TA Playlist Wrap-up: Bioshock

The TA Playlist Team - March 10th 2022

We all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us.
~Andrew Ryan

February is usually a month for romance, but for a bit of tongue-in-cheek anti-Valentine's Day theme, the TA Playlist options focused on "Third Wheels," games which had come in third place in previous polls but still deserved another shot at some love from the community. Guacamelee! 2, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and Human Fall Flat were all nominated, but ultimately had their hearts broken once again, as BioShock Remastered earned your affections with 41.15% of the vote. Bioshock came in third back in the December 2019 TA Playlist vote, behind winner Red Dead Redemption 2 and runner-up The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (DLC).


If ever there was a game that needed no introduction, Bioshock might be it. Consistently ranked as one of the best first-person shooters of the Xbox 360 generation, the first Bioshock received enormous praise for its interesting characters, thought-provoking themes, and magnificent setting. The game still holds a Metacritic score of 96, won several "Game of the Year" and other awards for 2007, and was even chosen for a Smithsonian Institution exhibit dedicated to the art of video games.

But does a game released 15 years ago still hold water today, or, like Rapture itself, is it starting to come apart at the seams? Climb into the bathysphere as we take a deep dive into all the comments and stats from this month's TA Playlist.

Bioshock was released in August of 2007, developed by Irrational Games and published by 2K Games. It was conceived as a "spiritual successor" to Irrational's 1999 critically-acclaimed FPS/RPG hybrid System Shock 2, carrying over some of the concepts and mechanics that the Irrational Games team had developed for the previous game.

Canucklehead X said:

I haven't played the game since the original version almost 15 years ago. The game holds up quite well. While the gameplay is nothing original (even back in 2007), the environment, style, and story elevates the game to greatness. Given that most games are designed around gameplay, this is a refreshing change as Bioshock was designed around the environment and keeps the player engaged until completion. […] A required play through for any gamer who appreciates game history.
The lone survivor of a plane crash over the Atlantic Ocean, your character, Jack, swims to the safety of a mysterious lighthouse rising from the ocean's surface. Inside, lights click on ominously as you descend a staircase, and an instrumental version of "Under the Sea" starts playing in the background. At the bottom of the stairs is a small submersible, and with no other options, you pull the lever. As the bathysphere descends, a recorded message introduces you to the underwater city of Rapture.

"I am Andrew Ryan, and I'm here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? 'No," says the man in Washington, 'it belongs to the poor.' 'No,' says the man in the Vatican, 'it belongs to God.' 'No,' says the man in Moscow, 'it belongs to everyone.' I rejected those answers. Instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose… Rapture."


ManicMetalhead said:

Bioshock is easily one of my favourite games. I will never forget descending into the sea in the Bathysphere and seeing Rapture for the first time, sitting there at the bottom of the ocean. I love the aesthetics and the story behind it (the book about how Rapture started and was built is an interesting bit of backstory too).
Stevo6483 said:
I love this game, and it was the first game I played when I got my 360. It completely blew me away, especially graphically (at the time) - I thought I was still watching a cutscene when I realized I could swim around the flaming wreckage. Great story, great setting/visuals, brilliant twist, and some pretty solid gameplay - though it might be a bit dated now.

The city of Rapture is an iconic location in video game history and certainly one of the major reasons for Bioshock's popularity. Rapture's atmosphere and art style made a huge impression on many of the gamers in our forums, so where did the idea for the city at the bottom of the sea come from?

In the Director's Commentary videos included with BioShock Remastered, Creative Director Ken Levine and Animation Lead / Director Shawn Robertson explained the process that led to the development of Bioshock, with the first episode focusing on the development of the city of Rapture. It's well worth watching, if you're interested in the history of this beloved franchise.

Levine and Robertson explained that they preferred to work with a self-contained environment that could be believably closed off rather than an open city with invisible boundaries. The initial concept was a spaceship, similar to System Shock 2, but eventually they turned their idea into a self-contained city on the ocean floor. That decision ultimately informed all the other design and story choices that came afterwards.

IRISH PATRIOT x said:

This is easily my favorite game of all time and one I visit at least once a year. The depth and plot of the game are perfect. It's linear, but still has the perfect amount of exploration tied in. The weapon/plasmid combos make battling your enemies fun and exciting while you try to figure out the perfect combinations. Visually the game still holds well to this day. I find myself stopping and looking out of the windows in certain places just to view this underwater city that a man produced to escape the everyday politics of man.
Robertson said that the first designs for the underwater city still looked too much like a spaceship, just with some seaweed fronds outside the windows. The iconic look of Rapture eventually came when Levine and his wife took a trip to Rockefeller Center in New York City. He was inspired by the bold and simple geometry of the art deco style, so he and his wife picked up some disposable tourist cameras and started snapping photos of doorknobs, light fixtures, and architectural elements to take back to the team.

With the location decided and the design elements coming into focus, the team needed to come up with a story and characters that would fill the space. According to Levine, "We wanted a very believable reason why they'd be there, and the necessary isolation of the place, sort of led to… what kind of person would want to do this?"

The answer came from Levine's reading of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, although he said that, at the time, he wasn't really thinking about the political implications of Rand's objectivist philosophy. "I loved the dialogue and the kind of speechifying in it. You can see a video game character speaking with that kind of certainty and that kind of confident philosophy. It just seemed like a natural kind of thing to apply to this place."

Enter Andrew Ryan, a wealthy business magnate who became disillusioned with post-WWII society, and envisioned a world with no government other than the free market, no authority beyond the individual's will to act, and no regulation or censorship to impose limits on the populace. Like John Galt from Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged," Ryan decided that there was no place left on the surface of the earth to escape from the governments of the world, and so set his sights on the ocean floor.

"To build a city at the bottom of the sea: insanity. But where else could we be free from the clutching hand of the parasites? Where else could we build an economy that they would not try to control, a society they would not try to destroy? It was not impossible to build Rapture at the bottom of the sea. It was impossible to build it anywhere else." ~Andrew Ryan

Robertson went on to explain how those three ideas – the underwater city, the art deco design, and the objectivist philosophy – all came together to form Rapture. "We knew from a technical standpoint that we wanted isolation. We also need to sell it, we needed a compelling storyline, a backstory that, why would this place exist? […] So once we decided on the underwater location and the closed off spaces that objectivist story kind of came in and made the art stronger and the level design stronger because we could feed back into that loop."

thanatos8285 said:

The villain is one of those types of villains where you can't compare him to anyone who came before, because he was the first of his kind. He became the archetype of a new category of villain going forward from there. So in that sense, it might not really have the same kind of punch more than a decade later, even playing it for the first time. But it makes you think about heavy philosophical issues more than any other shooter out there, that's for sure.

Upon your arrival, it's clear that not all is well in the city of Rapture. The city is in ruins, overrun with deformed and deranged splicers who've gone insane after becoming addicted to genetic modification, while the few remaining sane residents of Rapture are fighting an all-out war, and you quickly get caught up right in the middle of it.

Flipy Fliperson said:

The introduction scene was probably one of my all-time favorites. The splicer introduction while in the bathysphere and how it continued to hound you through the first area. It really set up an amazing atmosphere.
You're contacted by a man called Atlas, who offers to help you escape from Rapture if you'll help him rescue his family. Atlas guides you through the winding corridors of the city, and introduces you to your first plasmid, a concoction which re-writes your genetic code to give you superpowers. To escape Rapture, Atlas guides you on a series of missions, eventually leading to a showdown with Andrew Ryan himself.

That's not the end, of course, and what follows from your meeting with Andrew Ryan is almost so famous that it shouldn't even count as a spoiler at this point, although we'll refrain from spilling any of the specific plot details for those who still haven't experienced it for themselves.

In terms of gameplay, Bioshock is essentially a first-person shooter, with some light RPG elements included to allow the player to customize the character's power and weapon sets. By selecting different plasmids or tonics, you can optimize your character to deal more damage, have a stronger defense, or make it easier to hack turrets, cameras, and security drones, which can be used to attack your enemies.We had an excellent exchange in the forums regarding the various gameplay elements:

Armstrong x360a said:

I wholeheartedly agree that the draw here is in the story elements and lore. If you are a fan of the idea of an Ayn Rand critique/dystopia in game form, this is the game for you.
I respectfully disagree that there was nothing innovative about the gameplay. At the time this game released it included not only guns, but added tools to allow for multiple play styles including powers, traps, turrets, etc. This was done in a way that had never been combined quite as seamlessly previously, and has been copied repeatedly since.
While it's true that this game may not pack the same punch that it did on release, this is still a game changer for the genre and worth a play if for no other reason than to enjoy a piece of gaming history.
thanatos8285 said:
It's not that I think the gameplay was generic or anything. It was more that I just didn't feel like there was anything paradigm-shifting about it. Traps had been done before, multiple play styles had been done before, powers and guns side by side had been done before, etc. And they nailed them, absolutely, this isn't to say it was tired or just a poor imitation or anything like that. And yes, they definitely integrated them better than anything that came before that I can think of. But there are games whose contributions are innovating all new things, and there are games whose contributions are perfecting things that were already out there. I just think Bioshock is more the latter, gameplay-wise.
Or to put it another way, to me, the story was "holy shit, this has never been done before!" while the gameplay was "holy shit, this has never been done this well before!"
In addition to the various forms of splicers, the other iconic enemy from Bioshock is the Big Daddy, a genetically modified human inside a massive diving suit. The Big Daddies aren't hostile at first, but react violently if the player attacks. The Big Daddies could be avoided completely, except that they are the protectors of the Little Sisters – young orphan girls who roam throughout Rapture collecting a substance known as ADAM from dead bodies.

ADAM is produced by a sea slug that was discovered after Rapture was founded, and then implanted into the Little Sisters. This substance is the key to the genetic manipulation that allows for the use of plasmids. Without ADAM, you can't upgrade your character's abilities, which means you're forced to deal with the Little Sisters, and that means going through the Big Daddies.

According to Levine, the Big Daddy/Little Sister mechanic was one of the most important elements of the game, second only to the setting of Rapture itself. Early on in development, there were no Little Sisters, and the Big Daddies were just protecting the sea slugs themselves. They realized, though, that the player had no empathy for the slugs. The introduction of the Little Sisters added an incentive for the player to engage with the Big Daddy, and also fit well with the themes of the game.

Levine: "I think it was important that it was a way to reflect the larger economic questions of a world like Rapture, where the economy drives everything. Are there any limits to economic decision making vs. moral decision making. Because the sort of Randian notion is that you don't legislate morality, let's try to take that to an extreme and see where that ends up, and the Little Sisters sort of became that. In this world, they became a commodity, and the question we have for the player is are you willing? They're a commodity to you as well, potentially. Are you willing to participate in their commodification?"

Levine said that in retrospect, he thought they should have made the rewards for saving the Little Sisters much more meager than they were compared to the rewards for harvesting them, to really force the player to make the moral decision. As it stands, you get nearly as much ADAM from saving all the Sisters as you do from harvesting them; there's not enough incentive to tempt users into taking the amoral path.

We didn't have much discussion about this aspect in the forums, but since there's an achievement for saving all the Little Sisters (and no achievement for harvesting them), we'd assume that most gamers – especially those in our little community — made the "moral" choice to save them. Sound off in the comments with what choices you made, and why!

The forums this month were mostly very positive, with commenters listing this as one of their favorite games of all time. The feeling wasn't universal, though:

KJer25 said:

I'm not trying to hate but I'm just curious...does anyone else think this game is overrated? I liked it ok, but maybe it was just too hyped before I played it and I wound up expecting more. I realize I'm probably in the minority. I need to go back and complete the 360 version eventually.
Dresden N7 said:
I agree that BioShock is overrated. IMO, there are other games that did the twist better. But it's still a modern classic. Hallmark of the X360 generation.
On balance, though, the criticisms for this game were few and far between. Most gamers were overwhelmingly positive in their reviews:

Russell LeCroy said:

In the year 2022 looking back on Bioshock it's clear the game isn't perfect. However, I would consider it an artistic masterpiece. It's truly a timeless classic. This is something I'm less quick to say about Infinite though I do love all 3 Bioshock games.
IRISH PATRIOT x said:
This is also one of the few games where I LOVED looking for collectibles. The audio diaries provides so many side stories and added so much more depth to the game that you really do miss out if you don't collect them.
I've also read Bioshock Rapture by John Shirley and one of Ken Levine's inspiration for the game The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and both books are a fantastic read after you finish Bioshock.
And it would be hard to sum it up any better than longtime Playlist contributor, HawkeyeBarry20.

HawkeyeBarry20 said:

If you never played this before until now you'll probably be a bit disappointed just because of how highly talked about the game is. But if you played this when the game released it had no equal. The atmosphere is amazing, the world is dank, dark, and broken. The action is on point with many options to take advantage of your enemies.
I didn't like the achievement of taking all those pictures for the achievement but I thought the idea of it was great. I thought it was unique, instead introducing a top tier weapon they instead nerfed the enemies
The story was amazing, Andrew Ryan was so great, a true villain. When Atlas made it seem his family was killed, I was so invested into the story I couldn't believe that happened. This is one of the few stacks I've ever done.
Another thing I felt really worked was the game being in the past but feeling like the future. The clothes, the music and the script really gave the feeling that you were in the 60's but when you stopped and looked around you realized you were in an underwater city collecting superpowers. Doesn't get much more futuristic than that and the two themes worked great together.
There's a lot more to say about the deeper themes of Bioshock – the objectivist philosophy, altruism vs. self-interest, free will (or the illusion thereof), and much, much more — but this article is already on the long side, and we still haven't discussed the TA stats for the month. There are volumes of information and analysis available, so feel free to drop a comment if you have any other insights to share... would you kindly?

With such a popular game that's been around for 15 years, it's no surprise that many people have already played BioShock, but thanks to the Remastered version of the game (developed by Blind Squirrel Games, along with Irrational Games), as well as three separate regional variants (German, Korean, and Japanese), there was plenty of opportunity for folks to take another trip to Rapture.

Playlist Trivia: With five total Regional and Platform variations, Bioshock has given your humble author more trouble than most in terms of putting together the stats. But there was one game in TA Playlist history that had even more Regional and Platform Variations. Can you name it? The answer is below.
In total, 366,304 tracked gamers have played some variant of Bioshock, with the original by far the most popular, at 262,799 tracked gamers. The Remastered version accounts for 95,930 tracked gamers, with the German version the most popular among the regional variants, at 5,091 tracked gamers.

The Korean and Japanese variants have the lowest player counts, at 616 and 1,868 tracked gamers, respectively, but more of those gamers went on to finish the game – those versions boast completion percentages of 50% and 47%, respectively, while the completion percentages for the other versions are a more modest 8% (360), 6% (Remastered), and 13% (German).
That could be an indication that more people are doing the regional stacks just for the achievements, but it might also be due to the fact that the Korean and Japanese versions lack the difficulty-based " Brass Balls" achievement, which was included in the Ryan Industries Plasmids and Gene Tonics for BioShock DLC that was released several months after the base game.
The Remastered version also has 12 additional achievements related to the Challenge Rooms, which had never been released on the Xbox platform previously. Despite the extra challenge, the Remastered version did have the most completions during the month of February, at 69, followed closely by the Xbox 360 version, with 65 completions during the month. Four gamers completed the German version in February, and three each for the Korean and Japanese versions.

All in all, 2,248 gamers popped at least one achievement in at least one variant of Bioshock during the month, for a total of 30,794 achievements unlocked. That's a total of 530,470 Gamerscore, and 796,904 TrueAchievement score. The most frequently unlocked achievement was Toaster in the Tub from the Remastered version, which was unlocked by 961 gamers in February. There were several achievements unlocked just once during the month, mostly from the Korean and Japanese versions of the game.

Shout-outs to these 45 gamers who managed a full run-through, start to finish, for at least one version of the game during the month!

Playlist Trivia Answer:

The only game in TA Playlist history with more Regional and Platform Variations than Bioshock? Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360), with a grand total of six: the original, Batman: Arkham Asylum (GFWL), Batman: Arkham Asylum (JP) (Xbox 360), Batman: Arkham Asylum GOTY, Batman: Arkham Asylum GOTY (GFWL), Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Thanks to everyone who played along or gave us their thoughts on Bioshock. Now, would you kindly do the same for this month's TA Playlist offering, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - GOTY Edition? Earn your badge by unlocking any achievement, or by posting in the Spoiler-Free and Spoiler Discussion Threads to give us your thoughts. We'll see you there!