In preparation for BioShock 2's launch next week, several of the editors over at IGN have taken a moment to reflect back on the original title. PC editor Steve Butts sounds off:
The original BioShock may not have had the most thrilling combat, but where it really excelled was in mood and atmosphere. That's been true of all Irrational's games since System Shock 2 but BioShock took things to a new level in terms of ambiance and storytelling. The game offered up a setting that built on and reflected some very elevated philosophical concepts without ever (well, maybe not ever) coming across as pretentious or tedious. In terms of game design BioShock is just a shooter with a few RPG elements thrown in for good measure, but in addition to delivering engaging action sequences, it's also a game that makes intriguing points about the individual's place in society, the uses and abuses of personal freedom, and the potential pitfalls of objectivism. That kind of angle was never explored much in the game's marketing, but it's more crucial to the game's success than the mechanics or technology.
BioShock was also a revelation in terms of the way it built mood and told the story. Rather than using passive, dialogue-driven cutscenes to draw players in, the designers let players find the story in the environment. You could walk into a room and see traces of what it used to be and explore the sometimes-chilling details of what went wrong in Rapture. In a way, it was kind of like a crime scene and I was often more disturbed as the reality of what happened slowly dawned on me than I ever would have been had I witnessed the events directly. It was all made even more effective through the use of those tape recorders that served as a sort of audio snapshot of how the fall affected different people. Once you started to tie the audio diaries together with the visual evidence in front of you, you became a real participant in Rapture's downfall.