Posted on Sunday, January 6 2008 @ 15:57:23 Eastern
For a fairly 'indie' game, Bioshock has made quite a name for itself, garnering the top spot in nearly every Game of the Year listing so far. And this isn't without reason: Bioshock is a beautiful, wonderfully crafted game with a perfectly bizarre and intruiging story and the best voice acting and atmosphere in any game I can remember. Enough has been said in superlatives describing Ken Levine's spiritual successor to System Shock, but I couldn't help but feel disappointed with it, even just a little bit, in the end. So where did they go wrong with Rapture?
Disembodied Floating-Arms Syndrome
A staple of the FPS genre since the very beginning, the fact that you can look down and see no legs on the ground and no torso attached to the arms doing all the action is a complete immersion-breaker. Metroid Prime has shown us that FPS games can be character-centric, and reinforce to the player that there is someone behind the mask with reflections of their face and even a third-person view of the character. With all the water and glass of Rapture, the lack of any sort of reflection or look at the protagonist (who is mostly mute) now seems like a sloppy shortcut.
Easy-Peasy (Would you Kindly?)
In what may be an appeasement to the Halo-playing FPS generation, Bioshock is incredibly easy. Ammo is almost as free-flowing as first aid kits and eve stims, and you're never short of cash or ADAM to get the things you want and need. Even the game's signature 'Big Daddies' become stupidly easy to kill on even the most difficult setting. This is a far cry from System Shock 2, which had you scrounging up ammo and made psi powers increasingly difficult to use with higher levels (a neat psi-burn mechanic that requires quick reflexes and timing), which makes for some white-knuckle fights later on. I was expecting epic fights with Big Daddies that would require strategy and some skill to avoid their massive screw-arm and an arsenal of weaponry to pierce their armor. Instead, they're as tame as housecats once you can pummel them with RPGs and completely disable and kill them with the electric-charged chemical thrower. Which leads me to...
Lackadaisical Role-Playing Elements
System Shock 2 even made your character-upgrade currency (the equivalent of ADAM) hard to come by, which required some really key choices about whether you became a technologist, psi-user or gunslinger. Whether you choose to kill the Little Sisters or save them, Bioshock hands you more ADAM than you'll know what to do with, and enough slots to have every useful plasmid equipped at all times. You'll become an expert hacker, deadly marksman and savage plasmid powerhouse with ease by the end of the game. For a game that was supposed to be based on choices and their effects, the single-track character is a huge letdown and also stymies the replay value of the game. I played System Shock 2 at least 6 times playing as each major class and choosing different 'school year' specializations and found a different and enjoyable game each time. Bioshock basically limits itself to two plays: one 'good', one 'evil'.
Good and Evil
The end-result of this only real choice in Bioshock are some jarringly extreme endings. *SPOILER* If you harvest the Little Sisters, you are cast as a Neo-Hitler who takes command of Rapture from Atlas for a nefarious assault on the free world. If you save the girls, you grow old playing ring-around-the-rosie with a troupe of identical doting women. Uhh....what? I suppose System Shock 2 had a fairly comical ending (I'm referring to the shooting Shodan in the face cutscene), but neither of these really gives closure to the world of Rapture or sets the stage for the (inevitable) sequel. Even story elements that pertain to this choice are really contrived: the only difference is that the Little Sisters call you a meanie/saviour when you're in their little den after killing Andrew Ryan, and the doctor's dialogue changes to fit. */SPOILER*
In the end Bioshock is still a fantastic game that should be coveted by any self-respecting gamer, but I can't help but feel that it won't have the same fanatic longevity as its older brother.
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