by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Bioshock

Rated Mature; PC, Xbox 360 & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he view out of the window of utopia is murky. Art Deco skyscrapers, their tops tapering to tall spires, jab up into a muddy sky. Neon signs strung along the sides of buildings are filtered through the atmosphere into hazy blues and reds. Rows of windows waver with an unsteady light. Between the buildings, glass corridors with flickering lights tenuously link the city together. This is Rapture -- an underwater utopia that has sprung a leak.

According to the debris that I find scattered through the buildings and hallways of Rapture, the city was founded in the 1950s as a capitalist utopia. But by the 1960s of Bioshock, only tattered remnants of the post-war bonhomie remain. Square-jawed men and curvily coiffed women flash their once-gleaming teeth from posters advertising genetic modifications. Vending machines with old-style pull knobs release packages of ammunition instead of cigarettes. And through this wreckage scrounge demented genetic mutants -- the fallout of this bottom-of-the-ocean experiment in living.

Like the original Halflife and the outlandish MDK, Bioshock is an immersive single-player game that unfurls like an intricate, interactive movie. With graphics more sumptuous than anything yet seen on the Xbox 360, Bioshock surrounds me with the wet, groaning city of Rapture. Though there are choices I can make during my visit -- such as whether to save the little girls that wander like zombies through the city -- most of Bioshock has me moving through a straightforward story among the city's various factions.

I'm free to experiment with genetic modification, giving myself the power to override security cameras or turn invisible if I stand still. But these enhancements function like any other weapon, with special ammo that needs to be collected. And I can't help but wonder why the mindless citizens of Rapture aren't using these things. They shriek and run at me, occasionally performing some trick such as disappearing. But they avoid the more effective combat enhancements, and I have no choice but to leave them as charred remains as I battle my way through the nest of tubes and offices leaking slowly at the bottom of the sea.

THE GOOD: For PC gamers, Bioshock is going to be another notable first-person single-player shooter. But Xbox 360 owners have never had a game this beautiful. Bioshock delivers on the promise the system displayed early on with the moody-but-boring Condemned. Every surface in Bioshock is deeply shaded and textured, and the lighting changes as it passes through rippling water and plate-glass. This jewel-box has been seeded with treasures, clues and power-ups, making for a stunning scavenger hunt among the remains of Rapture.

THE BAD: Bioshock is built using an Unreal-brand graphics engine, which puts it in a long line of videogame shooters (ranging back to 1998's Unreal) that sought to combat the robust battle systems of games like Quake with overwhelming graphical powers. In an Unreal-powered game, the scenes are breathtakingly beautiful, but the gunplay lacks precision and the battlegrounds are less like arenas and more like mazes.

THE BOTTOM LINE: As immersive as a thrill-ride, Bioshock is the 360's prettiest shooter to date, with the combat taking a back seat to the game's moody setting.

4/5 Stars

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