The unforgettable story of BioShock began in the dark, underwater dystopia of Rapture. Six years later and the fourth BioShock installment finds itself drenched in the light and wonders of a technological marvel that is literally floating away.
Development of the original BioShock began back in 2004 by Irrational Games (System Shock 2; SWAT) under lead designer Ken Levine and nearly three years later, BioShock released worldwide in August 2007 to universal critical acclaim.
Players took the role of Jack Ryan, a survivor of a horrific air crash in the Atlantic who descends deep beneath the ocean to the city of Rapture – a massive underwater city forged by the personal dreams of Jack’s father, to escape from the political, social and religious turmoil of a post World War II society. Rapture stood as a gleaming metropolis of aesthetic buildings and connected networks of glass tunnels and submerged railways . The would-be utopia was a purely capitalistic society with no social programs; almost everything was privately owned and came with a hefty price. This particular system - as with any non-fictional capitalist system - began to alienate Rapture’s less fortunate citizens and ultimately led to a civil war and sealed Rapture’s doom hundreds of feet below the ocean surface.
The protagonist finds himself caught in the middle of this very civil war, although by this time the city has decayed, almost all social order has been lost and pheromone-controlled ‘Splicers’ now patrol the murky corridors of the once spirited city. Splicers, once everyday inhabitants of Rapture, before habitual use of ADAM – a genetic enhancer and later a form of in-game currency – drove them to slaughter countless civilians, serve as the main enemies within the Bioshock series and offer a variety of different combat situations to which players were forced to adapt.
Throughout the game, players explored the crumbling utopia in search of the truth and were forced to make decisions that would ultimately define the user’s journey. Along the way, players encountered the renowned ‘Little Sisters’ – young girls who have been genetically conditioned to harvest ADAM from the corpses scattered around the city – under the protection of their ‘Big Daddies’. Deciding whether or not to kill these poor girls would trigger one of three possible endings and shape the overall gameplay to mirror the player’s actions.
BioShock expanded beyond the normal fallacies’ of FPS games providing players with the ability to craft custom ammunition, traps, gadgets and even plasmids – it granted players the ability to use telekinesis or expel bolts of electricity to name but a few. Players could also hack mechanical or electronic equipment such as sentry turrets, to give them the upper-hand during combat and weapons could be loaded with up to three different kinds of ammunition that were enemy ‘specific’.
The game also featured slight open-world gameplay, something that is common to the franchise now but otherwise unheard of in an FPS back then. Interestingly, BioShock seemed to function largely like Irrational Games’ System Shock 2 and shared a number of in-game features and a general theme of a failed society within a fallen utopia.
BioShock 2 was the first sequel to the original and continued the grand storyline of the underwater metropolis, Rapture. It released on 9 February 2010 and capitalized on the unique gameplay elements and immersive atmosphere that defined the first game, coupled with high-quality visuals. The game was developed by 2K Games sub-studio 2K Marin and followed the work of previous developer, Irrational Games.
The game takes place roughly eight years after the event of the first BioShock. Rapture, still in a mess, is now controlled by delusional ex-missionary Sofia Lamb. While the city founder Andrew Ryan believed in the individual, Lamb believes in the collective effort and considers Rapture’s failure to be proof of this. Under Lamb’s rule, the ‘Little Sisters’ have matured into ‘Big Sisters’ and now travel across the Atlantic, kidnapping little girls and turning them into new little sisters.
This time around, players take the form of Subject Delta, a Big Daddy. You get to fully utilize the kinky suit throughout the game and it comes fully equipped with everything a Big Daddy needs to survive in the world of Rapture; you even get to keep your own Little sister, Eleanor, who you subsequently lose and spend much of the game trying to rescue.
Players are still able to wield weaponry and utilise plasmids for quick bursts of firepower but most of the game revolves around utilizing you specialized ‘Drill’. In a small twist in events, players are now able to couple with another little sister after killing her own ‘Big Daddy’. From here on, the little sister will gather ADAM for you, should you not choose to harvest it from her yourself?
Once again, the decisions you make throughout the game will shape the overall experience and determine the ending. A major change in protagonist and some stunning new visuals were ultimately all that separated this game from the first. Nevertheless, BioShock 2 received positive reviews from critics and managed to hold both first and second positions on the Steam release charts.
Six years later, after two highly successful titles and a shoddy attempt at a multiplayer standalone in BioShock 2: Fall of Rapture, Irrational Games are back with BioShock. I feel like I’ve wasted my time delving into the dark and murky story of Rapture because suddenly, gone are those flooded corridors, ADAM-sucking little sisters and crumbling walls of a failed society. This time around, players are dragged out off the depths and thrust into the light high above the clouds to the city of Columbia.
Essentially, BioShock Infinite is not a direct sequel/prequel to any of the previous BioShock Games and although it takes place in an entirely different setting, it shares similar features, gameplay and concepts. It’s almost as though Irrational Games just copied the original title from the bottom of the ocean and pasted it into the clouds, which isn’t far from the truth.
Then, you played an outsider discovering a failed utopian city at the bottom of the sea; now, you play an outsider discovering a failing utopian city floating in the sky. Both games let you explore an extraordinary place, piecing together its story from evidence left lying around and both games alternate that with on-the-fly action: you wield both conventional guns and a range of magical powers removed from traditional combat.
You begin the game as Booker DeWitt, hastily climbing the stairs of a creaky old lighthouse before being whisked away to the floating city of Columbia, a cloud dystopia. It takes time for your eyes to adjust from the murky corridors of Rapture to the marvel that is ‘the modern Bespin’. The weather and lighting effects are rich, vibrant, and colourful and bring the world to absolute life. City streets teem with people as they go about their everyday life under curving sky rails and majestic airships that sail between the floating buildings like angels gliding through heaven.
Ultimately, it feels like the city of Columbia is a representation of what Rapture used to be before its publicised fall to ruin. It is almost as if you’re playing the prequel but Columbia exists within its own fictional universe. Whether the two will be somehow linked in the future is yet to be seen but BioShock Infinite surely looks capable of another sequel and perhaps one day, a trip back to Rapture.
You can check out Do Gaming’s BioShock Infinite: Hands-On here.