Game of the Year 2007?

You gasp as you start awake. Your eyes snap open wide as salt water fills your lungs. Instinctively, you cough, but as the shimmering bubbles float up in front of your face, you feel that you only succeeded in clearing precious air from your lungs. Panicked, you struggle against the watery tendrils clinging to your clothing, threatening to pull you down with the wreckage that surrounds you. Frantic, you claw your way to the surface.

Coughing and gasping for breath, you take in your surroundings. The shattered fuselage of an aircraft leans eerily above the water, the tail section slowly rising into the air as the vessel sinks into the darkness below. You cry for help. For hope that there is someone else. The creaking of the broken airframe and lapping of water in your ears are the only answers. You know without understanding that you must get away from the sinking craft, lest you become ensnared by the undertow when it finally goes under. Scanning the horizon you see a lighthouse silhouetted in the morning sun. With no other options, you swim towards it.

Time becomes stuck in a loop as you stroke against the waves. Mechanically you crawl through the water, occasionally checking your course. It becomes a ritual that you repeat without reward, never seeming to gain on your objective. At some point you heard the rattling keen of the aircraft relinquishing its claim on the skies, pulled into the watery bosom of the ocean. But all you perceive is the ritual. The ritual that is going to save your life.

Your knees scrape on an obstruction below the surface. You panic and flail your arms, for the ritual must not be interrupted! Your fingers claw the concrete steps of a stair that spirals up out of the water around the base of the lighthouse. You stare up at the looming shadow, confused. You crawl a few feet up the stairs and collapse, exhausted.

When you awake the sun has shifted high overhead. Your body aches. Slowly you work yourself to your feet and try to understand what has happened and where you are. The endless water surrounding you resurrects the memories of the wrecked plane and the sinking bodies of other passengers. Though your body remains exhausted, the saturation of adrenaline in your bloodstream coaxes you up the lighthouse stairs. It remains the only other sign of human life, and your only hope for rescue.

The stairs lead around the base of the towering structure and suddenly end at a large metal door. With a heavy heart, you find it sealed with scale as you try to force it open. With much persuasion, the door finally gives way and you find yourself on another stair. The hollow interior of the lighthouse greets you blankly, but you refuse to give up hope.

You climb to the top of the stairs, but find only the light mechanism and a view of endless sea in all directions. Overwhelmed by the undulating desolation of the blue on blue vision surrounding you, you stagger back into the structure, hoping to find crew quarters at the bottom of the stair.

Your heart rate climbs with excitement as the stairs curl down to a door at the bottom of the tower. You try to fight back your expectation, forcing your mind to mundane observations, such as how you appear to have descended below sea level. After a brief hesitation you open the door and enter what appears to be a diving chamber. Equipment lines most of the wall space of the round room. All of it appears to be in good order, but dormant. The center of the floor is open to the ocean, over which is suspended a bathysphere.

Slightly disappointed that there aren’t any people or supplies here, you quickly are overcome with curiosity about the purpose of this installation and the diving vessel. Perhaps there is a research lab on the ocean floor? You investigate the control panels but find nothing that resembles a communication device. Undaunted, you turn your attention to the bathysphere. You climb onto the gantry to access the port of the sphere and stop, horrified. Lying half out of the bathysphere is a human corpse.

Visions of dead and dying bodies sinking around you into the cold ocean depths bombard your consciousness. You fall to your knees as fear momentarily overwhelms you. Have you fought so hard to survive only to die anyway? Alone, without food or fresh water, with only the dead as company?

Steeling yourself, you gingerly yank the body from the vessel. It crumples on the metal grating with a muffled clank. Without looking back, you climb into the small submersible and close the hatch behind you and latch it securely. As you do so, the instrumentation springs to life. Startled, you hear machines whirring outside, air being pumped into the bathysphere, and without any further ado, you are plunged into the ocean’s depths.

For an interminable amount of time you descend. It takes all of your concentration to contain the claustrophobic panic swelling in your chest. The glare from the instrument lights reflects off the dark portholes, not that you could see anything in the suffocating darkness. Finally, accompanied by mechanical clanking and soft light outside your craft, your decent ends. A small green light flashes repeatedly adjacent to the hatch. You sit staring at it for awhile, trying to determine if you have another choice at this point.

You exit the bathysphere into a cylindrical chamber, very similar to the one in the lighthouse above. This room, however, is empty of equipment, with only a metal platform extending from the heavy door in front of you. You approach the door, looking up at the cable and hoses that extend through the ceiling. Suddenly aware of the tons of water held back by the hatch above you, you hastily press the green button pulsating softly next to the door. With much labor and protest, forgotten machinery opens the door and you slip through the airlock.

Nothing could have prepared you for the sight that surrounds you. You stand in what appears to be the ruins of a modern Atlantis. A large lobby, littered with rubble and refuse, sprawls before you. It must be almost twenty years old, you think, noting the exquisite Art Deco architecture, a style that peaked in the mid 1940s. You stumble through the room in a confused daze. Shadows mask parts of the room, many of the lights no longer being operational. Amidst the wreckage you see forms that appear to be human bodies. It looks as if a war was fought here.

You wander aimlessly through street-like corridors and adjoining rooms, overloaded by the surreality of this war-torn city of ghosts hidden beneath the ocean. Your skin begins to itch from the dried sea water. The itching draws your mind back to your growing hunger and thirst.

Movement at the end of the corridor sends you diving between a pile of rubble and an overturned table. You curse yourself as the resulting clatter echoes throughout the once silent passageways. You wait, huddled in a ball, heart racing, holding your breath.

When you finally have to exhale, you peek around the edge of the table. At the end of the hall, walking in your general direction, is a young girl in a white dress. Unsure that you aren’t hallucinating, you stare helplessly as she pads, barefoot, ever closer to you.

The girl stops, seeing something in the wreckage about twenty feet in front of you. You rise up into a crouch to better see what has distracted her. She approaches a body, trapped under a fallen pipe. You feel the sudden urge to leap out and protect her from the horrible vision of death when the girl draws a syringe from a small pouch tied around her waist. You remain still, captivated by horror as she inserts the needle into the base of the corpse’s neck and withdraws a thick substance form the rotting tissue.

You feel a slight vibration in the floor and turn your attention back down the corridor. A large shadow lumbers into view. You drop back into the cover of the table, fear gripping your heart. With much effort you creep along the table until you can see down the corridor. You see that the shadow is what appears to be a large, mechanized deep-diving suit. Helpless, you watch it approach the young girl, engrossed now in drinking her grisly extraction.

Only a few feet from your position, laying amidst the rubble, is what appears to be a handgun. You realize there is a body under the rubble, and you instinctively move backwards a step. Before you can decide what next to do, the long hall is filled with the reverberations of screeching shouts.

Four humanoid forms leap from the surroundings and attack the mechanical monstrosity. Relief washes over you as the new arrivals fight against the threatening menace, trying to get between it and the defenseless girl. You shudder as you realize that these newcomers, though generally human in proportion, more closely resemble horrific sideshow freaks. They attack the machine with savage ferocity, lashing with weapons that appear to be grafted to their bodies. The mechanical titan strikes back undaunted, its powerful blows sending its adversaries flying and broken. Inspired mostly by fear, you creep forward and quietly pick the gun up off of the floor. Whether or not you join this fray, it is evident that the environment is hostile. You will need something for protection.

One of the humanoids separates from the melee as the little girl crouches in the shadows of a wall. An icy chill propagates down the length of your spine as you realize this creature’s intentions are not to protect the girl. It advances on her position, threatening with its wicked blade. Your hands trembling, you raise the gun and try to line the creature in its sights. You don’t know if you should interfere. Maybe the machine is the child’s protector, maybe it’s not. Maybe if you help the girl she will be able to help you, but maybe if you make enemies of these other creatures they will hunt you down. You hesitate, unsure of the consequences of your actions and whether or not you could handle them. The creature stops moving towards the girl and stares at you, waiting to see how you will react, taunting you with its twisted visage.

You flee.

Some time later you find yourself in an intact room in what appears to be some sort of medical facility. You secure the door and collapse on the floor. Your body and mind are both too exhausted to feel pain or fear. You rest for a moment, and then begin to investigate the room.

A large chair equipped with straps and various armatures terminating in needles occupies the center of the room. You can’t determine its purpose, but it looks like something used for torture and not medicine. There doesn’t appear to be any food, but you find a few bottles of distilled water. You slake your thirst with the stale tasting water and page through several of the documents shelved in the room. What you find is no less amazing that anything else you have experienced today.

You are in an underwater city called Rapture. It appears to have been a utopian city built by a Russian genius named Andrew Ryan. The best of the human race – scientists, scholars, artists, engineers, athletes – had abandoned the rest of humanity to build a pure civilization where they could pursue their gifts without the politics of common men interfering with their work.

The bottom of the ocean is home to many mysterious things, Rapture included, and two researchers dwelling here discovered a unique sea slug. The sea slug excreted a substance rich in stem cells capable of being fused with other life forms. Sickness and disease were quickly eradicated using treatments based on the substance the researchers called Adam. The next logical step was to use Adam to enhance abilities. Scientists could become smarter, athletes stronger and faster – there was no end to the possibilities of human evolution! Adam became Rapture’s currency, and production of Adam was controlled by a person named Fontaine. Ryan no longer held the preeminent role over his creation.

War broke out. Ryan and Fontaine struggled for control over Rapture. Each side engineered its soldiers using Adam. As a result of the conflict and the destruction it caused to supporting facilities, uninvolved residents were forced to modify their own bodies to survive. This alteration led to a dependence on Adam, and now every soul required it to continue living. And then the fighting destroyed the source.

As the city and its people, now bereft of much of their humanity, began to die, Ryan discovered a new technique to recycle Adam from the tissue of the dead. He engineered a class of people, Gatherers, who would be able to process Adam within their bodies. The Gatherers, who were given the form of young girls, were assigned Protectors, large bio-engineered machines, to safeguard the Gatherers and the supply of Adam they held.

You sit in the room staring at the gun in your hand, reflecting on the fight from earlier. The fight was for possession of the girl, for the Adam she contained. If you had that, perhaps you would have the power to escape. But would that mean you would have to kill a child? No, they only look like children, you tell yourself. But what about the Protectors, how would you stand up against them? Perhaps you could trick the other creatures into helping you. But how then would you defend yourself against them? You look up from the gun to the chair with the needles.

Adam is the answer. With it, you could alter yourself to be stronger, or faster, or to blend in with the other factions. It may be the only way to survive this hell that you have entered. But what price would you have to pay? Would it be worth losing yourself, your humanity, to save your life? You know that the citizens of Rapture faced the same conundrum, and you have seen the consequences of their answer. What will you do? How will you choose to escape Rapture?

BioShock, a first-person shooter / adventure / rpg, is the spiritual sequel to the System Shock series of games. BioShock is currently in development by Irrational Games and slated for an early 2007 release on the X-Box 360 and PC (with the possibility of other platforms). My reaction of how it might feel to play the game is based on the preview in March 2006 (issue 155) of Game Informer.

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One Response to Game of the Year 2007?

  1. paul says:

    I am completely sold on this game, based on the developer’s vision. They are trying to make an immersive experience with open playability that forces the player to make tough choices on the fly, and then have to deal with the consequences of those decisions.

    I hesitate to describe the gameplay as open-ended, as it conjures “sandbox”-type conceptions, but something more like what Indigo Prophecy should have been – true branching. The player is given the freedom and potential to play the game in the manner and style that they choose, and based on which methods / routes the player utilizes, the game will unfold differently. Potentially, you could have three different people play the game and each could have an entirely different experience – though an awesome experience.

    Since the game is a survival-type game, it makes sense to make it an FPS. What better genre choice is there to really immerse the player in the game? There also doesn’t seem to be any backstory given regarding the player’s character. The game starts just as I described it, with no opening sequence or anything, just you underwater struggling to survive. That works really well to make the player, and not a character, be the one in the game, making tough moral choices. Truly what role-playing is suppose to be about.

    And then the Adam system allows for rpg-style skill/stat development. Supposedly you will be able to redo your distribution of Adam at any time (I’m sure there will be some restrictions to keep the player from abusing the feature) so that if you find your setup either doesn’t work or you hate it, you’re not stuck with it for the rest of the game.

    Basically, this is the type of game I would design, or be proud to be a part of the design team. I’m proud just being able to tell other people about it. I hope it lives up to the vision. I also hope more developers start designing games that function as well as this one might.

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