An un­for­get­table ad­ven­ture cast be­neath the waves, it was BioShock’s immeasurably en­joy­able shoot­ing and un­for­get­table nar­ra­tive that make it one of the most im­por­tant re­leases of the last decade.

APC Australia - - Contents -


“Would you kindly?” On the sur­face, it was al­ways a sim­ple quandary to wres­tle with. We an­swered the call du­ti­fully, lock­ing our­selves into a wicked sense of for­ward mo­men­tum at the whim of an om­nipo­tent nar­ra­tor, push­ing our­selves ever deeper into a sub­merged me­trop­o­lis steadily tak­ing on more and more wa­ter. But, as BioShock play­ers would soon dis­cover in the au­tumn of 2007, the ques­tion it­self was loaded. A smoke­and-mir­rors tac­tic that has come to de­fine a cer­tain era of first-per­son shoot­ers — par­tic­u­larly in the hearts and hands of con­sole-bound gamers.

One of the great­est magic tricks game de­vel­op­ers ever pulled off was mak­ing it feel as if you ever were free in­side of their worlds. There is, in any player-driven nar­ra­tive ex­pe­ri­ence — be it lin­ear or other­wise — merely the il­lu­sion of choice and con­trol. The medium is in­evitably lim­ited by the amount of con­tent a team is able to cre­ate and im­ple­ment; mak­ing play­ers be­lieve that they have even the slight­est amount of in­flu­ence on how events and story un­folds is all a part of a good nar­ra­tive. BioShock turned this on its head en­tirely. It turned a trusted nar­ra­tor against us; it forced us to con­front the

“One of the great­est magic tricks game de­vel­op­ers ever pulled off was mak­ing it feel as if you ever were free in­side of their worlds.”

re­la­tion­ship be­tween the sen­tience of the pro­tag­o­nist and the in­vis­i­ble guid­ing hand of the devel­oper.

While the late game twist forced play­ers to con­sider their own agency — to weigh up the nu­mer­ous vi­o­la­tions of trust and our in­her­ent in­abil­ity to ques­tion them through­out — the world of Rap­ture is ap­pro­pri­ately es­tab­lished to drive re­ac­tive player emo­tion from the mo­ment that the bathy­sphere first opens its doors. It’s a beau­ti­ful, won­drous place; its rust­ing 1950s aes­thetic invit­ing us to ex­plore the chaos be­neath the waves, beg­ging you to hope that the wrench you get your hands on will one day have an­other use be­sides beat­ing in skulls — that per­haps by the end of this you can re­store Rap­ture to its for­mer glory. But soon that feel­ing is re­placed with some­thing else en­tirely: op­pres­sive, ag­gres­sive fear. As, one by one, the lay­ers are peeled back on the city, its cit­i­zens and the dark pol­i­tics fuelling the dis­ar­ray, any hope you have is quickly re­placed by a de­sire to es­cape it all as quickly as hu­manly pos­si­ble.

On your way to free­dom, guided by the war­ring of words be­tween At­las and Fon­taine, em­pa­thy with the cit­i­zens of Rap­ture is es­tab­lished, largely through en­vi­ron­men­tal sto­ry­telling. It’s the first of many emo­tional teth­ers Ir­ra­tional Games cre­ates through­out the ex­pe­ri­ence as it builds to­wards its twist re­veal. While this man­i­fested it­self in fairly rote fashion — root­ing through bins and lis­ten­ing to scat­tered au­dio di­aries across the world — it helped the world feel real, like it had ex­isted be­fore you ar­rived and that it would con­tinue to be after you even­tu­ally left it all be­hind. Forc­ing you to em­pathise with the very vil­lains you were so in­tent on crush­ing only made the emo­tional mo­ments — be­tween de­cid­ing whether you would save the tor­tured Lit­tle Sis­ters or harvest them for re­sources — more im­pact­ful.

BioShock brought the im­mer­sive sim to con­sole in a way that we hadn’t quite ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. The game does in­vari­ably share its DNA with the likes of Sys­tem Shock and its se­quel, on which direc­tor Ken Levine first cut his teeth, and that en­sured that BioShock had a pro­fi­ciency to its core sys­tems lost on many other genre games of the time. The feel of the weapons, their com­bi­na­tion with the ar­ray of oth­er­worldly Plas­mids at your dis­posal, was a real de­light. The ac­tion was fast and ki­netic, but nu­anced enough to let us ex­per­i­ment with the tools you had found along the way — the en­emy AI smart and ag­gres­sive, the depth to the com­bat sys­tem only ex­pand­ing the fur­ther you dared push it. See­ing a Big Daddy wade into bat­tle was for­ever a thrill, par­tic­u­larly as the var­i­ous war­ring fac­tions would con­verge as if by com­plete ac­ci­dent. BioShock of­fered some of the big­gest thrills the in­fant con­sole gen­er­a­tion had seen, and its im­pact on the story-driven shooter is dif­fi­cult to quan­tify.

Its lack­lus­tre end­ing aside, BioShock was able to con­vinc­ingly tell a story that any other medium would strug­gle to de­liver. Ir­ra­tional cap­i­talised on the strength of the in­ter­ac­tive for­mat and de­liv­ered a nar­ra­tive that is as chal­leng­ing as it is unique; in play­ing with per­cep­tion, trust and con­se­quence, BioShock made play­ers more aware of their agency than ever be­fore. To be be­trayed by your own ac­tions — your own lack of aware­ness or per­cep­tion — was star­tling. The ac­tion and com­bat sub­lime, the char­ac­ter development and world­build­ing un­ri­valled. A decade on and it’s as won­der­ful to­day as it was then; BioShock is a star­tling ex­am­ple of what can be achieved when a bold vi­sion is achieved whole­heart­edly by a group of pas­sion­ate cre­atives.


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