BioShock (PlayStation 3) review
"First off, before I even begin this review, I want you to go into your game settings and select the “turn off Vita-chambers” option, also known as the “make game not broken” option. I’m serious. If you own a PS3 you’ve been given this great gift so don’t waste it. Vita-chambers are the worst idea to hit a first person shooter since X-Box live. The ability to respawn immediately after death with full life at first glance seems like a decent way to keep the flow of a game going, much in the sa..."
First off, before I even begin this review, I want you to go into your game settings and select the “turn off Vita-chambers” option, also known as the “make game not broken” option. I’m serious. If you own a PS3 you’ve been given this great gift so don’t waste it. Vita-chambers are the worst idea to hit a first person shooter since X-Box live. The ability to respawn immediately after death with full life at first glance seems like a decent way to keep the flow of a game going, much in the same way that a gamer quick saves before every jump in Half Life. However, when said respawning has no cost and the enemies around you retain their damage it only works to prove that anything in life can be overcome (AKA beaten to death) with your basic wrench if you have enough patience.
I should say right now that turning off Vita-chambers doesn’t make Bioshock a good game, but it does make it playable.
Dissing Bioshock is going to require a lot of explanation on my part, as I’ll be going against the extreme majority of slack jawed gamers who would eat a Raccoon's asshole as long as it was wrapped in a greasy helping of first person shooter gameplay. That’s not quite fair of me, though, as Bioshock is at least a very well intentioned Raccoon's anus. In a genre starved for atmospheric level design and decent story telling, 2K games has approached Bioshock with a high degree of seriousness. In that sense, I’m also going against the minority of gamers who want more from a gaming experience than explosions and titties. Indeed, I’m sort’ve off in left field by myself (and Blueberry) on this one, though I suspect that as time passes and people look back on Bioshock with 20/20 hindsight, it will become a less lonely position.
The game at least starts with a bang. As a man known only by the name “Jack,” you are enjoying a nice flight over the Atlantic when suddenly your plane drops like a rock out of the sky and you’re tossed into the raging sea. Darkness settles over you. The only sound is that of your own gurgling struggles to take breath. You can almost taste the salt water running down your throat and plugging your nostrils. You open your eyes to see something floating towards you. It’s... a shoe. More paraphernalia follows. A suitcase. A pendant. A propellor, cutting through the water with a sound like an angry wasp. Seeing that, you remember the plane. You get your arms moving, and thrust your way to the surface, bursting through to see a scene of pure chaos. Small fires erupt on the broken pieces of the aircraft. The water is tinged red with the light of explosions as the plane’s fuel ignites. You blindly swim past the sinking tail section, taking care not to get sucked under by its wake. And then you see it, like a beacon coming out of the ocean. There is a tower, definitely man made. With nowhere else to go and your arms quickly tiring from the effort of keeping you afloat, you swim to the tower’s stone steps and emerge, dripping, from the freezing Atlantic. Lights guide you towards a colossal door, slightly ajar. You enter, and they shut behind you. More lights come to life with the metallic clang of a generator starting up. The jazz standard “Beyond the Sea” reverberates throughout the tower. A sign proclaims a cryptic message: “No Gods or Kings. Only Man.”
Welcome to Bioshock.
Who wouldn’t be drawn in by such a well crafted sequence? But all is not well in Bioshock. Very shortly after this opening you’re introduced to the environment of Rapture, an underwater city (that might as well be called Paradise Lost) with undertones of Atlas Shrugged shaping its labyrinthine corridors. One would think Rapture would be full to bursting with spectacular scripted events. One would expect frequent and drastic power failures, submerged rooms, and at least one sequence where a giant squid slams into one of the many glass tubes connecting the city, sending you fleeing as the glass cracks and shatters behind you, unleashing the full fury of the ocean. None of this happens. There isn’t even a swimming section outside of the initial plane crash. That seems strange in a game completely based underwater. Indeed, the entire setting seems misplaced, or at least underused. You wouldn’t set your game atop a raging volcano and then not have it erupt at some point, right? Bioshook lacks eruption. Sure, the environment is cool, but you can only see so many Victorian style rooms and steam punk mechanisms before they get old. An involving game is all about its scenarios, especially in the action and shooter genres. Bioshock should play like an interactive movie, with scene after scene of tense action. Instead it plays more like an improvisational LARP, with its endless hallways and wandering enemies who shout the same ten lines over and over.
The moral setting is just as underused. The game’s story begins with the “Portal” scenario, that is a scenario in which you have no clue as to what’s going on around you and basically follow the orders of anyone who will talk nicely to you. In Bioshock, these happen to be radio personalities who care enough about your personal safety to tell you that plugging a toaster into a socket while you’re knee deep in water is a bad idea. This transitions nicely into a darker tale once you realize you have some connection to the events occurring in Rapture and then becomes darker yet once you get a hold of a golf club for use in a certain unforgettable scene. The through-line for all of this is a bunch of little girls with creepy voices and glowing eyes who go around poking corpses with large needles and blathering on about angels in the architecture. In a strangely accurate simulation of the life of a pedophile, a large part of the gameplay requires you to go around stalking these little girls, killing the hulking, drill-equipped, Big Daddies that guard them, and then either doing unspeakable things to the girls or letting them go free. At some point the game clued me in that brutalizing young children is a bad thing and so, eager to please, I stopped my wicked ways and only occasionally took the children into darkened back rooms and more often sent them off with a kindly pat on the head. With my ensuing neutral stance on things, I was little surprised by the ending of the game, in which I became a megalomaniac who eats children for breakfast and shits them out at lunch time as bricks of pure evil with which to build his world empire. “Wow,” I ruminated. “I must’ve killed more of the little buggers than I thought. I wonder how many I have to save before I get a more mellow ending.” The answer, I discovered, was “all of them.” If you kill even a single girl, then your ending transitions from the bright and cheery landscape of Nirvana to the blistering pus-filled hills of Hell. While an interesting statement, perhaps, on the difficulties of being a saint, it does little to stop me from telling an overly biased moral system to kindly go fuck itself.
Now, wait a minute, fans are saying. You’re completely ignoring the selling point of the game, the mechanism that makes the entire machine move. No, I’m not, I say. I’ve covered everything. I got the water environment in there, the obligatory mention of Atlas Shrugged, the moral quandary... oh wait, you mean the Plasmids, don’t you? Those colourful little packets of carnage explained by extremely thin science that are probably being synthesized in Japan as we speak. I’m not ignoring them. I just think they’re forgettable.
The uselessness of Plasmids dawned on me in one drastic sequence with the crushing weight of an orgy of sumo wrestlers. I had been wandering the corridors of a very dimly lit part of Rapture for several hours, and my eyes were about ready to jump from their sockets and protest the lack of light with a gentle dose of blindness. Note that there is no flashlight Plasmid in the game. To ease the pain on my eyes, I was forced to use the “adjust brightness on your TV” Plasmid. No sooner had I done this then I spotted a door that had previously hidden in the shadow of a large marble overhand. Checking my objective marker, it said that indeed this was the way I should be traveling. I popped my head in the door and instantly was set upon by three Splicers wielding wrenches. Quickly I brought up my electrocution Plasmid, hoping to stun the enemies and then maybe get off a headshot or two. Sadly, these particular enemies proved to be immune to electricity, and while I was running away from them to regroup and form a new strategy, I passed under the watchful eye of a security camera. The next few minutes passed in a blur. Specifically, a blur of bullets fired into my face by security bots.
Fortunately, I had saved not long before, and this time I came back armed with knowledge. I knew what was waiting in that room for me and I had recently purchased some Plasmids for just such an occasion. Unfortunately, to equip them I had to back track a mile or so to a Plasmid machine. This proved quite the dangerous journey in itself, a story that would take me many paragraphs to detail. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of running my ass off and judiciously abusing my freeze ability. After about an hour of frantic expeditioning, I re-arrived at my original destination, this time armed with the tools I would need to lay a vicious trap for my enemies.
First I laid a string of electrified wires outside the door. Then I used the cyclone Plasmid to set up a floor trap, a trap which would throw guys to the ceiling, damaging them and leaving them open for headshots. Finally I hypnotized a Big Daddy into my service. My preparations complete, I used yet another Plasmid to create an illusion of myself inside the room. Then I rubbed my hands together in open anticipation and cackled gleefully in recognition of my own cleverness. I could barely wait to see what would happen to the first Splicer to run through the door after the illusion.
After three minutes of waiting, absolutely nothing happened.
My excitement somewhat diluted, I tried to figure out what had gone wrong. My plan had been perfect! Where were the death screams? Where was the red mist of blood? Bored, my Big Daddy wandered away and I was left alone to diffuse my traps and cautiously make my way into the room where... still nothing happened. Nonplussed, I began to search for my enemies, fire Plasmid equipped and ready. After all, I had gone to a lot of work to kill those Splicers. They weren’t going to get off with anything less than a good toasting. I turned a corner and was met suddenly with blaring alarms and flashing lights. In my eagerness to locate my prey, I’d forgotten about the security camera. Within seconds, security bots had converged on my location. Desperately, I cast fire on them, which did little, seeing as how they were machines and thus weak to electricity. Unfortunately, I had unequipped THAT Plasmid back at the Plasmid station to make room for all my nifty trap Plasmids. Which my enemies had somehow managed to avoid. As I died, it dawned on me. The game had random enemy placement. And this time through, the enemies hadn’t spawned in the room.
In the end, the solution to this problem turned out to be disappointingly bland. I loaded my game, equipped my automatic shotgun with explosive shells, and burst into the room. The two splicers waiting for me this time barely had time to react before I’d unleashed fiery hell upon their hides. I blasted apart the camera for good measure and resolved never to use my Plasmids again. After all, who needs a freezing Plasmid when you’ve got a chemical thrower that sprays liquid nitrogen?
In other words, once the sheen of its environment and story wear off, Bioshock turns out to be little more than a basic first person shooter. Its attempts to spice up the genre fall flat. Is it a terrible game? No. In fact, I practically yearned for it while reviewing Sacred 2. But it’s also not Game of the Year material by any stretch, nor an enduring classic. It was easy to get caught up in the tide of enthusiasm that brought Bioshock to the gaming market. In that respect, many of us were like Jacky-boy, being swept into an inescapable destiny by powers beyond our control. It was inevitable that Bioshock was going to get high scores on release. It was expected. But play the game again and you might find, that like Rapture, Bioshock has seen its glory days come and go.
Community review by zippdementia (June 30, 2009)
Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.
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