It was really, really fun.
I know BioShock was a game that invited, even encouraged, overthinking, but…don’t overthink of it. The first half, really first 2/3rds, of BioShock was pretty much perfect. The atmosphere (oh, the atmosphere), the combat, the dialogue, the creative way the story was told…all of it was perfect. The Ryan twist stands as one of the great moments in the history of video games.
I’ve seen a ton of people absolutely bash the final 3rd of the game, saying that its linearity completely missed the point of the Ryan twist and contradicted the point made in the first 2/3rds of the game.
What they forget is that BioShock is a game. A game that still had Rapture, still had splicers, still had that amazing creepy atmosphere and those chilling audio logs. And still had that great combat (combat has been bashed too, but I loved it and still love it).
The story in the final 3rd of the game doesn’t invalidate what came before it, and the atmosphere and all of that other good stuff didn’t just disappear. Sure, the boss battle was bad, but tons of great games have weak boss battles. Sly 2, my number 2 game of all time, had very underwhelming boss fights (something that continued in Sly 3 but was fixed in a big way in Sly 4). It’s unfair to tarnish an entire game because of one bad fight.
My favorite player-controlled moment in the game came in that final third, when I was able to use one of my plasmids to get the splicers fighting themselves, resulting in a truly wonderful moment where I walked merrily down an underground corridor while hordes of splicers battled each other around me. Emergent gameplay, my friends.
The final third of BioShock didn’t have a great story, but that doesn’t take away from the story that came before it. Nor does it take away what it DID have: great atmosphere, great setting, great combat, great dialogue (more in the form of audio logs than in Tennenbaum’s dialogue admittedly, but still), and an altogether fun and immersive experience. Sure, it had its flaws, but in my opinion at least they were more than outshined by its good qualities, and I found the final third of the game to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience regardless.
Put another way: If an entire game was made like that final third it would still be received extremely well. Maybe not as well as the first 2/3rds of the game, but well is well, and I had fun. And ultimately that’s the real point.