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Bioshock Review

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Shoot 'em up... under the sea

★★★★★

Creepy little corpse-sucking girls. Lumbering behemoths clad in antique diving gear. Screeching harridans hurling fireballs from their palms. Blood, sweat, floods, drugs, guns, scares, robots... and an underwater retro-futuristic utopia that’s sprung a leak. Welcome to the macabre world of BioShock, a peerless shooter that stylishly rethinks the conventions of digital gun-slinging.

Developed by Irrational Games - the coders behind the innovative System Shock adventures - BioShock thrusts players into a crumbling underwater city where the inhabitants are addicted to a drug that tore their civilisation apart and turned the bright and the beautiful into crazy mixed-up zombies. But while the game’s inventive premise is an ideal jump-off point for relentless, finger blisterin’ gunplay, your canny rivals and limitless options for slaughter make this trigger-happy quest feel fresh and unique.

Boasting what Irrational term ‘artificial intelligence ecology’, the enemies you’ll meet beneath the waves boast behaviour patterns that go beyond the traditional ‘kill on sight’ routine followed by most gaming monsters, your rivals’ inhuman habits instead making for diverse and intelligent combat. While the hulking Big Daddies are generally unmoved by your ant-like presence, get too close to one of the cadaver-raiding Little Sisters they protect and you’ll find yourself on the business end of a skull-shattering punch; so rather than squandering valuable bullets on plugging the pugnacious, flame-tossing Splicer that’s hounding you, you can lure the mutant close to a Little Sister and watch her gigantic bodyguard pummel it into dust.

Even better, for a more thoughtful approach to the carnage you can hack into the city’s defence systems and reprogram the security robots to fight on your side, the hovering automations continuing to empty bullets into your adversaries while you plunder the environment for treasures.

But while BioShock’s scarily-smart enemies make for flexible and open-ended gameplay, it’s the game’s bleak, melancholy atmosphere that will keep you gripped until the end. Unlike the sombre spaceships in System Shock, the world of BioShock is a submerged art-deco metropolis, where incongruous ‘50s pop songs blare from abandoned shops and echo around the deserted corridors, enforcing a clawing and tangible sense of isolation. Moreover, piecing together the puzzle of what happened to the city relies on collecting audio tapes left by former citizens; ghostly voices from beyond the grave that slowly paint a horrific picture of the seabed society’s last days. And while the entire game is staged under the sea and there are a handful of water-based challenges, the game only hints at your perilous situation with occasional cracks in the walls where seawater drips in, subtly conveying the immense pressure of the ocean around you and making the worlds feel oppressive, eerie and sharply atmospheric.

Shooting and eye candy aside, this superb package is rounded-out by inspired RPG elements that add tremendous depth to the bloodshed, giving players a wide variety of drugs to inject that enhance their hero’s skills and use superhuman attacks, reach previously blocked areas or even cause enemies to turn on each other.

In a year that’s seen a wave of groundbreaking blasters hit the shelves, BioShock stands shoulder-to-shoulder with established franchises such as Halo and Enemy Territory. And while it’s not the total FPS reinvention many were expecting, multifarious action and a sinister atmosphere nonetheless make Irrational’s adventure one of 2007’s most gripping, innovative gun-toters.

See how Bioshock did on our list of the 100 greatest games.

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