If a plane crashes in the ocean and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? The answer is yes, but only after it sinks and destroys a service pipe in the underwater city of Rapture. This is just one of many of the moments presented in Ken Levine’s modern-day telling of an Aye Rand-esque city at the bottom of the ocean. The literary elements presented in the game are enough to merit thousands of dissertations by college students. All of this though is built on the foundation of a truly great game.
The game starts with a plane crash and a moody swim to a desolate lighthouse. The only thing that is present in the light house is a Bathysphere leading to the underwater city of Rapture. After a brief introduction by the prick/genius Andrew Ryan about why he created the city, you finally get your first glimpse of the city itself. The 1960’s New York Skyline greets you with a soft neon glow covered in various shades of blue, making it one of the few peaceful encounters with the character of Rapture itself. One of the coolest parts about this opening scene is when you get into the city, as you are turning a corner in the bathysphere, you see sparks from a worker in a connection pipe above, as a blue whale comes swimming around another corner. These little scripted events make the fourth wall disappear as far as the game itself is concerned.
One character that I absolutely fell in love with was the city of Rapture itself. Walking through the various corridors you could just tell that the city had history. From blood stained walls, to busted sinks, there is so much opportunity for rich story telling. The little things help paint a bigger picture for this game. While it isn’t a requirement to hunt down every single audio diary in the game, there is an intense need to do so just to hear the stories of the citizens of Rapture. The audio diaries in the game just add broad strokes of color to an already intense painting.
The gameplay is an elegant dance of Plasmids, which are various spell like attacks, and the use of guns. The genetically modified bunch of Splicers you fight present interesting enough targets, not a single encounter will be the same. The true testament of the game though is when you are fighting a Splicer and he darts for a nearby Health Station, healing himself back up to full health. It is the small attention to detail like that that makes the game’s Artificial Intelligence shine. It gets even more hectic when you are fighting splicers that climb on the ceiling, teleport, use guns, or hit you with melee objects. The battle field gets complicated fast, but it never feels so overwhelming that you can’t deal with it, assuming you are perfect in your combat execution that is.
However, the splicers take a back seat to the center piece of the game, the Big Daddy. They are, sadly, limited to only two types, the melee rage that is the Bouncer, and the ranged valkyrie Rosie. However that does not mean the encounters themselves are bland. Most end up with you pinned up against the wall getting hit with a drill consistently in the face. The true reward is the moral choice that follows. Do you kill the Little Sister the Big Daddy is protecting, or do you save her life? While not just a moral decision, it is also effects the game, granting you more ADAM, a genetic currency, for killing them and less for saving them. ADAM is in turn used to purchase upgrades for yourself, be it the ability to have more plasmids at your genetic fingertips, or increasing your physical abilities.
I cannot stress how scary this game is though. From sound design to lighting, it makes the game spooky as hell. Hearing the gargled speech of a splicer singing ‘Jesus loves me’ sends chills down my spine. Then add to the fact he is singing it from the ceiling, crawling backwards and throwing fish hooks at you. All while he has a sadistic disgruntled smile on his ugly face. The design just seeps with connections so strong that you feel that Rapture is a real place, that you are attracted to in a psychotic kind of way. I would trade a year of my life for one day in Rapture.
But only if I had a really big gun…