16 September 2007

BioShock Review

I finished playing Bioshock today. It took me about 12 hours, spread over three sessions. Irrational Games has created a terrific and terrifying experience that raises the bar for games in many areas, yet falls short in a few areas that prevent it from earning the fabled Perfect 10.

*spoiler alert*

GAMEPLAY
Very solid FPS gameplay here. Perfect FPS controls on a console controller. I prefer my FPS titles with keyboard & mouse, however, the PC demo only ran at 20fps on my laptop. Gunfire and weapon switching are done on the right trigger and shoulder, plasmids (spells) and plasmid selection done on the left trigger and shoulder; simple, elegant, and functional. The brief pause that occurs when weapon switching served a welcome reprieve from frantic combat. Acquisition of new weapons and plasmids is done at a steady pace, I think I had all of them two-thirds through the game. The combat is great. The nature of the game encourages players to attack an enemy not with their strongest weapon, but their smartest weapon. This is what excited me most about the game leading up to it's release. Weapons have three different kinds of ammunition, plasmids can be used in combinations to achieve clever results, enemies have strengths and weaknesses to certain elements, and the environment itself can be turned to your favor. All of these factors are present in every fight in the game. There's no way two people play through Bioshock the same. I actually wonder how much of the game could be completed without firing your guns.

AESTHETICS
Bioshock doesn't just raise the aesthetic bar. It pulls it out of the ground and beats down competitors ala the Burly Brawl in The Matrix Reloaded. The city's architecture, set pieces, voice acting, environmental audio, visual effects, et cetera are all superb! Developers must look to this game for how a big budget video game stimulates the senses. These are all things I can't convey too well with words, they must be experienced. I highly recommend playing this game in a low-light environment with surround sound. More than once did I actually yell out loud.

STORY
As a whole, the game's story was good, but this is one of the first elements the game falls short on. The way the story is told is excellent. Playback of recorded audio, radio messages, flashbacks; all of these were top notch. However, the story itself was only good for two-thirds of the game. The "ha-HA, **I** am the true bad guy" mechanic did not belong here. I condemn Irrational's efforts to have me hunt down Andrew Ryan, only to have me wish he was still alive after I killed him. He was a superior villain compared to Fontaine. In the end, I don't even understand why he insisted on dying at my hands. It was a good twist, but unsatisfying to kill a "mastermind villain" via cutscene and unnecessary to throw in an overly typical "video game boss" in a game that was clearly above such commonplace standards. I was really hoping for a meaningful ending that perhaps played on the game's sophisticated narrative. Instead, I got a generic three-staged, fire boss, ice boss, lightning boss, congrats-you-win conclusion. This really hurts the game for me because Bioshock was setup to break current video game conventions.

A couple other notes-
- Despite solid architecture, the level design in terms of games was lacking. The game was entirely too linear with not enough path diversion. I was under the impression the city was falling apart, so where were my "Oh shit, this building is collapsing, get out before you drown" events?
- Not enough first person cutscene events. For example, when you get the first plasmid, fall off the balcony, and see the Little Sister evaluate you for the first time, or the cutscene where you kill Andrew Ryan. Each of these cutscenes were excellent, I would have liked to see more.
- TOO. MUCH. SEARCHING. Good god, there are 1000 objects to search for loot in this game and only half even have any.
- I'm torn on hacking. I enjoy mini-puzzles, but there are so many hackable objects that I felt an hour of my game time was spent hacking.
- Speaking of puzzles, where are my damn puzzles? I would gladly have given up the crafting and photography elements for some environmental puzzles.
- I can't stress how awesome the Little Sister character design is. The way she moves, how she speaks ("C'mon Mr. B! Angels don't wait for slowpokes!"), and how you interact with them throughout the game will be memorable for the rest of gaming.

Given the length of the game, all of my minor gripes can be forgiven. The only real reason this isn't a 10 for me is how it falls flat and sells itself short in the final chapter of the game. Had the game ended after the encounter with Andrew Ryan, I probably would have given Bioshock a 10.

Some possible alternate endings I would have preferred include eventually gaining all of Andrew Ryan's memories by using more and more ADAM, essentially resurrecting him in his son as his master plan; becoming a Big Daddy permanently (they said over and over again that the process was a one-way trip) and being enslaved to the torment of Rapture; and learning that Andrew Ryan IS Atlus and was using you to eliminate the Splicers so he could reset the population of Rapture with nothing but his own offspring.

Share your thoughts on BioShock in the comments!

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