15 years later, and BioShock‘s underwater city of Rapture is still one of the best settings in gaming. Terrifying, gorgeous and meticulously detailed, Andrew Ryan’s pretentious libertarian nightmare has as much worldbuilding depth as the cold Atlantic Ocean it’s rotting in. But all of Rapture’s fantastic worldbuilding would be for nothing, if 2K hadn’t ensured it was a delight to tear through.
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Moments after a plane crash sends the player careening into the city, you’re handed a wrench and plenty of bloodthirsty foes to sink it into. In BioShock, that wrench stays your best friend for a long time. By making ammo scarce, 2K keeps a watery boot on your neck – a smattering of bullets makes short work of Rapture’s human Splicers, but can you really afford to pull the trigger? The answer to that is often no, especially on higher difficulties when your wrench and super-powered plasmids are often your only tools on-hand.
However, there are some of Rapture’s denizens that a wrench just won’t cut: BioShock‘s iconic Big Daddies. Like a moody teenager, you’ll hear these stompy bastards coming from a mile away – and if you haven’t been counting your bullets carefully, those footsteps spell out a world of hurt. These metal monstrosities hulked onto our screens in 2007, but there are still few encounters in gaming that entail so much desperation: your careful ammunition scrimping flies out of the porthole when these devilish diving suits turn up, and you’ll use every gun, plasmid and trap in your arsenal trying to keep these impossibly tough foes from steamrolling you.
The glory of a Big Daddy is that it serves two purposes: not only does its bullet-sponging nature mean you’re always beholden to BioShock‘s ammo scarcity by having to save for your next encounter, but it also gives you more time to let loose with Rapture’s selection of firearms. Even against an enemy as fearsome as a Big Daddy, guns still feel shockingly powerful: shotguns kick with unbridled strength, while a torrent of assault rifle fire will loudly tear across a Big Daddy’s impenetrable armour with a flurry of sparks. When the last case falls and the haunted halls of Rapture fall silent again, it takes a moment for any normal thought to resume: BioShock’s brilliance is that every shootout feels like a blockbuster spectacle, though you’re always worried another one could be just around the corner.
The constant fear of another Big Daddy catching you empty-handed means that you need to get creative with your everyday violence. With some skill, security systems can be hacked – unlocking swarms of killer drones and lethal turrets which you would otherwise be on the wrong end of. There are also a wide variety of Plasmids that let players inventively outwit BioShock‘s baddies: a target frozen by Winter Blast can be shattered into pieces with the swing of a wrench, while another Plasmid calls in a hologram to distract enemies. Some Plasmids mean you don’t even have to do the dirty work yourself: Enrage can send the most social of Splicers tearing after their friends, and a particularly powerful Plasmid lets you hypnotise a Big Daddy into being your Big Daddy. BioShock rarely lets you off the back foot, but a comprehensive toolkit means your back never truly hits the wall – as long as you’re smart.
Unfortunately, the majesty of the first BioShock was never quite recaptured by 2013’s BioShock Infinite. Make no mistake – there was so much to love with Infinite – but even with the flying city of Columbia’s new cast of baddies, it didn’t quite capture the sense of a firefight in Rapture. Oh well – perhaps a rumoured BioShock 4 can swing things back around, but for now there’s always time for another romp through Rapture.
If you enjoyed reading this article, why not take a look at our previous Hit Reload columns?