Many a PC game has boasted pretty graphics but no soul, offering great technology but falling down with its empty-headed dialogue and plot. But what if a game's narrative was as intricate and as immersive as its graphics? What if as much attention went into dialogue and atmosphere as went into pixel shaders and high-resolution textures? What then? Ladies and gentlemen, the answer is BioShock, one of the most playable, thought-provoking, and just downright impressive games to emerge on a PC since, well, ever.
BioShock's lavish opening sees your passenger jet crashing into an island. As it turns out, this island plays host to Rapture, a failed attempt to create an underwater utopia for the greatest musicians, artists and scientists. Unfortunately, an addiction to DNA manipulation has seen the inhabitants transforming themselves into monsters, and a vicious civil war has broken out as the citizens scrap over the last drops.
And that's where you come in. With your first step into the shattered corpse of this failed society, it's immediately obvious that the situation is way out of hand. Broken equipment and twisted bodies litter the facility. Deformed, gibberish-spouting Rapturians prowl the corridors, looking for another fix of life-giving Adam. Like a good novel, BioShock's many sharp turns and twists will have you questioning everything - even your own role.
At its core, BioShock’s still a shooter game. But for those who've never experienced BioShock's predecessor System Shock 2, playing BioShock is like watching a talented juggler: the smart writing, intense action, and RPG-style character customisations are expertly manipulated in unison, making for a dazzling and entertaining display. Beginners will need to adjust to a few concepts, such as looting fallen bodies and buying equipment from the vending machines that adorn Rapture, but they'll quickly acclimate to BioShock's charms.
It helps that BioShock is wonderful to look at, and its unique Art Deco design shines brilliantly in an otherwise tired sea of World War II battlefields and futuristic sci-fi landscapes. And BioShock's creepy enemies look nothing like the standard gun-wielding brutes that we've mowed down a million times over in other games. High marks also for the brilliant soundtrack, and the often jaunty music comes off as both funny and creepy – a remarkable tightrope walk. Even BioShock's simple audio effects work perfectly, making your skin crawl and your bones ache. There’s no online gameplay but, otherwise, this is near faultless.