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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #7—BioShock

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OnlySP Favorite Games 7 - BioShock

Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week’s game is one of the most memorable game universes of all time, in one of the most idiosyncratic genres ever.

BioShock logo

#7. BIOSHOCK, by Daniel Pereira

From the shimmer on the city’s water-washed steps, to the claustrophobic descent into madness, everyone’s first trip to Rapture is unparalleled. Andrew Ryan’s failed utopia represented a flawed vision of reality, where the individual is the pilot of their own destiny. Despite experiencing the same journey, every player who spent time in Rapture left with their own understanding of the events that took place. BioShock holds a wealth of secrets left buried within its walls, so would you kindly join OnlySP in discussing why BioShock is on our list of Top 50 games. Editor’s note: prepare for full spoilers ahead.

Many elements are required for a game to be considered one of the greats: primarily, intricate level design, fluid controls, and a captivating narrative are among the most important. BioShock not only succeeds in each category but maintains relevance more than a decade after its initial release. Spawning a direct sequel, and one semi-prequel, BioShock has left a legacy on the video game industry that still spawns philosophical debate.

BioShock sister

BioShock, as a game, is the sum of its parts. Honoring BioShock would not be justifiable without recognizing the prior works that the developer shamelessly pulled from. For some people, the concept surrounding Andrew Ryan’s underwater utopia might sound a bit too familiar. Heavily inspired by the works of Ayn Rand, BioShock can be seen as a byproduct of her works in Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Story similarities aside, other inspirations might have gone unnoticed, despite being blatant. For example, Andrew Ryan, the main man himself, is a wordplay on the author’s name Ayn Rand. Additionally, two of the characters featured throughout the game, Atlas and Frank Fontaine, are also named after Rand’s two novels.

Upon first descent into Rapture, the player discovers that the city is not as grand as its spirit claimed to be. Due to the environmental limitations, Rapture’s buildings are sectioned off from each other, only accessible via passenger tunnels or the Bathysphere, an underwater elevator that is capable of transporting individuals across its empty space. The dark hallways and heavy atmosphere serve only to heighten the sense of dread found within Rapture’s walls, as further exploration leaves the player with the thought that an escape from this underwater hell may not exist. The limited structure of Rapture evokes a sense of curiosity and wonder. While many games today try to create a world as big as the technology allows, BioShock was able to capture the same amount of wonder in a smaller package. Rapture proved that bigger is not always better with level design.

BioShock gameplay

From the water seeping through the cracked lining of passage tunnels, to the moaning of each structure as the water weighs in from the outside, the sound design in BioShock perfectly enhances the claustrophobic experience of Rapture. Upon first entry into Rapture, the player is greeted by a rustic recording of Andrew Ryan advertising what makes his underwater utopia unique. From that point on, every scream from a Splicer and grunt from a Big Daddy evokes terror around every corner. The sounds found throughout BioShock are designed to create tension and uneasiness from the player, further emphasizing the reality of Rapture’s flawed ideology. The halls that were once filled with music and partying are now left with the cries of madmen and scuttling scavengers.

A myriad of ideologies are explored throughout the BioShock games, but one that remains a franchise staple is the concept of free will. Players assume the role of Jack, BioShock’s silent protagonist, as his plane crashes into the ocean. Having miraculously survived, he surfaces and sees nothing but a lighthouse, and within the lighthouse an elevator. Given no other option, the player is forced to take the elevator down into the underwater depths and figure their survival from then on. Not long into their journey, the player is rescued by Atlas, a man with a simple request: help save his family from a premature underwater grave and take revenge on Andrew Ryan.

BioShock gameplay 3

BioShock’s use of a silent protagonist combines in philosophical harmony with the concept of exploring free will in video games. Due to Jack being silent, the player assumes his role for themselves, experiencing their own journey into Rapture. Upon entry, the player is immediately faced with propaganda regarding the free man and his entitlement to the sweat of his own brow. Throughout the game, the player encounters characters who all have their own flawed vision of what Rapture was to them, which in turn led to its inevitable downfall. Despite being faced with the question of free will at every turn, the player is driven only by the requests of Rapture’s inhabitants.

From Atlus’s first request, to the climactic encounter with Andrew Ryan, the only thing the player does out of their own volition is upgrading Jack’s weapons and abilities. Where some games that implement a similar quest structure would be disregarded as fetch quests, BioShock weaves this into a narrative that is sure to evoke a jaw-dropping reaction from any first-time player. The beauty of BioShock’s narrative and the legacy it has created can all be summed up by one simple phrase: “Would you kindly”.

Throughout BioShock, the player is driven through Atlus’s rage at Andrew Ryan, completing tasks that bring them one step closer to revenge. When finally placed face to face with Ryan himself, the game reveals that the player has had no free will at all. Rather than forging their own path, the player has been guided throughout the game by Atlus, who is now revealed to be Frank Fontaine, with the trigger phrase “would you kindly”.

BioShock gameplay 2

During the climactic encounter with Ryan, the player completes their task of murdering Ryan, who is shouting another phrase that has become iconic with the game: “A man chooses, a slave obeys”. In this moment—the only non-interactive, cutscene sequence between the opening and closing cinemas—Ryan puts the entire game into perspective, and brings into question the nature of the title’s relationship with free will. In this moment, the player is then faced with the thought of whether Jack is killing Ryan because he was told to, or if he is doing it out of hatred towards this man. Regardless of the conclusion, the truth of the matter is that in Ryan’s Rapture, free will is an illusion and the thought of it only fuels the propaganda of its leader.

BioShock’s legacy within the video game industry is one that should be honored for future generations. The game not only helped propel the significance of single player games in an ever-growing mosh pit of multiplayer titles, but did so by sculpting a narrative that is unique and thought provoking long after its conclusion. The twists and turns encountered within BioShock’s story are among some of the greatest writing within a video game, and the philosophy behind Rapture’s existence is sure to make every player reflect on their own life, even if only temporary.

System Shock

BEYOND RYAN’S RAPTURE

The story behind the BioShock series is as involved and engaging as the tale that the game itself weaves, but the short version is that the team that developed the game was formed from key personnel behind the famous immersive sim series System Shock and Thief. The immersive sim genre had emerged all the way back in 1992 with Ultima Underworld, though it evolved across the Thief and System Shock series, and is chiefly characterised by a focus on player choice and an array of game systems that interact in novel ways.

In the mid 2000s, the time of the aforementioned multiplayer mosh pit, a good immersive sim like Deus Ex or System Shock had not come around for years. BioShock‘s release in 2007 was therefore exciting for fans of player-choice driven, non-linear first person experiences, despite concerns that the game was ‘dumbed down’ for consoles in comparison with the PC-only System Shock games.

BioShock 2

BioShock was ultimately more memorable for its well-executed narrative than any of its individual immersive sim features. Complaints about, for instance, the lack of an accessible inventory paled in light of the progress that BioShock made for storytelling in first person games as a whole. Parts of that story are still rooted in System Shock 2—including one twist that is essentially ported over whole—but the slick controls, crafty enemy AI, and improved presentation of the game world allowed the excellent story to shine through all the brighter.

After BioShock 2 was announced, fans of that story awaited with trepidation to see how it might be continued in the sequel. Unfortunately, the big picture storytelling that won the first BioShock its accolades was given a deliberate back seat in the 2010 sequel.

Rather than a straight-up sanding off rough edges as in the successive Elder Scrolls games (a process of making these once-PC-only series more palatable to a mainstream audience), this entry was more a striving to refine different aspects of the traditional immersive sim experience. Readers can get a better and more in-depth history of this evolution in Noah Caldwell-Gervais’s look at the System Shock and BioShock series, but the improvements were mainly in the freedom of action—such as the increased variety of options when it came to combinations of weapons and plasmids.

BioShock Infinite

This focus on action took another leap forward in BioShock Infinite, perhaps the most divisive of the series, but also the most ambitious in terms of narrative. The third BioShock title flipped the series’s relationship with the immersive sim genre on its head, in some ways working as an entire-game equivalent to the “Would you kindly?” twist from the first game. On the other hand, its action game sensibilities and linear levels were so unlike the immersive sim template that the fanbase quickly turned on BioShock Infinite, preferring games such as Dishonored for their similarly advanced, yet more reverent take on the genre.

Thanks for taking some time to visit Rapture with us, and take a trip through the history of the BioShock series up to this point. Industry murmurs certainly suggest that 2019 will be the year the next BioShock game is revealed, but nothing official has been announced—so why not comment below with your guess as to what it might be? Keep your bookmark on OnlySP and we will return next week with another immersive sim with very different priorities.

Single-player games coverage. Every day.

OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #17—Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

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Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week’s game is a classic—a founding title in a genre loved by many to this day.

Castlevania Symphony of the Night gameplay screenshot 4

#17. CASTLEVANIA: SYMPHONY OF THE NIGHT, by Daniel Pereira

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is truly a special game. Few titles within the industry can be labeled as a work of art, and Konami’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is, without a doubt, one of them. Being born of an ideology that a new direction could be what was best for the series after three iterations  of the same style, Symphony of the Night took a leap of faith for the franchise, and looking back on its success, players will have no question that the leap paid off.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night takes place five years after the events of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, where Richter Belmont traversed Castle Dracula to take down the main man himself and once again reset the Castle’s reappearance cycle .

What is interesting about Symphony of the Night was that  the game begins as Rondo of Blood ends: with the climactic battle of Richter and Dracula in the throne room. Once the battle is complete the game transitions and players are now reintroduced to Alucard, Dracula’s half-vampire son with a human woman. This game is the first time players had seen Alucard since Castlevania III (1989), and this time he is the primary playable character.

Castlevania Symphony of the Night gameplay screenshot 2

Alucard’s introduction within Symphony of the Night as the playable character created a whole new dynamic for the player to wrap their head around. Since Alucard is not a vampire hunter nor a member of the Belmont family, he does not use a whip to slay monsters. Instead he uses a variety of weaponry that players can discover throughout their journey into the castle. Interestingly, the game starts the player off at what is essentially Alucard’s peak performance, as he is able to slice and dice his way through any enemy before him—that is, until Alucard is reunited with Death, who strips him of his abilities and gear forcing the player to start their adventure empty-handed.

The developer ’s choice to start the player completely fresh and weak contributes nicely to the game’s new direction. Unlike previous playable characters, Alucard can equip different armor, weapons, and abilities to further aid him while traversing the castle. Ultimately, Alucard’s goals are to figure out why the castle has reappeared only five years after being destroyed, and locate the missing Richter Belmont. Despite a narrative that captures player attention  immediately, Symphony of the Night proves that its new gameplay direction is what will ultimately steal the show.

As a revolutionary new direction for the Castlevania series at the time, Symphony of the Night was the first entry that did not end after a stage completion or boss fight . Instead, Symphony of the Night surprised players by simply continuing forward. In previous games, after completing a stage, the player would be taken to a map screen to select the next area of play; however, in Symphony of the Night, the map can be toggled with the press of a button and only indicated areas that were visited by the player, with everything else nonexistent until discovered. This promoted exploration and returning ventures to familiar areas, allowing the game to really showcase its roots  and establish a formula that would usher it into the history books.

In addition to the new approach to level design for Symphony of the Night, what is most surprising about the game, and perhaps what solidified it in most gamer’s memory, is the fact that after what would seem to be the final boss fight, the castle would then invert and could be played entirely upside down. For this event to conspire, the player would have to complete specific tasks before and during the boss encounter, and whether or not those tasks were done would determine if the game ended there or continued with the Inverted Castle. As a truly remarkable feature, Symphony of the Night‘s Castle Dracula was designed to look just as beautiful upside down as it was during the normal playthrough. Not only was the aesthetic of the castle perfectly preserved in its inverted state, but it also played just as seamless as it did right-side up.

As a testament to the wonderful art and craftsmanship by the developer for this title, the gothic horror atmosphere combined with the excellent sound design of the game only attributed to how incredible Symphony of the Night‘s Castle Dracula was. That the artistic integrity of Symphony of the Night has withstood the test of time is truly astonishing. At a time when the industry was shifting to 3D models, the team behind Symphony of the Night chose to go against the grain and create what feels like a swan song for the 2D gaming genre.

Recently, director Koji Igarashi released the long-anticipated Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the spiritual successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. OnlySP had the privilege of reviewing the new game, and although it exceeded our expectations and presents itself as a worthy successor, it cannot replace or recreate the zeitgeist that was Symphony of the Night. The 2.5D graphics of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night are outclassed by the 2D pixel art  of its predecessor. A style decision, yes, however one cannot help but wonder what the final product would have looked like with a 2D template.

Of course, Symphony of the Night cannot be truly praised without mention of its greatest contribution to the industry. Without this game, players would have never known that man is a miserable pile of secrets. Thanks to Symphony of the Night’s original intro battle, the industry will always remember the significance surrounding Dracula’s rhetorical question of “What is a man?”

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a stylish love letter to fans of the series. More importantly, however, is the game’s contribution to the industry and the Metroidvania genre as a whole. To this day, Symphony of the Night is recognized and referenced as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Metroidvania game of its generation.

From the outset, players might question how this game could come with such accolades, but the easiest answer is more often than not the simplest one. For one to understand what makes Castlevania: Symphony of the Night so great and worthy of a spot on OnlySP’s 50 Favorite Games, all they need to do is play it.

Thanks for joining us as we take a look at one of the founders of the Metroidvania genre. Join us next week as we look at a very different game from a different genre—but one that has remained inspirational for years nonetheless.

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