The BioShock series is one of the most critically acclaimed of all time, although the franchise has been largely dormant since the release of BioShock Infinite way back in 2013. 2K Games finally announced a new title was in development in 2019, giving fans confirmation that the world of BioShock hasn’t been entirely forgotten.
While there are only three BioShock games so far, they each feature complex narratives and their plots don’t necessarily follow directly on from each other, making it tough to understand exactly what is going on and be confusing for newcomers. This comprehensive look at each of the games should give you the chance to get to grips with the story so far in the BioShock series.
Before The Games
Before jumping straight into the first game’s story, it’s important to have a good understanding of the setting and history of the in-game world. BioShock largely takes place in an underwater city known as Rapture, which was designed and built during the 1940s at the behest of businessman Andrew Ryan and acts as the setting for the first two entries and part of the third.
Created in an attempt to set up a utopia for the world’s scientific and artistic elite, Rapture became, at least for a time, a place of unrivaled progress and achievement. Due to the advances of this world and a fear of losing them to corruption, Ryan effectively banned any communication or contact between the underwater city and the rest of civilization on the surface of the planet.
However, Ryan was not the only powerful figure in Rapture. Others soon began to develop influence of their own within the underwater city as some of the inequality and injustices of the surface world took root. Frank Fontaine, a conman and criminal businessman, discovered the miraculous ADAM — a substance created by sea slugs that can alter the genetic makeup of a person’s body.
ADAM quickly became one of the most sought-after products in Rapture, with specialised serums known as Plasmids being widely used by the population. These give users the chance to enhance their abilities and develop completely new powers that humans have never possessed before. ADAM has two nefarious problems, though, with its mass production requiring young girls implanted with sea slugs and usage causing side effects such as loss of cognitive functions and deadly mutations within the body.
Although Fontain’s success in business earns the respect of Ryan, the smuggling operation also poses a risk of exposing Rapture to the outside world. Not willing to accept that, Ryan orders his security to take Fontaine down and they seemingly kill the businessman in a firefight. Not long after Fontaine’s apparent death, an enigmatic man named Atlus leads a working-class revolution, prompting a civil war that almost destroys Rapture and causes most of the surviving humans to become the mentally and physically scarred Splicers.
BioShock – Introducing Rapture
BioShock starts with protagonist Jack surviving a brutal airplane crash in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.. The only survivor of the accident, he discovers a lighthouse that contains a hidden bathysphere that takes him down into the depths of Rapture. Soon after arriving, Jack is contacted by Atlas, who wants the newcomer to help overthrow Ryan and release those trapped in the underwater city.
This is no easy task for Jack, though, as Ryan assumes that he’s some sort of agent of a surface nation and in an attempt to stop him from completing his mission, Ryan uses the city’s automated defenses and an army of pheromone-controlled Splicers. Journeying through Rapture, Jack meets the Little Sisters, the young girls used to mass produce ADAM, and their Big Daddy protectors. The player can decide whether to save or kill the Little Sisters while continuing through with Atlas’ desire to bring down Ryan once and for all.
It’s at this point when one of the biggest plot twists in modern gaming takes place, with the reveal of you are the illegitimate son of Ryan. Born as a result of an affair between the leader and his mistress, Jack was secretly aged using ADAM and smuggled out of Rapture to act as a sleeper agent for Fontaine. The youngster was also brainwashed and implanted with false memories, making him the perfect choice to travel through Rapture as he shares Ryan’s DNA and can access the city’s systems.
During a conversation with Ryan, Atlas is also revealed to be the previously thought dead Fontaine who has been controlling Jack using the phrase “would you kindly” throughout the course of the game. Jack was even unaware that he was responsible for the original plane crash that caused him to come to Rapture after reading a letter that triggered him while onboard the flight. Ryan accepts his fate and chooses to die, using the phrase to compel his son to beat him to death with a golf club. Fontaine leaves Jack for dead but he is rescued by Dr. Tenenbaum.
With the help of the Little Sisters, the doctor deactivates all of Jack’s hypnotic triggers, giving him back his free will and setting him on the path of revenge on Fontaine. He eventually tracks him down and battles the mobster, who has injected himself with huge amounts of ADAM in a last desperate attempt to survive. After defeating Fontaine in battle, the remaining Little Sisters extract the ADAM from his body and destroy him completely in the process.
Depending on whether the player killed or saved the Little Sisters, BioShock can end in two distinct ways. The canon (and happier) ending sees Jack escape Rapture with the Little Sisters, with the character adopting five of them as his daughters. Meanwhile, if Jack harvested the Little Sisters, Tenenbaum will angrily narrate a scene where Splicers attack a US submarine that’s armed with nuclear weapons.
BioShock 2 – Exploring More Of The Underwater City
In terms of the overall timeline, BioShock 2 takes place some eight years after the events of the original game. During that time, Rapture has changed dramatically and is now largely under the control of psychiatrist Sofia Lamb. She has taken a different approach to ruling the underwater city, believing that the collective is more important than individual success. Some of the Little Sisters have now grown into Big Sisters and work for Lamb by kidnapping more young girls to create more Little Sisters in Rapture.
BioShock 2 begins with the player taking control of a Big Daddy that has connected with a Little Sister called Eleanor. She is the daughter of Lamb and the leader manages to separate the pair and forces the Big Daddy, known as Subject Delta, to shoot himself. Delta wakes up almost a decade later in a Vita Chamber and teams up with Dr. Tenenbaum from the first game as they attempt to track down Lamb and free Eleanor.
The pair work with businessman Augustus Sinclair and eventually discover that Lamb is planning on using ADAM to drastically alter Eleanor. As part of the plan, Lamb will transfer the memories of every living being from Rapture into Eleanor and brainwash her in a similar manner to Jack so that she’ll no longer have her own personality and will act only according to Lamb.
As the story progresses, Sinclair’s motivations for helping Delta become clear. He intends to overthrow Lamb and take control of Rapture, giving him access to the supply of ADAM and other technology developed in the city. Arriving at Eleanor’s prison, Sinclair is captured by Lamb and transformed into a Subject Omega Big Daddy, forcing Delta to kill him to continue on his mission.
With Delta approaching Eleanor, Lamb temporarily stops her daughter’s heart by smothering her with a pillow, breaking the bond between Delta and Eleanor and severely weakening him in the process as his body only functions when bonded to a Little Sister. Eleanor transforms into a Big Sister and gives Delta the ability to take control of other Little Sisters, allowing him to provide her with a special set of armor.
The two fight together and manage to make it to an escape pod where they defeat Lamb but Delta is mortally wounded. Depending on the actions of the player, Eleanor will either kill Lamb or save her before absorbing Delta’s personality and memories or brutally harvesting him for his ADAM.
BioShock Infinite – A New Setting In Columbia
Unlike the previous BioShock games, Infinite doesn’t take place in the underwater city of Rapture. Instead, the game is largely set in Columbia, a fictional steampunk-like flying city that was created in the early 1900s as a way of demonstrating the superiority of the USA. But friction grew between the rulers of Columbia and the American government, with Columbia ceding from the country after being revealed to be a huge battleship capable of mass acts of violence. The city’s designer Comstock takes direct control as a god-like figure and creates a police state that forces fanatical worship of him while instilling a deeply racist society.
The game begins with Booker DeWitt being hired by twins Robert and Rosalind Lutece to bring back Elizabeth, a girl who has been imprisoned in Columbia since birth. DeWitt approaches a lighthouse that transforms into a rocket that takes him directly to the floating city, which is on the verge of revolution as its lower-class citizens battle against the white supremacist leaders. Passing through Columbia largely unnoticed, he’s eventually discovered with the letters “AD” on his hand, marking him as the much prophesied downfall of the city.
Despite being pursued by authorities, DeWitt makes it to the tower where Elizabeth is kept and frees her, although the pair are attacked by a giant mechanical creature known as The Songbird. DeWitt also discovered Elizabeth’s abilities to create Tears in the world, rips that lead to alternate universes. After escaping from The Songbird, DeWitt and Elizabeth steal an airship but DeWitt is knocked out when Elizabeth realises he is taking her to New York rather than to Paris as she wanted.
DeWitt awakens to find that the airship has been taken over by the Vox Populi, a revolutionary force that’s seeking to overthrow Columbia’s ruling class. This prompts DeWitt and Elizabeth to work together again to deliver weapons to Vox Populi so they can get their airship back. Along the way, they discover the truth about Elizabeth and the Lutece twins. She was taken as a young child from an alternate reality by Comstock so that he could groom her into taking over from him. The twins are actually alternate versions of the same individual who aided Comstock but were ultimately betrayed and are now seeking to defeat him.
Realising that they must destroy The Songbird and kill Comstock, the two protagonists decide to move forward but Elizabeth is once again captured. While attempting to rescue her, DeWitt is taken into a future reality by an elderly Elizabeth, who shows him the destruction that Columbia has caused in the world and the torture she has suffered. He returns to his own time and confronts Comstock. The furious leader demands that Booker reveal the truth of Elizabeth’s past to her but DeWitt is completely unaware of what he means and he kills Comstock by drowning him in a baptismal font.
The two then break the Siphon, a machine intended to control Elizabeth’s powers, which gives her access to her full abilities and allows her to defeat The Songbird and show DeWitt the truth. He is her biological father who sold her to clear his gambling debts, although he quickly changed his mind and attempted to get her back. Knowing that there are infinite versions of Comstock in existence, there’s only one way to stop him from showing up in other realities. They must kill him before he ever comes into existence.
At this point, it’s revealed that Comstock is the result of a choice made by DeWitt following a bloody battle he was involved in during his military career. If he chose to be baptized and be absolved of his sins, he would go on to become Comstock, while refusing the religious rite caused him to become the DeWitt from the current timeline. To stop Comstock once and for all, DeWitt allows multiple versions of Elizabeth to drown him in the past at the point of the baptism, melding all of the alternate realities into one before the screen fades to black.
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