Sunday, December 09, 2007

Bioshock: Game Review

I finished Bioshock yesterday. At least, I think I did. I completed something resembling a boss fight, there was a confusing cut scene, and then the game went back to the main menu. As far as I'm concerned, that's a win. Gears of War was calling me, so there was no time to waste debating.

According to the cut scene, it seems that I decided to screw over the one friend I made in the game and tried to take over the world. Usually, I'd be pleased with such an option, but it's strange that the game didn't offer me a choice about it. I even played the Good Samaritan, trying to help the Little Sisters instead of harvesting them, but in the end I apparently reneged on all my good deeds.

Although frustrated with the ending, I was very impressed with the overall mood. The game is set in 1960, and the retro artwork, advertisements, and electronics create an immersive and convincing environment. Additionally, the ruined city of Rapture is pervasively creepy. It was hard to shake the sickening disgust of searching through people's homes, emptying their trash cans and scavenging their cabinets, while stepping over the family's corpses in various states of dismemberment. Peeking under children's beds, with their stick figure drawings still tacked to the walls, covered in blood. Barred doors and barricaded furniture, burned and broken down, where some father tried in vain to make a last desperate defense of his wife and kids.

Adding to the creepiness are the sounds - you're never sure if that noise you hear from the next room is a tv set left on or a mad, blood-crazed resident muttering to himself. The siren call of the vending machines ("Tell your friends about the Circus of Values!") and the soothing announcements over the PA system are in direct contrast to the carnage all around you. And you can never relax - bad guys crawl on ceilings and through vents to get at you - so there's nowhere to rest or assume safety. You don't meet a single person in the game who doesn't want to kill you, so your only 'friends' are turrets and security bots that can be hacked for your protection.

Fighting in the game is wonderfully varied - you can set enemies on fire (they'll jump into nearby water to douse the flames), freeze and then shatter them, stun and then deliver a killing blow, telekinetically throw objects at them, approach stealthily and beat them with a wrench, or fire a standard array of ballistic missiles in their direction. There's also an entertaining mini-game associated with hacking the various electronic devices.

Oddly, what I really missed in Bioshock was a sense of hope. Right up until the end, I kept hoping to find some last hideout of normal people...some final encampment of families that I could save from certain doom, but that never happens. All that climbing over corpses, and in the end, your character decides (without player input) to add to the charnel by using the secrets of Rapture for world domination. I'm not a big 'happy ending' kind of guy, but the mood is so depressing, that I was hoping for something good to happen...just once.

A game mechanic that really annoyed me was the limited amount of stuff you could carry. Look, I understand that there's a practical limit to the gallons of napalm that I can lug around, but is my wallet truly so full that I can't possibly find any more room for that $20 bill? If I can only carry 400 rounds of machine-gun ammunition, ok, but it's not in any way believable that I'd be unable to carry any more than $500 ("Wallet already full"). Such a silly and arbitrary cap puts a serious dent in the carefully-crafted immersion that Bioshock works tirelessly to maintain.

As an overall game, Bioshock is very good, but not great. It looks absolutely wonderful, and it's fun, but it's not so engrossing that you forget to feed your kids.


At 4:23 PM, Blogger Ben said...

You must have killed at least one little sister to get the ending you got. There's a "good" ending that you probably would have found more satisfying.

At 6:01 PM, Blogger Sweet Tea said...

Ah damn, really? Yeah, I killed one at the beginning just so that I could weigh the benefits of rescue vs. harvest. Bummer.


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