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Izzardius 12-04-2008 09:32 PM

Please rate this review: BioShock
 
"There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it." -Alfred Hitchcock

HIGH: Wonderful art style & environment.

LOW: Game feels too easy at points.

WTF: I didn’t realize so many people in the 50s kept audio diaries and left them laying around in random boxes, air vents, and dead bodies.

Hitchcock supposedly knew a thing or two about suspense, and thus his words above are supremely fitting for a game like BioShock. I’ve always enjoyed the sensation of having my heart beating a little faster more than having the daylights scared out of me. As a player, I become much more engaged by a crescendo of tension rather than a sudden “HOLY CRAP” moment, although those can also be enjoyable. However, suspense is a difficult thing to effectively portray in any medium, sitting on a fine line between outright boredom and “OH SHI-”. Walking that line is a difficult task, but fortunately for us BioShock handles it quite deftly. Is it gaming perfection? No. Is it a thoroughly enjoyable experience? Absolutely.

The aesthetics of BioShock are nothing short of superb. The player is thrown into the world of Rapture, a massive undersea city that has been ruined by unchecked genetic modification and greed. Rapture is a truly terrible place; most of its citizens have succumbed to raving mania, and the ones that haven’t are locked in a deadly power struggle (insert mandatory joke about the U.S. Congress here). From the moment I set foot in Rapture everything around me was screaming “dystopia” (not literally of course, but there are quite a few screams to be heard)-the dimly lit and decrepit port where I entered the city was complete with crumbling pillars, burning chunks of the floor, and a few crazies walking around. This is just a taste of the visual treat that is BioShock-the surgical wing, the night club, and the creepiest farmer’s market ever all awaited me. The Sixth Sense-esque “ghost” sequences are another great part of Rapture’s decor, showing a few backstory elements through spectral visages triggered by going through a specific area, the only downside being there aren’t enough of them. I really wish these had been used more in addition to the audio diaries, as they were great for setting an area’s mood. The soundscapes also do an excellent job of capturing the essence of anarchy in Rapture, from the frantic ramblings of the remaining citizens to the heavy groans of the Big Daddies (the big mechanical creatures on the box cover) to the faint sounds of the city walls succumbing to the water pressure. The sights and sounds of the game make Rapture a masterfully steampunkified setting for the game’s narrative.

I usually find that the best game stories are those that will constantly push the player, compelling him to continue onward in a game he otherwise would have no interest in. The excellent writing of BioShock accomplishes this with flying colors, as the game leans on its story to keep the player engaged from start to finish. There was never any point that I became disinterested or bored, as plot points developed at frequent enough intervals to keep me intrigued. Plot & character development is accomplished in large part through a series of audio diaries you find in seemingly random places, along with radio messages and the ghost encounters I mentioned earlier. I actually found myself looking forward to receiving new diaries/messages, even stopping to listen to them in some instances. Another interesting aspect is that with all the diaries and radio messages there was very little face-to-face interaction with NPCs, but this did not hamper things in the slightest, as I sympathized with the characters I was supposed to sympathize with, loathed the ones I was supposed to loathe, and was able to follow every plot detail. To discuss any specifics would be an injustice, so I’ll just say that the BioShock story is extremely good, and a treat (or an insult depending on how good/badly you think it was interpreted) for any Ayn Rand fans that might happen to come across it.

Combat is nothing extraordinary but mostly enjoyable nonetheless. Along with the garden variety guns to choose from, there are also the plasmids (spells) which give a little variety to taking down your opponents. As I progressed further into the game I found myself enjoying the plasmids more and more-things like setting fire to an enemy and watching him run right into another group of bad guys standing on an oil slick (along with the ensuing 15 seconds of roasted hijinks), or hypnotizing a Big Daddy and watching him wreak havoc on my behalf were immensely satisfying. There are however a few combat-related drawbacks, mostly pertaining to the use of the plasmids. It was frustrating when receiving a new plasmid I was forced to choose between the new acquisition and the ones I already had since I did not have enough plasmid slots, and then having to find a Gene Bank in order to switch out plasmids. It was even more annoying when after choosing to dispense with, say, the fire attack I came upon three enemies standing on an oil slick just begging to be ignited. It is truly a cruel game that forces you to choose between setting people on fire or unleashing a horde of killer bees in their general direction.

The sheer torture of being forced to pick between burning things or freezing them and shattering them with my wrench is the only manner in which BioShock can be called cruel. The game is a breeze for the most part, not becuase the enemies are push-overs but becuase there is almost no penalty for dying. Each time I died I was instantly revived at a vita-chamber (respawn point), with near full health and a moderate amount of Eve (magic). There are vita-chambers in every area of Rapture, ensuring that death never took me to far from my objective. While I’m aware that a lot of games use checkpoint systems to ensure that while the game is kept from being overly frustrating, the player must pass through specific events in one life in order to proceed. BioShock however goes to the extreme, in that all the progress you make or damage you inflict in one life is carried over into the next one, turning the player into a Gauntlet-style supermonster whose house can’t be destroyed (+10 bonus points to those of you who get that reference without having to click on the link). This really came into play with the first Big Daddies I was forced to fight, as I would take a few shots at it, get eviscerated, then respawn at the nearest vita chamber while said Big Daddy was still clomping around smoking from being set on fire, apparently oblivious to the little man who keeps coming back to brighten up his day.

The most bothersome occurrences are the hacking mini-games that take place (what seems like) every five minutes or so. Things like sentry turrets or security drones can be tinkered with to attack your enemies instead of you, and vending machines can be persuaded to give you a discount. Hacking events occur A LOT, especially with vending machines. Having to interrupt the action and play a variation of Pipe Dream every time I need to hack something gets really annoying after the first 500 times or so. Cutting out the vending machine hacks would have really helped here, as I don’t think the game would have suffered had I not been forced to reroute the flow of water through the device (which kindly waited for me to show up before starting the water) in order to save $5 on a first aid kit.

So to conclude, while it has some minor flaws here and there, BioShock’s biggest selling point is style, and it does not disappoint. Revolutionary? No. Solid title that was worth my time? You bet. Using sentence fragments to illustrate a contrast between viewpoints? Oh hell yes.

8/10

Disclosures: This game was obtained via Steam download and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 15 hours were devoted to completing the game once.

Parents: The ESRB has given BioShock an Mature rating for “Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, and Strong Language“. There is a lot here that I wouldn't want to expose a child to, especially the more startling moments. I could easily see a 6-year-old getting nightmares from a game like this.

Deaf & Hard of hearing: All of the game’s dialog is subtitled and most of it can be reviewed at leisure, but ambient sounds and music do play a large role in the overall experience.

Brad Gallaway 12-08-2008 12:30 AM

Re: Please rate this review: BioShock
 
Hey Izz.

This is some pretty good writing.

The only issue I would bring up is that if this was to run as a main (or 'first') review, it doesn't go into quite enough detail to properly illustrate what the game is not for people who may not have heard of it (uh, all two of them...)

however, if it was running as a second opinion, I think I would probably put it up as-is, no edits necessary. :)

a fine piece of work, sir. you get a gold star from me.

David Stone 12-08-2008 09:32 AM

Re: Please rate this review: BioShock
 
I'm with Brad. Great review. I would have like to see more discussion of the Hitchcock angle (I'm a sucker for Hitch, as one of my favourite films ever is North By Northwest), but salient points throughout.

Jason Karney 12-09-2008 02:26 PM

Re: Please rate this review: BioShock
 
Nice job.

I'm noticing a tendency in your writing to quote words for emphasis or to denote irony, such as "hacking" and "persuaded." (I remember this in Force Unleashed too.) Be careful not to overuse that in one review; I count five uses here, and I think one or two is sufficient.

There are a couple of things I'd like you to add, so we can get the ball rolling on publishing this review on our main page, since you've met the staff approvals. In your parent guide, you give the ESRB descriptors but no actual guidelines for parents. Also, a secondary, "splashy" title would fit in with our site format; if you don't supply one, we may make one up. :D

--Jason

Izzardius 12-09-2008 08:23 PM

Re: Please rate this review: BioShock
 
Added a title, expanded the ESRB comments, and removed two of the quoting instances. Let me know if I need to do anything else.

Thanks.

Jason Karney 12-10-2008 09:12 AM

Re: Please rate this review: BioShock
 
Thanks for the prompt updates.


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