Reviews: Bio Shock 1

Diminishing Returns

The experience I get from watching Memento today is very different than that of my first few watches. The first few times the film's editing made me feel confused, just as it was supposed to. It put me into the head of Leonard. I went through the story feeling a lot like he does. But as my watch count increased the confusion decreased. I remember everything. Now the movie's clever editing does not have the same effect. The only way to get more juice from the movie is to show it to someone who hasn't seen it.

Bioshock's environmental storytelling has a similar thing where repeated go-throughs diminish the effect. The first time through I didn't know anything. What's Adam? What are these little girls? How did Rapture fall? What went down between Atlas, Ryan, and this Fontaine guy? As I went through I was figuring it out. There was a sense of discovery. A sense of being in that place. But going through the game again just now the effect was gone. I already knew the answers to all that stuff. Thus, listening to all the diaries and whatnot was mostly just tedious. The emotion was largely gone. Despite the well-written and interesting characters and themes, deconstructive elements and so forth, I felt numb.

But I can go through some stories over and over again and always enjoy them. Frodo's choosing to keep the ring and go to Mordor at the end of FOTR is always powerful to me. In The Martian I go through the same emotional trip each time. I see so much of myself in Watney's struggle that I cheer him on each time. I literally got a little emotional just writing that. For me, emotional connection to the ideas or characters in a story makes it meaningful each time.

Bioshock's narrative worked best for me going in blind on my first time. It was like a mystery story. Once I knew who-dunnit it could not be quite the same. Or maybe it's like a puzzle game. There's a certain lack of replayability. I realize that lots of stories are more enjoyable some times than at others, but I can't shake the sense that Bioshock's methodology is particularly susceptible to diminishing returns.

I guess I'm glad I went through it again because I at least learned a bit about what makes a story work for me. But the experience itself didn't give me much of a kick.

Excellent story, mediocre gameplay

Some games do well in certain aspects to the exclusion of others, and in BioShock, those aspects happen to be the story and gameplay, respectively.

The plot takes players to Rapture, an underwater city founded as a paradise for free thought and free enterprise that has decayed into a war-torn city. Your goal is to kill Andrew Ryan, the man in charge of Rapture, but things are not nearly as simple as they appear.

The story is the strongest part of the game. Through audio logs throughout the city, you can learn Rapture's extensive backstory, and see more about the surprisingly deep and varied cast of characters in the backstory. You may wonder where you fit in all this, as an apparent outsider, but hints are dropped over time, building up to a revelation of the shocking truth that's the high point of the entire game.

The gameplay, however, is not nearly as strong. It serves as a hybrid of an FPS and an RPG, but there's relatively little customization for the latter; only what abilities you have unlocked and which ones you have available. The ability to make new items is an interesting one, albeit somewhat underutilized, so it, along with the other RPG elements, is highly simplistic.

As an FPS, the guns you get are surprisingly weak in various ways; while most shotguns are fairly strong (sometimes enough to kill weak enemies in one shot), but weak at long range, the BioShock shotgun has mediocre damage and an abysmally long reload time, even after being upgraded. You'll generally have to empty half a clip into most enemies to kill them, and considering that the enemies are surprisingly fast, that's not an easy task. As such, combat is often frustrating and resource management is a difficult task indeed.

The game also peters out toward the end. After the major twist near the end, you end up with two fetch quests followed by an Escort Mission (albeit one that isn't that punishing for failure) and a disappointing Final Boss.

All in all, BioShock has its moments, but since those moments are mainly in the story, perhaps the best way to enjoy it is to set it to Easy, thereby allowing you to see the story while minimizing the frustration factor.

A game that runs out of Shock.

There are only two moments in Bioshock that make the game worth playing. The first fifteen minutes and the second-act climax. Everything else is a whole load of chaff.

Bioshock is billed as a cross between an FPS, an RPG and a Horror game. The problem is that it gives up being leeway competent at any of the three.

It doesn't work as an FPS. Your character runs and jumps like he just cacked his pants. The guns have massive recoil and the enemies move too goddamn fast.

It doesn't work as an RPG. You have a wide arsenal of powers at your disposal but only a small array of enemies to use them on. If your basic wrench is capable of murdering everyone short of the final boss, why bother experimenting?

It doesn't work as a Horror. After a few scripted scares the game gives up any notion of unease by the halfway point. This extends to the enemies. System Shock 2, Bioshock's predecessor, had invisible spiders, flesh monsters and cyborg midwives. What does this game have? Bomberman escorting a girl scout.

The music is fine but the sound effects are a bitch. Your enemies have these ear-grating Bronx accents which will compel you to beat real-life Bronx residents to death with your aforementioned wrench.

The environmental graphics are stellar but the characters animations leave a lot to be desired. It's painfully obvious there was only a small pool of character models and they try to hide this fact with NP Cs in shadow or behind locked doors. Just about every time you meet a new character they get interrupted by their death, conveniently removing the need for any NPC interaction.

The game has a fascinating back-story but an uninspiring main-story. The problem is that the game gives you one single goal to work on, but it has keep blocking your progress with broken bridges and scavenger hunts.

The themes are murky. What is this game's point exactly? That Objectivism doesn't work? Something, something, free will? The binary morality-system employed within the gameplay is complete and utter nonsense.

What really kills the game is the last act. Here the game gives up any notion of originality and becomes an exercise in tedium. The final boss is a joke in how cheesy he is for a game that has such artistic pretensions.

Bioshock is worth playing once only out of curiosity. Therefore I shall give it my lowest score ever. 3/5

A marvellous pile of... What?

Bioshock is a tangled mess of pure awesome and mediocrity.

Starting with the graphics... well, they're breathtaking. Ain't no denying it. This is water the developers worked with; do you have any idea how hard that is? On the sad point, even today your computer had better have some ninja graphics cards up its backdoor. I don't feel like going into detail about it, but yeah, awesome graphics.

And the physics engine... yeah, that rocks too. They really worked on it.

The trouble is that while there's a million and one ways to kill people - water and oil help spread toys like Electro-Bolt and Fireball, Telekinesis, Hypnotise - the novelty kind of wears off because it's expensive. It's shamefully true that you do indeed fall back to zap and tap, or using basic telekinesis to throw people around.

Morality is a load of bull. The choice has a minimal effect on the game. As usual, the game is blatantly easier if you take the good guy route - you don't get an instant payoff but you get more in the long run - and it doesn't take long for this 'long run' to sink in.

And the story? Well, it certainly feels like there's a lot of effort that's gone into it. The world feels huge. It is a huge twist - relying on you not knowing the twist; the game's been out a long time. But in the end, when you've played it through, and learned the twist, you don't really feel the urge to play it through again a different way because there's only one way to play it through. There's a couple of hours of the game right in the middle that are obscenely monotonous. Yes, it says things about morality and tape recorders and stuff, and they add something, but it's hard to tell how much. It's a good game and I enjoyed my playthrough... but I'm in no hurry to play it through twice.

By Far, The Weakest

To start with: I love this game. I think it's an excellent game that everyone should play, and it deserves a lot of the praise it gets.

It is not without flaws, and those flaws have become much easier to notice since the second and third games have been released.

First, the gameplay is average. Having to switch between weapons and plasmids was clunky, and trying to go back to this game after playing Bioshock 2 and Infinite is downright painful. Plasmids are well balanced to avoid being gamebreakers; it's obvious they're meant to supplement your guns, you can't go through the game on plasmids alone and instead need them to give you an edge, but using them is downright aggravating and there's no reason it had to be this way. Bioshock 2 shouldn't have had to innovate in the area of weapon/power synergy. This is arguably still better than Infinite where vigors can be very overpowered.

More damningly, while the concepts and messages of the story are thought-provoking, the execution is awful. The pacing is completely screwed up; not only does the big twist bring the player too high too long before the end, but there is nothing of substance between that point and the end. It's not just a matter of the plot after the twist being weak, it feels like there is no plot at all. It feels like the map designers worked overtime and built too many maps for the writers to do anything with. It's truly bizarre that such a thought-provoking work can have such a large portion be nothing but dead space.

There is no point to the morality system; you get more for saving the Little Sisters than harvesting them, and it doesn't take long to realize it. The bad ending is a descent into cartoon villainy; it's simply absurd and, as such, not even remotely satisfying.

This is a good game game. You should play this game. You should play it before the others in the series not just because Bioshock 2 and Infinite benefit from having played this one first, but because they're so much better that it's hard to do it any other way.

Shocking. Positively Shocking.

Bioshock begins when a man named Jack survives a plane crash over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Shortly thereafter, he finds himself in the undersea city of Rapture, built by the wealthy Andrew Ryan as a haven for free industry, scientific progress, and artistic freedom. However, the city has since fallen into civil war and disrepair, the streets stalked by the addict-like splicers. Faced with such odds, Jack must use his wits, scrounged resources, and the odd voice on the radio to survive Rapture and make his way back to the surface.

Let's start by examining the gameplay. The various powers, called "plasmids," are very fun to use and come in a great variety. I'd say there are a few too many, though, since I never even used half of them. The various standard weapons aren't quite as fun as the plasmids, but make for satisfying shooter combat. Another gameplay aspect that's fun to play around with are the gene tonics, various buffs that can accommodate various play styles. However, these are optional, so anyone not interested in the RPG elements can play as well.

Even considering the gameplay, the narrative is one of the game's biggest positives. Jack himself, is the typical voiceless player avatar, so he's pretty flat as a character. However, that works out pretty well, as the game isn't really about Jack; rather, the story is all about Rapture, how it fell, and its various inhabitants, who all get their stories told via audio logs that are found scattered around Rapture. the supporting characters are all fascinating in their own ways, especially the crazed artist Sander Cohen. These little stories all come together to form a complex examination of an objectivist utopia and the inherent problems such a place would present. This is all good, but the infamous plot twist late in the game not only serves as an effective gut punch to the player, but also adds a neat bit of meta-textual commentary on the nature of video games. These two elements combine to create a truly effective narrative.

Now, the game is not without its flaws, few though they may be. The biggest is probably the pacing after the aforementioned twist. The game from that point on is a mainly an overlong fetch quest, followed by an annoying escort quest. the the game ends with a mediocre boss fight, and less than satisfying ending cutscenes.

It's a must play.