The concept of utopia, despite its near universal appeal, is one that, upon closer examination, may ultimately be no more than a fantasy. Time and again, humans have proven to be too fundamentally different from each other to agree upon what a perfect society would look like, to say nothing of the corrupting influences of greed and power. When one man says “No Gods or Kings, Only Man,” another might say “I am a divine Prophet; follow me to this New Eden.” This ultimate flaw forms the backbone of the BioShock series’ story; a story that has been hailed as exceptional and worthy of commemoration, even if the gameplay itself wasn’t particularly revolutionary.
After all, it’s not often that within 15 minutes of starting a game that you are greeted by a plane crash followed by a mildly thought-provoking video that explains the logic behind the pure capitalistic society of one of the most unique video game environments at the time, perhaps even of all time, an underwater utopia ominously called Rapture. As you progress through BioShock, you meet a wild assortment of characters, each of whom are rather representative of some of humankind’s greatest qualities if they were unshackled by morality and laws. Naturally, a number of them turn out to be rather insane, but there are plenty of ways that you can get a glimpse of their past life, provided that you pay attention to the story and your surroundings, and run into a few Audio Diaries along the way.
Of course, it would be no fun if a game turned out to be this super preachy, in-your-face propaganda piece, which is a problem that 2K Games could have easily ran into, so, thankfully, you are more or less free to form your own conclusions about the ideals of Rapture. Such a method of storytelling was continued in BioShock 2, which gave people a chance to explore more of the hauntingly beautiful disaster that was Rapture. This time, however, the antagonist was not quite so blatantly evil; Sofia Lamb had relatively good intentions (well, what passes for good intentions in Rapture anyways), but her methods were decidedly not so moral. You may have been looking at a different part of the submerged city through a different pair of eyes this time, but at the end of the day, it was still a place where amazing breakthroughs in science, undoubtedly aided in no small part by unrestricted experiments on human test subjects, created the very monsters who were tearing the place apart. Once again, the BioShock series demonstrated that people value a good story in games, even if the story is told mostly through the environment.
Then, at long last, more than half a decade after the first BioShock came out, the series came to an end with BioShock Infinite. While the game possessed all the elements that made the series famous, such as a fairly engrossing story that takes place in a collapsed society and multiple characters who raised questions over who ultimately benefits from a utopia, it proved to be a bit too clever for its own good, possessing an ending that, while thought-provoking, undoubtedly left a fair number of people confused and perhaps a bit annoyed that everything in the series was connected by some alternate universe mumbo-jumbo more than anything else. To its credit, though, Infinite did introduce one of the most memorable companions in gaming, Elizabeth, a beloved character who some would say deserved a far better fate than the one that she met during the game’s comparatively unimpressive DLC.
But, after six long years, the BioShock saga was complete, rather ironically ending in a way that lives up to one of the more memorable quotes from the games: “A man chooses, a slave obeys.” For all the choices that you made in the first two games, the third took away all choice by forcing an ending upon you that you ultimately could not control, try as you might, even though (for once) it introduced a character who you can not only interact with but was captivating enough that people would conceivably want to play through the game again and again for the sake of obtaining the most ideal ending. Yet, despite this amusing turn of events, BioShock will forever remain a game that has changed what people expect from a game of such a genre.
Even to this day, a decade later, games like Prey and Dishonored can be and are compared to BioShock simply because BioShock has set the standard for storytelling in singleplayer games. There may be other games in the future that will be able to capture the same sense of wonder that BioShock did when you first set foot in Rapture, and there may even be other games that will eventually surpass BioShock in crafting a narrative singleplayer experience that encourages multiple playthroughs, raising the bar for what game should aspire to when telling a story, but in a way, the unique nature of the series likely means that there will only be one Andrew Ryan, one Sofia and Eleanor Lamb, one Elizabeth, and one Rapture.