So BioShock

For those who have been living under a rock have never heard of it, “BioShock” is an extremely highly regarded first person shooter (FPS) video game. On Metacritic it is tied with “Half-Life 2” as the highest rated FPS of all time.

Let me start with this: I don’t really like FPS’s. They’re TOO intense for me – I know that’s what people love about them, but there you go. I don’t like jumping out of my skin every three minutes frantically trying to stave off hordes of enemy fighters. That’s too frantic and too immediately pressing to be fun to me. This is part of why I think the Portal games are so amazing – you manage to get totally invested in the story WITHOUT this type of ever-present danger of death. It’s a remarkable achievement.

All of this said – “BioShock” is an incredible game. It is, in every possible way, a masterpiece. You play as a silent first-person protagonist who survives a plane crash and just happens to find the grand underwater city of Rapture, now in a state of bad disrepair and overrun by being called splicers. You quickly gain communication with a man named Atlas, who puts you up to the task of rescuing his family, trapped by the megalomaniacal Andrew Ryan in the bowels of the city. As you go through the game you also slowly piece together what happened to transform Rapture from an apparently vibrant, beautiful metropolis into a giant leaking monstrosity overrun with ghosts and mutants.

“BioShock” is most famous for its story, and without revealing any spoilers oh MAN is that reputation deserved. I knew going into the game that there was supposedly a big twist that came in somewhere near the end. Since there are really only four characters besides yourself you pretty much know who the twist will involve, but even I didn’t expect what happened. I was floored, and in the best possible way.

One really impressive thing about the story is that things that, at the beginning of a game, might seem a little “off” to you generally end up being explained later. “It just so happened” coincidences and unexplained plot points aren’t just a part of the suspension of disbelief – there’s actually a reason, something I never expected to get. And the way the story is told, through scattered audiologs throughout the city, immerses you totally into the game. Instead of being spoon-fed information you discover it organically, really making it feel as if you’re solving a mystery on your own and not because developers want you to.

The writers of “BioShock” explore the meaning of “choice” in a video game in a way that I’ve never seen before. There are certain choices in the game that you make that actually have an effect on things later on. Still, even with that, you’re playing a game crafted by developers to move you towards completing an ultimate goal. Yet again though, instead of just making this a part of the typical video game suspension of disbelief, “BioShock” goes above and beyond and in a very meta way actually addresses this issue in-game, coming up with a solution that is completely believable given what we know of the story to that point and as creepy as Hell. The game does a great job making you think.

Then, of course, there’s Rapture itself. Rapture is, in its own way, beautiful. For a relatively old game (2006), the graphics are still pretty stunning. The whole place feels sprawling and grand. You can see both how it was so great and why it fell. In its heyday you can see that it must have been simply marvelous, but it was simply TOO big. Large sections were there just because they could be. The gross overindulgence exhibited is always a good indicator of corruption creeping into the works, and this was very apparent in Rapture.

If the game had a flaw it’s the flaw of basically all FPS’s. The gameplay is sometimes too repetitive, with missions involving you running around to find things while hacking through enemies. This is a minor criticism that is mitigated in a big way by the huge variety you have in the style you fight, but a criticism it remains.

I’m not even finished with it yet, but having passed the big twist of the game I felt ready to comment on it. Overall, a 10 of 10. Not quite as good as the Portal games, but then what is? Nothing, that’s what.

When this is over I can’t wait to play “BioShock Infinite”, a spiritual successor set in the same universe. It looks, if anything, even better.

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12 Responses to So BioShock

  1. James says:

    Ah, but the big question is if you’ve gotten far enough to recognize this yet: “I want to take the ears off, but I can’t. I hop, and when I hop, I never get off the ground.” I think that takes place before the major twist in the game, but it’s been so long that I’m not too sure. I just can’t help but chuckle when I listen to that particular recording, though.

    I see that you’re going to move on to Infinite after this, which I’ve not yet played. I have played Bioshock 2, though. Are you skipping past that one ?

    • Is that quote from Sander Cohen? And yes, I’m skipping past BioShock 2 because from what I’ve heard it’s basically a remake of the original BioShock but with multi-player, and to me its pointless.

      • James says:

        Yes, it was “The Wild Bunny” by Sander Cohen. My wife got so creeped out by the wax-coated corpse sitting next to the audio log for it. To this day, if I recite that line, she gets pretty annoyed.

        What you’ve heard about the second one is generally true, though. As far as gameplay there’s nothing new to offer. Sure, you’re a Big Daddy prototype with a drill arm and rivet gun, but that’s about it. That game felt like it was much longer than it should have been.

        Regarding the story, you just get a blatant critique of Sophia Lamb as communist whereas in the first, you got a blatant critique of Andrew Ryan as objectivist.

    • Crude says:

      My impression of Infinite is unfortunately pretty bad. Andrew Ryan was presented as a complicated figure, as was Lamb. The ‘villain’ in Infinite, in my view, comes across as just a jackass with no redeeming qualities to his worldview. He’s not heroic but flawed. He’s just crazy and flawed.

      • The friend who recommended Infinite to me also recommended “Sherlock” (my favorite show), “Firefly” (my second favorite show), the Portal games (yeah), and FTL (a terrific indie game that I’ve logged a terrifyingly large number of hours into). So, when he tells me that the story basically kept him in a daze for several hours after he’d finished the game, I take his opinion very seriously.

        I get the impression it’s less about the villain and more about the protagonist and the girl he’s rescuing. Also, Columbia looks even cooler than Rapture.

      • Crude says:

        Oh, I’m sure Infinite is fantastic from a few perspectives, including as a game. FTL really is fantastic too.

        If you play it, let me know what you think. I think there is a tremendous difference from how sympathetically Andrew Ryan is portrayed, and Elizabeth Lamb, and the villain of Infinite.

      • I think you’re probably right, but like I said from what I’ve heard more praise has been heaped upon Booker Dewitt and Elizabeth than whoever the villain is, and I think they’ll be the center of the story (as opposed to the villains who were the centers of the story in BioShock).

      • Sophistical says:

        I was a little disappointed with the story of Infinite, even though it’s still one of my favourite games. In the original Bioshock, the Ryan’s philosophy seems to presented pretty fairly. I could easily imagine someone actually holding his views, and at times in the story I’m not entirely sure I disagreed with him. I think that was one of the biggest draws in the game; it really made me think about who really was the villain. On the other hand, Comstock’s combination of Christianity and American nationalism just seemed too caricatured to be believable, and I think the game missed some opportunities to say something by going after a philosophy that was too obviously a straw man.

  2. blankexpression42 says:

    take that for what you will.

    also, are you considering playing any other types of games (RPGs, Action-Adventure, etc)?

    • I’ve heard both ends here – some people I’ve heard say that they don’t understand how its anything like SS2 at all. Apparently Yahtzee thinks its just like it. I don’t really care, to be honest – I’m judging it on its own merits.

      There’s really no need for me to “make of it what I will”, since I, you know, kind of have.

    • …As for the second part of your question, the games on my Steam wishlist include “The Stanley Parable” (I have no clue how I’d classify that), Scribblenauts games lower down, a couple of puzzle games, “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons”, and even “System Shock 2” and “Half-Life”. I’m also waiting to save a bit more money before I get Pokemon X or Y. So I play all sorts of different games, really, and before BioShock the only type I’d say I DIDN’T play was FPS’s.

  3. Pingback: In Honor of My First Year of Blogging | Malcolm the Cynic

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