Rapture is an underwater city, an idealistic utopia that one man had enough money and power to make into a big brass reality. Rapture is a haven for the Earth's intellectuals, her artists, her athletes, her scientists. It's an art-deco paradise, a slice of mid-20th century American glamour placed on the floor of the Atlantic.
Rapture is a place untouched by capitalism, communism or altruism. It's a place where a man's virtues are in his own skills and not the skills of his peers, where the needy are deemed parasitic, where life is perfect. In the words of its creator, Andrew Ryan: "It was not impossible to build Rapture at the bottom of the ocean - it was impossible to build it anywhere else."
Isn't that clever? Games rarely credit their players with this much intelligence, and this is only the outset of the story too. The collective genius of Irrational has spawned something amazing, something more intriguing than perhaps any other game we've come across. BioShock has so much depth, and not just because it has a complex, mature storyline that touches on various philosophies, politics and the notions of ego and free will, but also by having so many implicit layers of exposition.
What I mean is, you can play BioShock without caring about the characters within Rapture. You can ignore the carefully woven series of events that have led to its downfall. You can merrily wade through the enemies, never let the word 'existentialism' cross your mind, treat the game like a shooter and enjoy yourself at a very base level.
But then, you could take your time. You could search for the portentous audio diaries scattered throughout the city, discover the meaning behind every facet of the game, and come out the other side with a proper understanding of the beautiful world in which the game is set, and the characters that populate it, or once did.
When you finish playing BioShock, and you've played it properly by becoming engrossed in the whole thing, you come away feeling like you've just read a great novel. A novel that you were truly a part of, and one that made you feel things games generally don't tend to make you feel.
Play BioShock and you'll feel scared, you'll feel disgusted, amused, shocked and thrilled. It is every inch a masterpiece, a finely polished experience, something people might point to when they're going off on one about games being an unappreciated art form. It's all very good. It's as good as all the previews made it sound, and maybe even just a bit better.
In fact, it's hard to say exactly why it's great without simply blubbing about the story and the characters before stopping, putting your hand to your mouth and saying: "Oops, can't tell you that - spoooilers!"
WHAT WENT WRONG
Simply put, Rapture went a bit cuckoo-bananas when a gene-altering slug was discovered and certain people began to profit from it. One mutated thing led to another, more mutated thing, and you find yourself arriving in the silent aftermath of
a civil war, in the year 1960.
The citizens, grotesquely disfigured by the constant reconfiguration of their DNA, and probably a bit embarrassed about the whole situation, skulk about the darkened hallways and bars, moaning to themselves, desperate and willing to kill for more of the gene-changing substance they crave. They wear, with unnerving humanity, fancy dress masks from the New Year's Eve party during which the fighting first broke out.