With the release of Bioshock 2 and the unending praise from most reviewers, memories came back of me playing the first one… and despising it. I remember calling it the most overrated game I’ve ever played and I may have challenged Ken Levine to fisticuffs. So I decided to reinstall Bioshock thanks to steam and see if time heals all wounds. Now my temperament has cooled since then but I still don’t see the beauty of Rapture.
At this point I’m going to safely assume you know what Bioshock is or have read one of the many, many reviews this week on the sequel. The biggest positive that I’ve read is that it is more of the same, which to me makes me back away further from it. When I first started this blog I went on a rant nailing all the problems I had with it, now that I’m older and less mentally balanced I can sum of my problems with Bioshock with several main points.
1. (Lack of) The weight of the world on your shoulders:
In my entry on shooter mechanics I talked about the element of “feel” missing from most shooters. Bioshock in my opinion doesn’t have feel both literately and figuratively in the game. First literal, when I talked about how much I loved Stalker SoC, one of my main reasons was how each weapon felt and handled differently. There was a certain sense of weight using the shotgun compared to the machine gun. In Bioshock every weapon feels the same, shooting someone in the face with a pistol gets the same response as the shotgun. I feel detached in the sense from the fighting especially with close ranged weapons. When I smack someone in the face with a wrench it just seems lackluster to me. Even the Plasmids lack this, yes I’m choosing between burning, freezing and electrocuting someone, but when all the response I get is a quick flick of the wrist what is the point? When I set something on fire I want a mini explosion with objects nearby affected.
Next is the feel of the story or lack of in Bioshock. The game tries to be serious with the little sister choice but still your decisions don’t carry any weight other than a few additional powers. If you break down the choice it is short term benefit versus long term but when both have the same results they lose their meaning. This also is a complaint I have about the plasmids, as their life altering change doesn’t mean much in the game. I hate the use of a “mana” bar in Bioshock as a limiter of power. What would have given greater meaning to the world was if the plasmids were one way doors. Imagine if every plasmid in the game had two different paths to them, once you choose one the other becomes completely inaccessible to you for the game. Also once you have gotten it you can use it whenever you want, no need to refill on eve. That would change Bioshock drastically as now every choice has an important affect on the game play.
“An interface only a mother could love”
The interface in Bioshock just killed me in terms of how hard it was to effectively fight with weapons and plasmids. With the variety of plasmids it should have been much easier to create attack combos then it is. The part that annoys me was that a game came out awhile ago with a similar two weapon system mechanic and made it work and that game was Clive Barker’s Undying. In the game you had two different groups of weapons to use, one were the various firearms (both natural and supernatural) and second were the arcane spells you can learn, you can stop the game to select what you want at anytime or use the keys to quick select. The only effective ways that I can think of to manage dual system combat is that there has to be a pause or slowdown, or allow me to select equipment from both systems at the same time. Bioshock tries to make do with the pause menu which does help things but it still doesn’t match Undying for one simple reason. In Undying, you could control both types of weapons at the same time, if I wanted to light someone on fire then quickly follow up with a shotgun blast I could. In Bioshock however both types of weapons are separate from each other I can’t just quickly go from shotgun to incinerate or vice versa. I either have to use the pause menu to select what I want one at a time or mouse wheel my way through the selection while whatever I’m fighting has a few seconds to bash me.
Now you can argue that I could set up my combos beforehand but in a game about a variety of ways to fight it should be simpler to set up my load out. At this point I could go into rant mode again about a better interface system but I think you have my point already. Chances are you know what my final point is as you probably have heard it from just about every hardcore gamer by now.
“No feet in the grave”
Death or lack thereof in Bioshock is my final complaint, for those that didn’t play Bioshock there are “vita-chambers” littered throughout the levels. Whenever you die you will spawn back there with less than full health and eve and can continue from right there. The world doesn’t reset and you can go right back to whatever you were doing. The problem that I have with this kind of system is that gives the designers Carte Blanche on not balancing out the fights. Big Daddies will squash you in about 2 hits in melee on hard and there aren’t many defenses at close range. There are several sections in Bioshock that has you dealing with attacks from odd angles, like a turret you won’t see until you’ve being blasted by it. Now I know what everyone is going to say now “but they patched in the ability to turn off vita-chambers why don’t you play it like that?” the problem is that the game was designed with vita-chambers in mind.
Sure I can turn off vita-chambers and run through the game on hard; I’m going to beat my head against the wall at the same parts except this time I won’t have the luxury of being able to push through it. I never liked games where the designer expects you to play the game with one arm behind your back to make it challenging. Imagine if a Tennis player decided that the game was too easy and from now on they would play with a fly swatter. Sure it is going to be harder to play but the rest of the Tennis world still follows the rules of playing with a racket. It is going to be hard but would it be any fun?
I did just ran through the first few sections of the game without vita-chambers being on. The thing about Bioshock is that none of the regular fights are truly difficult except for the Big Daddies and that is because the game was built with unlimited lives in mind. I don’t find it fun to put my hand behind my back and fight something that can kill me in two hits. Now unlike my last rant I do have some kind words for the game even after this whole entry.
Eventually on my play-through things did start to click a little bit, I’ve learned to rely on the shift menu to make any weapon choices so that I can quickly go back and forth. The world itself is still the biggest strength in the game in my opinion; I love the setting, the character designs and the concept. I still have my Big Daddy figurine on top of my dresser. Unfortunately settings and art aren’t enough to make me wow at a game. At this point I’ll probably wait for the sequel to be in the bargain bin before getting it and don’t worry I’m very patient, I didn’t play Mass Effect 1 until about 2 months ago when it was on sale.