Bioshock in the test - atmospheric first-person shooter with Art Deco style

Author: Petra Schmitz, Christian Schmidt
Date: 2007-08-27 16:19:00
Science, art and business in deep frenzy or: In the first person shooter Bioshock the urge for total freedom becomes a prison. We have it in the test.

A man has a vision. His name is Andrew Ryan. He dreams of a world that is actually impossible. He dreams of a world in which there are no cultural, no social boundaries for business, art and science. He brings this utopia from freedom to life. Under water he has the city of Rapture (English for delight, intoxication) built. Hundreds follow him into his isolated kingdom in the hope of a better future.

Years later: A man sits on an airplane that flies over the Atlantic. He looks at a photo. Then the plane crashes. The man survives as the only one, saves himself on a tiny island that carries a huge lighthouse in the middle of the ocean. He enters the lighthouse, in it a diving ball and thus rapture in the hope of being saved. The first person shooter Bioshock begins. And if you don't know it yet: 99 percent of hopes are there to be destroyed.

The atmosphere

Rapture is wonderful, Rapture is an architectural dream in Art Deco. Lush golden decorations adorn the walls, thick carpets lie out, the colors are rich. The first steps through Andrew Ryan's vision breathe richness and exquisite taste. It is a world in which one would feel comfortable, if it weren't for the thought that none of this should be, that nothing good is waiting here.

The madness of this city jumps at you before you can face the real dangers of your surroundings. But you don't have to be patient with Bioshock , your fears will be confirmed soon. Instead of lucky residents, you'll find insane people in the devastated halls on every corner: masked people attack every few steps. A cosmetic surgeon uses Picasso's pictures as a template for human handicrafts. An artist kills to plaster sculptures from the bodies. One researcher destroys trees, another manipulates children into unwilling devices. And blood sticks to walls everywhere.

Rapture is in its seclusion the perversion of the idea of freedom and creates the artistic balancing act out of fascination and loathing. The city will attract and repel you. You will enjoy the beauty and at the same time shrink from the destruction and violence you encounter - an impressive achievement that Bioshock succeeds in doing.

The plot

We cannot tell you what happened in detail in Rapture even after going through it twice. You will only learn so much quickly: the city's condition is due to a substance called Adam, which not only enables the wildest genetic changes, but also causes madness. Accompanied by giant monsters in diving suits (Big Daddys), little girls (Little Sisters) move through rapture and harvest Adam from corpses.

And you have to get the Adam out of the girls to be able to genetically develop yourself and use plasmids (active Adam skills) and tonics (passive Adam skills). Depending on how you do it (save or kill girls), the game presents you with one of two possible ending sequences.

Bioshock's main characters such as Andrew Ryan, the rebel Atlas, the sinister Frank Fontaine and the scientist Tenenbaum scatter action crunch in radio reports, but you have to make up the rest yourself with the help of tapes. The audio snippets are brilliant and give wonderfully suggestive insights into the soul abyss of the protagonists. Over the entire season, the clay pearls are lined up to form a storyline that should give a closed chain at the end. Should - but in practice there are large gaps in the end.

Bioshock largely relies on your own initiative to tell its story. If you do not search every corner for the tapes, you will miss crucial explanations. Even with a full tape supply, the question of what actually happened in Rapture can only be answered with a lot of imagination. Bioshock remains deliberately coarse to cryptic, the rest falls to the player's imagination. In addition, you chase about three quarters of the game of the donkey carrot without anything decisive happening; Only then does the game pull together the threads of action suggested in a scene that is currently unparalleled in its eye-opening effect and the dramatic staging in the PC area.

The tasks

“Save my family !?” The Rebel Atlas demands this without further explanation, shortly after you hit the underwater city. You should later find your way to Ryan's office.

In between, it is important to help an artist create his gruesome masterpiece. Or you have to get a rare flower from a tree researcher. The tasks lead you through the world of Bioshock , but they are largely unoriginal - the game is not too good to send you several times in search of simple collectibles like eight bottles of distilled water.

We were also annoyed about the order to build a bomb. We had discovered the materials for the explosive device a long time ago, but could only collect them after we had been given the task. Result: unnecessary walking!

The weapons

It is not a crowbar, but a wrench that you put in your hand at the beginning, but otherwise Bioshock remains true to the current weapon hierarchy.

After the wrench you will find a pistol, then a shotgun, on it a machine gun, a grenade launcher, a chemical sprayer and a crossbow. There are three types of ammunition for each firearm, which differ significantly in their effects. Ordinary pistol bullets are good for killing, but it takes time. Armor-piercing projectiles are better. Blow out liquid nitrogen from the chemical launcher, freeze your counterpart, but take no significant damage at first. Flames or electricity are much more effective.

In addition, all firearms can be upgraded up to three times. For example, you can enlarge the pistol's magazine, increase the penetration of your shot pellets or minimize the recoil of the machine gun for the sake of accuracy. Both the sequence and the usefulness of the weapons are well balanced, also because the limited ammunition forces them to be changed regularly.

The Adam skills

As crazy as that may sound, you can do the final fight with the wrench alone. Whether you succeed depends on the tonic that you get and use in the course of the game. Tonics are passive Adam abilities that make the hero more resistant, make him quieter or cause electric shocks. Or allow stronger strikes.

If you do it a bit cleverly, you can knock out every normal opponent with two to three blows of the wrench towards the end; with firearms you need much longer.

The active Adam abilities are called plasmids. Sometimes there are only variants of the weapons already described. With the torch plasmid, for example, you can ignite opponents by waving your hands like you can with a chemical launcher. With the electro-plasmid you energize opponents like with the ion balls from the shotgun. The telekinesis plasmid, on the other hand, is exciting, as it balances huge gas bottles and lets them throw them at opponents. You can even use it to catch grenades fired from defenses in flight and throw them back.

The great thing about weapons, tonics and plasmids: You can combine these things wonderfully to achieve the greatest possible effect. Do you see one of the numerous puddles in Rapture? When energized, it is a death trap. Do you see a pool of oil? Fire! Opponents who survive this may run into mines scattered by you or into the bullets of a self-shot system you manipulated.

The stupid thing about weapons, tonics and plasmids: You usually don't need these tricks to get rid of your opponents. In practice, it is much more effective to simply shoot opponents over than to switch between plasmid skills in the heat of the moment. This usually means death (which is not final in Bioshock , but only leads to the next resuscitation station). The satisfaction of playing opponents against each other or luring them into prepared cases is immense at first. In the long run, however, the games get tired because it works at least as well with the uncomplicated method of violence in Bioshock .

The opponents

The enemy fauna Raptures is a blessing and a curse, because in Bioshock you meet intelligent, somewhat challenging opponents - but always the same.

The program mainly puts so-called splicers on your neck. These are the Rapture residents who have gone mad due to the drug Adam. There are just four variants that hardly differ in appearance: bats, shooters, grenade launchers and spider splicers that can run on the ceiling. The creatures dodge, fall in the back and sometimes fight with each other; they are only really dangerous in large quantities.

You rarely get to deal with them, but the individual opponents grow slowly in all levels - so new attackers are lurking again in areas already crossed. If you dash through the levels and don't look around, you will sooner or later be without balls. But even then, the plasmids will still help you.

The machines

You can either find new plasmids directly in the levels, or you can buy them from machines. All of Rapture is full of vending machines. Some heal yourself, others you can buy ammunition, others spit out bandages or energy for your Adam skills. On some of them, you can even tinker with your own ammunition with found odds and ends (such as rubber hoses, empty cartridge cases, chemicals).

Most of these machines charge money for their services. You will find plenty of this on your forays. If you only have a few dollars in your pockets, you can minimize the expenditure on the machines by chopping the machines in a mini-game.

This always works according to the same principle, a variant of the ancient Pipe Mania: pipe parts want to be arranged correctly under time pressure to direct a liquid to the specified destination. The solid fun would last longer if the basic pattern were varied more. Small annoyance: Sometimes the randomly puzzles simply cannot be solved.

The level design

At the beginning, Bioshock works with fairly cheap tricks to make you feel like you can no longer escape from Rapture: Doors that you have passed cannot be opened, falling rubble blocks a passage. On the other hand, the levels open later, you can and must take routes back, you can even take alternative routes - mostly through levels that look very nice, but look constructed. Only the entertainment district (Fort Frolic), the green lung (Arcadia) and the Ryans factory complex (Hephaestus) appear to be understandably built.

What you won't discover on your forays though: the city under water, which promises you the game at the beginning in a wonderful trip with a diving bell. Since the levels are largely flat, there is no feeling of being in one of the high-rise buildings that are shown to you. In addition, Rapture could also be above water, because once you set foot on Art Deco floor, the feeling that millions of cubic meters of water gurgling around you blurs. Bioshock shows you something from the water too rarely.

The graphic

Graphically, Bioshock is almost beyond doubt. The textures muddy in some places, but then they are so clear that you think you can touch them.

And although Rapture is a limited space, the game manages to present plenty of variety. Sometimes you are traveling through formerly pompous, now half-dilapidated apartment complexes, then again you are moving in a kind of park forest with trees, grass and colorful flowers. The fish factory is frosty, with icicles glittering from the ceilings.

In Hephaestus, the factory complex, huge machines stamp and pump radiant liquids through gigantic glass pistons. And everywhere corpses, blood, traces of madness. The characters are appropriately exaggerated in optics and animations, seem almost grotesque and fit perfectly into the picture.

The sound

Anyone who owns the latest sound hardware will be thrilled: Bioshock will give you ears in any current format. And not just through powerful bang effects in the fights. It is the quiet tones that the game is particularly good at. Well-known melodies from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s resound from many gramophones and jukeboxes.

A special aha moment for us: Mario Lanza was singing with inimitable lard in our voice while we turned an apartment upside down. The German speakers take on their duties with dedication, even if we sometimes wished for a bit more insanity in the voices. But all in all: great!

The judgment

Bioshock dares something. It dares to withhold things from you, it dares to tell its story only half to inspire your imagination.

In it it fails; all that remains is the feeling of being cheated on. Bioshock plays with the philosophical, it plays with the term freedom. And it succeeds. Unfortunately only in one, if incredibly great moment. Otherwise, Bioshock is an atmospheric first-person shooter that looks fantastic, feels great, and has more machines than in any other action game put together.

You can read the complete test in the GameStar anniversary edition 10/2007 or online as a pdf.