Before the fall of gaming’s most beloved and feared underwater utopia, there was a story never told. This uncovered tale is a prequel to the first two Bioshock games and tells of the creation of the underwater city of Rapture. Beginning with the concept and construction, and ending close to the start of the first game.
The fragmented audio diaries picked up by the dedicated gamer left haunting gaps in the fall of Andrew Ryan’s idealistic city, but there was no denying the chilling sense of despair pulsing through a recent demise. Some of the recordings are integrated into this story, not as lazy filler material, more as important documentation of the progression of a citywide insanity.
Andrew Ryan, a 1940’s billionaire, embittered of the post war world of taxes, FDR’s New Deal, Unions, scientific ethics strangling progress and the undercurrent threat of communism could find no peace in any land. So he secretly built a city under the Atlantic Ocean for a select privileged few of society’s most prestigious and under-satisfied, with them having to agree to never leave once they entered.
Keen to emphasise his ‘Great Chain’ of society Ryan hoped citizens would prosper in business and scientific creation without any limitations that Government would impose on dry land. However, there was never a contingency plan for the lower classes of Rapture -the perpetually gagged and trapped builders- once construction was complete.
This created a wide, impenetrable divide between the rich and poor. Ryan was violently opposed to charity and was blind to see that not every man has it in him to raise himself from humble beginnings as he had done. This underwater city was never going to be able to balance a society. The introduction of Plasmids, drugs that gave people extraordinary (yet often predominantly violent) abilities, provided a catalyst to the city’s downfall.
Ryan’s one friend, Bill McDonagh, a working class cockney plumber that earned his trust to become one of Rapture’s engineers, is the one voice of reason and our narrator who desperately -while fearful of Ryan’s paranoia- tries to get him to see that Rapture is pulling itself apart.
The author gives us a front row seat to the fall of Rapture and it’s utterly captivating and heart breaking, especially as the city’s children fall prey to the hellish legend of the Little Sisters. The way the city of Rapture is described should put a proud feeling in the heart of any player of the games. Rapture is a fantastic creation that until now, only gamers have been privy to.
Andrew Ryan’s huge character is conveyed so well, it’s akin to seeing an actor in the performance of his life. Frank Fontaine, his great rival, is given a wealth of extra detail that the game leaves for a late reveal. His desire to exploit anyone in his vicinity produces dire consequences in the claustrophobic utopia.
The strength of the story lies in the sense of dread that threatens to bring the ocean and the sky down on Rapture as the city slowly reaches breaking point. Players of the game know that the peace can’t last, but that removes nothing from the atmosphere and the transfixing description of the appalling descent that Andrew Ryan falls into in the struggle to maintain his ideals while trying to stop Fontaine -and of course, Atlas- from taking his city from under him.
The smaller signs of Rapture’s descent are gradually washed over you as the city begins to experience the Plasmids revolution, which lead to the creation of the iconic and terrible pairings of the orphaned Little Sisters and their lumbering, faithful and deadly Big Daddy protectors.
The way all these elements gradually combine over the course of the book is fantastically paced and has you reading with such a speed as to suggest you’re reading in the dark from burning previously read pages.
While it’s important to remember Bioshock’s world is the creation of Ken Levine, Shirley has enlightened the periods of uncertainty and enshrined the legacy in a way the game never had time nor space to do. It’s a story you never want to end, but when it does you’ll find yourself in the fantastic position of being able to revisit Rapture in the games, the first of which now has an almighty springboard to allow you to re-enter with a now all-knowing pair of eyes and ears.