Morgan continues using The Record as his own personal venting outlet, just to show them. To show them all.
As our world seems to grow ever closer to biological, ecological and nuclear disaster, you see many normal people like you and me taking courageous steps to improve our worsening situation. There’s you, leading protests against global injustices and feeding the financially poor, and then there’s me, holed up in a darkened corner of my room playing Bioshock for eight hours straight. After all, what else could take my mind off things other than a grimy first-person shooter where society has collapsed and the only people still standing want to drug themselves silly and lick radiators for nourishment.
The story for Bioshock starts off simple, but becomes more complex over time. It’s the early 1920s and you are gormless mute protagonist Jack No-Surname, taking a plane to Britain in order to visit some overseas relatives. Your plane crashes, you find refuge in an inexplicably well-hidden underwater city named Rapture, and are greeted at the door by an entire population set on repurposing your face as a lampshade. With the art-deco 1920s electro-punk style contrasted with the dirt and rubble of a society gone into ruin, the world the intro sequence creates has the potential to be quite harrowing and scary, up until five minutes in when you pull a fully-functional double-barrelled shotgun from a waste paper basket and paint the walls with psycho innards. From that point onwards, you’re left to follow the whims of a stranger you meet via walkie-talkie as well as the main villain, who also occasionally rings up to condescendingly sneer at you.
Bioshock is a first-person shooter, but before you roll your eyes so hard they fall down the back of your sockets and bounce around your internal organs like tennis balls, there is a slight twist on the formula. Other than the ability to blast anyone who crosses your path sixteen extra nostrils, there are available power-ups, coined “plasmids”, which are essentially the game’s fancy way of saying “you now have control over comic-book superpowers, go wild”. There’s a fire one, an electricity one, a mind control one and others. Others which I never touched in my entire run-through because once you unlock those first three, you’re set for the rest of the game. The others are too situational and it’s a right headache trying to remember which button equips which. Yes, I suppose I could use a decoy dummy and hacked security drones to distract my enemies, before sneaking up behind them for a stealth attack, or I could just toss a fistful of flames into the room and watch them all burn alive.
The second trademark feature of the game (smacked all over the box art for both this and its later sequel) are the Big Daddies and Little Sisters, the sisters being genetically-altered children carrying “Adam” – no need to reach for the glossary, it’s the fuel used to create plasmids – and the daddies their bodyguards. To get more plasmids, you’re encouraged to fight the Big Daddies and “harvest” the Little Sisters, an incredibly vague and suspect term, which is often the only way to get points to buy new plasmid upgrades with. More on that in a bit.
The reasons why Rapture is in the pits take a backseat for the entire game; whether or not you piece it together is entirely reliant on your willingness to give a suspect pat-down to every nook, cranny and house plant that crosses your path for audio logs. Full disclosure: I can’t comment on whether doing so results in a satisfying payoff of any sort. I tried to concentrate on them, really, I did. But things are already hard enough when you’re having to do so over the sounds of gunfire, maniacal shouting and people’s jawbones flying across the room, so I just gave up towards the end. After all, there’s always Wikipedia.
Whilst I lack the resources, mental capacity and patience to timeline each separate event leading to the city’s downfall, I’m going to be daring enough to say that I at least got the gist of the moral lesson. It’s the rather banal tale of how extremist ideologies never work due to the limitations and flaws of human nature. The main villain marketed the place as a sort of ultra-capitalist heaven, ergo “He who achieves great things gets to keep them tax-free”, “You should never have to share your success with anyone”, “Don’t forget to spit on those poor people” etcetera, etcetera, but without any regulation or oversight they become more morally twisted and unethical.
Yes, there is (by the loosest definition of the word) an ending, but that word in and of itself implies that the story takes time to wrap itself up and snip off any dangling plot threads. Bioshock doesn’t seem to end. It just stops. You inevitably defeat the big boss and his plan to become some powerful McGuffin something-or-other, upon which the game gives you a hearty “right, that’s your lot!” and slams the book shut in your face. All you get is a thirty-second cutscene where you either adopt the Little Sisters and get to live the rest of your life happy, or become a tyrannical power-mad dictator for all of maybe three days before the place sinks into the ocean floor. It’s the equivalent of being awarded with either a decadent chocolate cake or a face full of faeces depending on whether you were a child-murdering bastard or not.
What you have to understand is that the whole moral choice dynamic isn’t in any way challenging or difficult; the game makes killing Little Sisters seem much more important than it actually is. In my entire run-through, I killed only one (just because I had to as part of a tutorial) and used the free items lying around the place to strengthen myself up instead. And there’s no shortage of those, trust me. Enemies disgorge bullets and health kits like they’re metal-allergic and me and the Big Daddies ended up getting along just fine in a live-and-let-live situation. Never was I tempted by a quick bout of infanticide; they were a very high-risk, low-reward situation in my book. As far as I could tell, the Big Daddies had no middle ground between slow lumbering and a sudden shoulder charge, at a speed matched only by a man who has seen his dog go over to the expensive Persian rug and start making suspicious retching noises.
Despite my little quibbles, I think I ought to make it clear that I do actually recommend Bioshock. The character design is creative and has that steampunk-horror theme that I love, the atmosphere is haunting despite the armfuls of superweapons you get to carry around, and the design of the enemies creates a world so hostile you’ll want to stay alive just out of spite. Even the message, whilst common, is still one you have to figure out, which is to the game’s credit. And whatever your individual thoughts on it are, you have to admit it’s a damn sight better than the usual “it’s bad to try and murder everyone with a giant laser”.