Welcome to the Artful Gamer

Welcome to The Artful Gamer, where each week we’ll delve into the sea of videogames seeking out the biggest, shiniest of pearls. Here you will find discussion of a wide variety of console and portable games. I would love to showcase a hot new release every week, but sometimes the harvest is more chaff than wheat, and in those times I’ll choose either a classic from days gone by, or a more low-key contemporary release. One can find totally comprehensive videogame coverage at a number of sites, but rare is the truly deep look at a deserving individual title, and that is what I am hoping to provide here.

Think of The Artful Gamer as a sort of game club, where each week a recommendation is submitted for your approval. My personal gaming tastes run the gamut from racing simulations to old-school Japanese-style role playing, however, as I am but one man, some genres and niche titles are bound to escape my ever-roving eye of judgement. Feel free to recommend games to me! Your input will be appreciated.

And now without further ado our first look at one of this year’s most talked about games.


The release of BioShock marks a milestone in the modern era of gaming. Years from now, people will declare their street cred as gamers by pointing out that they were there at the moment the game came out. It has happened before, with such venerated games as Super Mario Brothers, Super Metroid, Chrono Trigger, Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, Final Fantasy VII, and Halo, just to name a few. That is because games like these are not everyday occurrences; far from it.

Games like BioShock only come along when the stars are aligned in just the right way. The incredible ambition of director Ken Levine and his team at Irrational (since rechristened 2K Boston) is a rare thing indeed in an industry all to full of copycats and clones. Rarer still is the development studio with enough free reign over their projects and the creativity and talent to actually realize such lofty goals. This is why a game like BioShock actually coming out, and for once going one better than all of the hype surrounding its release, is a thing to be savored.

So what is it? BioShock is at the core a first-person shooter, with certain role playing game conventions also figured into the equation, such as accruing of resources used to purchase and upgrade your skills and weaponry, and Plasmids, which can be easily compared to magical abilities. There are Plasmids of all types that let you do everything from burning, shocking, or freezing enemies to telekinetically hurling environmental objects, to creating holographic decoys of yourself to fool enemies to inducing a blinding rage on one target, making them attack whoever happens to be nearest them at the moment. These are the core elements of your navigating the game’s world.

Check out the trailer for the game.

The world itself is much of what makes BioShock so exceptional. Rapture is a city built on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, meant to have been a utopia of sorts, a place where art and science could advance at their own clip, freed from the stifling bounds of government and ?petty morality,? as founder Andrew Ryan (a slightly adjusted anagram of Ayn Rand, whose ideals the plot of BioShock examines) puts it. Indeed Rapture must have been quite a place, and had a real golden age, judging by the decor. The rich styles of the 1940s and 1950s Art Deco movement abound in Rapture, and the ubiquitous billboards and PA announcements positively gleam with that post-war turtle wax sheen.

All things move toward their end, though, and by 1960, when the player character, Jack, becomes the sole survivor of a plane crash fortuitously near the lighthouse and bathysphere dock serving as the surface front gate of Rapture, the whole underwater world has gone to shit.
The city is leaking, dark, dank, and covered in the blood of warring factions and its otherwise insane denizens. What the hell happened here, the player wonders upon first entering the city on the ocean floor.

As the story goes, art and science in particular were let run a little too free, and the brilliant minds of the people attracted to a haven like Rapture invented ways to modify one’s body in ways before unimaginable. Enter the genetic material known as Adam, the Plasmid self-modification it made possible, the Adam-based economics and ecosystem thusly created, and the division of Rapture’s populace on how to cope with all of this. As the people grew to desire more and more Adam, like crack addicts, they grew more and more desperate to get it, eventually forgoing the type of behavior becoming of a utopia, and began doing much darker deeds to get it.

Adam is harvested from the corpses of once-living humans by Little Sisters, little girls somehow twisted and enslaved by it, who roam around Rapture seemingly at random in search of more bodies to harvest. As one would imagine, something resembling a little girl carrying around a substance as coveted as gold (or more) makes an inviting target. That is why you will never see a Little Sister wandering around Rapture without her Big Daddy there to protect her from molestation by insane ?splicers,? Adam-addicted and insane citizens. The Big Daddy has become the icon of BioShock.

Their hulking forms, presumably human, are housed in old-fashioned deep-sea diving suits, and they come armed with monstrous drill bits for arms or toting rivet guns and prepared to lay waste to anyone attempting to take advantage of their Little Sister. The Big Daddy is not aggressive, however, and will not harm anyone wise enough to stay a safe distance away and try to appear non-threatening.

It is a pity, then, that the player is stuck in a hell-hole at the bottom of the ocean surrounded by blood-thirsty maniacs. Some of that Adam, and the Plasmid abilities it makes possible would sure come in handy. Even more unfortunate is that the only means of procuring Adam available to the player is to get it from the Little Sisters. However, because this is the case, the player will often find themselves the target of the ire of a bellowing Big Daddy eager to rip them limb from limb. Battling a Big Daddy is a thrill of a rare sort.

Imagine being the smallest cheerleader on the J.V. squad, and having to defeat the biggest linebacker in the NFL. This is where all that high-powered weaponry and all that cunning use of Plasmids comes in handy. It is often a glorious battle, and it is a real centerpiece for BioShock. Fear not being owned repeatedly, however, as death is no more a setback than being transported to the nearest Vita-Chamber, a checkpoint of sorts (those Rapture scientists created something nice, at least).

The sheer amount of attack options the player has at hand, combined with a never-frustrating death scheme makes BioShock amazingly fun and replayable. Two people will never play the same way. You can go head-to-head with enemies with nothing more than your guns, or you can hack security systems of turrets and drones to hunt them down, or you can use the environment to your advantage by say, making an enemy spontaneously burst into flames, sending them running for a pool of water, and then electrocuting the water once they reach it. It makes for some very satisfying gameplay, and had me grinning more than once at being able to pull off stunts impossible in other games.

Nothing beats telekinetically hurling the flaming corpse of a fallen Big Daddy into a group of splicers, watching them all burst into flames, then shocking the whole group to make them stand still while they burn or you pick them off individually with shotgun headshots or collectively with a nice frag grenade. Freezing enemies in their tracks and then shattering their bodies with a nice large wrench can also be quite amusing. One might also position a decoy of themselves between a wandering splicer and a Little Sister, causing the splicer to lunge toward her into the danger zone, and subsequently be decimated by the Big Daddy standing there. The same scenario could be played by using your Plasmid to cause the Big Daddy or splicer to fly into a rage and attack the other, killing the splicer but also doing a little damage to the Big Daddy to soften him up a little for yourself.

Once past their protectors and given the opportunity to approach the helpless Little Sister, now on the floor bemoaning the death of her guardian, the player is faced with a moral dilemma. Do you harvest all of her Adam, a process which she will not survive, or do you only take a bit, leaving the once human little girl to recover, and possibly regain her humanity? Here again the player is given a choice. You kill the monster, making yourself that much stronger, or you hope for their redemption, taking only a little to help yourself. The consequences of these choices become apparent much later in the game. BioShock has multiple endings, giving the game all the more replay value.

I have gone on quite a bit about this game, but I assure you it is well deserved. Don’t take my word for it; just check out sites like www.metacritic.com or www.gamerankings.com, on which BioShock is collectively reviewed as the best Xbox 360 game to date, and is in the top 5 best games ever. I have not seen a game this universally praised since the days of The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time and Metal Gear Solid. BioShock is an amazing game, and an amazing experience. Be one of the ones later on down the line who was there when it hit.

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