Bioshock: Towards a Backlash

By Kieron Gillen on August 19th, 2007 at 5:19 pm.

I’ve just finished Bioshock. On the 360, alas, but I figured Bioshock a week early is better than spending another seven days trying to dodge spoilers. Here’s a picture of the Big Daddy.

I have killed many Big Daddys and you have not. I am the besterest in the entire world!

And, beneath the cut, with no-spoilers, here’s what’s wrong with it.

Nothing.

Okay, I’m lying, but seemed like too good a reveal not to go for. The following are a list of minor bugbears and critical bits on the design side. That is, the stuff which will be the same on the PC version.

1) The Invention system. Irrational have been keeping relatively quiet about the ways you can improve and equip your character – they’ve picked up on a few of them, but a lot of them have been barely mentioned. Weapon upgrades, for example. Or – relevantly – the invention system. This is basically a crafting system, with you finding bits of tubing and pipes and stuff lying around. Take it to an invention machine, and you can swap recipes of salvage for sparkly new equipment (For example, two nails and a piece of candyfloss can be turned into a heat-seaking rocket, or something). There’s nothing wrong with it per se – in fact, deciding what you want your limited amount of salvage to be processed into is one of Bioshock’s many tactial choices. It just feels a little underdeveloped compared to the game’s other mechanisms. In practice, you just loot everything, and see what you can make when you get to the machine. You don’t go “Oh – I need to make anti-personnel ammo: I better go and hunt down X group who tend to have the ingredients I need”. It’s less a problem, more of a lost opportunity. (And isn’t it more like “Manufacturing” rather than “Inventing” anyway?)

2) The end of game boss fight. That it has one, basically. It doesn’t sit well with the rest of the game, which is relentlessly imaginative and even when it uses a standard genre-convention (like the one in the penultimate level) it actually finds a neat twist on it. In fact, in that penultimate level, I was actually tickled by this particular gaming standard turning up, as it made perfect, pefect sense and I simply didn’t see it coming. Conversely, the end of game boss fight is like something from a standard FPS-game, and a disappointment. That said, the actual denouement itself makes up for it.

3) The fact the game pauses. System Shock, when you were interacting with an object, the world kept running. So if you were sitting there, hacking a door or rooting through your inventory, a zombie could wander up and whack you which i) was always hilariously scary ii) made you treat the world like a real space a little more. You were less likely to “game” it – by quickly hacking something in the middle of a firefight or changing your weapons without taking cover first. It’s not terrible – Deus Ex went the same way – but it makes it slightly less tense than Shock due to putting less pressure on the player. This, clearly, will be an advantage for many gamers.

4) There isn’t, at least that I found anyway, a tiny steam-powered game console to allow you to play Pong. What kind of Spiritual Sequel to the System Shocks is this, anyway?

5) It’s less of a real place than the System Shocks. Not in terms of the society of Rapture or the people in it – there it’s considerably better than Shock, and the interaction between the various citizens of the city is a joy to behold. Rather, where System Shock was built around multiple levels of a ship, Bioshock is based around districts of the city. You can move between them via the Bathosphere travel device to return to previous areas… but it doesn’t quite connect into one space. I’ve more to say on this one, but would involve spoilers, so I won’t.

6) There’s one character who I suspect may be a little insensitively portrayed in terms of playing to a racial stereotype/archetype. Talking as someone who didn’t even notice Tyler from Fahrenheit’s funk-orchestra following him around in his initial play through, if I’ve noticed something’s amiss, someone more sensitive than I will almost certainly roll their eyes. It’s a minor character, but… oh, I dunno. That said, their death sequence is at least four awesomes.

7) There’s an occasional AI bug. It’s not completely polished. It is more polished than any previous Looking-Glass school game though, so seems churlish to complain too much.

8) That it’s credited to 2k Boston and Australia.

9) That I suspect I’m going to have to wait another five years until I get a chance to play something similarly as good.

You’ll probably only see one of these turn up in any reviews – the end of game boss fight one. All the other ones are good to talk about, but are really so bloody minor that you wouldn’t put them in a review because – really – who cares? You have 1000 words to give an accurate overview of the game, you choose what gives the evidence of its merits. I mean, take Deus Ex. Give me 3000 words, and I could fill it completely with the gaping flaws in Ion Storm’s masterpiece… but I wouldn’t, because it’s a brilliant game. You admit its flaws, but concentrate on why it excites you and why it should excite the gamer who’s reading.

To do otherwise is to be like the guy in the Eurogamer review comments thread who’s just posted claiming the game is clearly mediocre because it’s got a whale in the opening sequence. No, really.

What’s wrong with Bioshock?

Pretty much nothing. Five days and counting.

Update: Tom Chick writes a list of 5 things he wish he knew about Bioshock before playing it. No spoilers, and all useful points. Point 2 also happened to me.

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10 Comments »

  1. Tom says:

    Chick’s point 2 stumped both Dan and I for a while, too. It’s the sort of unhelpful visual design that we used to have to put up with a hell of a lot more. I like that these days it stands out like a sore thumb.

    I wish I’d followed his point 1, too, instead of just whining to 2K that fight noises should be downplayed during diary playback.

    I presume from its omission here that the respawn system is to your liking? It is to mine, but it’s the next most common complaint – after the boss fight.

  2. Kieron Gillen says:

    People are complaining about it without really thinking about it, to be honest. It worked fine in Shock 1 and 2. It works fine here.

    KG

  3. Grill says:

    As Tom says, we were both stumped on that lift thing. Mainly because our giant console fingers didn’t have the dexerity to hit the button.

    About the racial stereotype thing – if you’re talking about any of the many in-game Jews, you’ve gotta remember Levine is Jewish (as am I, so the following offensiveness might be forgiven). This game has the highest kosher content of any game going, AFAIK and, like real life, that’s both associated with high levels of violence and intelligence. The concentration camp references put the game in a nice historical context, even if the accent they’re delivered in is rubbish.

  4. Kieron Gillen says:

    No, it’s not the jews.

    KG

  5. Grill says:

    Hmm. The Germans? The Irish? (nah, you wouldn’t be so parochial as to be obsessed with them) The English? Americans? Heck, games in general are so race and stereotype saturated, I’m having trouble recognising the problem any more…

  6. Kieron Gillen says:

    Get on MSN this evening and we’ll talk.

    Some people have had at a go at the Irish actually. I think they’re being a bit knee-jerky. Atlas is great!

    KG

  7. Grill says:

    We’ll talk about that later. I’m currently writing a blogpost about my five minute chat about Jews with Levine that I just remembered. Though I really should be looking for a new flat. Fun!

  8. Krupo says:

    Was it Suchong? That’s the feeling I got actually.

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