Talking: The Game
My thoughts about Bioshock are a little mixed compared to the general consensus. I’m not exactly breaking news here, but personally, I found the game to be somewhat overrated. It’s not the visual style that deters me. It’s not ideal but I don’t mind depressing dark places so much. It’s just that it feels like the video game part of it is hit or miss.
I have to hit on the controls, an area where unfortunately Bioshock is the roughest. The elements are there for a different kind of experience but they aren’t necessary or critical. I’m proof that you can play the game using only guns. Rarely did I find the need to use plasmids, which felt more like an afterthought. The tonics are simple upgrades. It’s nice to have that variety but it isn’t particularly special. It doesn’t make the most of those powers. Melting snow is about as far as real use can go. I give them credit actually for trying a FPS with those ideas. But overall the combat doesn’t flow well with them. The sum of the parts didn’t work for me. Does it have to? Maybe not, I mean, you still want a game that performs well while you’re playing. But Bioshock is as much about its story and setting as anything. So the game has never lived or died by how it presents combat in that world. I want more plasmid styled puzzles honestly. Rather than have them be arbitrary and useless, let me put some thought into how I use them.
There’s also this weird way the game detects contact within the environment. I’d get stuck walking up against something like a suitcase in a hallway. But in another room I’d walk over giant piles of rubble without being hindered. Why can’t I just step over everything? And if you plan on jumping over something, good luck. More often then not a splicer would lay down some electrical trip wires and I’d try jumping over them with minimal success. Why shouldn’t I be able to step over ground level wires? Or walk over pipes. Presentation over practicality eventually wears on a player.
The other negative I had was with collect missions. We are playing a game that came out in the year 2007 and yet we are still collecting items. It’s the ultimate video game cliché. But I expect something more from such a high profile game. People blindly accept it as part of what video games are. I, for one, am sick of a developer artificially lengthening a game using backtracking and items to pave the way of the game. Japanese developers are the worst offenders of this but Western developers tend to lean on that crutch as well. When you stage a mission or element in a game you have to decide how you want those goals to be solved. I get it, you have a bomb and you have to acquire those parts to make it work. But then Bioshock forces me to hunt down four guys you know nothing about and kill them. Take their photos. Post them on a statue. It has nothing to do with the story, or the character that requested those pictures. Operate a couple of levers in different rooms. Find the helmet for a suit, then boots, pants, scents, whatever else you can think of. Find different potions and chemicals. It’s needlessly dull and as gamers no one should just accept it as normal. Why did I need four bottles of something instead of three? And why was the next mission the same type of thing, only two bottles? Then five bottles next time. Come on. And with very little direction on the suit building I spent an hour getting lost in a laboratory where every room looked the same and had the same number of doors. Why give me the yellow arrow on top of the screen for the potion collecting but not the suit collecting?
Graphically the game is great. I love the assets they have created and hopefully the next game takes advantage of them. The idea of walking into a room and looking out the window for a new perspective on the city is brilliant. A prequel could give life to these locales. The market should look great as a living place with real people, for example.
The voice acting was also a highlight. Video games are littered with bad dialogue and in Bioshock they managed to give back story to Rapture through those recorded diaries. It’s not very practical to imagine people leaving audio diaries out in the open for everyone to hear, but these were intelligent people with thoughts and feelings they wanted expressed. So I don’t mind blatant use of them since it paints the history of Rapture. That intrigue and mystery is entirely unique to Bioshock, and it’s a great way to tell a story.
Level design is mostly uninspired. It’s linear, but it also gave many options in exploration. What does remove me is a hallway with eight doors. And they all look the same. But only three might open. Aesthetically that’s pleasing, but it’s not very sensible.
The AI left quite a bit to be desired. On harder difficulties the AI is quite brilliant, I’ve read. There is a huge difference between AI that reacts to your position in relation to them, and extra damage. Here, they feel tougher and that might have more to do with the damage they inflict rather then how they act overall. I found they would retreat and charge, but they never really utilized cover on any difficulty. That said, the Big Daddy enemies are always a rewarding challenge.
If I had made this game, or a sequel/prequel, then I might consider a larger world to explore. Although many won’t understand the comparison, Metroid Prime did a flawless job of giving the game pacing through new moves and visors. Bioshock would lend itself perfectly to that. Areas you can’t access until you’ve acquired new moves or plasmids. That way you feel as if you’re accomplishing something in a completely open world, a world where you feel in control. Give me a giant city where I decide how to get around and where to go first. You can have the same type of game, but don’t make it point A to point B monotony. It diminishes whatever potential a game like Bioshock has to feel lonely and isolated. Instead of a half-hour of retreading for item collection, just add another area.
All of this negative ranting is valid. This was the game of the year for a lot of big publications and sites. As an experience they are right. It’s rare to find something so rich in detail and so fleshed out. That still doesn’t outweigh how the game is played. A good pair of shoes can make your whole body feel better. The same can be said for the controls and how they’re put to use in a game. The praise for the entire game is stifling. Its story and setting that makes the game worthwhile. But that doesn’t make a complete game; it only makes it a good game.