Best Games of All-Time: Bioshock
Played On: PS5 (Original)
Version: Bioshock Remastered
Bioshock is the game that totally changed my perspective on storytelling and world-building in video games. Truth be told, my gaming history really has a before and after Bioshock kind of split. For a long time, it was easy to run and gun my way through games simply enjoying characters and feeling that games were mostly defined by their gameplay. However, when I came in pretty late to the PS3/Xbox 360 generation, I had some catching up to do and was drawn to a game that I frankly didn’t know much about. I could only really tell that it was a horror game from looking at the front and the back of cover, so I was pretty much going in blind. Little did I know that Bioshock would leave such a deep impact on me as I slowly fell in love with the world of Rapture.
Like I said, I went into Bioshock pretty blind, so the 50s aesthetic completely caught me off guard in a great way. That first moment of walking into the bathysphere, getting introduced to the mentality and beliefs of Rapture through its mysterious creator Andrew Ryan (voiced by Armin Shimerman), and having that window open to show the iconic city under the sea was absolutely breathtaking. There’s something about 50’s art style that’s so eye-catching and the neon glow piercing through the water immediately drew me in. As signs for businesses and areas of Rapture passed by, I immediately felt like a story was already unfolding and the world of Rapture was steeped in lore.
Upon entering, the world only became more and more compelling as you’re dropped into Rapture shortly after a revolt turns the thriving utopian dreamscape into a nightmarish ruin. Tunnels are constantly collapsing, water is leaking all over the place, and drug addicted residents called splicers are just tearing the place to shreds and bloodhungry as hell. The game certainly had great gameplay elements that instantly caught my attention and felt unique compared to other games that I had played before.
While the gun selection was pretty standard, there were incredibly useful upgrades and gene tonics to improve certain qualities of your weaponry and character. The machine gun is always a staple to my gameplay since the damage and recoil upgrades make it not only one of the best guns in the game, but a top-tier machine gun in gaming history. Recently, my friend actually went into the game for the first time and had a totally different playstyle that surprised me. Personally, the wrench only offered me some help in the starting areas, but my friend found it to be one of the most powerful weapons in his arsenal. By using certain combinations of gene tonics, he was able to be a dominating melee machine and ended up using melee much more than I ever did. It opened my eyes to the strong versatility that Bioshock’s weapon selection offers and how gene tonics can improve certain playstyles.
When talking about Bioshock’s weapon options, you can’t forget about the plasmids. Plasmids offered a whole new element to the gameplay as players could fire electric bolts, plumes of flame, frigid ice blasts, and other scientific concoctions from the palm of their hand. I was always a huge fan of Insect Swarm, where you would send a swarm of bees to deal damage on groups of enemies. Plasmids were also a unique gameplay mechanic for their effect on the environment and hacking. With Electro-Bolt, players could deal heavy damage to any splicer stuck in water and create a wider fire attacks by lighting up gasoline on the ground with Incinerate. Plasmids have an even greater effect on hacking, which is an ode to classic puzzle game Pipe Mania. By using Winter Blast on a turret or vending machine, players can slow things down and make the hack a little easier. It’s crazy to realize how there’s a lot of intricacy and complexity to Bioshock’s gameplay that make it just as fun and surprising to play all these years later.
Great gameplay isn’t what made Bioshock so special though as it presented a world, characters, and story that was much more compelling. As said before, the environment has so much lore and is so eye-catching that you feel instantly compelled to explore every inch of it. Each area of Rapture had it’s own set of characters, it’s own style, and it’s own purpose in Rapture’s overall community. For instance, while many went to Arcadia for its relaxing atmosphere, it served as a prime oxygen supplier for the city and, after things went to hell, the home of a creepy cult known as the Saturnine. Fort Frolic was always my favorite to explore since its purpose of being the center of artistry in Rapture always was fascinating to see. It made exploring feel rewarding, something that I hadn’t really experienced until Bioshock. While there was a main story unfolding as you go through each area, there were also smaller stories that fleshed out the environment and lore in an impactful way – especially with how it was delivered.
The audio logs in Bioshock will forever be my favorite collectible in gaming because they really dig into the lore of Rapture and present stories from small residents and pivotal leaders in a very digestible way. The audio logs you find on the way to Dr. Steinman (voiced by Peter Francis James) build out his character incredibly well. You really get his full transformation going from being a professional to a total psychopath and it adds to the shock and horror of seeing what he’s become. All the talk around the Big Daddies and Little Sisters makes their presence more intriguing and more than just tough enemies. Some of my favorite audio logs though are the ones that simply build out the main story and give a wider perspective on why Rapture is in ruins. McDonough’s (voiced by Ritchie Coster) monologue about killing Andrew Ryan to save Rapture always sticks with me, Peach Wilkins’ (voiced by Michael Villani) talk about smugglers and working with Fontaine (voiced by Greg Baldwin) helps build a timeline of things going wrong, and the audio logs of all of Sander Cohen’s (voiced by T. Ryder Smith) disciples really show Cohen to be the artistic madman that he is.
MAJOR STORY SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT FOR BIOSHOCK
You can certainly get through the main story of Bioshock and enjoy everything just fine, but the audio logs elevated the story to new heights – especially when it came to the big twist. Bioshock is easily known for that game-changing twist of Atlas (voiced by Karl Hanover), your guide through Rapture, actually being Frank Fontaine, the business enemy of Andrew Ryan, and using the phrase “Would You Kindly” to control you to go and kill Ryan to help him take over Rapture. This twist is still one of the best, maybe THE best, twists ever with how expertly it’s built up and how shocking the impact is. I’m always a sucker for the kind of twists where the hero unexpectedly helps the villain the whole time and doesn’t fully understand the weight of their actions and Bioshock’s twist is all that and more. Just as you think things are simply coming to a close, the game totally throws you for a loop and lets a new villain rise.
The whole concept of the “Would You Kindly” mind control is amazing since it turns Atlas’ seemingly harmless catchphrase into a pivotal gamechanger that’s absolutely mind-blowing in the moment. On my most recent playthrough, I even realized that they build this twist from the start with the package that Jack is holding on the airplane having a “Would You Kindly” message on it and Atlas using the phrase to tell players to pick up the shockwave radio. I also love the twist in Sander Cohen taking over the radio and taking players into Fort Frolic, but the entire thing surrounding Atlas is legendary. My mind was absolutely blown when Fontaine revealed himself and there hasn’t been a moment like that for me in movies, gaming, or television since.
After beating Bioshock the first time, I was absolutely obsessed with it and even bought the sequel, which I also enjoy, a week later. Recently, I went back and got the platinum trophy for the remaster on PS4 and had an absolute blast re-experiencing everything this game has to offer. It’s a game that I can’t recommend enough to play because there’s really nothing like it.
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