Friday, August 29, 2008

Number 4: Bioshock - "Welcome to Rapture" (2k Games, 2007)

The number 4 spot on my list belongs to the opening of last year's critically acclaimed Bioshock. The game takes place in the city of Rapture, an art deco underwater city built as an objectivist utopia by a megalomaniac of a man named Andrew Ryan (a sort of play-on-words/anagram for Ayn Rand). You play as a man simply named 'Jack', who is the sole survivor of a plane crash in the 1940's mid-Atlantic ocean.

Bioshock is a fascinating game because the game tasks you with hunting down and killing 'Big Daddies' - giant 'men' (we never get to glimpse who or what is inside) encased in oversized old-fashioned diving suits. You need to get rid of these Big Daddies because they protect the Little Sisters, small girls who walk around and harvest a material named 'Adam' from the dead bodies strewn around Rapture. You see, upon Jack's arrival you learn that something has gone horrible amiss in Rapture, leaving most of its citizens dead or so drugged-up that they've become ravenous killers. What you learn is that in this "anything goes" objectivist society, a new sort of drug/genetic modification was developed, called 'Plasmids', which gave its users phenomenal powers over the elements, allowing for such things as shooting electricity from one's hands, or the ability to turn water into ice. But something went wrong. It's a bit of a conceit, but is well implemented in the story. Plus it allows for some great old-fashioned advertising, like the old cigarette commercials from the '50's that look so silly and antiquated nowadays.

When you finally get to one of these Little Sisters you are presented with a choice, you can either choose to 'harvest' them, taking all the Adam they've accumulated but killing the Little Sister in the process, or you can choose to save them, removing the leech thing from their backs and returning them to normal, but sacrificing the precious Adam in the process. The first time you are confronted with this option it can be almost terrifying as you see a little girl looking at you in fear with the two options laid out in front of you. It seems that most people are unable to kill the little sister the first time, opting to save her instead.

The game also has one of the greatest twists in modern gaming, and in perhaps all of gaming. I don't want to divulge what it is here, but it's a great example of the reader-response school of literary criticism and really leaves the player to question what their role is in playing a videogame. I honestly felt that my trust hadn't been so much betrayed by the characters in the game, but that it was the actual game makers themselves who had betrayed me. I wish I could say more.

In the "Welcome to Rapture" segment we, as Jack, wake up from the plane crash to find ourselves floating in the water with the ruins of the plane crash around us. Water has never looked so damn good in a game. The fact that you don't have any sort of display at this point leaves a lot of people sitting there for a few minutes not realizing that the game has started. You swim a short way and see some sort of lighthouse protruding from the water nearby. You swim over to it and upon opening the front door are greeted with the statue of a scowling man holding a giant banner that reads: "No Gods or King, only Man". A short trip down the stairs brings you to the bathysphere (a giant diving bell). Upon pulling the lever the bathysphere closes and you are plunged underwater to begin your journey. Giant art-deco statues, straight from the cover of an Ayn Rand novel, appear outside holding signs which say how many fathoms deep you are. A movie screen pops up and a small "Welcome" movie begins to play. You are greeted by the voice of Andrew Ryan, who sounds something like Orson Welles, and he delivers his manifesto for why he built Rapture in one of gaming's great speeches:

"I'm Andrew Ryan, and I'm here to ask you a question:
Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own 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...
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."

After this little movie you are greeted with the city of Rapture before you. An art-deco masterpiece entirely underwater, like something out of Jules-Verne. My favorite part is the giant humpback whale slowly swimming between the massive skyscrapers. Soon you enter Rapture and find that something terrible has occured.

There's no specific endpoint to the beginning of the game, but for this piece I'll say it's when you get knocked out and see a Big Daddy/Little Sister slowly trudging past you, with the Big Daddy sounding like some sort of whale. This level is not only a great introduction to the game, but it effectively introduces you to combat, plasmids, and how to use your environment around you. I could go on about this game, but I'll stop for now. I highly recommend watching the intro to the game, you can find it here.

1 comment:

yoggoth said...

I thought this was a great intro level as well. I haven't finished the game yet, but that's my favorite level so far. It's unfortunate that contemporary technology limits the amount of activity they can present in the city. I would have loved to see a city teeming with chaos and activity, rather than the mostly dead city you are shown. But it is beautiful regardless.

And if you've read one or more of Ayn Rand's books, and aren't a die hard believer in objectivism, you can't help but get a smile on your face as you listen to Andrew Ryan.