Wow. People sure seem to be in a tizzy about this game BioShock, huh? I hadn’t even been following it too closely. Know why? Because conversations about it started with that dread phrase “first-person shooter.” Now, I’m not a die-hard FPS fan. Not by a long shot. The last time I played and truly enjoyed a FPS was Perfect Dark for the N64. That game was uglier than sin, but I could control it, use some neat weapons, and have some simple deathmatches with friends. I tried playing other FPSes in the interim, such as Counterstrike. Boy. That was a mistake. Anyone that had not been playing that game since the millisecond it came out was doomed to being headshot five seconds into every match. Not to mention I could never, ever get used to the controls. I don’t think humans were MEANT to use keyboard and mouse controls. I think a subset of humanity gradually adapted to it and one day they will become their own sovereign species, climbing out of their PC cafes at night to pwn our children. It’s a scary thought.
I’ve gradually gotten back into the shooter genre with the very excellent Resident Evil 4 (if you think that game’s survival horror anymore, you’re dumb) and the pretty darn nice
Gays Gears of War, which was pretty much a RE4 mod. Both games changed the perspective to third-person and featured lots of set pieces to punctuate the grinding task of making hordes and hordes of whatever fall to their knees through brute firepower. Drunk off my success with these two games, I decided to give the seminal Half-Life 2 a try. After all, everyone loves it and it was only $5 for the Xbox. At first I loved it for its innovative use of cutscenes, but eventually I grew quite tired of it after it turned into an actual FPS and the gameplay seemed to stall. Conferring with Film Walrus on this seemed to corroborate the fact that Half-Life 2 had long, dull stretches where all you did was duck and cover from enemy fire and return it back to them. And I guess I was still pretty damn far from getting the gravity gun. From where I hear the game goes into a coma yet again. Damn.
So all this brings me to BioShock, whose demo landed in the Xbox Marketplace at a plump 1.3 GB this week. Skeptical and wanting to hate it SO SO badly, I let my Elite download it while off and I entertained myself with non-FPS pursuits in the meantime. Finally, it was done! Worth the final purchase?
HA, YOU THOUGHT I’D TELL YOU RIGHT AWAY.
First, let me talk about the most important part of a FPS: the story. In the demo, you start out as some shifty character on a ship or something in the year 1960, when something explodes or something (I don’t remember it as being clear) and the screen fades out, landing you in the middle of a burning wreckage floundering for your life. Once you get on dry land (in the middle of what was presumably the ocean?!) you find yourself in a foyer and series of hallways that seem to lead your forward, to a bathysphere. Once, inside, you’re introduced to the wonderful submerged city of tomorrow, Rapture, run by the Big Brother-meets-Howard Hughes character of Andrew Ryan. It seems a wonderful fantasyland at first glance, but once the bathysphere reaches its destination, you discover that the inhabitants of Rapture have gone mad due to Ryan’s Plasmid genetic enchancements. You find a short-wave radio that lets you communicate with one of the few sane residents left as he tries to guide the both of you to safety.
It’s a pretty nifty story, with a unique-ish setting. There was a Hughes/Disney-ish entrepreneur trying to create a perfect underwater society in “Deep Freeze,” an episode from Batman: The Animated Series. What really seems to set this game apart, however, is its atmosphere and storytelling. The graphics in the game are, without a doubt, gorgeous. Some of the best on the Xbox 360. I was more than impressed with the amount of detail there was to the world, and how real it all looked. A lot of early Xbox 360 games had the same fake-looking graphics, just shinier. Not here. It’s real step up, like
Gays Gears of War was. The sound is also spot-on with crystal clear Dolby Digital sound that makes good use of surround channels to relay important information about who’s sneaking up on you from where. The storytelling also takes a huge page from the Half-Life playbook by putting all its cutscenes in real time, with you able to move and look around throughout them. It keeps the player from being pushed out of the experience and allows for a much more cinematic level of tension. Speaking of cinematic, I can tell from the bathysphere ride that there’s some frustrated Hollywood dreams being let out of the box on that development team.
But how about the gameplay? The unique aspects to it are foremost your Plasmid powers. Working like magic in a RPG, you can shoot out lightning or fire from your left hand in the demo. It’s useful to stun or incinerate enemies with, but I found it harder to aim than a regular gun. Also, it seems to run out REALLY fast. Of course there’s going to be way more Plasmid powers in the final game, but since that’s all there was in the demo, that’s all I can report on. Oh, neat thing: you can electrocute enemies if they’re standing in puddles of water! I also hear there’s more complicated parts to the character growth in the final game, utilizing genetic enhancements to augment skills in different areas. A neat RPG-ish element, but I’d have to see how it was implemented.
Now the conventional weaponry. All I could find in the demo was a wrench (i.e. Half-Life‘s crowbar) and a revolver that only had six bullets. So I just wrench’d nasties. Nothing overwhelming to report on that front yet.
Apparently you can hack into certain machines in the game. I tried it with an automated turret, but the rules were confusing and I ended up short-circuiting it and hurting myself. I have no idea what is going on with this part of the game. Care to explain, anyone?
A part I definitely didn’t like in the game that it shared in design with Half-Life 2 is that it’s often confusing to tell where to go. There’s no clear path, and it’s often dark. At the end, during the big alarm-sounding brawl, I was panicking trying to find a way to go and couldn’t figure out where it was. Very frutstrating and off-putting, in my opinion. A good game should herd you to where it wants you to go automatically.
Something I LIKED about the experience, though, were some of the set pieces, like when the connecting tunnels are breaking and flooding. It felt very natural and immersive and exciting. The game needs a lot more moments like that. And that’s where the game leaves me. It needs more moments like that, more moments that make it stand apart from the pack. It can throw me all the gimmicks it wants to in the weapons department, but all I’m really doing at the end of the day is killing enemies over and over again. Part of what made
Gays Gears of War and Resident Evil 4 so fun and exciting was the constant unveiling of some new set piece for you to toy around with. The El Gigante in RE4, the Berserker in Gays Gears of War… they made the games stand out, certainly. The jury’s out from me on whether or not BioShock is going to be a good game. If it keeps the experience short and thrill-packed, I think it’ll definitely be worth your attention and mine. If it’s just 30 hours of finding new ways to carve up the loonies in Rapture… thanks but no thanks.