Sunday, August 21, 2011

BioShock: Rapture Review

Rapture. Four years ago I descended in a Bathysphere and witnessed my first glimpse of this underwater marvel, a man's dream made reality, a man's dream that crumbled. BioShock is a wonderful interactive storytelling experience full or morality, hope, and redemption that was all too psychologically disturbing. Two and a half years later players were able to traverse the depths of this underwater dystopia once again in BioShock 2, but for a very different purpose: to save their adoptive daughter.

The BioShock franchise has always had strong stories that pushed against the norm found in other games, stories founded upon family values and relations and the desires for a free and simple life. However one thing the games never really showed was how Rapture came to the sorry state the player finds it in, how the dream of one great man crumbled despite his wealth of accomplishments. Sure, we could hear about it through the Audio Diaries scattered about the game world, but we could never really experience it. That is until now.

Last month Tor Books published the BioShock prequel novel, BioShock: Rapture. Written by John Shirley, BioShock: Rapture details how this marvel of a city was founded, how it evolved, and how it was subverted by Fontaine, Lamb, and ultimately Andrew Ryan himself.

As the founder of Rapture, Andrew Ryan is, of course, a central figure to the story. Readers will learn about Ryan's past, his fears about the future of the surface world, and his ambitions and initially sound reasoning for the creation of Rapture itself. No gods, no kings, only man. Ryan truly wanted Rapture to be a city of freedom and enterprise where anyone could achieve their full potential without rules and constraint. To accomplish this marvel he needed to recruit specialists he could trust, and one of those is the novel's protagonist, Bill McDonagh.

McDonagh first meets Andrew Ryan as his plumber on an emergency call in New York, and Ryan immediately takes a liking to his integrity and drive. What results is McDonagh's recruitment not only into Ryan's own circle, but his involvement in constructing a completely self sustaining underwater city and his participation in the dream. Others also take an interest in this special project of Ryan's, men like Frank Fontaine who see it as a city of opportunity from a criminal element, ripe for conning and scamming the residents.

One of Ryan's only rules for coming to live in Rapture is that none are allowed to leave, based on the grounds of protecting the city's freedom through secrecy. What Ryan never anticipated however was that your average Joe, maintenance techs and other labourers, simply lack the drive and ambition he has and in a city with no laws or public systems the gulf between rich and poor becomes astronomical causing depression and despair. Thus the fall of Rapture was assured from its very beginning, from this oversight alone, allowing men like Fontaine to more easily manipulate those of the downtrodden.

Ryan brings in Sofia Lamb, a psychiatrist, to try and resolve the situation, but she too is able to twist the social classes of Rapture to her own ends, adding a third party to the city's rising conflict that ultimately leads to the full civil war we've heard so much about.

And of course there's the Adam and Plasmids that BioShock is so known for. BioShock: Rapture goes into detail about its finding, development, and refinement into the Plasmids we know and how they ultimately spelled further ruin for Rapture. As the likes of Fontain, Suchong, and Tenenbaum seek to advance and profit from the substance, McDonagh, Security Chief Sullivan, and the others find it increasingly more difficult to maintain order in the city, especially when they're dealing with what are essentially drug addicts with superhuman powers.

The creation of the Big Daddies and Little Sisters is also a very sad affair, and how Ryan truly fails to deal with the situation, how he begins to become that which he despises and that which we see in-game, and how his own closest colleagues begin to doubt him in his own time of need. There might not be any true laws in Rapture, but there is a universal sense of right and wrong that is at the root of civilized humanity and Ryan throws that sense right out the airlock.

Something Shirley does very well is to tell the history of Rapture incorporating not only the characters and elements from the original game, but also from BioShock 2. The sequel retconned in many elements that simply didn't exist in BioShock, and Shirley has really blended them all and made them a natural part of Rapture's back story. The audio diaries are also wonderfully represented not only by being present in the story, but by being recorded by their characters word for word as how we find them in-game. It adds a great deal more substance for the true BioShock fan to delight in, and speaks of the amount of care to detail that Shirley has undertaken with his work.

BioShock: Rapture is a wonderful read and is a real treat for any fan of the franchise, expanding and detailing events we've already heard about but presenting them firsthand through the eyes of many key characters. Rapture truly could have been the marvel that Andrew Ryan so wished it to be, but it was destined to fail, and after reading BioShock: Rapture one will truly understand why.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the games storyline was designed as a reason for the player to have a Blast-Fest, killing numerous opponents and the the book had to adhere largely to that storyline.

Ryan's portrayal is illogical as is the way Rapture is setup as are the many events leading up to the ruin and mayhem the shooting game requires.

Bio - biological agent
Shock - unexpected major assault on society

The ADAM and Plasmid technologies IS the main reason for Raptures fall. The criminal opponent could have been handled conventionally if not for the inhuman (and insane) monsters the ADAM eventually produces and was turned by the criminal against Ryan and his City.

Suddenly a Civil WAR (or rather a criminal insurrection) where the rules change and Ryan is expected to not take extrordinary measures (as happens in most wars) to have HIS creation survive ? The story shows him taking too long to change - sticking to his principles before being forced to use the methods of his enemies.

Many times Ryan is shown taking unneeded measures meant to turn him into a villain, when other more practical methods could be suggested.

I cant fault Shirley for having to adhere to the game companies wishes and continue the same Strawman. Within that limitation, he does expalin more about how Rapture was built and what lead up to its fall.

Juxtapose said...

Hello Anonymous,

And thanks for commenting. Yes, like any game the core has to be about gameplay since that's the main focus of the medium.

Having said that though, the BioShock franchise does feature a great story even though it takes many liberties to cater things to players.

It is a shame about Ryan, as I felt more could be done with him, but at least continuity is more or less preserved.