Developed by Irrational Games
In the time since its release, my opinion has cooled somewhat when it comes to Bioshock. Its gameplay leaves something to be desired, with frenetic shooting mechanics and repetitive enemy design. Despite these issues, it remains a remarkable game, and was an absolutely unbelievable experience when it was released in 2007. Bioshock has one of the best openings in any game, as it plunges you into the art-deco dystopic City of Rapture, an underwater objectivist haven gone to ruin. There is a genuine sense of discovery conveyed in the opening sequence that was carried through the rest of the game, as you explored the desolation of this once great underwater city, and tried to piece together the events that led to its ruin.
The most important component of Bioshock, and the reason why I believe it is one of the best games of the last generation, is its intelligence. The game’s lead designer and writer was Ken Levine, who is famous in the industry for creating games that are rich in meaning and complex in the ideas they present, rather than just being products to be consumed. Levine approaches his games as an artist, and it’s easy to read Bioshock as a text with multiple layers of meaning. I remember one particular line utter by one of Rapture’s denizens; it was something to the effect of “All the greatest minds in the world still needed someone to flip burgers at the bottom of the ocean”. That simply floored me, as it was an instance of a game making me think and consider issues that are directly relevant to our own culture, let alone the made-up one in Bioshock.
Bioshock is also a deeply unsettling game, with this point best formalized in the twisted relationship between the Big Daddies and Little Sisters. The Little Sisters are little girls re-engineered to harvest a valuable resource called ADAM from corpses, and the Big Daddies are their behemoth protectors. Fighting the Big Daddies was a frightening experience, given their strength and ferocity, and these encounters were definitely highlights of the game. You had to use every arsenal at your disposal to bring them down, adding a much-needed tactical element to the gameplay that is missing in the frequent encounters with regular cannon fodder you face.
Bioshock also has one of the best plot twists in any game that completely changes your outlook on the events leading up to this shocking revelation. The late-game reveal was needed too, because Bioshock unfortunately loses steam in its final act, with a disappointing end-game boss. It doesn’t tarnish the rest of the package by a long shot, but it’s still disappointing given how top-notch the rest of the game is. While Bioshock is perhaps a bit too overrated, it’s difficult to argue with the fact that the game pushed the industry ahead in storytelling, which has historically been a largely disappointing component in video games. Bioshock is a game that feels like a high-brow work of literature; an artistic achievement that helped push games into a space where they can be critically examined and considered in the same sphere as film. Unfortunately, games are still considered inferior artistic endeavours, and it’s hard to argue with this distinction, as the vast majority of games are about as artistic as spreadsheet documents. However, thanks to Ken Levine and the craftsmen at Irrational, Bioshock showed us that games can make us think as much as any film or book, and that is why it is one of the best games of the last generation.