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It’s really odd to see a title from deep last year suddenly arrive on your doorstep again the year after.  Bioshock rocked the game world last year on the PC and Xbox 360, blending incredible storytelling, an incredible twist ending, and stunning visuals to create one of the best titles to grace the platform in the last five (or more) years.

Developed by ex-Looking Glass employees that formed Irrational Games, this team also brought us Tribes: Vengeance, Freedom Force, the S.W.A.T. series, and the incredible System Shock II.  Bioshock picked up more awards than it could hold with its big metal hands, and is still widely discussed when gamers talk about great storytelling.  So here we are almost a year later and Bioshock has once again found its way into my review list, only this time it comes to the PlayStation 3.  I’ve personally beaten Bioshock four times, twice on 360 and twice on the PC, so what new gems could the newly-formed 2K Marin bring me?  I’ll kindly show you.

As I’ve already mentioned, Bioshock is actually over a year old.  Obviously a year in the gaming world brings a whole new generation of graphic upgrades, and since this title is built on the foundation of the Unreal 3 engine, you can bet that the game looks absolutely gorgeous.  Thanks to a recent patch which shored up a few graphic oddities, Bioshock on the PS3 is almost visually identical to that of its Xbox 360 counterpart.  It is true, all good things flow to the city of Rapture.  The only way you’ll be able to tell the difference between the two console versions is if you set up two consoles on two TVs and viewed them side-by-side.

One of the bugs I ran into on the Xbox 360 version was a caching issue that caused a bit of a framerate hitch on long play times.  The PlayStation 3 version of Bioshock doesn’t seem to suffer from the same fate – I never saw the framerate dip in any way.  Granted, I’m not one of those people who can see the difference between 60 and 55 frames per second, but odds are you aren’t either.  The cost of that visual equality is a 10 minute install process.

The city of Rapture is a ruined utopia deep below the surface of the sea.  Most of her inhabitants have lost their minds, turning into crazed monsters.  As Rapture begins to leak and crumble under the pressure of the incoming salt water, the steel buckles and creaks, but that is only half as creepy as the insane mothers who drag their hooked hands against the walls.  When you enter the underwater elevator that takes you deep into the bowels of the ruined city you are greeted by a man named Atlas who will serve as your guide through Rapture.  He is just one example of the fantastic voice acting you’ll encounter in the game.  As you try to unravel what happened to Rapture’s inhabitants you’ll find personal audio diaries that log their thoughts – often their final ones.  All of the voice work is top shelf, adding further to the retro ambiance of Rapture.  The grunts and groans of the Big Daddies, the cute-but-morbid children that insist on calling the behemoths “Mr. Bubbles”, and Atlas all provide stand-out performances.  You won’t be disappointed by the voice acting in Bioshock.

Rapture serves as a snapshot of a utopian 50’s era world, and as such, features an incredibly haunting soundtrack from that same era.  The melancholy dulcet tones of period crooners creates an incredible contrast when you are staring at gallons of blood used to scrawl a hasty message on the side of a bathroom wall just before death.  The game couldn’t have a better soundtrack – it fits the setting perfectly, even from a very twisted point of view.

At its most base core, Bioshock is a first person shooter, so the controls, as such, are pretty much exactly as you’d expect out of any a shooter.  The left analog handles movement, and the right analog handles the 360 degree camera.  The triggers handle your plasmids and your weapons, and the face buttons handle your interactions in the world including reloading, using first aid, and rotating through your weapons and plasmids.  There were only a few times that I felt like I couldn’t swing the camera fast enough to effectively defend myself, and those were few and far between.

I’ve said that Bioshock is a shooter, and on the surface that might be true, but like the city of Rapture, it is what lurks underneath that makes it special.  When Bioshock opens you are on an airplane thinking about your parents and the gift in your lap.  It asks if you could kindly open it while on the plane, but before you get your opportunity you find yourself careening towards the water below as the plane crashes.  Swimming through the wreckage, you find yourself in a strange underwater city called Rapture – a fantastic place straight out of the 50s.  As your underwater elevator takes you into the heart of the city you are treated to the political agenda of the city founder, a Mr. Andrew Ryan.  His disembodied voice asks you some simple questions that I will pose to you here:

Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow?

No, says the man in Washington.  It belongs to the poor.

No, says the man in the Vatican, it belongs to God.

No, says the man in Moscow, it belongs to everyone.

I rejected those answers.  Instead, I chose something different.  I chose the impossible.  I chose Rapture.  A city where the artist would not fear the censor.  Where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality.  Where the great would not be constrained by the small.  And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.

Obviously Ryan’s utopian view of the power of Rapture didn’t take into account the horrible things that the discovery of a powerful genetic altering material called Adam would have on the inhabitants.  As you disembark your underwater conveyance, you’ll see exactly how badly he miscalculated.  Blood and bodies litter the landscape, while water leaking onto the floor threatens to crush the city like a beer can.  As you square off against the twisted creatures that used to serve as inhabitants and their families, you too will find yourself using Adam as your only chance to fend off fiends with hooks for hands and far worse.  The story will take you on a journey into the nature of man and his own morality and greed, and you’ll be given hard moral choices as you try to discover what truly happened to the city of Rapture.

The PlayStation 3 version of Bioshock has a few features that help to shore up some of the deficiencies in the other two versions of the game.  Most notably is the addition of the new “Survivor” mode which adds a great deal more difficulty to the game.  Many critics found the game to be too easy as you can use Vita-Chambers to respawn regardless of how many times you die, and certain plasmids were almost unstoppable in combination with your weapons.  This new mode gives players far less ammunition, and even less health, forcing players to use some of the less-known plasmids to gain advantage over their opponents.   Given that you’ll also get less cash off of the corpses you create, you won’t be able to rely on cash to cure your ammunition woes either.  Every bullet counts, and utilizing the right ammunition instead of steady stream of lead becomes paramount to your survival.  When you stack on the fact that the AI has been polished up to take cover and utilize health regeneration stations more often, you have a mode that is not only challenging, but downright dangerous – as Rapture was meant to be.  I found that the Survivor mode pushed me to use items like swarms of bees, target dummies, carefully placed electricity, and some of the buffing plasmids more than I ever did on the lower difficulty levels.

The great part about Bioshock is that you can try it out for yourself.  The demo for the game was released earlier this month, giving everyone a chance to see and experience the world of Rapture, albeit in a small dose.  I think you’ll find this little taste of the game is more than enough to addict you, just like Adam.

For whatever silly reason, Sony hasn’t decided to make Trophies on the PS3 a mandatory thing.  The folks at 2K Marin understand the addictive nature of the shiny collectables, giving Bioshock even more addiction appeal as you can now get trophies for your efforts.  The trophies are very similar to the achievements on the Xbox 360 – max out your research, photograph a splicer, hack a security robot, complete the game without using a Vita-Chamber, and various other story-related objectives.

On its own, Bioshock serves up a fantastic story.  The plot thread keeps you guessing throughout, and you will never see the twist ending coming in a million years.  Just like watching the movie Momento, once you’ve seen your way through to the end, you simply have to play it again to notice everything that lurked just under the surface of your perception.  The only thing that mars the replay value in any way is that the combat, on lower difficulty, is actually quite easy.  Once you obtain the wrench, electricity, and fire, you’ll be able to walk through all but the most hearty of foes.  An issue easily remedied by simply playing the game on Survivor difficulty.

Once you’ve completed the game, you’ll unlock a short cutscene that gives a glimpse of where Bioshock will head next – an advertisement for Bioshock 2: Sea of Dreams.  The sequel is currently slated for Q4 of 2009.

If you didn’t have the hardware to run Bioshock on the PC, and you didn’t get a chance to play the game on the Xbox 360, now is your chance.  Containing all of the downloadable content from the other two versions, as well as a fantastic story to boot, Bioshock is an incredible title.  Pick up Bioshock for the PlayStation 3 and you’ll easily see exactly why it won so many Game of the Year awards in 2007.

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