It's not perfect, there are a few nagging issues which prevent me from calling it "perfect", but goddamned if I'm not tempted. So let's start with the good, what massive amounts of it there are. First of all, this is undoubtedly the best horror FPS ever. No other has even come close. Invariably, games which attempt this genre either sacrifice the proper gameplay depth or abandon the horror element too soon. BioShock does neither, and manages to deliver one of the most compelling shooters I've played to date. In addition to being genuinely scary or disturbing quite often, the combat system is amazingly well thought-out. This is the first tactical strategy FPS I've played that delivers both solid shooting gameplay and actually practical strategy out of the box. However, this does bring up the first of my minor complaints. On Normal difficulty, the strategy is really not integral to gameplay. Sure, you can combine plasmids with different ammo types to be more effective, but I rarely felt the need to do much beyond "Light on fire/shock, shoot with machine gun/shotgun". Tactics become much more essential on Hard, where laying mines and trip wires for Big Daddies, using the Enrage and Fake Target plasmids, and hacking cameras and turrets all become critical elements of survival. I strongly recommend Hard for veteran FPS players looking to get the full BioShock experience. However, casual gamers and those who feel they have shaky FPS skills will probably be able to utilize strategy more effectively and be perfectly content with Normal.
Moving on, the next thing which absolutely must be talked about when you talk about BioShock is the story. Quite simply, this is one of the best stories I've ever had the joy of playing through. The main story is no Metal Gear Solid as far as complexity goes, however that's a natively unfair comparison. In MGS, the story is delivered to you through cutscenes. In BioShock, you the player are discovering the story as you go, every time you pick up a diary, every time you listen in on a character's ramblings. There is rarely a moment when you put down the controller to watch things happen. And this brings me to my next point. The world created by BioShock is so incredibly compelling, so downright mesmerizing, you simply can't help but become enchanted by it. The art direction in this game is astounding. Every piece of period art is exactly as you would imagine it, every building a beautiful tribute to 1930's metropolises, every single character voice shows subtle hints of the culture of the time. And all this ties in so brilliantly with the core idea of BioShock. A city underwater, separated from surface life, develops its own subculture, its own advancements, its own problems, and of course, its own downfall. The truly great sci-fi story is able to take a single concept and spin an entire world based on it, much in the way Watchmen did. In this, I think BioShock succeeds marvelously. The detail involved in the background story combined with the (again) astounding art direction makes the world of Rapture a completely believable concept. As the player, I felt completely enveloped in the world, and this only served to enhance the already great experience tenfold. Typically, as you proceed in these types of games, the environment (and tacitly, the concept) becomes repetitive, often to the point of being tiresome. In BioShock, the opposite is true. If anything, as I continued, I became more and more interested in what I was doing. This in itself is an amazing accomplishment of game design.
However, not all is perfect, as I said. There are a couple exceptions to the "game gets more interesting as I play" trend, namely hacking and photo research. On Normal, these were largely acceptable, as you can easily get by without the decreased prices for buying/inventing or the damage bonuses from research. Hell, one of the research bonuses is to no longer have to hack turrets, so there's definitely some good incentive there. However, on Hard, photos are no longer a nice side-quest. Enemies are incredibly difficult without the research damage bonuses, especially the Big Daddies. Hacking is no longer a fun feature, it's now to be combined with Hacker's Delight (which gives health and EVE for every successful hack) and used as a critical survival tool. Cameras and turrets demand to be hacked in order to fend off the waves of enemies. While I can certainly appreciate that Hard requires more of the player, I would be outright lying if I said I wasn't sick of hacking by this point. Side-note: the research bonus for instant hacking of turrets is nearly impossible to get on Hard as the turrets will simply tear the hell out of you while you're taking their picture. Finally, and this is largely a nitpick, the revive system, while nice, takes a lot of the fear out of death. With the exception of the last boss, where respawning is disabled, death is typically an inconvenience, at best. And that is a shame, as it decreases the tension somewhat.
But I really don't want people to think the above paragraph represents my impression of the game as a whole. Quite the opposite. BioShock is such a masterpiece on so many levels. The story is a fantastic example of modern science-fiction. The combat is complex and fun in ways FPS combat simply has never dreamed of before. The whole premise that each player will experience the game differently is executed flawlessly, as I've learned by watching and talking to friends who've played. Visually and audibly, especially in regards to the musical score, the game is an absolutely fantastic experience from beginning to end. My complaints represent such a tiny fragment of the whole, they're hardly worth mentioning. And ironically, a lot of people bought the game because they experienced just a tiny piece of the action. I've heard from many people that the demo alone blew them away, and rightfully so. However, I'm here today to tell you that the demo simply does not do the game justice. It's just too damned short to fully immerse you in the world and the true depth of the combat system. I can safely say you are missing out on the game of the year by not playing the full version. So, would you kindly proceed to the nearest seller of video games and make the smart purchase?
Atma's Final Verdict: 9.6/10 - Godly Win
P.S. - To anyone who gets the little joke at the end, I am sorry. I simply could not pass up the opportunity.