Classic Callback: BIOSHOCK
Remember BIOSHOCK? Of course you do, and chances are you played 2013 blockbuster BIOSHOCK INFINITE. But before Booker and Elizabeth, there was Jack and Atlas. One was a mostly-mute super-powered pawn, and the other was a con man masquerading as a freedom fighter, a true star-crossed relationship if there ever was one. BIOSHOCK debuted in 2007 and has endured for so long that it was almost released for iOS a few years back. PC gamers will be pleased to know that their experience in the city of Rapture can be enhanced by modern gaming peripherals – check out the Best Vertical Gaming Mouse for Serious Players. My experience with BIOSHOCK doesn’t center on a 14-year-old me screeching in the middle of the night at mutated humans bumping about in the darkness so much as it does on 20-year-old me screeching in the middle of the night. But regardless of when my screeching occurred, BIOSHOCK has stuck with me as a fantastic game for numerous reasons, reasons that I’m not sure I’d be able to fathom were I not 20-years-old and screeching.
In my defense, 20 is a screechy time in everyone’s lives
BIOSHOCK is particularly interesting because it straddles the line between survival horror and action, and both are handled with excellence. Fans of survival horror will tell you that a good game will leave the player mostly powerless and at the mercy of ghoulish enemies that pop out with little to no rhyme or reason. As you begin to unravel the mysteries of the failed underwater utopia of Rapture, the only clues are the voice messages left conveniently scattered about and the remnants of the world you’ve found yourself in. And it’s not a pretty world; your first experience in Rapture is watching a man get eviscerated by a depraved, deformed woman with hooks for hands.
The Tinder game in Rapture is a little ratched
From there the player eventually finds more weapons and power-ups, but they always seem to be in limited and short supply. Should something jump out of the shadows, your best option is often to run, hide, and scavenge. And jump out of the shadows they do, as BIOSHOCK not only has excellent scares, but succeeds in terror by way of atmosphere and overall tension. The way lights flicker and go out, the way shadows play on the wall, and the way that you can hear enemies but not quite see them as you go around a corner all serve to increased the suspense and dread prevalent throughout the game.
Pictured: Nothing Sinister
Eventually you get the coveted crossbow, missile launcher, and loads of new powerups, and at that point the game ceases to be about survival and rather about shooting everything in the drooping face. While it’s still a jolt when things you thought were corpses suddenly pop up to discuss the merits of the free market with bullets as a visual aid, you can still dispatch them with quick reflexes and lobbing a fireball or two.
There’s a motif involving the character’s transformation into one of the more deformed members of Rapture as he picks up more abilities, and while that admittedly falters in a few places, the game makes a similar transformation from survival horror to first-person shooter, allowing a stronger sense of agency and more confidence while exploring the city of Rapture. Soon, the player and their guns are blazing down the dilapidated hallways stopping only for that stupid fucking hacking minigame.
The Tubes! The TUUUUBES!
In addition, the original BIOSHOCK had a narrative that was top-notch, in addition to what the player can piece together from the remnants of the city. The game did an interesting job of hinting at the plot twist, giving it to the player, then turning it on its head completely. Not only that, but the world itself was incredibly vivid and really gave the player a sense of what it was like before the fall of Rapture. To help, it also has an interesting cast of characters that serve to usher the plot along and provide a deeper look at the world that was before. BIOSHOCK succeeds at depicting a world that is like our own but not quite, and the characters’ art style exemplifies that. The monsters look monstrous, but then again so do the people. I think there’s a much deeper meaning to that, other than “this is what Irrational thought was dope back in 2007,” but there’s not enough room for it here.
I’m also attracted to the game’s licensed score, which was responsible for introducing thousands of gamers to Bobby Darin and Django Reinhardt. I always appreciate a game that manages to trick the players into being into stuff they’d normally assume was lame, which might be why I’m also into the Fallout games. The soundtrack also serves a world-building purpose; Rapture is a place frozen in time, and that time is 1959 on New Year’s Eve. The music, therefore, helps to transport the player to that place and time in a way that the Art Deco décor and vintage posters can’t manage on their own. The score is informed by the soundtrack, most notably the accents of mournful strings that sound like “La Mer” if it were covered by Nine Inch Nails.
“I want to 23-skidoo you like an animal!”
BIOSHOCK was important because it did so many things right. The story, the characters, the music, and even the setting were all engineered just so. And even today, developers everywhere are still trying to emulate the game, which means that the game has to have done something right. BIOSHOCK 2 would go on to serve as a much-maligned (but perhaps unjustly so) bridge between BIOSHOCK and BIOSHOCK INFINITE, with INFINITE cementing the game’s AAA status. Unfortunately, due to the breakup of Irrational Games, gamers won’t be likely to see any new adventures in Rapture, or Columbia for that matter, which is for the best, as the city frozen in time should probably remain frozen.
BIOSHOCK is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.