Dumped into an underwater city after a plane crash BioShock's protagonist, Jack, finds himself struggling to stay alive and escape to normality from a world in free-fall inhabited by crazed killers. Rapture's past is opened to his eyes as he moves through the city hoping to break free, but coming into contact with some of the powerhouses of the city, his journey is not a simple one (when is it ever?).
BioShock has an interesting way of telling its story in that it uses a silent protagonist and very few real cutscenes. Almost everything in the game is seen in real-time, and you learn much about Rapture's past (and through that, its present) through audio tapes of the important players in the underwater city's rise and demise. It's a nice change of pace from the more typical trend of using cutscenes almost solely just to flesh out the narrative of a game and Irrational do a pretty good job of bringing players into the backstory and happenings of Rapture and its inhabitants. The only real issue with storytelling in BioShock is that it can take a while for things to really get going, and then on the opposite spectrum the game seems to almost take forever to wind down to its conclusion.
BioShock isn't your typical FPS in that it doesn't ask players to solely focus on the use of weaponry and ammunition to progress. Through the creation and use of ADAM in Rapture, plasmids (which alter a person's genetics) can be obtained and used against foes like special powers shot or thrown from your left hand - as long as you have enough EVE on you - while Gene Tonics are passive plasmids which essentially allow you to upgrade yourself, such as making hacking easier, or increasing the health you receive from first aid kits. There is a decent range of plasmids and while it can take a little bit of time to obtain a good few to choose from on the spot, the game has an interesting way of making sure you try them all out and showing you how different but useful each of them are in their own ways. Some are rather obviously more effective than others the majority of the time, but you will still have to utilise a handful (if you'll excuse the pun) in order to get by on the higher difficulties and in order to make the most of your surroundings and situations.
One of the more fun features of BioShock's gameplay is that you're allowed a surprising and neat amount of interaction with your environment through your weaponry and plasmids (which is rather ironic considering how little room you are afforded to physically move around in in the game). Say you've found a room with tons of items in them, but you need to hack the gate in order to get to them but you're finding it too difficult. If you have the Telekinesis plasmid chosen at the time, you can use it to grab those items and bring them towards yourself for your own use without even needing to bother hacking through. Or let's say you have an angry mob of enemies in the next room waiting for you behind the door and you don't think you can take them all on alone. If there's a nearby turret, you can shock it with the Electro Bolt plasmid, hack it, and then lure those enemies towards the turret and let it do the work for you! There's even other small nifty things that you can do that make the game a little more quirky and cool, like being able to choose to destroy a health station in order to receive one (or two, if you're lucky) first-aid kits to bring with you, but of course the downside to that is if you end up with more enemies in the same location you may rue that decision in not being able to re-heal yourself on the spot. Through your interaction with the Little Sisters (A.K.A. creepy little girls with syringes full of ADAM) you can even influence part of the ending of the game and how you reach there. For such a tight and enclosed game there are a lot of things you can interact with in different ways as long as you keep your thinking cap on and it makes the game a little more fun.
Arguably the only real issue with BioShock is the feeling of repetitiveness in the game at times. Irrational nailed down the dark, damp, cramped feeling that they clearly wanted to go for and which well represents where the city of Rapture is at the moment, but that very grimy and confined feeling does begin to get a bit tiresome as you progress through the game, as does some of the combat. There's little variation between enemy types apart from the obvious different and larger enemies such as the Big Daddies and most bosses, and even then the use of the Vita-Chamber (pods which serve as checkpoints that bring you back to life) makes fighting all Big Daddies and bosses extremely dull and monotonous as the only penalty to dying in BioShock is that you're returned to the last checkpoint (and one is never far away), and so any sort of survival-horror theme that the game aims for is negated. You have no need to worry whatsoever about dying when facing these guys as when you chop off a bit of their health and die, you come straight back and pick up right where you left off; there's no need for tactics or any real thinking in the vast majority of combat in the game and while you can understand Irrational's thinking behind this it feels like an awfully lazy designer decision to give the bigger and (supposedly) tougher enemies a large chunk of health and basically tell the player "just take it down gradually at your own pace as you like". Heck you'll sometimes sit in the middle of combat with low health or EVE and say to yourself "I won't bother using a first-aid kit / syringe as the bar will go back up halfway after I die".
BioShock is a solid first entry into what has turned out to be a pretty successful franchise so far for Irrational Games as we look towards the oncoming release of BioShock Infinite which looks to mix things up with some more vibrant and open locations. Plasmids and general interaction with your environment make the game fun and allow the player some room for creativity and differentiate the game from most standard FPS games. The story of Rapture is told in a different way to what most of us would be used to but it gives you a good idea about the lore and history of the city, and if you want to know more there are plenty of extra audio tapes to find and listen to throughout the city. The narrative does drag on a bit especially towards the end, but it is well worth your time and has some interesting social commentary to look out for as the game draws to a close. Rapture's environment does become a little tiresome on the eyes after a while and combat can become repetitive but there is plenty of room there for the player to make it more fun for themselves, although I'm sure many a player would prefer to feel an actual need to be more creative in the game than they probably will actually need to. However despite these few shortcomings BioShock is an enjoyable game with a decent narrative and is well worth a play, if even just to prepare yourself for BioShock Infinite's arrival.