I'll probably have more to say on this one after the experience sinks in a bit,. But I just spent about an hour in the Bioshock Chamber of Secrets and the only word that immediately comes to mind is ... wow.
The demo was in two parts. In the first part we were shown a later stage in the game, and how some of the abilities you gain later on work, and how you can use them to set up uniquely devastating traps and combat scenarios. Using telekinesis to throw flaming corpses, hacking turrets to kill the baddies, setting someone on fire so that they run for the water to put themselves out, then shocking the water to electrocute them ... the list goes on. Mechanically, it's awesome.
Visually, it's also awesome. We've been following Bioshock for some time, and considering its lineage and that of it's key developers, our expectations have been pretty high. After seeing the game played and playing it myself, I have to admit that they've been met.
The second part of the demo was hands-on, and I played through the first 30 minutes or so of the game. The opening is very dramatic (I'll try not to spoil) and reminiscent of Half-Life at times, in how it presents the world gradually, allowing you to soak in the atmosphere and understand how certain things interact when you finally encounter them.
By the time you earn the ability to electrocute people with your hand, for example (Yes, you can electrocute people with your hand. Shoot fireballs even. It's quite fun) you've got a pretty good idea how it works, and why you've been granted this boon. As the baddies slowly reveal themselves, and new twists come into play, instead a feeling of being overwhelmed, there's a continual, gradual feeling of enlightenment. And joy.
Walking through Bioshock's world is akin to entering an overly cerebral funhouse, with new horrors around each corner, and an overriding feeling of dread at what the place represents, and what has become of it. It's an experience few games can match, and one we've been without for far too long.
The basic story is this (for the uninitiated) an Ayn Rand-esque fellow got sick of the world's politics and decided (in 1946) to build an undersea empire called Rapture where he made the rules. (Archon, you'd love this one.) Things appear to have gone swimmingly until, at some point, tinkering with people's minds and bodies backfired and all hell broke loose. You play a character who finds himself at the doorstep of this rotten place due to circumstances beyond his control, and must fight his way through, and maybe help some people along the way.
Visions of "The World of Tomorrow" form our own past always feel slightly trite, and impossibly optimistic. Bioshock has captured the4 essence of this vision perfectly, then thrown it onto it's head, turning a shared fantasy into a nightmare world of gloom. And I love it.
We've been wanting for an immersive, compelling, story-driven game experience for some time, and I'm pleased to see Bioshock will fit that bill. And soon, too.