Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
One Thing Is certain: BioShock doesn't begin like normal games. There's no initial mission briefing, no assault course or FMV of Hitler's troops marching through Flanders. There's a first-person view of your character stroking a picture of his family, a cry of 'Pull up! Pull up!' then flames, water, bodies and ladies' handbags forlornly floating 2ft below the sea's surface.
The next five or ten minutes are scripted as hell but are probably the most skilfully accomplished mixture of storytelling, art design and sheer interactive panache ever seen in gaming. A bold statement, yes - but as you swim up to that vast lighthouse, hear the clunk as long-unlit lamps flare up as you enter it, read the quasi-communist motivational plaques on the walls and enter the bathysphere hanging moodily above the rippling water, you'll feel that you're entering something special.
Then the descent: a beautiful submarinal art-deco statue in an Atlas pose and a clattering film presentation from Andrew Ryan, the creator turned despot of the underwater utopia of Rapture. There are also whispers in your ears from survivors far below you discussing your unexpected arrival, a sudden unveiling of the city stretching out in front of you, a squid tumbling away from your approach and a whale traversing the gullies between the city's glowering structures. It's one of those special fragments of time that makes you proud to be a gamer. To think that so many people instinctively turn their noses up at games, while among our number lie total works of art like this...
Such initial fervour and optimism doesn't always spread itself throughout an entire tenure though (just look at the Labour Government). So let's bypass the fluff and look at how gameplay works after you've hit the *50s-style Bathysphere arrival lounge.
You've got a charming Irish chap called Atlas muttering in your ear about the best way to survive in Rapture in a fashion nicely reminiscent of Alex Jacobsen and the start of Deus Ex. Here, matters largely centre around killing or being killed. Your first interaction, meanwhile, is with Plasmids and their cheerfully chuntering EVE-power vending machines. This leaves you drifting in and out of consciousness with mutated and Plasmid-crazed Rapture inhabitants known as Splicers ("Is it someone new?") and genetic-material foraging Little Sisters ("Look Mr Bubbles, it's an angel!), with lumbering Big Daddy protectors inspecting your prostrate body. When you're back in control though, you've got the power of Electro surging through your left-click finger. This conies in rather handy when a wave of Splicers attack - introducing you to a melee combat system where a neat one-two of a paralysing electric bolt followed by a smack around the chops with a handy wrench is king.
Stick 'Em Up
It's around this point you realise that BioShock is quite unlike the slow-paced role-play adventure many were expecting. It is, in fact, a shooter - and a balls-out one at that. As for how much freedom the game grants you, well, the first few hours of BioShock are (necessarily as Irrational would argue) linear and didactic. As you move through the arboretums, residential areas and decrepit fun-parks that make for each zone of Rapture, I'm promised that areas will up and greater freedom will be? granted to the player. However, at the game's beginnings, the focus is on the freedom given to you in your wide range of abilities. You're in the tight confines of claustrophobic, leaky velvet-lined chambers - but through mixing up your powers and the ransacked goodies you've plundered, the aim is to show just how free you are in the realms of enemy annihilation.
First up are your various different weapons - pistols, shotguns, tommy guns and your oft-used melee wrench. These, then, can be? used alongside your various EVE mutations - and picked up as you play through the game, forcing you to pick your favourites due to the limited, yet wholly increasable, number of mutation slots granted to you.
Personal highlights? Well, Incinerate! (note the developer-added exclamation mark) is Oblivion's firelxill and then some; the Cryoshards freeze-ray is always amusing when an enemy is frozen stiff in a strikingly uncomfortable pose; and the moment where you train yourself up in telekinesis by catching tennis balls spat at you by one of those posh ball launchers you see on telly is priceless. When brought into combat and interaction with the environment, meanwhile, the ante is upped. For instance, handy puddles of water can be filled with Electro-shocks or Splicersplintering ice-power. What's more, you haven't truly lived if you haven't set a teddy on fire, levitated it and hurled it towards a gang of Splicers paddling around in a nearby fuel-spill. It really does take on the air of a combat sandbox arena - with different varieties of ammo adding extra spice with such unlikely delights as Electro shotgun pellets and fiery pistol bullets. Oh, and the ability to attack people with bees.
Enemies come at yon thick and fast in the early stages - all wittering on about their own personal fixations and your impending death, while grinding metallic arms on the floor in sparking circles or clambering over walls and ceilings.
However, you don't have to do all the hard work. Whether you hack a terminal to get a security system on your side, or start using your Enrage mutation on a more powerful enemy to get a bit of help from a local heavy, you won't necessarily have to use up all your hard-foraged ammunition and harvested Adam. It's wise to keep tabs on your foes though, as they're clever enough to know how health terminals work.
One of the primary areas you'll find yourself in is the medical wing of Rapture. Its concourse gives you access to (among other less plot-driven areas roped off from my journalistic foray into the game), a dentist, a crematorium and a plastic surgery. The surgery is the home of Steinman, Rapture's chief beautifier and big bad boss of current proceedings with his chilling mantras of "Flesh becomes clay", and, "Sculpt and sculpt till job done!"
The layout somewhat recalls the more hub-based levels of Duke Nukem 3D (BioShock certainly isn't afraid of the old Doo/n-style keycard retrieval trick), only with all the cleverness that only the creators of System Shock 2 could possible devise. Nurses (not particularly sexy nurses) run screaming hither and thither, and the visual echo of Steinman's deformed assistant bangs on doors screaming that he promised to make her pretty. There's also worrying graffiti and tattered slogan-riddled posters on the walls, the crematorium's occupants aren't gnitc dead and the insane dentist will certainly see yon now.
Unsurprisingly, nerves are jangled with BioShock - outside of Lost, your average plane crash survivor doesn't have to deal with this kind of shit. Particularly not when the fuselage continues its descent downwards Abyss-style and fractures a fragile corridor of the underwater city you're in the process of sauntering through.
Tiling is though, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't raise a few concerns - well, one concern really. As varied as the combat is and as much as it engages your brain and can be moulded to your own peculiar tics and habits, the bare-bones shooting mechanics certainly aren't up to the bar recently raised by STALKER and established by Half-Life. We're looking at bulletaction that I guestimate settles around the Quake 4 level - something that doesn't matter hugely in the face of the remarkable number of aces hidden up Irrational's soggy sleeve, but is noticeable when you play.
And while we're teetering around id Software, here's the most telling thing about playing BioShock... Do yon remember a moment in Doom 3 where, apropos of nothing, yon were approaching a random door and heard a terrified woman's voice shouting, ''They stole my baby!" It was at once shocking and curiously distant from anything in the game, and you could only guess that the baby had become one of those nasty child-moth things. That one singular moment in the entirety of Doom 3 though, essentially takes place every two minutes in BioShock. It's in every message daubed on a wall, it's in every audio log you listen to and every corpse you discover whose unnatural demise you can't help but wonder at.
Big And Clever
The storytelling, iconography, symbolism and sheer gumption of the game makes it a powerful assault on the parts of the brain that videogames are rarely sophisticated enough to approach.
What's more, if you'll allow me to get all 'BA Hons' on your arse, it's got some frighteningly clever aspirations in there. How so? Well, there's a big discussion on the meaning and interpretation of Utopia and nods to Atlas Shiugcjod and Citizen Kane, as well as character backstories that aren't so much clean-slate as engendered in grim communist surroundings and Auschwitz.
All this, and you get the unenviable decision whether to revert the horrid Adam gatherers that are the Little Sisters Ixick into pure and innocent little girls, or rip a pulsating slug-like appendage from out of their struggling bodies to gorge on the genetic goodness that lies within. Such larks!