Okay, so I’m about a month late talking about this. But I have an excuse! I ended up buying not one but two copies of the game (I mistakenly pre-ordered from both Amazon and EB).
And both of the discs crashed almost instantly on my XBox. Always. Binary crash; sometimes without even waiting for loading screen to turn off.
The intertrons said that this was the “leading” symptom to the “ring of death” crash (meaning that the chips had cooked themselves). Since the machine was really old, and had already had repairs once, and the wait time for a “ring of death” repair is in the 6 week ballpark, I said “fuck it” and just bought another XBox.
(Oh, ouch, how’s this for pain: the clerk behind the counter – a young woman probably 20 years old – looks at my ID when I’m paying for it and tells me that, if I shaved my moustache to be like the photo on my license, that I’d be “cute”. Great. I’ll also look like I’m 13, but hey.)
Anyways. I picked up the machine on Friday afternoon and finally got to play Bioshock a little. I didn’t really get to have a play session longer than an hour until today, though, and I played the fuck out of it.
Holy crap, what an awesome idea.
The gameplay isn’t really anything new to me. See, I loved System Shock 2, and that’s really what Bioshock is; only instead of onboard an out of control interstellar space ship, it takes place in a crumbling, Randian, underwater city.
What a fucking awesome premise. In 1946, super-industrialist Andrew Ryan (read: Ayn Rand) says “fuck all ya’ll, I’m gonna go create my own city.” So he totally does the John Galt thing and founds a “utopia” city based around pure capitalism . . . at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean.
The inhabitants of the city end up making a bunch of crazy scientific discoveries (genetic manipulation), and then at the beginning of 1960 shit pretty much falls apart. Enter our hero, the player, a victim of a collision between boat and airplane that just happened right by the entrance to the city, Rapture. And we begin.
My biggest problem was adjusting to the fact that the game was taking place in 1960. It took me about an hour to wrap my mind around that. I’d see a banner saying “Happy New Year 1959” or something and I’d think, “wtf? That should have rotted away…” and then I’d get attacked by a crazy mutant thug inside some sort of Davey-Jones style pressure suit and have to reload a save.
There’s all sorts of fun little gameplay elements but (as with System Shock 2) I’m much more interested in the hacking. I pick up all the superpowers I can, but really don’t use them much (except telekinesis, which is just well done).
The game really is the “spiritual successor” to SS2. I’m not finding myself as tense playing this game as I did playing SS2, but then no game has ever scared the fuck out of me like SS2. And I’m not talking Doom 3 style “someone throws a cat from offscreen” type stuff, but real, solid terror as I crept through the corridors of this decrepit space hulk with only 3 charges on my plasma pistol and no psi power, thinking “ohgodPLEASEdon’tLetThereBeACyberMonkeyInThere…”
Not getting that with Bioshock. But then, I may not have encountered the CyberMonkey or Valkyrie equivalents.
Deus Ex (and to a much lesser extent, Deus Ex II) also had the kind of “build up your powers” system that Bioshock and SS2 had (and I keep coming back to that because seriously it’s fucking identical – only the terminology changes). However, in DE and DEII, you were “locked” into power choices and in Bioshock you can swap them in and out at special “gene stations”. So, if your “shock the fuck out of people” power isn’t doing the dirty for you in the level, and you need to use your “freeze the fuck out of people” power instead, you can swap ’em. (I don’t remember if SS2 allowed you to re-slot powers. I’ve not played it since 2001.)
There is also a “re-spawn” mechanism that I’m not sure I’m hip to. It sort of removes all real danger from the game. If you die, you get rebuilt instantly inside one of these chambers located around the map. This will lead to a strategy of “club something until it dies” play, wherein the player gets killed and re-spawns over and over again with no penalty. So, while the game moves faster because of this, I’m not sure that it makes it more enjoyable (it removes all the tension from encounters). That, coupled with the fact that I’ve yet to really run into a resource problem means that I’ve never run from anything.
There’s one moral question in the game. There are all these little, satanic children running through the map (protected by the aforementioned brutes in pressure suits). They are reservoirs of genetic power, and you need that stuff. So you have to kill the bodyguard and then you get to choose to either “harvest” the power from the child (killing her in the process) or “save” her through a handwave magic technique. Harvesting nets you more power than saving her, so that’s your choice.
Only, from a gameplay perspective, there isn’t a choice at all. In fact, killing the girls is just plain stupid, because for every three or so you save an NPC will give you an extra amount of power (equal to what you would have gained by killing the girls) plus a bunch of other goodies and presents. Neither choice is easier or harder than the other, so why pick the one that won’t give the presents?
Stylistically and graphically, the game is just plain awesome. It really, truly feels like I’m wandering around in a decrepit underwater city. The small details are what really makes it, too – the shadows cast by fish across a room as they swim over the bubble you’re in, for instance.
I am finding that I’m less interested in completing the game than I am in exploring the city, to be honest.
At any rate, I will probably complete it this week, in time for Halo III, which comes out in 9 days or so.