The ultimate measure of a truly spectacular game isn't in the superficial details, such as graphics and controls. Most games these days boast stunningly lifelike high-def visuals and easy interactivity. And the answer to the most frequently asked question -- "Is the game any fun?" -- is usually positive. Lots of games are easy escapism, "turn your brain off and kill some bad guys" kind of stuff.
Then along comes a game like Bioshock that changes everything. Sure, it's fun to play, looks spectacular and is easy to control. But it also does something no other game has done to date: It really makes you feel. After all, aren't video games supposed to make us lose ourselves in vast imaginary worlds?
Bioshock does. And more.
Part horror film, part sci-fi adventure, Bioshock is not only a cinematic experience that is so well-crafted and executed it puts some Hollywood flicks to shame (yes, we're talking to you, "Halloween"), but it's also so completely immersive that gamers will actually feel as if they are lost wandering around a creepy, underwater city overrun by enraged, superpowered zombies who don't like strangers.
Set in 1960, the game opens after your character's plane has just crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.
As the lone survivor, you stumble into a lighthouse on a nearby island and down an elevator that takes you 20,000 leagues under the sea to the mysterious metropolis of Rapture.
Intended to be a utopia without restrictions, Rapture instead has become a broken-down city teetering on the madness to which its genetically manipulated population has succumbed. It's up to you to escape, fight the zombies and uncover the truth.
The environments are vast and detailed, with numerous nooks and crannies to explore and many ways for the story to unfold. Little details, such as the production design, character costumes, well-acted dialogue and eerily placed music, are all very much from the period, helping set the tone.
And because Rapture is "Beyond the Sea" -- in fact, the classic Bobby Darin song is heard throughout the city -- everything is wet, dripping or full of puddles. The water effects are so authentic you'd swear you just felt a drip on your back.
Bioshock is the perfect storm. It's also a perfect game. If you don't have nightmares after playing this, you obviously weren't paying attention.
Details: Xbox 360 platform; $59.99; rated Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, alcohol reference, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language).
No frills attack
Medal of Honor: Airborne is an average WWII shooter whose only enhancement is parachuting into enemy territory before the attack begins. The visuals are good, but the controls are choppy.
Details: Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 platforms; $59.99; rated Teen.
Stranglehold is an amazing John Woo action movie come to playable life, complete with a cyber Chow Yun-Fat reprising his role as shoot-'em-up icon Tequila (from "Hard Boiled").
Details: Xbox 360 platform; $59.99; rated Mature.
Like Halo for the kid-friendly Wii, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is a great sci-fi first-person shooter perfectly matched to the Wii's intuitive point-and-shoot control scheme.
Details: Wii platform; $49.99; rated Teen.
The decent graphics and above-average story can't make up for the miserable controls in Lair. Way more frustrating than fun, this flying dragon adventure is truly unplayable.
Details: PlayStation 3 platform; $59.99; rated Teen.