Bioshock is one of the best trilogies of the PS3/XBox 360 and, in my opinion, of all time, and has inspired so many games that came after it. All three games are enthralling, gorgeous works of art and just down-right fun to play.
In writing, this piece delved into the internet forums (which isn’t usually advisable) but I wanted to get an idea of how people viewed Bioshock and if other had the same experience I did on my first playthrough, and surprisingly not many people did. I view this game as a horror game, but not in the typical sense.
In the forums, there are so many people saying it isn’t a horror game at all, mainly because ‘they didn’t find it scary. But the definition of horror is so vast and a lot of the time subjective. Certain things might scare people more than others. But for me horror doesn’t have to scare the bejaysus out of me, horror can do so many things. It can unsettle, it can disgust, it can make you think about what it means to be human, the possibilities are endless. Too many class horror as a genre that needs to be terrifying when it’s actually a lot more nuanced than that.
Games are a very different medium to films, you are the one controlling the actions, controlling the camera, you have the agency, you aren’t just a passive viewer. In my eyes, this makes things even scarier as it feels like I am making these actions, so when I walk into a cavern in Tomb Raider and a wolf jumps out at me, I jump out of my skin, which is only made worse by the intense soundtrack.
Bioshock was one of the first games I played and completed in one sitting. Prior to this game, I used to play parts of Tomb Raider over and over again. I would dip into Simpsons Hit & Run, this amazing Scooby-Doo game that I had but I was always too apprehensive to play ‘real games’ because even those were scary for me. I remember looking through my Dad’s collection one day and being intrigued by the Big Daddy on the cover of Bioshock and decided to pop it into the PS3. And I will admit I was legitimately terrified.
The atmosphere of the game from the beginning is eerie, at first there is a moment of awe as you see this underwater city emerge from the depths, but it soon turned into terror for me.
As you dock in Rapture it is dark, very dark and an unknown being crawls over the submarine pod and attempts to break in and let me tell you, I was paralysed with fear. The prospect of having to get out of the safety of the pod was terrifying but I’m so glad I stepped out of the capsule into the enthralling world of Rapture.
This introduction makes the game feel a lot more sinister than it really is, and really ramps up the mystery and suspense surrounding it and is what makes it so special in my eyes. When you start engaging in combat with the enemies, Splicers, they do lose the terror and eventually become rather silly, but the game does at some point bring these elements of horror back to the forefront.
Splicers are terrible for jumping out at you when you least expect it, often you have no idea where they are, but you can hear them muttering to themselves, see shadows moving, it is honestly so creepy. The music is incredible, the score but also the music that emanates from radios and gramophones around Rapture creates such a creepy atmosphere that is only enhanced by how abandoned the whole place feels.
Although there is much debate online about whether or not Bioshock is a horror game, the creator, Ken Levine, in an interview with Wired detailed the horror movies that inspired his work on the game, citing films like The Shining and Alien, drawing upon their themes of loss. He stated that in Bioshock, “Splicers, the demented humans that roamed the halls of the ruined city, had all suffered some great loss and talked and screamed about it as they set upon you. Similarly, the city of Rapture clearly used to be a beautiful place, a utopia”. And although it isn’t outright terrifying, these themes make it unsettling and creepy and is why I still class it as a horror game.