"My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." Ayn Rand.
The philosophy of Ayn Rand, the American novelist, playwright and screenwriter, is no ordinary inspiration for a videogame, and ordinary is not an adjective anyone would choose to describe BioShock. Its sense of style, the freedom it affords the player and a compelling storyline have already ensured it classic status.
Built in 1946 by business magnate and idealist, Andrew Ryan, Rapture was meant to be a paradise of freedom and wealth, a refuge from what Ryan perceived as increasingly oppressive political, economical, and religious authority. It was populated by the world's worthiest citizens and powered by submarine volcanoes, and for several years, the vision was a reality. However, the discovery of ADAM and EVE - stem cells harvested from previously undiscovered sea slugs that accelerated genetic research and created the plasmid industry, offering superhuman powers to ordinary people - upset the social balance and corrupted Ryan's ideals.
In 1960, your plane crashes in the middle of the Atlantic. The only survivor, you swim to a nearby lighthouse where you find the bathysphere that takes you down into Rapture. Ordered society has collapsed. Alone, you must use whatever you find to fight the genetically controlled Splicers and the automated systems patrolling the failed Utopia.
The most immediately striking aspect of BioShock is its cinematic style, which guides the player through a rich, mature story without ever detracting from the freedom to explore. The look, feel and sounds of 1950s luxury, now neglected and tainted with blood, are lavishly applied throughout, resulting in a stylish game that will have you admiring the view and peering from behind cushions in fear at the same time.
Thanks to the tangible atmosphere - Rapture is one of the most memorable game environments ever created - and its terrifying residents, BioShock is a very scary game. Many games rely on silence to generate a creepy atmosphere, but here, noise follows you everywhere. Splicers are ordinary citizens turned insane by genetic alteration. Hearing them mumbling to each other as you turn a corner is enough to make you consider turning back, not only because they look and sound grotesque, but because they are extremely tough thanks to astonishing Artificial Intelligence.
This AI is one of three major contributors to Bioshock's superb, liberating gameplay, the other two being level design and the brilliant Plasmid system. Like many other shooters, you are equipped with an arsenal ranging from pistols, to shotguns, to grenade launchers, all of which can be customised. You can burst into a room all guns blazing or you can keep to the shadows for a stealthier approach, and when you start discovering Plasmids, things get a lot more subtle and you can start thinking creatively about your survival.
Plasmids are special powers developed through stem cell research, such as the ability to incinerate, electrocute or freeze an enemy or object, telekinesis, a swarm of insects that attacks your foes and many more. There's even one that sends Splicers into a rage and makes them attack each other, leaving you to watch the ensuing fight before picking off the survivors.
You'll find yourself weighing up each situation and experimenting with different Plasmids, depending on the environment and particular weaknesses of enemies, which are learnt by taking research photos - an addictive mini-game in itself. Once you've mastered each Plasmid, you can start manipulating the environment to your benefit. You may decide to set a Splicer on fire, only to electrocute them when they jump into a pool to extinguish the flames. If one Splicer in a group has a gun, you could enrage them into shooting the others and then freeze them on the spot for safe passage. All of this is possible because the enemies are intelligent enough to be fearsome and unpredictable, yet logical.
Toying with your emotions is something the game does brilliantly, particularly when deciding whether to kill or save the Little Sisters - small girls that carry precious ADAM in their bloodstream. If you kill them, you take their ADAM; saving them results in less ADAM, but with the promise of a reward later on. And your decisions affect the story. Before you can even make those decisions, however, you have to take down the Big Daddy protecting each Little Sister, which can be truly frightening.
Bioshock oozes quality throughout, driving you through a story that you will still be thinking about weeks after finishing it. All games make you react, but very few make you think in the same way as this one does.
Andrew Ryan's Utopia may have failed, but Rapture is paradise for PS3 owners.