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Revisiting Rapture: Why BioShock Will Forever Be A Classic of This Generation
Rapture; that haunting city under the sea, a shell of a former utopia, now drowning in its own depths of madness and despair. With its citizens nothing more than mere madmen, its tunnels collapsing, and Andrew Ryan’s illustrious dream wasting away into a nightmare, this city was the city that captured the imaginations of so many who dared to enter it and learn of its secrets and the twisted truths they held. It is because of Rapture and its fascinating story that BioShock will forever be a classic game of our modern generation.
BioShock seamlessly does something that so many games today still struggle with: it combines fantastic gameplay with a story so big and immersive that you don’t just play the game, you live it, experiencing everything around you as if it were taking place in real life. There’s something to be said for this, and how well it’s handled within the game itself. So often, you forget you’re playing a game, instead worrying about exploring this insane city and learning more about yourself and the strange companions you find yourself connecting with along the way.
One thing the game handles with masterful ease is the element of atmosphere. There’s a disturbing and tense atmosphere to the game, preventing you from ever becoming complacent while playing. Voices surround you, usually belonging to mad splicers as they sing or talk to themselves or each other; a horror-esque soundtrack barely whines above the sounds of machinery, and the booming growl of Big Daddies lend you the ominous knowledge of their presence. Add in an eerily out-of-place dose of upbeat classic swing and the sole friendly voice of Atlas, and you find yourself faced with an odd feeling of unrest as you travel through the halls of Rapture. There’s hardly a safe moment in BioShock, and rarely a time when you feel you can lower your guard. This feeling of vulnerability and loneliness is something unique to BioShock and the world it creates, and it owes it in large to the game’s atmosphere.
Ken Levine and company also make a very interesting and intriguing move with the plot of BioShock, adopting elements such as communism and the Horatio Alger ideas of merit and wealth common to the game’s time period to set up the basis for this world under water, seeking to escape the pressures of their modern-day American society. Add in with that the ideas of super powers, beauty, and self-enhancement, and you have a fascinating look at alternate history, complete with the main thought articulated by the man himself in the beginning of the game: “Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow?”
In-game real time occurrences a la Half Life force a new level of immersion in BioShock’s story that might not have translated as well or been as hard-hitting if handled through the use of cutscenes and hammy dialogue. Instead, everything takes place around you, right in front of your eyes, often feeling just as rushed and dangerous as any other encounter with the unexpected in Rapture. It’s because of the in-game execution of events that you experience the horrors of death and madness firsthand, whether it’s the doctor as he butchers women for being “imperfect” to the spider splicer who tries to get at you in the beginning of the game. It’s because of the well-designed events and occurrences in the game that the story gets pushed to an even higher level of quality and immersion, making you a part of it rather than a passenger along for the ride.
While it adopts the lo0k and feel of a first-person shooter, the game is anything but recycled gameplay in a tired genre. Multiple upgrades allow you to literally customize and create a self as individual as each player, appealing to multiple play styles and allowing a level of customization rivaled only by leveling up in RPGs. The vast diversity of plasmids keep the game interesting and allow for a bit of exploration and interest, as different powers may open different parts of the world up to the player and help them gain access to new areas.
Ammunition is not necessarily something you’ll want to waste in Rapture, either. But then, it’s also not something you always want to use, especially with an equally-as-diverse arsenal of plasmids literally in your hands. Jumping between the two, you’ll be able to power your way through hordes of splicers using careful strategy and balance between the use of firearms and plasmids to successfully take out your opponents. It keeps the game interesting and prevents the player from ever feeling helpless throughout the campaign.
But probably the most interesting and unique quality about BioShock is the way the game approaches storytelling. Rather than dumping everything on you early on, it spoonfeeds you segments of the story one small portion at a time, often leaving it up to you to experience and learn more about what happened to Rapture through citizen’s recorded diaries, markings on the walls, and even seeing ghostly images and scenes as they play out around you. Couple that with great gameplay and design, and the game becomes a haunting and engrossing experience the likes of which will become a classic for this generation and the generations to come.