Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

“Rapture was a place unlike any other. Away from prying eyes, deep on the ocean floor, business magnate Andrew Ryan built his ideal city.  He picked artists, scientists and industrialists to help him build the society of his dreams, where no man was limited by “parasitic” government. However, the city soon crumbled as unregulated “genetic enhancements” known as plasmids drove inhabitants of the city to madness. Now it is 1960, and one could only wish that Rapture were deserted. Instead, giant guardians roam its halls, trailed by little girls who loot corpses. The former fortune seekers scavenge the halls, killing to survive. Through audio logs, the story slowly unfolds as you fight your way through the desolate underwater city.”

Welcome to this in-depth, spoiler-free discussion of the video game BioShock, which our curator Lotte has added to the Escape Velocity Collection, a series of items that we believe represent the absolute peak of what the speculative genre has to offer. 

I, Peter, challenged Lotte to defend her addition to the Collection – why should we all drop what we are doing and pick up a controller to go play BioShock?

Defended By




To start off, I would like to ask, when did you first play BioShock and why did you fall in love with it?

I first played BioShock after taking over Matt’s xBox 360, about six years ago? I was hesitant to play it because I’m not a huge fan of shooters. I associated them with games like Call of Duty and didn’t think they could actually have a story and be, you know… good (sorry). I remember being absolutely mesmerised by the atmosphere of the game. It’s absolutely terrifying (at least for someone who hates the ocean, and when asked what scares them would answer with the rather specific “fast zombies”), but it’s also absolutely beautiful. I also just remember it being lots of fun to play.

Story and World Design

It is our intention to give as little of the story away as possible, but as always, we can’t avoid spoilers for the first hour or so of gameplay. 

Your plane having crashed somewhere in the middle of the ocean, you swim through the burning wreckage towards the nearest piece of land, a lighthouse on a small island. Inside the lighthouse, an ornate staircase leads down to an underwater station where you board a bathysphere, a small submersible that takes you to Rapture, a city built at the bottom of the sea.

But the moment you arrive in Rapture, you realise all sorts of things are wrong. The city is making water. It’s normal inhabitants have died or left. A mysterious substance that allows instant genetic modification has imbued the remaining inhabitants with strange powers, but also taken control of their bodies. Dangerous, half-mad addicts now prowl the leaking corridors. When a stranger contacts you over the radio… well. A friendly voice in a world like that? The rest of the story, you’ll have to experience yourself. 

So, Lotte, how did you feel the first time you looked out of the porthole of the bathysphere and saw Rapture emerge out of the depths?

Like I said before, I was absolutely mesmerised, and I still am whenever I start the game.The game environments are stunning. A lot of thought has gone into the world building here. The setting is incredibly eerie, but it’s very easy to imagine what the city of Rapture might have looked like in its prime. A big reason for this is that the game is not just visually interesting. The sound design on this game is phenomenal. There’s old-timey music playing, and as you explore the depths of the city you’ll occasionally hear an advertisement playing over the speaker system. It’s one thing to make a game with scary monsters, but it’s another thing entirely to make a game that would have been creepy and interesting even without the fascinating plot that it also has.

Whilst we may disagree on the graphic execution  (more on that later), I think we are of one mind when it comes to the world design. BioShock has a beautiful, very distinctive Dieselpunk aesthetic and alternative history setting that set it apart from similar shooters that often go with a rather generic sci-fi theme. 

What is more, unlike in most video games, there is some interesting social commentary in BioShock – was that something that drew you in as well?

Ok look. I’m a pretty smart person, but I have a real hard time reading between the lines. I didn’t fully get all of the social commentary the game was making until I read the tie-in novel. In retrospect, I do really enjoy picking up on those aspects of the game now that I know to look out for them. One thing I personally find very interesting is thinking about potential inspirations for the game. I once read on a forum that Andrew Ryan – the game’s main antagonist – may have been inspired by Walt Disney. When I first read that I thought it sounded ridiculous, but having since learnt more about his original plans for E.P.C.O.T., I have to admit that it’s not such a strange idea after all. I’d definitely encourage people to go into the game with the knowledge that there is social commentary in it, because it absolutely adds another layer to the whole experience. Also maybe check out Defunctland’s video on E.P.C.O.T, while you’re at it.

You mention a tie-in novel – is that worth a read as well?

Honestly, it really was! I happened to find it at the thrift store, so of course I had to buy it. It’s been a while since I read it, but I remember being quite impressed. It tells the story of how Rapture fell into disrepair, and gives some more background on who Andrew Ryan is. Perhaps I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who hasn’t played the games, but for anyone who has and would like some more background, I’d say it was a pretty enjoyable read.


BioShock is a first person shooter with a sideboard of RPG-like elements and progressions (which, admittedly, is common nowadays but wasn’t so much when the game was initially released). Most of the character progression is in the genetic modification-magic powers described above, but unfortunately you remain relatively limited in the amount of ‘spells’ that you can equip at one time. 

Because of the underwater world the story is set in, most of the levels consist of relatively confined areas (and at times, literal tunnels). Firefights take place over short distances, and in the easier modes it is often possible to easily cross the distance to your enemies to smack them with your wrench. Dying doesn’t set back progression too much, but especially on the higher difficulties, conserving ammunition becomes a real concern. 

With that background, were there any elements of gameplay that you particularly enjoyed? 

This was the first shooter that I played all the way through. I’ve played some really old stuff as a child, but never from start to finish, or even a whole level at a time. For me, BioShock was the perfect gateway game. Like you say, dying never sets you back too far, and you’re rarely in a level where you are unable to hide or run away somehow.  I did enjoy using the plasmids to, you know, kill people. However, I wouldn’t say that they necessarily made the game more fun for me. I can imagine it being an interesting addition for someone who has played a lot of First Person Shooters and wants to do something a little different from just shooting people with a gun the whole time, and it absolutely works in the story of the game. It’s really cool to see how they integrated part of the game play not only with the current story of the game, but also with the story of how the world came to be. The plasmids also allow you to do things like open doors and operate machinery, and it’s a nice touch to be able to see that what you are using as a weapon actually serves a purpose in the “real world” and wasn’t just created for you to kill things with. Sure, video games are fiction, but it’s always nice to imagine that the things you’re using would still exist in the world even if someone hadn’t dropped you in there to do a bunch of killing.

Maybe I’m reading between the lines a bit too much here, but it almost feels as if the gameplay was never really the primary attraction for you?

Now that I play games more often, I definitely tend to go for story over gameplay. Still, compared to some First Person Shooters, BioShock’s gameplay does offer interesting ways of engaging with the world around you. On top of that, you can’t ignore the fact that a game lives or dies on its gameplay. A game can have an oh so interesting story, but if it sucks to play, you’re just not going to play it.


I had to google this, but BioShock came out in 2007(!) – that means the game is over half as old as I am. Luckily for us, a remastered version was released in 2016, but even that game is now five years old. Have you played the game recently, and how does it stack up against its modern competitors? 

I first played the game a couple of years ago, before the remaster came out. I think the “worst” thing about the original version is that it feels rather clunky? Still, I didn’t have any trouble with it back then. I’m currently playing BioShock 2 on my Switch – yes, I bought the complete collection again, instead of playing a new game for once. I’d say the game stacks up pretty well, especially graphics wise. BioShock is, thankfully, quite stylised. It’s definitely not over the top, but it’s also definitely not meant to look like the real world. This means that it actually aged quite well. It’s a bit of an established fact that “realistic” games age quite poorly, and I definitely don’t think BioShock falls into that category.

You know what, I’m going to give you a little pushback on that. I’ll agree that it has a great visual style – it has that beautiful Dieselpunk aesthetic, and I agree that because it straddles the divide between realistic and cartoonish, it hasn’t aged nearly as badly as it could have. But I found that the dark and labyrinthine game world combined with less-than-stellar graphic execution can result in a rather disorienting experience. In many locations, it is simply not clear what you are looking at, be it a door or a window or a wall panel or something else entirely. I wasn’t so bad when I first played it, but even I found it somewhat dizzying when I picked it back up. The remastered version manages to wipe some of that away, but I would still argue that the game looks its age – is that recognisable for you at all? 

Gosh, I find this difficult to answer. As I mentioned, this is the first Shooter that I’ve picked up, so it can’t have been too bad. Then again, I didn’t have anything to compare it to, so maybe it was. I’ve recently bought the complete BioShock Collection with my Nintendo Switch Lite, and while I do struggle with the game slightly, I have to admit that it’s definitely not the graphics that make it difficult. As long as you don’t set your screen brightness too low, the game is definitely not too hard to navigate. There is often an arrow indicating where you need to go, as well. What I do struggle with is controlling the game using joysticks. My first playthrough was on xBox and it went fine, but for some reason I’m having a real difficult time aiming with the Switch’s joysticks. I’d recommend playing it on PC if you can, but my PC version keeps crashing so I gave up after a while. Please don’t ask me how many consoles I’ve bought this series for. Or just take it as an indication of how good they are, that I would keep spending money on them.

Ok fine. I’ve owned:

  • BioShock 1 on xBox 360
  • BioShock 2 on PC (bought second hand)
  • BioShock 2 on xBox 360 (also second hand, the collector’s edition – please note that I no longer had the console when I purchased this game) 
  • BioShock: Infinite on xBox 360
  • BioShock: the complete collection on Nintendo Switch
  • Rapture: the BioShock tie-in novel by John Shirley


You know what? Not even that bad of a list.

Well, that’s one advantage of the game’s age: it has become available on a whole host of platforms over the years, and even your shitty old laptop is likely to run it decently well! And the disorientation I just mentioned… it adds to the horror experience!


Perhaps we should start working towards a conclusion. I’ve been a bit critical, but I want to repeat that I loved BioShock as well. We’ve established that BioShock is a game with an absolutely phenomenal eerie horror setting and a great atmosphere. We disagree a bit on whether it looks its age,, but I think we do agree that it’s worth giving a shot for the story and the chills down your spine, if not the thrilling gameplay. Is that a fair assessment? Is there anything you would add? 

Absolutely. I would add that if you’re planning on buying the game, you might as well buy the complete collection while you’re at it. The second game is very similar to the first, but the third installment, BioShock Infinite, also has beautiful music and interesting characters, but it takes place in the opposite of Rapture. Infinite takes place in a city in the clouds, and it is exactly as atmospheric as Rapture, but a little less scary. If you loved BioShock, you’ll love BioShock: Infinite as well.

That’s it for now folks! Go give BioShock a shot if you haven’t already, and I’m sure we’ll be back for another discussion on a BioShock game in the future…

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