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New piping hot details leak out of Rapture's rusting borders...

Normally when you shoot someone in the head, you'd want that to be the last of it. Within a game, that is. At best you'd expect the defeated foe to flash briefly before dissolving into a pile of ammo or health. At worst, they'll remain on the floor indefinitely, their innards staining the nearest textures. But whatever happens, there's one thing you could bank on - once an enemy's down, they're goners. No one will rush to see if they're alright. No one gives a damn.

BioShock, though, revolutionises the relationships between you and your foes. Enemies mourn one another, go into a sulk when their partner dies - or, worst case scenario, go on a killing spree. One of the eeriest parts of BioShock is hearing the voice of a far-off splicer talking soothingly to their off-spring - and then turning the corner and realising that her child has long since left the land of the living. When your enemies are actually able to evoke emotions other than anger - of pity, disgust, sadness, empathy - then you begin to realise what Irrational mean when they say they're creating an 'AI ecosystem' in this game. With around 30 to 40 inhabitants per area, you get the impression that anything could happen out there in this warped and warping Davy Jones' Locker.

1966 and all that
And that's why we're so excited about BioShock that if our Anticip-O-Meter wasn't capped at Five, it would be rated so high that the meter would burst off the page and finish somewhere in the middle of the Crackdown review. This is a staggering redefinition of what it means to exist in a gameworld, and while much of the game is wrapped as tightly as the mummified axe-monger on the following page, we definitely know the basics...

The story drops you off in Rapture as the survivor of a plane crash in the middle of the ocean. With the only thing around you for miles being a desolate bathysphere, you shrug your shoulders and descend down into the underwater city of Rapture, which turns out to be the water-based equivalent of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Rapture, you see, is - or was - a self-supporting community created by a former Soviet citizen, a capitalist paradise supposedly consisting of the cream of society. Unfortunately, at some point in the 1960's it all started to go a bit George Orwell. The discovery of a new species of sea slug (sea slugs are actually snails by the way - this has been your XBW Marine Fact Of The Month) capable of secreting pure stem cells leads to the further discovery that this substance - dubbed 'Adam' - can be used to enhance people's bodies. What happens next? Let's just say the good citizens of Rapture treat themselves to a little thing we like to call a full-on civil war. And when our hero plops his feet onto Rapture's creaky seabed for the first time some years later, we see the net result of Rapture's folly; a groaning army of deformed shufflers ambling around a deserted wasteland. It's like an early morning visit to Lidl, only wetter.

Rapture is split into areas, as is traditional for an FPS - although it's a lot more freeform than you might expect from a game such as this, with back-tracking to previous areas for essential items always an option, if not a necessity. Each decrepit area gives you further insight into how impractical, flawed and fragile this utopia was right from the get-go, with one area seeing you explore the volcanic vents that fuel the soggy metropolis, while another explains how delicate the balance of life is in Rapture, with a huge oxygen tank tasked with pumping 'the good stuff' all around the city on the verge of massive, irreparable contamination.

And there's a constant cloud of dread hanging over your head, that you're always underpowered, and the only way to survive is to become one of 'them'. With around 50 types of plasmid power-up available - flip back a page, or head to our Hot List for more - you'll begin to realise how your deformed enemies came to be the way they are now. And you'll have to stop to ask yourself: how many more modifications can you withstand until you become Rapture's latest victim?