by Marko Susimetsä
previewed on PC
From the creators of System Shock II
Irrational Games, developers of the hugely popular System Shock II, are coming back with a game that has been popularly called the most expected game of 2007, especially for PC: BioShock. The game will be published by 2K Games for Xbox360 and Windows systems later this year (though not exclusively for Vista, as was feared at some point). Both versions of the game are going to be identical and add-ons for both will be downloadable later on. But before going ahead of ourselves, let's look at what the game is going to be all about, shall we?
There have been many attempts to create a Utopian society on Earth by various strong-willed enthusiasts. Thus far, all of them have failed for one reason or another ? usually having to do with the differing aims of the people who try to establish them, or merely their inability to make their Utopia work with the surrounding non-Utopian society. History books are full of interesting accounts of why and how they all failed.
But there is one utopia out there that is not mentioned in any history book and its failure is the greatest story of them all. This utopia is called Rapture and it was founded by Andrew Ryan in 1946 in a city built on the bottom of the ocean, far from any external forces that might cause its downfall. Andrew Ryan gathered the best and brightest people to inhabit his hidden city and closed off practically all contact from the outside world. His version of Utopia was to be the ultimate capitalist and individualist paradise (deviating a bit from the usual socialistic real-world Utopias). Unfortunately, there was one outside influence that Ryan didn't count on.
Ruptures in Rapture
To the general populace, stem cells are best known from the branch of research that might have saved the Superman but was banned in the US. But in BioShock, stem cells manage to wreak havoc in the Utopia of Rapture when two scientists find a new species of sea slug that produces pure stem cells. These stem cells, affectionately named Adam, end up changing the whole Utopian society by providing a way to enhance one's body, improve physical and mental abilities, cure diseases and heal injuries. In short order, Adam became the main currency of the society and was so sought after that a war broke out between Andrew Ryan and one of the scientists, Tanenbaum, who had made the initial discovery. The war and the environmental disaster that it brought on, forced the inhabitants to use the stem cells to modify and improve their bodies in order to survive. When the war finally ended, all natural sources of Adam were spent and the whole biosphere fell in disrepair to the point of almost failing.
Enter the player
The player has avoided the fate of the inhabitants of Rapture as he was living outside of the underwater city while all the turmoil took place. I'm pretty sure that he would have preferred it to stay that way but an unfortunate plane-crash put him in the vicinity of a lighthouse. Rather surprisingly, the lighthouse was standing in the middle of an ocean. Being the sole survivor of the crash, the player finds safety at the floating lighthouse, but instead of staying around and waiting for the rescuers, he commits the stupidest trick in the book and starts exploring the place. He eventually finds a bathysphere that descends him to the bottom of the ocean and into the city of Rapture.
When the player enters the underwater city, he encounters a self-sufficient system that has little to do with human societies. The city is populated with four major factions: aggressors, gatherers, protectors and -perhaps less scary but still dangerous- security bots. Aggressors are the remnants of Andrew Ryan's army and even if they were once human, they are now anything but ? genetically enhanced and violent. The aggressors roam the city with the sole purpose of taking Adam away from anyone they can find. The Gatherers, also called Little Sisters, were created by Tanenbaum. They roam around the city harvesting Adam from dead bodies with special tools. They actually eat the Adam that they can find and their bodies reprocess it back into a usable form, called Eve. The Protectors are the Gatherer's only protection from the Aggressors and they follow the little ones anywhere they go, keeping them safe.
The imagery of the creatures roaming the corridors of Rapture reminds one of Silent Hill, which was populated with creatures that aimed to disgust and disturb more than horrify. Clearly, the first lesson to be learned is that using stem cells to heal one's injuries can lead to nothing but disfiguration and inhumanity. Thus, it comes as a complete surprise that the player will actually want to join this society and start playing with this Adam stuff as well ? using it as a currency and improving his own body. Thus far, no one has explained this discrepancy to my satisfaction, but I'm sure it will come.