Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
I know that sounds like asking “have you eaten bread?” or “ever had a crush?”, but Have You Played’s purpose is far more to inspire discussion after the fact, or prompt a replay, than it is as a buyer’s guide for someone with an empty gaming plate.
BioShock was drowning in hype at launch and bitterness immediately after it – oh it was going to rewrite the FPS rulebook, oh it wasn’t much like System Shock 2, oh its moral choice was too absolute, oh its final fight was bobbins. (That last is true, in fairness). To some extent it’s been tarished by its sequel BioShock Infinite, which though not short on redeeming quantities does make ‘BioShock’ as a name now seem to represent excess, folly, contradiction, wondrous world-building burned on the pyre of mindless shooting… I think about BioShock now, its own right, hype and sequel detached from it, and I only feel fond.
It has, hands down, one of the best videogame opening sequences I can name. Drama and mystery and Django Reinhardt and lighthouses, then a plunge beneath the waves and the first glimpse of Rapture’s whale-patrolled subnautical skyscrapers. There is so much packed into those first ten minutes, so much world built, so much atmosphere generated, so many mysteries posed, so much menace and splendour.
There is so much more to come, even if it much of it doesn’t grab to quite the extent the opening did. But Fort Frolic, the Ryan encounter, the darkly deft environmental storytelling of the Little Sisters’ nursery, the twist, the Big Daddy production line, the player-character’s last-act transformation, even the sadness of the final cinematics: there is so much in BioShock. Much was lost when it left the seas in favour of open sky and even bigger questions. And yes, there are plot holes and there are disruptively game-y elements, but BioShock did so much in a time when no-one else in Big Gaming was. I am grateful to it, and I still think it majestic no matter its wobbles and no matter what happened later.