BioShock made its fantastic debut on the Xbox 360 and PC last year, throwing everything gamers knew about the first-person shooter genre straight out the window. This wasn’t because the gameplay was radical, although the introduction of Force-like Plasmids was a nice new touch. Instead, the innovation came with the fact that BioShock, which has recently released for PlayStation 3, actually felt more like an award-winning narrative than an award-worthy game. For story junkies like me, this was a beautiful revelation, and for FPS fans in general, this was an eye-opening experience.
The PS3 version of BioShock doesn’t differ much from its Xbox 360 and PC brethren, but by all accounts that’s a good thing. In BioShock, players are forced to descend under the sea into the alternate-universe underwater city of Rapture, a would-be utopia formed by Andrew Ryan in the hopes that humans in the 1950s could channel their scientific innovations to create not only the perfect society but the perfect human. As with all mad-scientist experiments, Ryan’s grand plans for Rapture go horribly wrong, unleashing what can only be described as a disease-like obsession with genetically modifying one’s body with such things as telekinesis, electric shock and flamethrowing. However, players don’t have to implement these “upgrades.” And in fact, debating between “guns vs. genetics” is half of what makes BioShock so special (along with the decision of whether to save or “harvest” the little girls in the game).
These moral decisions and high-level concepts make BioShock one of the more compelling storytelling experiences to ever hit the videogame medium. As the game unfolds, players encounter two types of gameplay: first-person shooter, complete with machine guns, pistols, grenade launchers and shotguns; and role-playing game, as players determine which genetic “plasmids” to inject into their bodies and eventually upgrade. It’s this plasmid concept that really makes BioShock stand out, but more for its choices than its actual gameplay ramifications. To use a plasmid, players must have a sufficient amount of Eve (i.e. mana), which is gained through injectable vials. To unlock new plasmids, players must have a certain amount of Adam (i.e. magical currency), which is gained by either harvesting a “Little Sister” for the maximum amount of Adam or saving the little girl’s life but receiving a slightly lower amount. Save the girls and you’ll be rewarded in the end. Harvest them, and you’ll have a different experience but more butt-kicking plasmid potential.
In essence, BioShock poses an important moral question: will you pursue perfection (plasmids) like the ill-fated residents of Rapture, or will you stay on a moral high ground with the Little Sisters and have a more difficult combat experience because of it? The developers knew precisely what they were doing, too, from the obvious names of Adam and Eve all the way to the Bibles and religious references scattered throughout the game and its levels. This thought-provoking question — which has definite gameplay consequences — is really what makes BioShock shine, especially as good videogame narratives have become an unfortunate rarity.
The most significant differences in the PS3 version are the inclusion of a new difficulty mode, called Survivor, and the ability to choose not to use the checkpoint-like Vita Chambers. The Survivor mode is a fantastic addition, with its scarcity of ammo, equipment and cash creating a perfect storm with souped-up enemies. The new difficulty setting alone isn’t enough to warrant picking up the game a second time if you’ve already played it on Xbox 360, but it’s a nice touch for the hardcore FPS fans out there who will play BioShock for the first time. The new Vita Chamber treatment is also an intriguing addition, as it’s reminiscent of the optional save system in Enclave, on the original Xbox. Again, it may not be something experienced by all PS3 owners, but it’ll definitely be put to use by the toughest of the tough.
Two additional changes round out BioShock on PS3: downloadable content and the mandatory install time when you first insert the disc. The downloadable content, which is exclusive to PlayStation 3, is a series of challenge rooms in which players must use their plasmids, weapons and wits to solve the puzzle of how to escape. These will be fun diversions for some gamers, but like most puzzle games, once you know the solution, the fun is basically gone. Again, these challenge rooms aren’t likely sufficient to warrant buying BioShock again on PS3 if you own it already on Xbox 360, but they’re a nice addition to “make good” with PS3 owners who felt slighted when the game failed to hit their console of choice last year. If only 2K Games could’ve done something about that mandatory hard drive install. Seriously, 10 minutes of data installation is just garbage, particularly since it didn’t seem to have a noticeable effect on the loading times between levels compared to the Xbox 360 version.
Still, the emotional connections and the moral conundrums are what set BioShock apart from every other FPS you’ve played, and while the core game feels similar to earlier titles the experience and narrative of BioShock are entirely unique and worth every cent.
Amazon is running a slight discount on BioShock for PS3.
- Score: 9.2 (Editor’s Choice)
- It’s tempting to dismiss the game since it’s been on the Xbox 360 for a year, but when the experience is this rewarding the second time around, the core game is definitely worth your attention, even if the downloadable content may not hold it.
— Jonas Allen