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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  :  hydra9 (3853)
Written on  :  Jan 08, 2008
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.29 Stars3.29 Stars3.29 Stars3.29 Stars3.29 Stars

23 out of 29 people found this review helpful

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Summary

Yes, it's another somewhat negative review of BioShock.

The Good

First off, I want to say this: BioShock is a solid game, a decent game. It didn't grab me by any part of my anatomy and make me fall in love with it, but it didn't make me want to spit blood, either. It's a... solid game... which is about the highest compliment I can pay it.

It can certainly be fun at times. My favorite thing has to be the telekinesis plasmid. Tossing explosive barrels around is fun. Tossing heavy bags of fertiliser at an enemy's head is fun. Less effective, but good for a sadistic chuckle: Throwing a dead cat at an enemy's head. And throwing a dead enemy at a live enemy is fun. I really like the telekinesis plasmid.

Garbage cans! They're good to throw.

Forgetting telekinesis for a moment, I also enjoyed watching the fights between Big Daddies and splicers. You know the splicers are going to lose, which just makes the whole thing more entertaining.

Though it became repetitive, I did enjoy hacking gun turrets and security bots, then sitting back and watching them do their job.

Other good points:
* Good graphics (though I personally found them rather hard to look at after a while, with their overly high contrast and slew of filters).
* Pretty decent voice acting (except for a major character who pops up later in the game... no spoilers... if you've played it, you should know who I'm referring to).
* High attention to detail, with plenty of nice touches. Something I thought was really cool was the weapon upgrades, which actually change the look of your steampunkish guns by adding extra cogs and tubes, etc.
* An interesting, different setting.
* The story is decent enough (though very similar to System Shock 1 & 2).
* Good ragdolls (except for the incessant jitter problems).

The Bad

The main problem is how repetitive this game is. There are only a few different types of enemies, and they are all 'splicers' (super-fast homicidal maniacs). Most blast you with pistols or tommy-guns. Others leap wildly and try to slash your face off. A third, rarer type crawl along the ceiling and throw spinning blades at you. Later on, you encounter a couple who are a bit more interesting (the guy who phases in and out of corporeal form and shoots fireballs) but by the half-way point of the game, you will have seen every one of the five(?) enemy variations... over and over again. You will have also heard all their dialog to the point of boredom. I have read many reviews, comments and pieces of hyperbole about how these are 'tragic characters' you can 'empathise with.' Well... no... they're fast, repetitive zombies. Just because they're dressed to go to the ball and have a few lines of speech about their dead spouse or moulting scalp does not make me feel sorry for them, particularly when repetition reinforces the fact that they are all clones of each other and they are all 'crazy' in exactly the same way (i.e. they see you and instantly want to murder your ass).

The two other denizens of Rapture who you will meet regularly are the famous Big Daddy and Little Sister. Sadly, repeated dialogue and behavior also make them seem very artificial, despite the interplay between the two. Unlike the splicers, the Big Daddies don't attack you unless provoked. However, you have to kill them to get to the Little Sisters, to get the 'Adam,' which is the local currency and will allow you to 'buy' additional plasmids and power-ups. Therefore, it's up to you to choose when you want to fight a Big Daddy. Unfortunately, this makes the Big Daddy fights feel like more of a chore than anything. It's sort of like, "Well, I'm going to be leaving the level soon. Guess I'd better kill a couple of Big Daddies before I go *sigh*." At least, that was how I was feeling after a few fights. These 'boss battles' really lose all their tension because, although the Big Daddies are tough, it absolutely doesn't matter if you die, as you will just get sent to a nearby respawn chamber, then you can come back and continue fighting with only a few seconds' delay. If the Big Daddies could, say, go plug themselves into an unhackable wall socket and recover their energy while you were temporarily dead, this might even the odds. Then you'd have to kill 'em in one go, which would definitely bring the tension back. But no.
Anyway, I like the Big Daddies. They are pretty cute, and can be fun to fight, sometimes. Maybe the first few times. But like everything else in BioShock, they become dull.

The game throws a constant stream of splicers at you, from start to finish. They respawn like mad. Clear an area and approximately a minute later (or less), another splicer will spawn. Combat becomes very boring, especially as (on normal difficulty), it takes a lot of shots from most weapons to take down even a single attacker.

The idea of the game is to make each encounter different by giving the player a wide range of plasmids (or, as another reviewer called them; 'spells') and guns (with plenty of different ammo types). Unfortunately, as with the enemies, by the half-way point of the game, you will have collected all the available guns and all the plasmid types (the only remaining thing will be more powerful versions of existing plasmids). Also, by this point, I had fought so many splicers that I'd become thoroughly bored with the battles.

Most encounters will involve you switching back and forth between your plasmids and guns, as the guns on their own are usually too weak. In fact, all the weapons feel too weak, even when upgraded (the crossbow being the one exception). Switching between plasmids and guns is technically simple but in practice, it feels over-fiddly. The problem is that this game, despite its pretensions of being something greater, is just a shooter; but it's a shooter that's over-complicated and lacks one of the most basic requirements of the genre; the simple, satisfying fun factor. You cannot just blow enemies away in BioShock, although it will probably get to a point where you will long to. Each encounter is a drawn-out battle where you will switch between plasmids and guns as you first distract, then slightly maim, then confuse, then finally kill your opponent. What is intended as an innovative approach to combat becomes stale through repetition. Sure, there are some really interesting plasmids (turn people against each other; make them targets for security bots; make them attack a fake version of yourself) but some are better than others, some prove to be near useless and there are a few basic strategies you will find yourself using time and time again.

There are other problems, too. Throughout the game, you are swamped with items to pick up and vending machines to buy items from. As if there wasn't enough ammo lying around already, and enough money to buy ammo, you can also pick up seemingly useless items such as 'brass tubes' and screws. Then, you throw all these pieces of junk into another wall-mounted machine, which will magically turn them into... more ammo. Why is this a problem? Because there is simply too much. It is yet another aspect of the game that becomes repetitive; endlessly picking up things, endlessly using vending machines. And when a vending machine is never less than a couple of rooms away, it removes much of the challenge and excitement of being low on ammo and having to survive. In fact, when I was about 3/4 of the way through the game, I decided to make things more interesting by imposing a rule on myself: I would stop using vending machines and 'invent-o-matics' - From now on, I would only take what I could find lying around. It came as no surprise that this instantly made the game more fun, and took away some of the repetitiveness as I no longer had to hack those damn vending machines.

Hacking...
Hacking is something that sounds like it should be exciting and carry some level of difficulty. But it's not. Every time you hack a vending machine, bot, camera, gun turret or lock you do the exact same thing: Play a game of Pipe Dream. Now, I quite like Pipe Dream but you'll play it a few hundred times in BioShock. And as if it wasn't easy enough already, you have the option of using all kinds of 'gene tonics' (aka. power-ups) to boost your hacking skills and make the game ridiculously easy. It sort of boggles the mind that Rapture is full of security devices that can all be easily overcome by sticking a few bits of pipe together.

The big problem with this game, apart from its crashing lack of variety is that its design is fearful. What do I mean? Well, there is a sort of schizophrenic battle going on here between trying to make the game complex and flexible and advanced... and then the flipside of the coin: trying desperately hard to make it accessible, and not too difficult or daunting for novices, and making sure that absolutely no-one is going to be the slightest bit confused by anything. Yes, it's the 'dumbing down' that this game has inflicted on itself.

The most obvious example of this is what I'm going to call 'the golden arrow of idiocy.' You know a game is treating you like an idiot when you are given an objective, which is then not only written in your diary (with optional extra hints) and marked on your map but also pointed out by a giant golden arrow which hangs in the air and which you can follow along mindlessly like an obedient puppy dog. The doors you have to open are even marked in gold! At least, that's what I'm told. I turned off the arrow as soon as I saw it. Thankfully, there was an option to do so, though maybe there won't be in BioShock 2. Honestly, I can't believe that the designers were so worried about people getting lost that they put a giant golden arrow in this game! It works for GTA, sure, but it has no place here.

Oh yeah, and the respawn chambers. On the one hand, I can actually see the point of them, as the load times are so horrendous that reloading every time you died would be a real hassle. But come on! Where is the tension in a game that has basically no penalty for dying? Death doesn't cost anything, doesn't lose you anything... You re-appear with a decent chunk of health and psi-power ('Eve') in a chamber which is usually about 20 seconds' walk from the spot where you died. In fact, dying can often be a benefit! Low on health? Only got one medi-kit left? Well, you may as well save it for later. It'd be more efficient to quickly die, because then you'll get some free health! It does honestly come down to that mental process sometimes. "Oh, I'm about to die. No point in wasting a medi-kit. ZAP! There we go... respawn chamber."

I am whining like a miserable baby here. The trouble is, there's just so much to complain about.

What else?

Well, what's so great about the story? It has strong similarities to System Shock 1 / 2 (Great story the first time around, but feeling a bit recycled now), and apart from that, there isn't much going on here. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that there are two goals in the game - "Save my kids" and then, a bit later, "Kill the bad guy." I kept thinking as I was wandering about: "WHY am I doing this? Why am I following these orders from some guy talking to me on the radio?" Now, those who have played the game will know that there's a twist in the story that answers this very question. Fans will say it's a great twist! Personally, I think it's an excuse, trying to explain away the standard following of objectives that goes on and the standard lack of player choice.

I'm going to wrap this up soon. Just a few more points:
* The game isn't scary at all, though I think it's trying to be. It copies so many elements from System Shock 2. However, SS2 was incredibly scary; one of the things that made it stand out. BioShock, once you get used to it after the first hour or so, and aside from a couple of isolated moments, totally fails on this count.
* Nearly everything from SS2 is back, whether it was good or bad. BioShock's 'research camera' is not very practical and only slightly less silly than ingesting(?) random chemicals in SS2.
* Patches may have fixed this by now, but I experienced a few random crashes. When this happens, it will delete your config file and replace it with a default one, meaning you lose all your settings, including your key mappings. This is very annoying. It also makes no real sense and seems to be a strange trend in recent games (Prey was the same). I know you can locate the 'default' file and edit that, but you shouldn't have to. You should at least be given the choice of starting the game with your settings after a crash.

The Bottom Line

Looking back at this review, I think it sounds as though I was deeply hurt by this game. That's not the case, although I did become quite bored by it, and I trudged on and completed it only for the sake of achieving that goal. But like I said at the start of the review, it's a solid game. It's alright. It's decent. It just could've used more variety (particularly in the enemy types) and some different design decisions.

If you haven't played any of the System Shock, Deus Ex or Thief games, then you may think BioShock is fantastic. If you have played those games, you may still think it's fantastic (because people have different opinions; which is great, by the way!). Or like me, you may feel it's a game that tries hard to continue the great tradition of those immersive, amazing action/RPGs... but falls short.