Before I begin, I should note that possibly the greatest detractor in the experience of playing BioShock is the massive amount of hype surrounding this product. Currently the top-rated game at Metacritic (at 96/100, last top games being Oblivion and Gears of War at 94/100), BioShock is one of those games where you have a hard time identifying your personal playing experience with what you've seen written in previews and reviews.
That's not really a comment on the game itself, but if you raise expectations high enough you'll make it impossible for any game to fulfill them. BioShock suffers a bit from that - without any heightened anticipation, most people would love this excellently crafted hybrid. And most people still do, but they might have done so more without the hype. Still, Ken Levine finally got his blockbuster hit, and there's probably no other developer more deserving of one.
The Game's Body
I won't spoil BioShock's storyline in this review, or even discuss much of it. Essentially, you're thrown into an ex-idyllic dystopia gone mad and have to survive. In order to fight off the hordes of crazed superpowered humans called splicers, you will have to use all means available to you. These include guns, plasmids that give you potent special powers, ammunition upgrades, hacked security bots, and, more often than not, the environment The important resources available to you are ammo, EVE that powers your plasmids, and Adam that can buy you character upgrades from vending machines. Money can get you the ammo and EVE, but Adam is harder to come by as you have to harvest it from the syringe-wielding Little Sisters, who are protected by well-armed Big Daddies.
The game plays mostly like a straight FPS, offering the choice of a handful of weapons, each (except the wrench and research camera) with 3 ammo types. It's certainly possible to run and gun through a lot of the game, but as you go along you'll typically find that using certain types of ammo and planning a certain strategy will help through the tougher bit. This goes for Big Daddy fights, but also for certain hold-down-the-fort events in the game.
Physically, you'll have access to a lot of tonics (combat, engineering, and physical) and plasmids (including the likes of Electro Shock or Telekinesis). You can get and switch them about at certain machines, though you'll need to invest quite a bit of Adam for most upgrades. The choice of tonics and plasmids to use can be pretty straightforward, but will affect your gameplay and chances of survival greatly.
There are a few hints at survival or adventure elements, but slightly more significant is the addition of RPG elements. The plasmids resemble spells, running on the mana-like EVE, and the tonics basically function like character talents or perks. There are a lot of items to pick up in the game, but not a lot that can be equipped or used in difficult situations. Frustration at the lack of an inventory screen coupled with the semi-generic way all of these elements have been implemented means that hardcore RPG fans probably won't find what they're looking for. Sure, there are a lot of similarities to System Shock 2, but the game was clearly aimed at a different audience.
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