corner of “BioShock,” and they are done so is the most visually striking ways this console generation has seen.

“BioShock 2″ - Sea of my dreams

Revisiting BioShock

With “BioShock 2″ just getting an official street date of Feb. 9th 2010, many are starting to get excited about their upcoming return to Rapture, but I’m not totally on board just yet.  While I have no doubt the sequel will sell like gangbusters, I’m really hoping its single player experience will retain the feel of the original. First off, I hope they still have a strong philosophical element to the story, as I fear they may just dumb it down to an everyday, run-of-the-mill, action shooter. If you’re working on “BioShock 2″ you have an outstanding source material to play off of, so don’t stray from it. “BioShock 2″ already has you playing as a Big Daddy, taking on faster, more agile Big Sisters, and the game seems to be beefing up the action tenfold. While this isn’t usually a bad thing, it can be, if it detracts from the story.

Next, I’d like to see them find new, innovative ways to make Rapture interesting. Again, the source material is strong enough that they could easily rehash the environments and put minimal effort into improving Rapture’s corridors, but in order to truly succeed, developer Irrational Games must provide originality in a world bleeding with creativity. For instance, in the first game everything was new to the player, but now people will have some idea of what to expect from Rapture’s barren halls. So, 2K needs to come hard with the surprises. Rapture was built in the 40’s, an era when the topic of space travel was starting to heat up for America. Would it really be so absurd to have the deepest city in the world correlate with an environment on the moon? Yeah, maybe so, but what I’m getting at is that this version of Rapture needs to hold some of its own surprises and not rely solely on the Rapture that was popularized years ago.

These are just some of the hopes I have for the sequel to my favorite game in the last five years. (I should probably go out and buy my own copy, huh?) Regardless, if you haven’t played the original, do yourself a favor and give it a try, otherwise keep your eyes peeled for “BioShock 2″ when it drops on Feb. 9th, 2010.

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