A very big disappointment
Drug users might appreciate the graphics - during combat BioShock often seems more of a psychedelic arcade game what with the quick pace and all the chaotic effects thrown in.
First of all, this game was supposed to be a spiritual successor to the epic FPS/RPG System Shock 2. Unfortunately something went terribly wrong in the process and we ended up with a incoherent shooter where nothing really works. Oddly hailed by essentially all reviewers as revolutionary, BioShock does not really bring anything new to the genre. Sadder still, it's mostly a setback, at least as far as PC games are concerned.
The complex gameplay from SS2 was drowned to the point where one begins to wonder which SS2 they were making a sequel of: System Shock 2 or Serious Sam 2? Gone are the stats that differentiated one player from another: you can now do everything right from the beginning. Gone is the limited inventory. Now you can carry around everything you pick up. Well, not quite. You can only carry nine med-kits and nine eve-hypos. Apparently despite totting around a flame thrower with several huge canisters of ammo, a grenade launcher, a shotgun, a machine gun and god knows what else, if you picked up one more med-kit when you already have nine you'd collapse to the ground from your burden. Gone is the weapon degradation. You pick up a revolver in the beginning and it works perfectly even after firing a thousand rounds and being dragged alone through water, fire and god knows what else. The grenade launcher looks like it's made of cloth... luckily it's special indestructible cloth. Gone are limited resources, now you'll regularly reach the artificial limits on the ammo you carry with you, which in a way is good because unlike in SS2 you'll be forced to empty entire machine gun magazines to clear the average room.
Psi powers are replaced by some sort of Oblivion-like magic spells. Compared to psi powers there are far fewer of these spells, they aren't as nearly as inventive or intricate, and the spell mana is never in short supply. You can hypnotize a big daddy to help you or throw stuff around with them, but other than that they're just like weapons except that at certain points the game will present puzzles to you that involve these spells. Unfortunately the puzzles are laughably simple, as in melt some ice blocking your way with the incinerate spell. Very revolutionary.
Much was made of the choices that you could make in BioShock. Except one non-choice that affects only which end-game cinematic you receive, the choices involve which gun you'll shoot an enemy with. I remember Levine saying that this is going to be a game that's impossible to write a walkthrough for. Now that the cat's out of the bag we finally see what he meant: it would be extremely tedious and counterproductive to write a walkthrough for a completely liner shooter like BioShock. Shockingly, Levine said a lot of things yonder at TTLG which now look like complete lies because he knew TTLG'S SS2 fans would promote his product for free.
Much is now made of the physics that BioShock presents, however even though they used the well-tested Havok engine they evidently couldn't figure how to set it up properly. Dead bodies twitch uncontrollably, boxes fly towards the ceiling when I walk over them, and so on. And the physics is pretty much limited to throwing things around. You can throw as many grenades around as you want - you'll never break glass. Wouldn't it be cool the glass cracked if you shot it too much and water invaded the place (of course at that depth that would be insta-death). But that would be innovative. The game also has many invisible walls, which always signal lazy design.
The combat is very chaotic. There are a ton of enemies, they move around very quickly, never standing still, and everyone seems to tot around a whole armory. Unfortunately it's extremely repetitive as well, as the game only has two kinds of enemies. There are splicers, which are humans gone crazy. There minimal visual variation between them and they seem to posses no intelligence whatsoever. One kind of them can climb ceilings, which is fun the first ten times you see it. And there are "big daddies" - walking diving suits that protect invincible "little sisters". A limitation of Havok means you can't gib enemies. No matter how many grenades you chuck at a dead big daddy he'll just ragdoll. Wonderful progress!
The interface did not escape the dumbing down - gone is the right-click into interact mode from SS2 where you could do everything. And even worse when you access anything the game pauses. In SS2 moments when you had to access the inventory or hack a system or whatever were always very tense because the game kept running while you were doing this. In BioShock you can run up to a hostile rocket-launching turret and spend all the time you need hacking it since the world is temporarily suspended for your benefit. Gosh, if only real life had that feature. Fonts are now big, and game text is short and to the point. I guess modern casual gamers can't be trusted with too complex a prose. There's even a freaking "quest pointer" ala Oblivion. Except it's taken to the next level. Not only does it show you which direction to go to, it even points exactly which doors to traverse! Maybe in BioShock 2 the game will walk automagically and you'll only have to shoot enemies as you coast along.
Like in SS2, the game does not end if you die. You respawn in a Vita Chamber. Except that this time the machines are far more frequent, do not require activation, cost nothing, and restore half of your health and mana. In SS2 it was often very inconvenient to die, and especially on hard/impossible it was preferable to load a saved game, but in BioShock it makes you effectively immortal. One has to wonder why bother with the respawning at all? Just have the player be in god-mode like the little sisters.
The artwork and story did nothing for me. I'd already read Rand's work a long time ago so seeing it butchered in a below-mediocre game was distinctly unimpressive. Thanks to the chaotic gameplay it's very hard to follow what exactly is going on at all, and listening to audio logs is a pain since there's almost always shooting going on.
The survival-horror element from SS2 is gone, for the above reasons. BioShock has a strong cartoony-arcadey thing going, kind of like Serious Sam.
What else? Well, there's the DRM. It works for some people, it doesn't for others. All I know is that my DVDRW has been failing a lot since I've installed SecuROM (which also comes with the demo?!)
The Bottom Line
BioShock is a terribly over-hyped shooter. What I wrote above just barely scratches the surface of what's wrong with it. IMO it's inferior to FEAR and the like. About as fun as Quake 4, I'd say. At first I thought I was just getting too old for this sort of stuff, so I fired up some older games I used to love (System Shock 2, Silent Hill 3, Psychonauts), but no, they're as good as they were then. I've finally realized that it's not me at all - BioShock is just a really bad game.