In a little under a fortnight, Bioshock celebrates its 8th birthday.
Originally released (in Europe) on August 24th 2007, it was met with critical acclaim and became one of the generations most successful and endearing titles, eventually spawning two sequels, books and a whole host of great cosplay ideas.
Perhaps the greatest testament to it’s power is that it remains utterly compelling, utterly beautiful and utterly terrifying to this day.
Driven by one of the strongest narratives in video games history, Bioshock maintained an air of ambiguity that made Rapture’s demise all the more intriguing.
Was Andrew Ryan really the antagonist of the piece? Or, in fact, a protagonist? ‘No Gods or Kings. Only Man’ could have been the rallying cry of a mad tyrant, or the dream of freedom to learn, experiment and create for the world’s best and brightest. At one moment Ryan would seem insane, the next a genius whose vision was easy to sympathise with.
Bioshock drags us down a road somewhat reminiscent of Dr Ian Malcolm’s assessment of Jurassic Park – “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should” – throwing up swathes of moral dilemma’s that apply just as easily to the modern day as they did to the post-atomic bomb era Bioshock is set in.
The aftermath, the sheer chaos you find in Rapture’s underwater city, speaks for itself. The exploration of it, one of the game’s greatest strengths.
From the first glimpses of the cityscape to the ever expanding locations within, Bioshock has lost none of its beauty in the past eight years. The neon signs, the art deco designs and the atmospheric lighting all remain as powerful as ever.
Unlocking more and more of the cities history, via the famous audio logs, ensures the story never becomes stale, that things are always twisting in the breeze as you discover honest folks good natured naivety exploited by those out for their own gains. It is humanities best and worst.
It was the story that drew me back in, an unrelenting urge to revisit Rapture and relive the tale. I take no shame from dropping the difficulty down to ‘Easy’ so I could plough through, enjoy the experience and satisfy the urge to unwrap the cities mysteries again before moving on to something else.
But there is no ‘easy way’ in Bioshock. Sitting alone at home, in the dark with just the TV’s glow for company, ever Splicer’s mutterings made my hair stand on end. Every corner could have danger lurking round it. Every thud potentially a Big Daddy lumbering in to view.
2K Boston mastered tension and suspense in a way many film directors can only dream of, whilst combining plasmid and gun play so perfectly the game can still go toe-to-toe with the latest first person shooters.
Some games age badly. What was a 9 out of 10 at launch falls to a respectable 7 as the technology moves on and new titles expose holes in the old. Old favourites, bathed in nostalgia, fall apart when re-examined.
Not so with Bioshock. Every five star review, 10 out of 10 rating and line of praise remains fully deserved, fully justifiable. If it came out today, it would still be one of the finest games available.
Despite the beauty and brilliance of Bioshock 2 and Bioshock Infinite, there is still that point at which things had just been left. A ‘one and done’ approach that would have undoubtedly left gamers thirsty for more but, crucially, ensured Rapture existed in isolation. One of life’s great quirks or mysteries that has that little element of ‘this might actually be true’ to it.
Ask me what my favourite game is, chances are I’d have said ‘Fallout 3’ without much hesitation – now? Perhaps the same, but there’d unquestionably be a pause.
The curse of Bioshock is that, for all its brilliance, it’s ultimately an FPS – a genre oft played once, hopefully enjoyed, then forgotten when the next one comes along.
While the story may have stuck with gamers, the overall brilliance can be forgotten. And has been forgotten. By me and many others.
Hopefully Microsoft will see sense and add Bioshock to the list of backwards compatible titles on Xbox One, because it deserves it. What started out as the gaming equivalent of re-reading a favourite book quickly reaffirmed where Bioshock stands as one of the most brilliant and influential games of the last decade, of the last generation.
You owe it to yourself to revisit Rapture.