Monday, 23 December 2013

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #15: BioShock

BioShock, 2K Games/Irrational Games (2007)

Despite its RPG-lite elements and the supernatural plasmids that fly from the player's fingertips, BioShock is a plain old shooter, and a pretty pedestrian one at that.

This goes to show that a great environment can make the difference between a disposable experience and an unforgettable one. Rapture, an art deco underwater city envisioned by objectivist madman Andrew Ryan, is a visually arresting combination of 1920s architecture, marine imagery and menacing decay.

Ryan's vision was that of a world where mankind could fulfil their scientific, artistic and capitalist potential unfettered by religion or the state. Rather than an individualist utopia, what results is a hell where people driven mad by ambition (and lack of sun, presumably) distort their bodies with plasmids in an attempt to make themselves as fast, strong, perceptive or destructive as they can possibly be. The act of "splicing" with these genetic modifiers pushes the user closer to complete insanity, and it's these unhinged addicts whom the player has to kill.

To do so, they need to do quite a bit of splicing themselves. Participating in the act that brought about the fall of the city means the gameplay supports, rather than detracts from the sense of place (which is more that can be said for this year's beautiful but flawed Infinite).

There is a solid narrative in BioShock with a gut-wrenching metafictional twist that only a video game could deliver, but it's still only there to provide a path through the city. In other narrative media, the story must take precedence over the setting and visuals for the work to have significance and weight. In games, this isn't the case. They are the one medium that can afford give its worlds the time and space to speak for themselves.

There are few worlds more deserving of that than Rapture.

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