Bioshock Review (Continued)

Game play is a streamlined version of BioShock's System Shock 2 spiritual predecessor. There is no inventory control, weapon degradation or assigning of attribute points. Enemies still respawn, hacking is a prominent game play device and security systems still abound. What is lacking wouldn't fit the story line: artificial intelligence. Sorry, there's no place for Xerxes or Shodan in Rapture.

What characters there are in this caricature of a meritocracy are very-well voice acted. You'll find Fontaine, Ryan and Tenenbaum to be as well-played as many characters in TV or film. As good as BioShock's game play is, its story is its main achievement. Just don't expect anything as radical as a defense of capitalism.

- Last Update 6/14/08

BioShock Review ★★★★★

In Aesop's fable The Ant and the Grasshopper, a well-prepared ant rebukes a starving grasshopper's request for food, chiding him for having played away the summer when he should have been working to prepare for the current winter. The moral of the story is that work comes before play, but another moral learned from this fable may be that the fruits of one's labor belong solely to oneself. Or, as Rapture's creator Andrew Ryan puts it, "Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?"

BioShock is a game replete with references to egoism, the philosophy of selfishness. The antithesis of such morality is altruism, the philosophy which holds that one's actions are moral only if their beneficiary is someone other than oneself. In her 1964 collection of essays The Virtue of Selfishness, novelist-philospher Ayn Rand (whose name is a near-anagram of BioShock main character Andrew Ryan) notes that altruists have mischaracterized the selfish by conjuring up the notion of:

"...a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment."

Such would be an apt description for the inhabitants of the city of Rapture, betraying BioShock's creators' anti-Randian biases. These biases create a missed opportunity for a truly-original story, a tale of the rarest kind in popular culture: one where the hero is a capitalist.

Being a tremendous admirer of Objectivism (my City of Heroes main character was named Ms. Ayn Rand), BioShock leaves me conflicted between the game's excellent visuals, production values and thoughtful game play with the shallow examination of the philosophical viewpoints that serve as inspiration for so much of the story's setting. Suffice to say that as a game, BioShock excels at nearly everything it aspires to achieve, but as an introduction to egoism, you're best served to look elsewhere.

Philosophizing aside, there is much to praise in BioShock. The diverse weaponry includes the very-satisfying Chemical Thrower, which blankets a wide area with flaming napalm, the sniper-like Crossbow, and the period-appropriate machine gun. Special abilities called Plasmids give you the power to freeze enemies in place, electrocute them, or turn them on each other in a feeding frenzy of NPC aggression.

The underwater city of Rapture is beautifully rendered with water effects that will have you gaping in wonder. Glass corridors surrounded by ocean life never grow tiresome. The entire city is crafted in an Art Deco style that, combined with the carefully-selected mid-century music, will have you pining for the days of tail fins and steel gargoyles.