BioShock is a game about choices. Sure, it’s about how you’ll tackle those giant men in the metal diving suits (Big Daddies), but there’s more to it than that. It’s about dealing with problems however you like - with brains, brawn or a fistful of cash. It’s also about what you’ll do to become a more efficient murder-machine - whether you’ll sacrifice your looks, abandon your humanity or attack a seven-year-old to survive. It’s about doing what you like… but being aware that you’re going to have to live with the consequences - no matter what the decision.
Here’s the abridged version. You play Jack, the survivor of a plane crash who finds himself in the middle of the ocean, swimming for a lighthouse that shouldn’t be there. Inside, Jack finds a bathysphere that takes him underwater to a city called Rapture, an eerily deserted underwater paradise. Designed to fit the utopian ideals of crazy industrialist Andrew Ryan, Rapture’s a city where there’s ‘No God, no kings, only men’ - a place where everyone survives on their own merits. The problem? With all that pressure to succeed, a lot of the population took to performance-enhancing drugs - and since then, things have started to go horribly wrong...
This is where we come in. We’re visiting 2K Games’ San Francisco offices to see the PS3 version of BioShock, and our first look sees us gurgling our way up through the glug, swimming away from the plane - it’ll sink if you wait - and going down in the Bathysphere. The journey past Rapture’s shops and offices is clearly inspired by Half-Life’s iconic tram ride, but it’s much, much more impressive - everything’s spangled with neon and covered in detail, from art deco architecture to advertising in-jokes. It’s impossible to take everything in during one viewing, and it’s running beautifully smoothly in 720p - easily a match for the Xbox 360 version. But the city didn’t always look like this. “There was never a ‘throw everything out’ stage,” says designer Jonathan ‘JP’ Pelling, “But before it was called Rapture, the city was a lot more like a generic installation with Nazis and stuff. But then we had ideas like Art Deco. Ken [Levine, the game’s creator] grew up looking at buildings in New York, and that style works really well because it’s all curves and lines. As that idea evolved, so did things like Andrew Ryan being an Objectivist...”
We’ve already seen our first statue of Ryan - a 40-foot gold monstrosity with his corporate logo. There’s more to the man’s philosophy than meets the eye, but before we can get to Ryan we’ve got to deal with one of his deputies - Sander Cohen, the maniacal artist in charge of Rapture’s entertainment industry. Fort Frolic, his theatrical paradise, is the creation of Christian Martinez. “Nothing in BioShock is down to one person,” says Christian. “But when I came on board there was just a bit of quest structure in place I had to design and Ken said, ‘Make it feel like you’re walking around in the mind of a crazy person.’ And I went ‘OK, that’s what I think about at home!’ I showed the bunnies and mannequins to Ken and he was really positive.”
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