Games That Changed Our Lives #20: Bioshock

Chances are, if you had an Xbox 360 or PS3 back in 2007, you played the very first Bioshock during its prime. It came out in the same year as many other classics including Portal, Team Fortress 2, and Halo 3. So yes, first-person shooters weren’t exactly new, but they were for 13-year-old me, and Bioshock was my first ever.

Bioshock is set in the world of Rapture, an underwater city created by a man named Andrew Ryan as a safe space for the elite members of society to live outside of the government. It is based in a more scientifically advanced 1960 where, using genetic materials found from underwater slugs, scientists were able to create ADAM. ADAM allows its users to alter their genetic material with serums called plasmids, giving them special abilities like telekinesis or freaking fire hands (technically called “Incinerate” in the game).

“Part of what makes Bioshock, in my opinion, a ‘Games that Changed Our Lives’ qualifier is its purely unique and awe-inspiring world”

Unfortunately many utopian societies like Rapture aren’t sustainable. Frank Fontaine, a former gangster, teams up with a Doctor Tennenbaum to create what the game calls “Little Sisters.” Little Sisters are essentially adorable little ADAM producers. Using the ADAM he created, Fontaine is able to create an army of lower-class Rapture citizens to fight against Ryan in order to gain power. Ryan is then forced to create “Big Daddies” to defend himself and his ADAM factories. Big Daddies are genetically mutated humans forced into large diving suits to defend the Little Sisters. They are also in charge of repairing Rapture. As Rapture collapsed in on itself on New Year’s Eve 1958, those left became addicted to ADAM and soon became genetically altered “splicers,” as they’re called in the game, driven crazy through dozens of botched surgeries and over-use of ADAM in an effort to become perfect. Splicers are the most encountered enemies of the game and they are known for their masquerade masks and disfigured bodies.

Bioshock 2-min

It is this utopian-turned-dystopian world that the player is dropped into – literally. The introduction of Bioshock is what I remember most about playing it for the first time. During the intro, your character is on an airplane looking at a photo inside of his wallet. He also holds a present labeled “To Jack,” introducing the player to their character’s name. Suddenly your plane begins to crash and you are smashed into the ocean below. The Bioshock logo then flashes onto the screen and drips wet with the most beautiful water-effect of all time (at the time). Around you is nothing but fire, the remains of your plane slowly sinking into the Atlantic, and one staircase that leads to a lit-up tower.

“Rapture is beautiful, it’s terrifying, and it’s a setting that laid the foundation for an amazing series of games”

I can say with complete confidence that this is the best introduction to any game I’ve played in the last decade. It was so unlike anything I had ever seen before. I grew up with Crash Bandicoot, Dance Dance Revolution, and Mary Kate and Ashley Mystery Mall. It was a troubled and deprived childhood, I know, but this – this was where it all really started.

Part of what makes Bioshock, in my opinion, a “Games that Changed Our Lives” qualifier is its purely unique and awe-inspiring world. Rapture, as I said, is totally underwater, and by the time Jack finds it, it’s also entirely in ruin. Glass is cracked allowing water to flow freely into the city, doors are either smashed in or blocked up, and, let’s face it, there’s enough blood to cover the entire Sistine Chapel. You can tell when you’re in the world of Bioshock, that the creators intended it to be a haunting, cinematic experience as if the player is looking at the world framed through a high definition camera lens. Rapture is beautiful, it’s terrifying, and it’s a setting that laid the foundation for an amazing series of games.

Bioshock 3-min

The other huge part that made Bioshock different from every other first person shooter on the market was the plasmids. Now Bioshock, of course, featured a wide variety of guns to use but what really made it stick out was the ability to use your left hand to shoot lightning or fire – or even bees – at your opponents. After acquiring the plasmid of your choice using ADAM, the player has a certain amount of EVE that they can use before they have to recharge. EVE is sort of like magic or mana in other games; it was a blue bar underneath the health bar that basically told you how much of your plasmid you were allowed to use. There are ways to upgrade EVE so that by the end of the game you could even have more of that than you have health. I couldn’t tell you how many times I cried from happiness watching splicer after splicer run into my “cyclone trap” (a plasmid that places a mini tornado on the ground) and get flung into the air. Plasmids were an extremely innovative idea that still makes Bioshock stand out as one of the best first-person shooters to this day.

“[Bioshock] was the first game that I ever played where I realised what many video games really are:  art”

I’m sure that Bioshock has affected others in the same way that it affected me. This was the first game that I ever played where I realised what many video games really are: art. Art that is created by talented people who want it to be appreciated by a larger audience. Art that makes the player use almost all of their senses. Art that tells a story that the players gets to live through and that, even on its own, is the best part. I think it’s safe to say that Bioshock will probably stay on my “favorite games ever” list for the rest of my life because, we all have to face it, it belongs there.