BioShock Shocker: It’s Actually As Good They Say It Is

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You’ve gotta earn your BioShock: the download’s free on Xbox Live, but it’ll take about 12 hours of your life – or your XBox’s life — to actually secure the data, give or take a month. To my surprise, the results turned out to be unbelievably worth it.

The premise is nonsensical — I’ve read that this game was a tough sell to developers, and I can see why. you, a plane crash survivor, are plunged into an underwater city, built by an egomaniacal genius madman, where the inhabitants can alter their DNA more or less at will, giving themselves superpowers. Yeah, I know. You, for reasons that become clear, sort of, are obligated to shoot some of those inhabitants.

But the vision, man, the vision of it all: everything in the city, and the game, is done in swanky 1920’s style, down to perfect period music, carpeting, architectural ornaments, the works. You’re always stumbling on crackly retro black-and-white propaganda videos. Even the future technology is dominated by retro polished brass fittings, and there’s always somebody crooning some Jazz Age standard in the background — I guess culture didn’t evolve much in the sunken city. It’s just perfectly, gorgeously done — the art direction is beyond spot on. It reminds me a bit of Starship Titanic, except reconceived as a shooter with a horror vibe.

And, you know, actually fun to play. The audio and the graphics are ridiculous, thanks to the Unreal engine, the water effects in particular. Weapons are quite basic, at least in the demo: a wrench, coupla pistols, a rattley old-school machine pistol. But there’s that DNA-rewriting thing to keep things lively: you pick up “plasmids” — whatever — and inject them, stabbily, into your wrist to give yourself various offensive powers: I scored incineration (the fire is quite nicely animated) and electrocution; deeper in the game it looks like telekinesis, cold, and others come into play. (The physics of it has clearly been thought through — electrocution works better, for example, if your target is standing in water.)

I have some quibbles. They only throw two kinds of enemy at you in the demo, and I only see two more in the offing — some creepy little girls and a stumpy, gorgeously designed beast in a klugey-looking pressure suit. So I hope things stay interesting, gameplay-wise. But it’s already a must-play on the strength of the demo. See lousy blurry YouTube trailer below if you’re still not convinced.