Bioshockette redux ++

By Alec Meer on August 21st, 2007 at 4:53 pm.

A semi (well, mostly) re-post of my 10 observations upon the Xbox 360 demo, now updated to reflect my thoughts on the PC one. The original post one is now gone – don’t cry for it, it’s at peace now. Contains mild spoilers and speculation, but honestly, anything written below is based only on the demo, as I have yet to play the full game, nor have I let Kieron tell me much about it. I also haven’t done anywhere near the level of reading around the subject that others have done, as I want to come to it as clear-headed as possible, hence have yet to form arguments about its take on Objectivism and the like. Given the game’s now out in the US, there’s every chance you’ll find I’ve said something that turns out to be completely off-base. Please resist the urge to let your anger/mockery mean you spoil anything should you post a comment though. I’ll be correcting myself as required in a future post.

Ready?

Sure?

OK. Click to read on. Unless RSS skullduggery means you’ve come straight to the full post anyway, in which case there won’t be a friendly clicky any second now and I’ll just appear to be speaking nonsense.

UPDATE: Kieron also plays the demo and adds some comments from the perspective of someone who’s played the full game on the considerable differences.

Firstly: !
Even fourth time of playing, “!” still best sums up my reaction. Bad form for a word-smith, but I feel it gets the point across.

Secondly: If, as Walker observed, Half-Life has been something of a benchmark for interactive introductory sequences, its time is up. This is a masterful way to start a videogame. It’s a short, visually stunning journey that tells a rapid-fire summary of the world you’re in without ever resorting to protracted exposition, and with the wonder and menace both cranked up almost unbearably high. There is so much to look at, a just reward for those of us who’ve waited for a game like this for so long – hints to the secrets of Rapture and the philosophies behind the game, but not shoved awkwardly into our faces. Those who want to shoot mutants can ignore these brain-treats and rush on to violence quickly if they so desire. They’re missing out.

Thirdly: An incredible amount of effort seems to have been gone into making most of the Splicers, the demo’s standard enemies, feel distinct from each other. It’s achieved by unique soundclips rather than that-one-has-a-red-hat-on visual tweaks (in fact, most the Splicers wear masks so the atmosphere isn’t affected by seing the same face repeated), and it seems like such an obviously smart idea that I can’t believe no-one’s done it before. That said, this is from half an hour of demo, and if it can be maintained throughout the game, I’ll be amazed. I’m convinced from what I’ve seen there’s every chance it can happen, however. As revealed in Kieron’s interview with Ken Levine, there’s a lot of unique assets in Bioshock, designed to set one specific scene rather than to be reused as general purpose level building blocks.

Daddy knows best

Fourthly: Over half a dozen flushable toilets! Just in the demo alone! They’re even better on the PC because the swirling water’s incredibly detailed. The Looking Glass/Irrational family tree has always been great for toilets, and I’m happy that fine tradition continues.

Fifthly: The lack of Irrational’s name on the menu screens makes me sad.

Sixthly: Hacking mini-game is very silly and slightly immersion-breaking. Fortunately, you can chose to buy your way to hack-victory using collected dollars, which I strongly suspect I’ll generally be doing – it suits both my obsessive-compulsive scouring of every last corner of levels and my complete impatience for rearranging puzzle pieces.

Seventhly – There’s a palpable consoleness to it, in both the combat and the linear restrictiveness of the locales – much more so than I expected. True, it’s only ever been described as a first-person shooter, so certain elements come with the territory, but still, I wanted more freedom than this. The linearity is excused somewhat by the pipe-based layout of the underwater city of Rapture, or at least the parts of it in the demo. Finding an audio diary explaining that there’s a bloody great hole in the bathroom wall just in case I was so stupid that I didn’t notice the bloody great hole in the bathroom wall was worryingly partronising, though. It really upset me, in fact. There’s nowhere else to go by that point, so I just don’t understand why this obvious signpost was deemed necessary. I hope and I pray that this is just first level hand-holding. Everything I’ve heard suggests a greater opening up later on, so I’m happy to reserve judgement for now.

Eightly – Things clearly not being all that they seem about the player character. Are we to presume from the introduction that, rather than being an unfortunate victim of a sky-crash, he is responsible for downing the plane – is that present from his parents some sort of explosive? And the tatoo acroos his wrist shows a broken chain – a symbol seen repeatedly within the corners of Rapture explored in the demo. “The great chain is guided by our hand”, reads one banner strung across a ceiling.

The missing link

Ninthly – Some of the voice acting’s a little too B-movie, which I suppose is the point, but for one or two of the Splicers slightly undermines the cleverness and spookiness of what’s being said/shouted/screeched/wept. I’ve grown to like it more on successive plays – it makes a good contrast from the low-key approach of Atlas. Andrew Ryan, creator of Rapture, is wonderfully done, without a doubt. Mad scientists, especially mad scientists from the 1950s, still make the best baddies. Atlas has grown on me enormously since the 360 demo – he has a sort of reassuringly authoritative tone with an undercurrent of barely repressed disdain that reminds me of another unseen apparent assistant of gaming repute, one eventually revealed to be something else entirely. Clue: begins with S, ends in HODAN. That he early on demonstrates some control of Rapture’s defence systems but then leaves you to fight from thereon in is interesting. I may be entirely wrong-headed about this. When a character is named after a figure of legend that bore the weight of the world on his shoulders though, something’s definitely up.

Tenthly – Prams: terrifying.

Kieron adds…

Just played the Demo on the PC (As I wanted to know what it looks like on the PC, when I’ll replay it) which proved an interesting experience. Some stuff makes more sense what people were saying.

Since I’ve passed on my copy of the 360 version of Bioshock to the person who I gave me their 360, I decided that playing the PC demo would be a mild balm to my Bioshock deprival symptoms (Shaking, craving Adam, talking in fragments of Objectivist philosophy). However, doing so makes me understand some of the comments Alec and others have got from playing it. Mainly, yes, they’re really upped the violence in the demo compared to the opening of the real game – as well as bringing forward stuff like the turrets and security drone hacking, the machine gun (I think), as well as the incinerate plasmid (All of which is better introduced in the real game). That big fight in the watery room isn’t*much* bigger, but it’s the stuff before that which feels busier – which does detract from getting a real sense of place with Rapture. Also, with less periods of quiet tension, its more like a standard FPS-structure. There’s not downtime.

Also, differences between the PC and XBox in controls is curious. Mainly, what it chooses as the defaults. The PC defaults to not have the direction arrow when the 360 one does which is – er – an interesting commentary on markets, I guess.

Mainly, it’s where demo ends which changes the impressions though. I thought, for some reason it was going to close at the end of Medical just before a certain interesting fight. Instead it ends at the close of Welcome to Rapture. I can better understand the accusations of being just another shooter. In that the demo is linear (bar that tiny optional detour downstairs in the bar) and involves more shooting in a slight but psychologically critical way. A slightly later cut in Medical would have shown that’s greater freedom in structure (It’s not as much as the game opens too, but is noticeably more *like* Shock), but also would have made the demo too long, I’ll guess.

(Also, the video reveals some uses for plasmids I hadn’t figured out in my play through. But obviously, some stuff I figured out they didn’t show. It’s that sort of game.)

Finally, my PC’s graphics card makes Rapture a very pretty place. Hurrah!

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19 Comments »

  1. JH says:

    I was disappointed that when the hovering instruction says “A – use toilet”, pressing A only actually causes you to flush it.

  2. Alec Meer says:

    That’s because you were playing on Xbox. The PC has number one and number two keys, you see. Fnarr.

  3. Kieron Gillen says:

    Is it too late to sack Alec?

    KG

  4. Turin Turambar says:

    I am a bit worried with the whole thing about resurrecting in the game everytime you die. It seems the same system seen in Prey, basically you are inmortal and you can’t never lose a fight, if a enemy kills you, you come back with more health while the enemy is still hurt from your last try.

  5. Alec Meer says:

    A lot of folk are unhappy about it. I have to say it doesn’t bother me a jot, as it’s a thousand times less artificial than pressing F9 to quickload. At least there’s a game-logic reason why I’m able to cheat death and attempt the same challenge until I get it right. There is no (as yet) perfect system for player death – Bioshock, like others before it, has the good sense to prioritise flow and immersion over convention. You, after all, are going to finish the game and defeat every enemy one way or another – why not make it one that has a fictional explanation? Ideally for me, there wouldn’t be a health bar either – instead the Call of Duty 2 etc approach of visceral HUD pointers to how injured you are, recovering upon a retreat to safety rather than expecting us to believe a white box on the floor instantly heals all wounds.
    And don’t forget Bioshock has many secrets. I know none of them yet, but there’s a lot of hints that the player character is someone far more important and bound up in Rapture than he seems. If so, such invincibility may be entirely justified.

  6. Dan Hockley says:

    I was surprised at how eager the protagonist was to plunge a 1 inch needle containing a mystery red substance into his arm.

  7. Kieron Gillen says:

    You just don’t know how to party, Dan.

    Meer: People are talking about it online simply haven’t played the game. They’re arguing a conceptual thing. While I’m normally all for the Halo-approach to health, I think a Call of Duty approach just won’t have worked at all in a game like Bioshock. It’s a game about managing resources. In a truly non-linear game like Bioshock, the ability to retreat to just return to maximum ability reduces that aspect hugely. In any real fight in Bioshock – i.e. a big daddy – you’re going to blow through about four or five health packs. “Just” regenerating isn’t really good enough in the game – you have a depleted health bar, etc. It’s not like Prey where you die and just go back in at your maximum power.

    KG

  8. arqueturus says:

    I’m so glad to read Kieron’s comments on this. One of the things that struck me after downloading and playing the demo through was the sheer pace of it, almost to the the point it felt like running and gunning. I was expecting something more along the lines of SS2′s measured pace.

    The ‘consoliness’ of it is both a blessing and a curse, I miss miniscule PC text and maps but love the over all slickness of the controls (switching between plasmids and weapons is a joy) and the overall polish.

    cheers arq

  9. Turin Turambar says:

    So now we have another doubt. Are the changes (ie. more action) only in the demo, to give the people a more intense experience in the short length of the demo, or are they representative of the overall changes done in the pc version developed by 2k Australia, because they thought the pc crowd needs more shooting?

    I hope that’s not the latters case.

  10. Kieron Gillen says:

    No, they’re only in the demo.

    KG

  11. Pidesco says:

    One thing that worried me about the demo that you guys haven’t mentioned, is the over abundance of health and eve recovery items. Does the same thing happen in the full game?

    Also, there seems to be a regeneration chamber in almost every room. Again, is it the same in the full game?

    Fianlly, isn’t the game way too easy when compared with System Shock 1 and 2?

  12. Kieron Gillen says:

    In order: Yes, there’s a fair bit of health and Eve. Not as much as the demo, but a fair bit. You do tend to burn through them though.

    No, there’s not a regeneration chamber in every room. I’d say they were about as common as Shock 2′s.

    I don’t consider it enormously less difficult than Shock 2, though it’s hard to tell. I’m a much better gamer – especially of Shock-esque games – than the first time I played Shock 2. And I think in terms of the difficulty curve, they got it a little smoother than Shock 2 – there’s no actual vicious spike like when you went down into the storage. Put it like this: I didn’t find it too easy. I died regularly. The only time I felt actively powerful was near the close, where I had started being a bit clever and carefully milking the various ways of producing the relevant ammo with plasmid-combos. For most of the game I was having to consider what I was going to spend every penny on – and it was usually health and eve packs. In fact, I feel I spent a lot more money on the pair of them than I did in Shock 2, actually…

    That said, if you’re a really experienced Shock-head, you may want to just turn the dial to hard to begin with. How hard do you want it, y’know…

    KG

  13. faceometer says:

    “Fourthly: Over half a dozen flushable toilets! Just in the demo alone! They’re even better on the PC because the swirling water’s incredibly detailed. The Looking Glass/Irrational family tree has always been great for toilets, and I’m happy that fine tradition continues.”

    I’m glad somebody else knows the drill on toilets. Myself I spent much of my BioShock Demo time in these fantastic 50s facilities – they bode well for the game! Was disappointed by the lack of urinals in the mens, however..

  14. Jamie says:

    Hmmmm I am undecided as to what version of the game to get on Friday….. PC or 360 ? Are there any major differences ?

    Would normally default to PC for the mouse keyboard combo, but am worried that most of the hype (I have read) has surrounded the 360…

    What do you think PC or XBox 360 ?

  15. John Hummel says:

    @Jamie: I’m in the same dilemma, save I’m considering buying a 360. So far, the PC Demo seems to run “OK” at 800×600 on my computer (P4 2.4 Ghz), which is fine – I might miss 1024×768, but I’m not going to weep over it.

    I’m just worried about these reports of crashes and the like on the full version, so maybe I’ll wait until I get back from my trip to decide.

  16. Alec Meer says:

    The PC version looks better without a doubt (presuming you have a relatively decent graphics card). It also sports extra options like being able to disable the (slightly overdone) ‘loot glint’ that places a shimmer around important items. According to Kieron, it also doesn’t have an annoying giant arrow on-screen that tells you where to go at all times. So, in terms of immersion and appearance, PC wins. There’s also factors like patching and fan mods that could improve and further it far beyond the set form of the 360 version.

    The bugs, though, may be another matter. We’ve some 360 copies of the game kicking about but not full PC code – hopefully tomorrow. I’ll report on any technical probs on in it if and when I encounter them.

  17. Kieron Gillen says:

    The arrow can be turned on in the PC though, and off in the 360 version. What’s different is the /default/.

    KG