Its been nine years since the original Bioshock came out – a game where players dove face first into the twisted underwater dystopia known as Rapture – and to this day it remains one of the creepiest, most discomforting games out there. The twisted atmosphere has spanned over two sequels, and with the recent release of Bioshock: The Collection, you have the chance to play all of them again.
The Bioshock series is special to me. It’s disquieting charm is so unique, and each iteration brought something refreshingly new and creative to the table. Each one has such memorable scenes, from the deep-water terrors of Rapture to the crazy cults of Columbia, all of Bioshock‘s experiences have impactful moments that other games should take note of.
The one that comes to mind when I hear the word Bioshock is the first part of the original game. It was a roller coaster of anticipation, anxiety and plain old fear, but it was astoundingly well done.
The first second you get into the game there’s a plane crash and you’re plummeted into the sea. You don’t even have time to orient yourself in the horrible situation because there’s fire everywhere, and finding a safe spot is the only thing on your mind. It’s hard to see what anything is with all of the elemental chaos going on around you, but there is one thing that stands out – a lighthouse. So, naturally, you swim towards it.
There’s a winding staircase that leads to the lighthouse and it took me a while to walk up the steps because I was just so scared. Once I got into the lighthouse, I was greeted by some old-timey jazz and a slightly tattered banner which said “No Gods or Kings. Only Man.” Under the banner sat a scuba pod that lead underwater. I didn’t want to go down, but I really had no choice – how else was the game gonna progress – so I hopped in and hoped for the best.
This is next part really stuck with me; it’s what makes me set my standards high for the beginning sequence of each and every game I play.
Once you pull the lever to activate the pod’s descent, you’re submerged underwater and the audio doesn’t let you forget that. The pod is creaking and the sound of the hundreds of bubbles surrounding you create this claustrophobic environment you can’t escape – it makes me eerily uncomfortable each time I play it. The only thing you can do to distract yourself from the suffocating situation is listen to the soft, creepy jazz music that’s playing in the background. It’s not a fun time.
The mechanical system taking you underwater doesn’t sound like its been used in years. Every piece of machinery makes an audible clunk, and you can hear the flick of every rusty lever and pulley that guide the pod. As you go deeper down there are some puzzling statues on the wall and some schools of fish; right as you’re taking a closer look to try to understand this mess, a screen rolls down and a projector starts playing.
The first thing that pops up is a picture of a man lighting a woman’s cigarette and a quote that says “Fire at your Fingertips!”, which seems pretty cool right? I’m a big fan of comics, so the idea of practical superpowers always gets me. Incinerate was similar to the powers mutants would have in the X-men series, and if this game let me have some abilities like Jubilee or Cyclops I was oh-so-down for it.
Then the slide changed to a picture of Andrew Ryan – if you think of Rapture as the disturbed version of Atlantis, Ryan would be Poseidon – and then his voice started playing through the radio. I’d like to paraphrase what he was saying, but I’d be lessening the impact of the message. He says:
“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. A city where the artist would not fear the censor; where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality; where the great would not be constrained by the small! And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.”
This deep-seated libertarian ideology fits so well into Bioshock canon, and it’s ultimately the reason Rapture exists at all.
During his speech the projector stops, the screen goes away and you get your first look at rapture. At first glance it’s beautiful; an underwater utopia. The perfect city with cheesy commercial advertising surrounded by natural aquatic life – it’s weird, but somehow it works.
As you’re floating throughout the city, you get to check out the spectacle that is Rapture. The massive buildings and walkways that make up the city are just architecturally appealing, and makes it one of my favorite settings in a video game.
But things quickly start to take a darker turn once you enter your first building in Rapture. You pull up to a room with almost no power, the lights are flashing and there’s a man slowly walking away from this slouched creature. He’s pleading “Please don’t hurt me!”, but the creature continues creeping towards him. Then in one quick thrust it slices the man and chokes him, just inches away from your face. You’re lucky that there’s a glass window separating that thing and you, or else you would’ve shared that guy’s sad fate.
That’s not even the worst part! The thing looks up at you and asks, “Is it someone new?” and then lets out a guttural screech while jumping on top of your pod. It starts scratching up the pod’s wires, ruining your only ticket out of this sea hell. The creature walks away and you’re stranded. You hear someone’s voice on a radio, you pick it up and the pod’s door opens and you’re free to walk out. But why would you want to? You just saw a guy die there and now Rapture isn’t looking to be all it was gassed up to be.
I’m not even gonna lie, when I played this game nine years ago this part messed me up so badly. I didn’t even want to play after this. What kinda wack game does that to you at the beginning? I had to invite a couple friends over just so I could get past it. The atmosphere and brutality made me so uneasy. It took me weeks to muster up the courage to get past it, but I was still screaming the whole time.
I try to avoid scary things at all costs – I’m a baby when it comes to horror – so when I played Bioshock it was my first adventure into horror-influenced games. Throughout each game I’ve been put into situations like that, which are way outside of my comfort zone, but I’ve had to suck it up and keep going because the world was so interesting. I wanted to find out more about what happened to the highly esteemed Rapture to make it fall this low, I wanted to know why Andrew Ryan wanted to build a place like Rapture, and I wanted to know how my character fit into everything.
Playing through all of the games I got the answers to those questions, and man, were they satisfying. The Bioshock series is a must-play in my eyes, and if you want to experience something impactful and impressive then you should pick it up. But hey, don’t just take my word for it, do what you want to do. After all, a man chooses, a slave obeys.