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BioShock (Windows)

94
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.0
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Pixelspeech (955)
Written on  :  Aug 19, 2012
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  1.14 Stars1.14 Stars1.14 Stars1.14 Stars1.14 Stars

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Summary

Bioshock, y u no work properly?

The Good

Areas are nicely designed and especially looking out of a window is cool.

Enemies have very fascinating dialogue lines.

Able to hack machines.

The Bad

Confusing inventory and interface.

Visuals get really messy.

Controls are awkward.

Standing still to listen to taped messages is kind of lame.

You have very little health.

The Bottom Line

Story

Bioshock reminds me a lot of Half-Life in some ways: both games heavily emphasize a story told as you play, some gameplay elements are also similar and both titles start off with gameplay instead of cut-scene. After hitting “New game” you witness your airliner crashing into the ocean and are then forced to swim to a lighthouse. As you look for shelter, you come upon a pod that, once entered, sinks into the deep and brings you to the remains of an underwater utopia called “Rapture”. I would go into a bit more detail about what happens after, but that’s where our first problem arises: I simply can’t follow it. This might have been letdown, but it seems like climbing up the lighthouse and lighting it or maybe just staying put would have been a better choice, as a rescue team would probably be very interested in the huge fire in the middle of the ocean. I suppose you could say the goal is to save Rapture, but we have no personal connection with the location or the characters within it, so why should we care?

The game seeks to flesh out the story some more through ways that Half-Life also used, but things tend to get a little too busy. There are environmental hints, but at the same time there are characters speaking to you directly, enemies taunting you, people ordering you around through the radio, commercials been played through the intercom and if you aren’t getting enough of a headache already, then you can also find recorded tapes. I like to see games that don’t throw you to death with cut-scenes, but this is still obnoxious in a different way and even harder to follow. I gave up on it pretty soon and just played through the game in a trance instead. The recorded messages are especially annoying because everything just keeps going while you are trying to listen, that includes enemies and other characters talking.

Gameplay

Bioshock has some very obvious tells that reveal that this is a new IP, but it also has some capable people working on it. The game mixes RPG elements with a first-person shooter, this means you can upgrade your weapons and also choose between a number of upgrades to change the way you play. It sounds good on paper, but in practice the menu used for picking these upgrades is very clunky and confusing. I ran into a number of improvements as I played, but every time I found and installed one, the previous options I picked were gone. Eventually I found out the game has sub-categories for these things, but that still didn’t make it any more clear. You can also use Plasmids, which are special augmentations that you can inject into yourself and use as some sort of spell. There is a great deal of these and they certainly make for more diverse tactics, but switching between shooting stance and plasmid stance is annoying as all hell and some don’t even seem to work (such as enrage which should make enemies fight each other).

Levels are also designed in a way that I don’t like. The progression is linear, but there are branched paths that result in neat goodies. I do like that the game points out the way you need to go with an arrow on the HUD, but it’s still irritating to have to comb a dozen random rooms every time you get somewhere new. Levels mostly consist of dynamic goals that change as you accumulate information or get your path blocked, which I do actually like, but as stated before it was hard to figure out why stuff happens in this game. Most of the time you will be harassed by the former residents of Rapture and defense systems as you try to make it through the level, admittedly there is a lot of freedom and you can make it past enemies in many different ways. However, the actions fails to engage because the story is too hard to follow, making the gameplay a very dull affair overall.

Presentation

During that opening sequence in which we see the whole of Rapture while been transported in a pod I became really excited to see more of the city. However, when gameplay finally took over it was rather shallow and standard. I can imagine Rapture used to have a lot of color to it, but they went with such dark lighting and so much of it is destroyed that little is left of it. This results in a very inconsistent presentation where some parts look really scary, but are accompanied by cheerful music or advertisements on the intercom. To make the situation work either the area would have had to be intact or maybe they could have made the machines and speaker distorted, so that they would sound disturbing. As it stands now these areas just feel very mediocre: the design is too dark to be fun, but the sound is too cheerful to be scary.

Trying to get this game to run was also very difficult, something that I feel should not be the case for a game from 2009. On Windows 7 the game simply wouldn’t run, not at all in fact. If I launched the game in Steam it crashed instantly. It took me a while to figure out that I had to run the game in compatibility mode, because I assumed it had something to do with my drivers and I ran some updates instead. There’s our first problem: Windows 7 was launched in 2009 as well, so there is no excuse to not support it. Even if the game came first, there should have been an update to make it compatible long ago. It gets better though! The game would run in Windows Vista, but with NO SOUND. To get the sound working I had to run it in Windows XP (service pack 2). Let me get this straight… To get this game from 3 years ago working, you have to run it with an Operating System from 8 years ago? FUCK LOGIC.

Replay value and extras

Normally I would handle these two aspects separately, but for the first time I can group them together, just because there is not much to say. The game can hardly be considered very good for another playthrough, simply because it’s already a drag on the first run. Normally the fast-paced nature of linear first-person shooters is enough to keep it at least entertaining, but Bioshock dabbles in so much backtracking and other slow elements that it loses this advantage. You also tend to fall into a routine, which renders the option to try out different plasmids and tactics worthless, especially when you keep in mind that buying new plasmids and upgrades costs valuable Adam.

On the subject of Adam, that is also the main thing you’ll be going after. The game has a running moral-choice system in which you occasionally run into creatures known as “Little Sisters”. The idea is that you have to fight their guardian, a hulking machine known as a “Big Daddy”, and then either kill or cure the child. Killing them grants you a lot of Adam, which you can use to buy (passive) upgrades or new plasmid powers, and curing them grants you random presents and a lot less Adam. This choice also changes the ending you get. It works to a certain extent, but fighting the Big Daddies becomes, just like the rest of the game, a chore. The things are so powerful that they seem to me like a way to balance for the stupid amounts of money and ammo the game gives you every chance it gets. Besides that you can also gather the various upgrades and recorded messages if you really want a 100%, but frankly I don’t see the appeal and some levels won’t let you backtrack (by means of shut doors).

Verdict

The main problem I have with this game is the story, which may sound odd for an FPS, but hear me out. Even Call of Duty has a little story that adds context to what you are doing, without that little B-movie plot about Russians invading, the game would just be four hours of psychotic violence. Without the context there is no meaning to what you do and this will almost always result in the game failing to engage you. Bioshock however has so much plot that the player can’t keep up with it, there might be a context, but the player won’t experience it that way, thus giving the same result as having none at all. This affects every aspect of the game: the gameplay is boring because we don’t know what we’re doing, the presentation is dull because it always seems inconsistent in tone and there is no reason to replay it because who wants to go for a second round of random murdering?

Most of the people who seem to like this game are former fans of the “System Shock” franchise, so if you are part of that group and still haven’t tried it, then go ahead. If you’re dying for a new IP in the shooter market then Bioshock is again a pretty good choice. Veterans of the genre however will find Bioshock to be too slow and too story-heavy to entertain, so for everybody else I recommend skipping out on this game.