Bioshock Review 19/05/2009

It’s a fairly good game, but I really didn’t get it’s huge critical acclaim.

As far as I know, Bioshock is the first main stream game to break away from initially committing itself to one system, as it has now expanded from just the Xbox to the PS3 after several years as an Xbox only title. This is strange, especially considering how aggressive Microsoft’s marketing tactics are but I assume the reason is mostly cash related. Anyway, who cares, as I’m glad it has crossed over as this game has got such huge critical acclaim I was always curios about it, but not willing to buy a whole new system just for one game (I don’t think a game exists that’s worth that price, as you should just be more tactical when purchasing a system). First of all this is first person shooter (FPS,) yet again, but this definitely differentiates itself from the competition. The concept is incredibly unique as is the combat and use of weaponry, with lots of dense story line, superb voice acting and memorable moments in general. To draw a comparison, and to be informative, this game definitely doesn’t go head to head with shooters such as Resistance 2 or Call of Duty, as i’s simply not a similar game. It’s much more a survival horror/role playing game that’s played in first person, so don’t expect an explosive action title. It’s much more intelligent and subtle than that.

What’s good?

The story here is the most intriguing and impressive aspect. I doubt you have ever played through a story like this one before. You play “Jack” a passenger on an aircraft flying to a mystery destination. Your plane crash lands in the sea and you are the only survivor. You swim to what looks like a like a lighthouse but it turns out to be the entrance to a secret underwater city called “Rapture”. This city is built and inhabited by a community of scientists, artists, free thinkers and generally brilliant minds that wish to hide away from modern scaremongering, god fearing and politically correct society. Unhinged by such moral obligations the idea is to create a utopian community of brilliance and creativity. However, when you accidently arrive you find the city is a leaking decaying ruin, the only inhabitants are crazed genetic mutants hell bent on killing anything and everything and there are small girls wandering the hallways feasting on the dead with giant mutated companions that protect them (Big daddies). What follows is a journey through this incredible city where you must constantly fight for survival, find out what the hell happened here and ultimately escape with your life. However, you discover things are not that simple and Jack is not that unfamiliar with Rapture. There is so much more to it than that, as you learn of advanced stem cell research experimentation, a civil war/rebellion, a battle between Ryan and Fontaine, the cities two founders and 3 alternative endings, but I won’t spoil it. It’s such a ludicrously unique and amazing concept I am curious as to how it ever actually ended up being made. There’s so much detail in the plot and every possibility has been explored as to how it would actually work. As a result the game is plastered in depth and atmosphere and every single pixel is there to enhance the feeling of fear, dread and isolation. It’s not quite as scary as “Dead Space” for example, as the enemies are not as intimidating, but it will send shivers down your spine. It is very much like playing through a film plot.

The plasmids are good fun. The unique selling point of Bioshock’s combat is the use of plasmids. These are bottles of glowing fluid, scattered around rapture, that diddle with your DNA in order for you to gain a super power, a remnant of the genetic experiments in Rapture. These vary from firing electric bolts, setting people on fire, a sonic blast that sends your foe flying, to telekinesis which enables you to pick huge objects up and hurl them at people, or the people themselves, or throw their grenades back at them. They simply add to the games normal weapons, such as shot guns, pistols, machine guns etc and give you many many different ways of dealing with the different enemies. For example, if a group of enemies are standing in a pool of water send a blast of electricity into that pool and fry the lot of them. Is an annoying splicer lobbing grenades at you whilst standing in some gasoline? Wack out your incinerate plasmid and light the bastard up. Simple stuff, but very good fun. There are a myriad of normal guns such as pistols, shot guns and machine guns but all have different ammo, such as armour piercing rounds, electro shock buck shots and anti personnel rounds. All expand on the many options of taking out a foe and gives the often bloody and savage kills a lot of variety.

The enemy AI is very advanced. Your foes are seriously tough sods in Bioshock. They will always get themselves into the best positions to best use their weapon and will frequently try to outflank you when there are several of them. If you set one on fire, it will immediately run for water and throw itself into it to snuff out the flames. If you damage one quite badly it will run to a medical station to try and heal itself. Sometimes they will play dead and jump up just as you get near them and some of them pretend to be statues, same colour and texture, and jump out at you. They are not daft and you have to be seriously on the ball every time you encounter them.

As expected, there is lots of character customising to be done. Not only can you arm yourself with various plasmids and weapons, but each plasmid and weapon can be upgraded, ranging from increasing its strength, the speed of reloading, whether its effects harm you, or how many people are hurt by it in one go. All are very influential. You can also pick up and use various tonics and gene upgrades that will affect your ability to heal, hack items and increase your strength. There are 5 slots in all four of the upgrade aspects and all need to be bought in order to add the huge amount of varying upgrades. There are also U-invent machines that enable you to put together all the crap you find, such as rubber tubing or a brass casing (they all seem pointless but everything you can pick up has a use) in order to make bullets, explosives, and yet further tonics. There is a hell of a lot to fiddle with if you like customising your character and weapons.

The visuals are pretty good as well. The whole city is plastered in detail and every aspect of a rusting, leaking under water ruin is placed here. The water effects are particularly impressive. The whole city has been so very finely constructed and every aspect of an underwater ruin has been thought of. You will discover that there is a garden area for trees and therefore oxygen, a market for food, hospital, engineering deck and all sorts. Nothing has been missed and Rapture is easily one of the most interesting and brilliant in-game cities I have played in. There is also a visual treat every time you set someone on fire or shock them with electricity and there really aren’t any flaws or bad graphics anywhere. Lighting is noticeably atmospheric and I haven’t seen a game use it to such great effect. It’s not the most stunning game I have ever seen, “Resistance 2” is better for example, however, to be fair, it is quite considerably older than most of today’s modern visually flawless titles. As you probably know, this game was released for the Xbox several years ago and the PS3 version is simply a clone of this. Therefore, credit has to be given when it’s due.

What’s bad?

The computer hacking gets really tedious. Every time you get to a droid, safe, or machine of some kind that you want to control/infiltrate then you have to hack it. That sounds fine, but it actually involves playing a mini game. It’s basically a puzzle with a time limit where you have to swap around and reconnect lots of pipe work that slowly fills with blue fluid, so that the blue fluid is transported to a designated place at the edge of the puzzle. Yes, it is a stupid as it sounds and has absolutely bugger all to do with bypassing circuits and re-connecting wires. This may be more of a reflectance of my intelligence or IQ but I really struggled with them initially. It’s hard to perform these puzzles under pressure, and it’s easy to muck it up, especially on your first play through. To make it worse, they are not much fun and if you fail it takes a huge chunk of your health away, as it electrocutes you. They suck. Hacking in Fallout 3 managed to be challenging, puzzle orientated and relatively entertaining to perform, but this just irritates me. Even if you like them, there are far too many to do in the game, plus they get harder and harder, so they will inevitably end up winding you up regardless.

It’s too complicated. Firstly the menus suffer from this as there is too many of them and lots don’t seem to have a point. It’s not badly presented and you do get used to them but it’s really unclear what you have to press in order to view things. You can look at a map, your weapons and quests but the map is really the only one worth looking at. You can view weapons, ammo, plasmids and quests but they are not helpful at all as you cant even do anything to them, just view them. There are other menus when playing that allow you to view weapons, ammo and plasmids and in these you can actually select what you want to use. Why give the option twice, but further still make one of those options absolutely useless as you can’t even do anything with the information? It’s just arbitrary and confusing. Which brings me to my next point: The vending machines are too numerous in number and complexity as well and add to this menu issue. There’s vending machines for bloody everything. For example, you can’t do anything about your plasmids until you reach a special vending machine that enables you to swap gene upgrades and plasmids. It doesn’t sell you anything or do anything at all, except allow you fiddle with your various powers. Why? Surely your character would already have all applicable plasmids etc on him, so why do you need to go to a vending machine to do it? If you want to buy gene upgrades or plasmids you need to go to a different vending machine. Why would it have been so difficult to have the machine do both, or even better let your character have his own inventory to sort it out yourself? Further more, you can’t just use normal dollars in the plasmid machines, you need “Adam”, but you can’t get “Adam” from just anywhere you need to harvest it from the little girls, but you can’t harvest them from little girls until you take down the toughest foe in the game, their giant protectors, the “big daddies”. It really does seem overly complicated. I appreciate that the story is complex and all of the above is necessary in underlying that, but don’t think for a second you will be able to just pick up and play. It’s just not that simple. To make it even worse, each gun has three different types of bullets that generally explode, electrocute or set fire to something, in addition to the normal bullets. It’s relatively entertaining to stun your foe with electric buck shot but it simply delays shooting him normally and doesn’t really make a lot of difference. Normal bullets or nearly always the best way to kill something anyway, plus you have to reload every time you change the ammo which can take from a very long time, to a really frustratingly long time, depending on the gun. It’s not interminable, and you do get the hang of it all eventually, but I really do think they just went too far and you won’t start to get your head round it all until much later in the game. It’s basically not idiot proof, and, being an idiot, this is what frustrated me.

The combat is total chaos. Whenever you encounter enemies, especially several at once, it just becomes total anarchy. The majority of the time the only option is too sprint around all over the place firing wildly. The problem is the only way to avoid your enemy’s attacks is to jink and dodge, which is fine. But the enemy does the same thing, and they and you move so fast it’s really difficult to aim correctly and make the kill. You have plasmids and things that can alter this but most of the time you will simply be blasting away with a normal gun and it’s impossible to switch between guns and plasmids quickly enough to be effective, and reload them. Even if you are the fastest reacting most skilled gamer, there is always an automatic delay when switching weapons and plasmids and arming them. Plus, you are permanently having to calculate the eleventybillion different ways to kill an enemy, the different ways they attack you and the different effects the different bullets have on the different enemies, as some have no effect at all, whilst sprinting in every direction, to avoid getting sliced in three, and trying to aim for the head. You could argue that it’s more realistic this way, which it would be, and you’re not fighting other armed soldiers on a battle field, which you are not, but I don’t care. It does fit with the game and its story, but it just doesn’t flow smoothly enough and it’s too chaotic. I’m sure it adds to the atmosphere, realism and scare factor of the game but it just didn’t do it for me.

The harder difficulties are far too hard. Those of you that want a challenge will probably want to set this one on the hardest difficulty as I found it to be impossible. I played through on easy first, which I highly recommend as there is a lot to get your head round, and it was, unsurprisingly, fairly easy but still entertaining. So naturally I attempted the normal mode afterwards and the huge leap between the two difficulty settings is ludicrous. You take damage a hell of a lot more easily to the point where you can literally have your entire health bar wiped out with one hit from a particularly powerful enemy, and the enemies are far harder to kill. The chasm between the two difficulties is so vast I’m curious as if anyone at “2K studios” actually played it during development. The big daddies in particular are ridiculously difficult to take down, as they can absorb so much fire power, deal out a lot damage and often have attacks that disable and stun you so you can’t even dodge if you wanted, or fire your weapon. You can easily relinquish a full compliment of shot gun shells at point blank range, or around 8 grenades, and it is unlikely to kill him, bearing in mind this is on “normal” mode! The hard difficulty I found was even harder, to the point of not enjoying it, and I didn’t even attempt the new “Every bullet counts” difficulty, the only exclusive aspect of the game on the PS3. I’m confident I would not have liked it. They have complimented the difficulty in that every time you are killed you are instantly regenerated in these blue chambers scattered around that basically work as check points. You have all your weapons and everything as if you never died. The enemy you were fighting will be left in the last state you left him, i.e. damaged, so you can have another pop at him. The problem is that it kinda takes dying out of the equation as it’s so easy to regenerate and just press on, so you start to simply not care. Death basically has no repercussions here so you develop a very care free strategy when taking on a foe as it doesn’t really make any difference whether you die or not. This reduces the fear factor quite a lot. You can turn them off, where it turns into a normal “go back to your last save point” game, but why give the option? It just seems to flit from the far too easy, to the ridiculously impossible and never ventures into the middle ground.

You don’t get to keep any of your upgrades once it’s completed. This is not a surprise really as when you play through you start to realise that it simply wouldn’t work in the context of the story line. But I’m not convinced. You spend the 20 hours or so building, customizing and upgrading your character, plasmids and weapons, most of which you don’t really get to use until right at the end, and then they are gone. It’s just very unrewarding. Considering that so much expense has been spent on the customising aspect of the game it seems odd that they would choose to take it away from you. It makes the lasting appeal very short.

It’s not quite as action packed as you might think. Although this is undoubtedly a first person shooter (FPS) it’s not quite as manic as “Killzone 2” or “COD 4: Modern Warfare”. True, they are not really similar games and they both lack the complex story line of Bioshock, but it is much more on par with “Fallout 3” in terms of combat. There are a lot of genetically modified nutters to kill here but it is not as fast paced or action packed as you may expect from the previews or other reviews. Nothing is ruined, I just feel I should warn those expecting such traits as it does feel a little slow, especially on your first unfamiliar play through.

Conclusion:

This is a pretty good title, but I just can’t see why it’s got the huge critical acclaim that it has. Maybe it’s just me. It does have a fantastically unique story and weapons, lots of character customisation to perform, it looks really good and there is a lot of stuff to kill. However, I found it to go a bit overboard in its complexity, mainly the weaponry and vending machines, the combat is chaotic and random and once it’s been completed it becomes tiresome quite quickly. I would say that is worth playing if you like such genre’s however, my biggest problem with this game is the current competition. I have recently played “Fallout 3” and “Dead space” and both are not only very similar games, but they engaged me a lot more, were more fun to play, and ultimately gave me a more enjoyable experience. They are both better thought out, more engaging, prettier to behold and generally better experiences, particularly “Fallout 3”. The story lines were not quite as unique as Bioshock’s, but that doesn’t make a game. Is this a good game that’s worth your time and cash? Generally yeah. Are there better games out there that are worth more of your time and cash? Definitely. CA.

Summary:

Is it user-friendly/easy to get into? – 7.0

It’s generally presented well, but the complex menus, vending machines, plasmids and controls will take some getting used to. Don’t expect to simply “pick up and play”.

Is the story any good? – 10.0

Incredibly imaginative story. One of the most intriguing and interesting ever in a game.

How does it look? – 8.5

Not the best I have ever seen, but still more than competent. Excellent use of lighting, fire and water effects.

How does it sound? – 9.0

Very atmospheric. No music as such, but the insane shouts of the mad splicer’s, the deep groan of a big daddy, and the creeks and groans of the decaying structure around you all add to the experience.

Is it good to play? – 7.0

It’s interesting and different, but mad and chaotic. The guns and plasmids open a whole heap of methods in which to kill the enemy, but very tough to stay cool when under attack to use them effectively. Don’t expect smooth game-play or an easy time.

When will I get bored? – 6.0

It will take a long time to complete the first time round, but I tired of it quickly afterwards. Game-play is not enjoyable enough to keep you playing again and again, you don’t get to keep your upgrades and once it’s done, it’s done basically. Plus there’s nothing for it online.

OVERALL – 7.5

Review created by C. Armstrong.

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