Two thumbs up for ''BioShock'' and ''Madden NFL 08'' |


Two thumbs up for ''BioShock'' and ''Madden NFL 08''

''BioShock'' is a thrilling first-person-shooter set in a creepy underwater city. Plus: EA scores a touchdown with ''Madden NFL 08''

(2K Games; Xbox 360 and PC; Mature)
Plotlines in first-person-shooters are like earrings on bikini models: you know they’re there, but who’s paying attention? So imagine our surprise when we discovered that this dazzling, genre-stretching FPS actually has a gripping and (mostly) coherent storyline that grabs hold of you the moment you begin the game — and find yourself on a plane that is nose-diving into the cold waters of the Atlantic.

You’re the sole survivor of the crash and take refuge in a nearby bathysphere that ferries you beneath the surface to a sprawling and decaying underwater metropolis. Constructed in the ’50s by an idealistic tycoon named Andrew Ryan, the city of Rapture is now a damp dystopia, brought on by the discovery of ADAM, a gene-altering material that bestowed users near-superhuman powers.

Among the dangerous denizens you’ll encounter as you make your way through the dark and damp city are the Splicers (grotesque thugs who wear creepy Halloween masks), the Big Daddies (hulking brutes in deep diving suits with massive firepower) and the pixie-like Little Sisters (the sole bearers of ADAM who the Big Daddies are entrusted to protect). It all sounds confusing, but trust us, after 10 minutes, everything will begin to make sense.

Even without its utterly compelling plot, BioShock stands on its own. The guns are just the way gamers like ‘em: big, boomy, and bone-crushingly powerful. And the bio-weapons — administered by injecting yourself with a syringe full of ADAM-derived gene boosters called Plasmids — are imaginative and frighteningly fun to employ. (With the right Plasmids, you can use your newfound telekinetic powers to turn debris into lethal projectiles or even incinerate a foe.) Gamers can spend hours getting creative with all of the various combinations. Our favorite Plasmid is the one which lets you unleash a dark swarm of flesh-eating bugs. Who needs guns?

Also deserving of praise is both the thoughtful level design (you’re never left wondering where to go and what to do next) and riveting art direction (creepy and elegant). Make no mistake, this game all but redefines the first-person-shooter: Though all the action take place deep undersea, Bioshock sets a new highwater mark for the genre. AGary Eng Walk

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