You know that sound you just heard? That was my mind. Blown.

I desperately want to join in on forum threads and read up on the Internet about what I have just experienced this evening, but since I have not yet completed all the tasks in front of me, and I’m trying very, very hard to remain spoiler-free, I am simply avoiding all talk about it with others.

However, I do have this avenue of communication, so I’m going to write down a few thoughts about what I’ve been doing most of the night for the past three or four nights, because it has been amazing.

BioShock spoilers will abound after the break. I urge you: if you ever plan to play BioShock (and you should), you should not read ahead until you have had a chance to give the game a playthrough and at least decided if it’s for you or not. Playing the game without being spoiled in any way has been tremendously rewarding for me so far in the process, and I would hope never to disrupt that kind of enjoyment for someone else.

Know this, however: BioShock is so finely crafted and meticulously designed that it is not merely intended to be played, or even to be experienced, but to be relished the way one appreciates a gourmet meal or a fine wine. When your time comes, I hope you will take every opportunity to enjoy it.

I have just hit the big mid-game “reveal,” and I will have more to say on the progress of the game to that point (and including that point) after I clarify a few things.

Enjoying BioShock

By relished, I mean that you should play BioShock in as immersive an atmosphere as you can manage. I have purposefully waited until after dark—with the sound cranked as much as I dare and the subwoofer performing its duties—so as to enhance the effect of the game itself. This is perhaps the first thing anyone should realize about the game. BioShock is so carefully constructed and fully-realized a world that it demands your attention and drowns out everything else. My desire to complete this game is much more intense than most games I’ve played, simply because I want to know more about the world of Rapture.

Special commendation should be given to both the art direction and the sound direction displayed in BioShock. Everything plays together to form a cohesive whole, from the density of the art deco architecture and decoration (including the typography seen throughout), to the period music that plays in only the most appropriate circumstances, to the very well-presented and logical level layouts and the feel of the world. Everything looks like I expect it to, and everything likewise sounds like I expect it to. There’s a weight to what’s going on that you don’t normally receive from a shooter.

Last night, after hitting the power button and calling my session a night, I took a look at the box copy on the back of the BioShock packaging. It’s interesting that almost all of the copy references the game as a pure shooter, albeit one that could contain multiple experiences, all based on the individual style of the person behind the controller. Very little attention is paid to the story of the game or its setting, which is indeed what makes the game what it is and controls the experience. It’s certainly a more-than-competent shooter, but the vision displayed throughout is what will draw you in and invest you in the experience.

I hope it sells extremely well and points the way for more development along these lines. If I have one disappointment, it’s that I fear many people will be spoiled on the story and/or experience by reading too many reviews, by looking through walkthroughs or other helps, or simply by listening to and/or reading other people talking about it.

Questions and Revelations: The Art of Suspense and Storytelling

As with any good story or work of art, BioShock has led to inevitable questions along my journey. Some I’ve had answered, some I’ve not. There’s plenty of audio data in the game left by individuals about the origins of the Little Sisters and how they rather grotesquely came into being, but almost nothing about the creation of the Big Daddies. Who are these poor souls that I’ve now damned to walk the halls of Rapture, endlessly looking to protect Little Sisters who no longer exist? I understand quite fully why they were needed to protect the Gatherers and their supplies of ADAM from splicers, but I want to know more of the why behind the narrative.

In this way, I was asking all the questions the creators of BioShock wanted me to ask, which is what you can hope for out of something so tightly created. As I crept through the ruins, discovering tidbits of story through audio diaries, a picture of what once was and what had unfortunately happened came into clearer focus. I loved the way the story dangled me along, making me discover the “arms race” between Ryan and Fontaine, and most especially the entry about the nationalization of Fontaine Futuristics, which I had thought was the key event in the story: Andrew Ryan had become what he had hoped to avoid by hiding under the ocean. I did not expect the twist in Ryan’s office, and thought it was amazingly well-done when combined with the “flashes” of pictures and the short-but-sweet montage of “would you kindlies.”

I haven’t felt this tense while playing a game in a long time. I love it.

Because I didn’t see it coming, and had thought I had figured everything out to that point, I was deliciously excited to encounter the story point where Fontaine kicked over all the tables. My jaw went quite far south almost immediately upon putting the pieces together in my mind—and they didn’t tell me, they showed me!—and didn’t come back up again until I had saved my game upon meeting Tennenbaum and turned off my 360 for the night. (Falling through the air duct wall after escaping the security alarm was the single most tense moment in the entire game for me. So far.) Having the Little Sisters guide me out of Ryan’s office was an awesome touch that had to be seen to be believed.

Above all, I respect this kind of storytelling. BioShock has elevated the art of telling a story in interactive first-person narrative to a whole new level, and I fear that I may never see another game that handles the medium with quite so much a sense of grace, style, or efficaciousness. And I haven’t even finished the game yet! This is not to say that I don’t have a few small issues with the game, but the overwhelming amount of amazing to which I have been witness over the past few nights has handily outpaced anything negative I could dare to say. I’m very happy to have delayed my other game purchases for a while in order to pick this one up.