Aug 23, 2007


To get to the point, Bioshock is probably the best game I've ever played. You can read the superlative reviews all over the web. There is very little to criticize in this game. 10 out of 10 and 100% reviews are in the majority. My only point of reference for this game is Blade Runner. That was a movie where everything came together. Acting, music, casting, special effects, creativity, cinematography, directing, themes, and story were perfect. Bioshock is the Blade Runner of games.

I loved Marathan. Halo was incredible. Gears of War was loads of fun. But Bioshock penetrates more deeply than any of those games. It overwhelms the senses at times. Why exactly is it so good?

Rendering. Probably the least important aspect of any game. But when it's done well it can really help gel together the other aspects of the game. It is so well done that when the first cut-scene ended I didn't realize I was actually in player mode. I sat staring at the fire and the reflections of the moon off the water. Oh wait, I can move.

Design. I have a soft spot in my heart for 1940s design. Art deco and in particular the graphic design of that time for advertisements. It's not that far from fascist Russian propaganda. And it fits with the storyline. Beyond that the attention to detail is insane at times. Much of the world is interactive. When a hail of bullets rains down on you while you crouch behind a bar, the bottles explode and fall. This added level of interactivity really helps immerse you into the game. The walls are adorned with elaborate advertisements and small filigree embosses every manner of infrastructure around you. Plush rooms with deep hues and textured surfaces envelop the entire landscape.

Story. I'm not done with the game yet but what little I've seen has already impressed. It's definitely got some Ayn Rand Objectivism themes at its core. But they are taken to a sci-fi extreme. As you walk through the game you pick up clues as to what has happened. You are a stranger in a strange land initially. Piecing together where you are and how it operates is both part of the fun but also necessary to understand how to move through the game. One of the main themes is ambiguity. It's not clear who is good and who is bad. The infamous Big Daddy doesn't really attack you if you don't threaten him. Who is good in this world? Your MC through the game seems slightly suspect on some level even though he's done nothing wrong yet or led me astray. The story has it's onion layers peeled away slowly.

Nonlinearity. On 3 levels you are left with many choices to make. Moral choices, geographic choices, and tactical choices. I have no idea how much this changes the outcome. The moral choices I would guess cause significant changes in outcomes. There are clues that this is the case. The geographic choices are ultimately linear. You are a task based protagonist. You need to get from A to B. But getting there seems much more nonlinear than most games. I kept backtracking through areas I had already gone through making me feel much more disoriented (in a good way). Areas that were cleaned of enemies had strays wandering through them here and there. And because the number of weapons and 'enhancements' are seemingly endless, how you attack a particular situation or enemy requires some strategic thinking. What to do? What to do?

Music. Amazingly even the music is fantastic. How often do you hear Billy Holliday in a video game? And in paranoid situations it works very well. Lots of great period pieces from the 40s in this game.

Terror. Not since Marathon have I been so wigged out by a game. The way Marathon achieved this is the same way Bioshock does it. Use of lighting and use of sounds. An example. In once sequence where you are trying to locate and kill a mad doctor, you can see his shadow on the wall suggesting he is just around the corner. You have to wade through water so your sloshing could make your presence known. So you slow down and gently move forward. You never see the doctor, just his shadow while he is doing something nasty to a person or corpse. As you get to the point where you think you are about to see him the lights go out. Then after a few seconds they flicker on. But not at full brightness. It's still too dark to really get your bearings initially. Creepy!

Weapons. while there are the usual guns and crowbar weapons (all used on the right hand), the left hand is something new. I won't get into the details but there are a huge array of paranormal weapons available. Freezing things, electricuting things, incinerating things, levitating things, etc. Apparently there are tons of them. And they are deeply woven into the game. Electrocute a group of 'splicers' in the water and they all will die. Freeze a splicer and then shoot him with the pistol and he explodes into ice fragments. Levitation (telekinesis in the game) is used to pick up items and throw them at enemies. But at times you need to levitate things you can't reach which adds to the puzzle nature of the game. Incineration will burn enemies but it is also used to melt ice which blocks you path. Then beyond that there are tonics which improve your abilities. Sustain more damage, increase your hacking skills, slow down the environment, etc. And they all seem to fit within the context of the game. Everything seems to fit.

Embellishments. Beyond the primary components of the game there are lots of great little additons. Safes that contain things you need that have to be hacked open. Hacking itself leads to a little mini-game. The security systems which create loads of grief by releasing bots that attack you. The bots themselves are creative sputtering out little diesel fumes. They remind me of little ornithopters in the Dune movie. Then there are vending machines and other supply depots that are cleverly woven into the story rather than placed oddly into the landscape. All require some type of special currency. Apparently there's even some way to invent your own weapons at the U-Invent kiosk.

Characters. The enemies are generally creepy. But there's more than just enemies here. There are a lot of supporting characters that create the backstory. And there is Little Sister and Big Daddy. One is a little mutated girl with dead eyes. Hard to kill when you have a little girl of your own. And Big Daddy which looks like a giant deep sea diver from the 40s. Just the rumble of his feet hitting the ground fills me with fear.

One last endorsement. I can't recall the last time where I really took my time to explore the environment in a game. I may have done it because I need to find bullets but not because I wanted to. I explore everything in this game. And that takes a lot of time. But because it is fun you really lose track of time. Many people have written about how they thought they played for a few hours but had really played for many hours. I thought it was 10PM when I put the game down last night. It was past midnight.

Remarkable game. I couldn't recommend it more.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

i'll go and buy it tomorrow. wow. i've been looking forward to this one, but had no inkling that it would be the next big thing.