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Bioshock

Girl in the bubble

Her eyes finally betray a small hint of fear. Throughout the last fight, as her bubble-boxed buddy slammed his drill bit into my face, she was jeering at me, laughing at my weakness. When I was hurled across the room, scattering furniture, she giggled and cheered. When my vision blurred, from taking unstoppable punch after punch, she clapped her hands. Now she's squirming.

She's a Little Sister. She's not quite human. She has the shape of a little girl, and she was once someone's daughter. But now she's a harvester - one of those who drive a syringe into the dead and extract their corrupted genes. Once she has the blood, she'll swallow it in one gulp, shuddering at the aftertaste.

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Is she human? Her eyes say no: they glow bright yellow, demonic. But in my arms... maybe. Maybe she is human. Her Big Daddy is dead. She is defenceless. Her 'Mr Bubbles' minder is flat on his back. And so she writhes back and forth, her tiny arms pushing against my elbows, desperate to escape. She's scared. I have her by the scruff of the neck. She can't escape. She can only wait for my decision. Live or die?

The latter seems fair. My hands move swiftly. Her head is forced downward, oh-so sharp. She's pressed beneath my vision, just out of sight. There's a crack, a splinter, and then she reappears. Limp. In my left hand, her corpse. It is discarded, landing face down in a dank corner. In my right hand, the slithering, dripping slug I've just extracted from her broken spine. It's what I need. My trophy. I swallow it whole, slime still dripping off my hands. This is not a family game.

When you talk to Ken Levine, the creative mind behind the pulp first-person horror of BioShock, it's clear that you're dealing with one of the fiercest creative minds in gaming. He's enjoying the attention, enjoying the lavish praise being heaped on his game by an adoring press.

Ken began his videogame career working for legendary game developer Looking Glass. It was there he was taught the craft of game design, working on the story and initial ideas behind the Thief games. Then came System Shock 2, a masterpiece of horror. In Shock 2 an artificial intelligence-cum-demented mother figure named SHODAN turned slowly insane, alternately torturing and toying with you, the one surviving crew member of a ruined spacecraft. BioShock is regarded as a spiritual sequel to that game - only here you're the one surviving member of a plane crash, saved from death but plunged deep into the social collapse of a strange colony, Rapture. And it's in Rapture that you find Ken's first love.

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"I'm fascinated by utopia," explains Ken. "Utopia, and what happens when it all falls apart. What will people do to create a utopia, and how will they protect it when it falls apart? It's that Logan's Run idea - where ideas are carried right through to their natural end-point." Playing the first two hours of BioShock, you can clearly see the thought processes behind its odd setting. Rapture is coherent and claustrophobic, radical yet weirdly real. This is not an abandoned space station, nor an alien-infested planet. It's human, and it's almost possible.

In BioShock's backstory, Rapture began as an invitation-only haven for the great and good. Scientists, artists and engineers from across the globe were coaxed into joining with the promise of unfettered resources and a place to pursue their ultimate dreams. It exists far below the surface of the Atlantic ocean, the only clue to its existence a lone lighthouse on a remote island. As you first descend, a recorded message by the colony's founder, Andrew Ryan, explains his vision to you: "I built a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the great would not be constrained by petty morality."

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