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Numerous years ago, Hollywood went through a "people trapped underwater" phase, a renaissance of sorts (not really) that produced such classics as The Abyss, Leviathan, and the always entertaining man versus hamburger romp, Deep Star Six. Good times were had by all, but such deep sea shenanigans have never dominated the videogame scene until E3 2006, when 2K Games wowed attendees with Bioshock. Developed by Irrational Games, the team behind the celebrated System Shock 2, Bioshock is a creepy underwater action adventure game that, while it could certainly use a few mutant hamburgers, is not only one of the best looking videogames, but also pretty damn terrifying.

Bioshock's narrative revolves around the underwater city of Rapture, a place that time forgot. Created in the 1940s as a refuge for people seeking to say goodbye to the rest of the world, its architecture reflects the time period. Art deco covers the place like muscles on an old pier, and there's plenty more that reflects the time period such as records and rudimentary traps that have obviously been pieced together by humans with MacGyver-like intelligence. It's also been the scene of some unfortunate trauma. Not only have its many denizens gone missing, but the ocean has been busy poking it with its salty fingers. Thus, some areas of the city are quite flooded.

Since the game's story isn't finished, there's still plenty of unanswered questions, the most important being A.) Why has the main character traveled down here, and B.) Just who in the hell is the main character? You see, at the onset, you have no clue who you are, so part of the mystery is uncovering your identity as well as your purpose in life. The other is finding out what's been going on down here.

To do this, you'll collect voice recordings that have been littered about Rapture. Similar to Doom 3, these voices from beyond the grave should fill in most of the pieces, and if they're anything like id's sci-fi extravaganza, some if not all of them will be downright creepy. That's one of Irrational's primary goals, to make Bioshock a terrifying experience, and based on what I've seen, the developers are succeeding in their goal. Similar to the classic film, Aliens, the game has this fantastic looking derelict colony that piques the imagination, and with any luck, Irrational Games has populated it with all sorts of horrors just waiting to spring upon unsuspecting gamers.

The demo that I saw was quite brief, but detailed enough to give me a good idea in the direction Irrational's traveling. Basically, the people down here were messing around with gene modifiers or something to that effect, essentially meddling in affairs that do not concern them, and some of Rapture's inhabitants took too many of them and were turned into monsters. There's also this substance called Adam that everyone/thing (including you) is after. I'm not exactly sure what Adam is, but I do know that it's a substance found in the many corpses littered about the environment, and that it can be easily harvested.

During the demonstration the main character happened upon a Big Daddy, this strange weirdo that wears old school deep sea diving equipment, the type that features a little window that opens and shuts where a person's face would be. Now unless he's provoked he's not a threat, so left to his own devices, he lumbers around and goes about his business. But when pissed off, a Big Daddy will pretty much kick your ass, especially early on, so it's best to just leave him alone. Besides, doing so sometimes rewards you with a rather disturbing scene. The guy walks up to a vent, the vent opens, and out pops this pale and creepy little girl (sans deep sea diving equipment) known as the Little Sister. Now ugly little girls are bad enough, but what she does makes her even worse. She walks up to a corpse, looks over her shoulder at Big Daddy and exclaims something to the effect of, "Look Big Daddy! Adam!" Then she produces a needle/drill and plunges it into the body, and when she's finished extracting the resource she downs it like a protein shake before crawling back from whence she came.

Now if you want to break up this intimate moment you can invade the terrible twosome's personal space, and doing so causes the Little Sister to scream and run for cover. The Big Daddy, however, does not retreat. He actually goes into defensive mode and attempts to protect the little girl, and to calm him down, you'll have to run like hell. Once he doesn't see you as a threat, he'll return to his normal routine.

The only problem that I have with this sequence is how it conflicts with Irrational's attempt to create an environment populated by creatures that actually think. As the demo progressed, the developers happened upon a similar situation, and the Little Sister uttered the same exact phrase, then jabbed the corpse in the same spot as before and went through the same drinking animations. That, I have a problem with, only because once I get past the game's spectacular visuals (which I'll get to in a bit), seeing something like that is only going to remind me that I'm just playing a videogame, so I hope that, for the sake of the E3 demo arriving on time, that this was all just placeholder. She absolutely cannot say the same exact thing every time she kneels down next to a body. I mean, she certainly can, but that's something I expect to see on the Xbox, and not the 360.

I was also treated to Splicers, mutated women with great leaping ability. They wander about Rapture muttering unintelligible gibberish (because they're...insane), and when provoked, they jump around and climb walls, lashing out at their enemies with their hook hands. In large numbers I could see them being quite a pain to deal with, but for some reason I don't find them scary.

Weapons in the game appear to be a mix of old and new, devices that, while packing modern conveniences, have been cobbled together using spare parts. The same holds true for objects in the environment such as gun turrets, which are just automatic weapons that have been strapped to chairs. How you deal with these things, though, is particularly interesting. Bioshock is all about choice, so while you can blast away at something such as a turret, there's always another way to deal with an obstruction. In the demo, the main character quickly went behind a bar for cover and ingested a genetic modifier that gave him super speed. Then he popped up from behind the bar and quickly zipped by the turret, and after picking up some ammo, blasted the thing from behind, whereupon which it exploded into numerous fragments.

Speaking of ammo, it's going to be quite scarce, ala Condemned: Criminal Origins. You're not going to find a full magazine of anything. It may just be a single round, so you're going to have to give some serious thought as to when is the best time to use it, and as I just said, there's always another way to get past a situation.

Take, for instance, security cameras. Similar to the Metal Gear games, the cameras have a field of vision, and if you cross into it all hell breaks loose. The alarm sounds and an endless stream of flying killer robots will advance on your location and shoot the holy hell out of you. So to disable a camera, you can shoot it and hope for the best, sneak around its cone of vision, or, if you happen to have an enemy handy, you can use specific implants that cause the camera's attention to be focused on the creature, thus allowing you to avoid the robots of doom and disable the camera/the alarm system, without any threats.

At this early stage, I dig the gameplay mechanics. I'm also quite fond of Bioshock's visuals, which are just outstanding. Irrational has done a wonderful job creating Rapture and making its 1940s architecture stand out. Furthermore, the texture work on all of the characters as well as the fire and water effects truly stands out. It's definitely a showpiece for the Xbox 360, particularly since it looks amazing right now and it's not going to be released until 2007.

Based on the demo, Bioshock could be a horrifying FPS, but it's still too early to tell. The game looks incredible and I like its direction, but the little girl uttering the same lines really bugs me, so I'm going to hold off on gushing like a busted hydrant until I actually get my hands on it. Expect more Bioshock coverage in the very near future.

by Chris Buffa


Bioshock - The Story
The spiritual sequel to the legendary Pc classic System Shock, BioShock is a revolution in the shooter genre that will forever change the expectations for the PC FPS. Going beyond "run and gun corridors," "monster-closet AIs" and static worlds, BioShock creates a living, unique and unpredictably shocking FPS experience. BioShock is the Shooter 2.0.

Bioshock begins as your plane crashes into icy uncharted waters, where you discover a rusted bathysphere and descend into Rapture, a city hidden beneath the sea. Constructed as an idealistic society for a hand picked group of scientists, artists and industrialists, the idealism is no more. Now the city is shockingly littered with corpses, powerful guardians roam the corridors as biologically altered little girls loot the dead, and genetically mutated citizens ambush you at every turn.

Bioshock Features:

  • Shockingly in-depth gameplay: Take control of Bioshock's world by hacking mechanical devices, commandeering security turrets and crafting unique items critical to your very survival.
  • Unique Weapon System: Upgrade Bioshock's weapons with ionic gels, explosives and toxins to customize them to the enemy and environment.
  • Alter your own biology!: Genetically modify your body through dozens of Plasmid Stations scattered throughout the city, empowering you with fantastic and often grotesque bio-organic abilities.
  • Explore a living world!: Powered by Ecological A.I., Bioshock's inhabitants have interesting and consequential relationships with one another that impact your gameplay experience.
  • Unique Visual Flair: Experience truly next generation PC graphics that vividly illustrate Bioshock's forlorn art deco city, highlighted by the most detailed and realistic water effects ever seen in a game.
  • Make meaningful choices and mature decisions: Bioshock's thoughtful plotting ultimately culminates in the grand question: do you exploit the innocent survivors of Rapture's biological nightmare… or save them?

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