Set in the steampunk Objectivist underwater dystopia of Rapture in the 1960's, Bioshock is a first-person shooter wherein the player arms and genetically modifies themselves in order to survive against the city's resident great minds-turned-maddened anomalies and aid a revolutionary leader named Atlas in overthrowing the city's ruling despot, Andrew Ryan.
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BioShock used to dominate the gaming landscape in the late 00s, though (due in no small part to how abysmal BioShock Infinite ended up being, leaving the game's legacy as a bunch of Source Filmmaker porn of Elizabeth) it's mostly fizzled out of relevance in the modern day and age and is mostly regarded as a "classic" by those who were savvy to FPSes in the heyday of the Xbox 360.
I think the context around the gaming landscape at that time is important to consider when thinking about BioShock's success: FPS games had just begun to recover from a run-and-gun plateau of bland game mechanics that had plagued the genre ever since the release of Half-Life, with major players such as FEAR in late 2005 slowly starting to spice things up and the release of Call of Duty 4 just around the corner to usher in the age of the military shooter. A lot of FPS games in this period had a vaguely sci-fi inspired aesthetic and setting influenced by the genre's forefathers like Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem 3D and (later) Half-Life and Halo, and was overall more than ready for some change.
Then comes BioShock, with its emphasis on player customization gameplay that prioritized clever usage of gadgets and powerups as much as it did gameplay – not to mention the still-charming retrofuture aesthetic and late-sixties setting. It was near-impossible to escape BioShock in the late 2010s – I was obsessed as a kid. Combine that with my burgeoning interest in video games as a medium of storytelling and a weird, dormant fascination in body modification, and you get me being utterly obsessed with BioShock as a result.
Anyways – like the title suggests, BioShock is a spiritual successor to the System Shock series of immersive sims, and while it doesn't have nearly the depth or potential for complexity as either System Shock game it has a lot of non-mechanical Shock blood in it: the classic "voice on the radio" companion, audio logs as a means of storytelling, the "lone man in an enormous otherworldly structure far removed from society" plot, the silent protagonist, the horrific atmosphere and emphasis on body horror... you get the idea. In all but gameplay it's Shock under the sea, which is perfect by my blood.
The game's got soul - soul in excess. Where it lacks being a complex and fully-realized RPG, it makes up for how damn charming it is in its little details – the fact that you can physically see the plasmids' powers coarsing through Jack's veins, the fact that most of the most powerful weapons are visibly homemade, the effort put into the hokey 50s ads for the plasmids and tonics. It's just so fun to be a part of and lose yourself in, and the lovably stanky mid-00s Havoc physics make it a blast to screw around with the mechanics and bend them to your whims.
Writing! BioShock is much more notably somber and tragic when compared to System Shock's emphasis on cyberpunk cynicism and sterile, inhumane environments. Pretty much every BioShock character is already dead by the time Jack arrives in Rapture, and that makes it that much more gutwrenching to retrace their steps into their downward spirals and piece together their stories. The future (or lack thereof) of Rapture sits on the shoulders of Jack, a slave to his fate who was born and bred to fulfill this one specific purpose... and yet depending on player choice he can either rise above the constraints of his creator's will, or claim their power as his own and succeed them as Rapture's tyrannical overlord.
There's also distinct political themes which are not the least bit subtle – the recurring theme of criticizing libertarianism and using Ayn Rand's writing (namely Atlas Shrugged) as a framing device is spoon-fed to the player from the outset, and Rapture stands as a testament to the end result of a society left without regulation, propelled forward only by the hubris of its inhabitants: a brutal industrial wasteland where the innovations of capitalist moguls has brought society to its knees, put a gun to the back of its head, and pulled the trigger.
...which, unfortunately, is all near-completely unintentional, Ken Levine having stated on multiple occasions that BioShock is intended as an allegory for how all forms of political doctrine are flawed. Much as I love BioShock, the sheer fact of all I've talked about being a happy accident docks this at least half a star for me.
Anyways! All this to say: wonderfully charming game, stands out as a classic of sorts for the crowd who truly cares about FPS games and one of the few from its heyday that stands the test of time, and that BioShock Infinite sucks enormous donkey cock and can go die in a freak grease fire incident.