Review: 'BioShock' Is an Instant Classic

"BioShock" is indeed shocking, just not in the way you might expect. It's a rare first-person shooter that transcends the genre's action and forces players to think about what they're doing, and why.

Taking down foes like a "Big Daddy" is hard enough; dealing with this game's moral dilemma can be an even greater challenge.

"BioShock" (Rated M, $59.99 for Xbox 360, $49.99 for Windows) begins with a jolt as you find yourself the sole survivor of a plane crash in the middle of the ocean.

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Flaming wreckage burns in all but one direction, and it's here you see a gleaming tower in the midst of the floating destruction.

The sheen of this game's art-deco magnificence quickly gives way to dread upon entering the tower and riding a bathysphere into the depths of a grand undersea city called Rapture.

This is no mythical Atlantis, however. Rapture is a devastated place, an anarchist's social scientific experiment turned into a seeping urban dystopia.

And it's filled with rival packs of genetically mutated freaks and all other sorts of horrors.

The denizens (all of them bent on your death, of course) are split between Splicers, vile former humans who've amped themselves up on too many gene-altering chemicals; and Little Sisters and Big Daddies.

It's the former foe who you'll encounter the most, almost to a fault by the game's conclusion.

The latter duo, however, share a special bond that represents some of the game's most thrilling moments. Big Daddies are clad in metal diving suits that shake Rapture's infrastructure as they plod around. They are extremely difficult to eliminate and given to quick bursts of speed.

Little Sisters, meanwhile, are young girls with a bioengineered curse: within them is a substance called Adam, and it's the lifeblood of a growing arsenal of genetic powers you'll obtain.

So the question becomes, do you kill the girl and harvest more Adam, or do let her live and extract far less? It may not seem like a huge philosophical dilemma, but these are heady issues for a video game.

Regardless of your decision, "BioShock" is loaded with combat and opportunities for creative decision making. You could kill that pack of Splicers standing in a pool of water with a pistol, but then again, it's far more efficient to shoot electricity from your left hand and zap them all at once.

Likewise, you could ignore the broken robots lying around, or you could hack them, turning them into powerful allies that fly around and shoot enemies on sight.

So what will you do in Rapture? It all boils down to how you want to play. There's ample flexibility in the game's linear story line that makes a second run through Rapture's unique brand of madness an exciting prospect.

And you'll find yourself pondering the notion of "self-improvement" with genetic mutations that give you electricity, fire and other super powers through the ingestion of "Gene Tonics" and "Plasmids."

"BioShock" is a gamer's dream, but it's not particularly hard. The lack of any real death penalty exacerbates the issue: losing your life simply means you respawn nearby and continue fighting.

But so rare is a quality title like "BioShock," so compelling is its story, that you'll hardly notice. It's been a while now since I solved the mystery that is "BioShock," but I still can't get it out of my mind.

Four stars out of four.