Video(games) killed the storyteller: ‘Bioshock’


Imagine a city beneath the ocean—one overrun by the people living in it, because they’ve all poisoned their minds with genetic enhancement cure-all “Plasmids.” Want to experience it? Well 2K Games has you covered with the original installment of “Bioshock.” Kindly follow me through the analysis of this game and its story, won’t you?

2K Games released “Bioshock” ten years ago in August 2007. Considering a decade of widely changing proclivities for the first-person shooter structure has passed, “Bioshock” holds up decently after all this time. 2K Games has even released two sequel games since the initial release of the first installment and has remastered additions for newer consoles.

Still, does the story sink or float? I believe it accomplishes the latter, but only because of how straightforward it is (until the ending, that is).

“1960 Mid-Atlantic.”

This bold signaling to time and place is how “Bioshock” begins. The camera perspective inserts the player into a first-person narrative; you are Jack and Jack is you.

Then the plane in which you (Jack) are traveling crashes abruptly into the ocean, and you start drowning. You swim to a lighthouse, and that’s where things become very strange. You come upon a submarine pod. After getting into the pod, it begins to plummet to the bottom of the ocean, and you are subjected to a propaganda film with a voiceover from Andrew Ryan, the founder of the failed utopia you’re about to enter.

Suddenly the slides stop, Ryan keeps talking, and a window appears showing you a city under the Atlantic Ocean: Rapture. Your pod docks and you are swiftly put into the action as a “splicer”—one of many poisoned citizens—flashes out of sight.

Atlas (a new friend) begins to explain that Rapture has been overrun by these splicers, and the whole city is in terrible shape. He also tells you that he has a wife and son and needs to escape the city. He seems reasonable and helpful. You decide to help him escape, and thus the story progresses from this central dramatic need. This is the story arc.

“Bioshock” has incredible voice acting, but the game lacks a strong narrative voice for the protagonist. He’s stoic and void of emotion, even though he’s witnessing and performing horrific acts. He just completes tasks and doesn’t ask questions. However, I’m aware that this could be explained with the twist at the end. Regardless, I give the voice acting an 8/10.

Structurally, the story is fairly standard. Through and through, it’s obvious what you need to do: go here and get this object, now go back to the other point, now get another object. For this, I gave the digestibility of the story a 10/10. It’s simple and straightforward. You aren’t questioning your goals at all.

I gave this game a 6.5/10 for the overall story for a few reasons, one being that the story is not too convoluted, though it lacks in complexity. The only truly exciting aspects of story are found in particular stylistic elements, such as “Little Sisters” and splicers. Little Sisters collect “ADAM” which is the game’s version of health potion, and they’re protected by armored “men” called “Big Daddys.” Along with these aspects there’s also an unexpected twist in “Bioshock.”

The twist is that Jack is a sleeper cell with a trigger phrase: “Would you kindly…” Atlas is not Atlas, but a leader of the rebellion that brought down Rapture, and his real name is Fontaine. Furthermore, Jack is Andrew Ryan’s son, and you have to kill Andrew Ryan, because he asks you to “kindly.” Then you must kill Fontaine/Atlas who manipulated Jack for the entirety of the game.

This game remains a classic for many gamers. It’s enthralling and engaging, and the twist at the end makes for an exciting collective analysis of how you’ve played the game. Did you ever make a choice yourself? Were you only doing as you were told, because you had no other choice? The answer to these questions is that it’s up to interpretation. I highly recommend this game, especially now that it’s been remastered for newer consoles. It’s an oldie but a goodie.

Voice acting/dialogue: 8/10

Story: 6.5/10

Digestibility of story: 10/10

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