Welcome to Late to the Party, a new feature where one of our team sits down with a much-hyped game from yesteryear to see what all the fuss was about. This week, Content Editor Dom delves face-first into the murky, depths of Irrational Games’ masterpiece BioShock.
[Disclaimer: This feature contains some serious spoilerage for the first BioShock]
“Would you kindly?”
Three words that shook gamers around the world when they played through the first BioShock back in 2007. Three words that formed the crux of a narrative twist that’s still revered as one of gamings best curveballs. Three words, sadly, I already knew about when I first entered Rapture. But we’ll get to that later.
BioShock: Round One
Wind back time to 2007 and you’ll find me playing BioShock for the first time. The art deco design style and the charming pre-war soundtrack instantly attracted me to it. It was something that practically radiated style in a genre full of grey super-soldiers and camouflaged killers.
Then I started playing it. The plane crash into the ocean; the burning waters; the lighthouse, a beacon of hope in the fog; the first glimpse of the Rand-esque sentiment “No gods or kings, only man”; that descent into Rapture in the bathosphere. I was enthralled, immediately gripped by this utopia beneath the waves. The first encounter with a splicer; the warm tones of Atlas; my first taste of plasmid – all of these things were beats perfectly formed to evoke wonder and tension. It also scared the bejeezus out of me.
I’m not one for horror. I just don’t get a buzz out of being scared s**tless, so such-themed films and games tend to pass me by. I wanted to descend further into BioShock, but it freaked me out and it was soon discarded to the pile of shame, soon traded and forgotten.
A return to Rapture
Then came 2013; the year of BioShock Infinite. The magnus opus of Ken Levine and Irrational Games wormed its way into my consciousness with it’s mesmerising setting and promises of a truly dynamic story. It was the kind of thing I wanted to play, a break from the run and gun mediocrity many other games took as gospel. And so here I was again, with another copy of BioShock, reluctantly ready to try Rapture one last time.
So, before I forget: “Would you kindly?”
I’d heard a buzz surrounding some of BioShock’s story before, but I’d thankfully missed any major details regarding the plot. But a few years back, in a hope to urge myself into playing it again, I picked up John Shirley’s masterful prequel novel Rapture. Following the events that led to Ryan’s dream of a creative eden and the inherent corruption that poisoned it, Rapture finished with Frank Fontaine assuming the identity of Atlas as Rapture imploded on that faithful night in 1959.
I didn’t know who would appear in BioShock, but as soon as the name Atlas was revealed I knew that the Atlas of BioShock would betray me at some point during BioShock. With this knowledge in hand, I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the apparent murder of Atlas’ family or the eventual reveal of Fontaine. But I still loved the ultra-violent confrontation with Ryan and Fontaine’s revelation on who the player was and why they were doing what they were doing. I may have known the betrayal was coming, but the manner in which it was executed genuinely captivated me.
BioShock: Round Two
So here I was, BioShock, round two. And for all the times I practically emptied myself, I loved every second I spent in Rapture. BioShock does many things well, but capturing a sense of ever-growing tension is one of its greatest feats. Rapture might be a snapshot of 50s sensibilities, but it was still an attempt to create a civilised, Western community. It was once a peaceful place, full of families and individuals hoping for a second chance at life. Seeing the familiar corrupted creates a base-level revulsion that’s far more effective than something set deep in an unknown future.
There wasn’t one moment in BioShock where I wasn’t on edge. Even by the time I’d mastered having a Big Daddy and a security bot brainwashed/hacked onto my team, I still felt perpetually in danger. During the first few hours of the game, as I crept around the Medical Wing or Rapture, I descended a staircase to use a Circus of Value machine. Desperately low on ammo, health and Eve hypos, these machines were a godsend.
Being locked into the first-person perspective, the sense of being watched or hunted felt constantly amplified. I was always swinging round to check my six, sure that I saw a shadow flicker in the corner of my eye. Well, as I prepared to spend my measly dollars, I turned round to check my back and suddenly froze. Creeping down the steps, singing in a low, haunting voice, was a splicer. It’s eyes shone in the darkness of it’s silhouette and what little light there was glittered of the hooks in it’s hands. I swung round and shocked the splicer, bludgeoning them with the old “one, two”. I was genuinely shaken-up, having narrowly avoided death. It was BioShock all over, but the sense of fear and dread were almost addictive, like a forbidden pain. BioShock forces you to become another strand of ulta-violent survivalism, a mirror to the horror you find around every corner.
And while the final battle of BioShock never lived up the epic build up, BioShock and its rapturous heart of darkness remains as one of those titles that transcends the term ‘game’. For all the clichés, it’s an experience, a dark adventure into a corrupted dream, encased in waves.
Looking for more Late to the Party goodness? Check out our recent return to GTA IV.