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19

Bioshockette redux ++

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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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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