Pyramid Head Reviews BioShock

Objectivism: A system of self congratulation and self worship commonly associated with the stupidly wealthy. Allegedly a philosophy, created by writer Ayn Rand. Far too narrow and full of holes to count as an actual philosophy, though hints of it can be seen in modern American conservatives who are, for lack of a better word, insane.

In Medias Res: In the middle of. Refers to a story structure that starts in the second act while the first act is told through narrative. In games it is most commonly associated with Final Fantasy titles which, for lack of a better word, are terrible.

BioShock: A first person shooter typically credited for the modern moral choice system since everyone wants to forget Fable ever existed known for being one of the few good examples of in medias res storytelling, considered to be the earliest classic of the seventh generation of gaming.

That out of the way? Good. BioShock is the spiritual prequel to System Shock, a cyberpunk FPS series that came from the golden age of PC gaming, the late 90s to early 2000s. It is a fairly famous example of how well video games can tell a story if handled properly, and is also used as an example of why sequel writers should go to hell as BioShock 2 was not only an unnecessary sequel it was largely inferior to BioShock. The game is a hybrid of FPS and RPGs that many consider to be fairly difficult and it stars a mostly silent protagonist whose name may be Jack who finds himself in an underwater objectivist dystopia after a plane crash. BioShock starts in medias res with Rapture in ruins and most of it's population having been turned into madmen known as Splicers, and most of the non-Splicer survivors were psychotic to begin with, your initial goal is to help a man named Atlas locate his family but things get complicated and you must undertake a new mission to recover the genetic key to Rapture from it's leader Andrew Ryan, a raving lunatic who was once a successful business man but whose inability to see life as anything outside of business ultimately lead to him being prepared for a criminal element emerging in Rapture.

The story would be an interesting mystery if most people haven't already heard how it plays out, but the gameplay is also fairly solid. Because the Splicers respawn endlessly, you need to use every weapon to your advantage. This starts off small with a pistol and a pipe wrench, but early on you gain access to Plasmids and Gene Tonics. Plasmids are essentially superpowers granted through genetic altering, and Gene Tonics grant special abilities like damage resistance, improving your melee powers, and turning invisible when holding still. These items are all made possible through Adam, which ultimately lead to the Rapture Civil War that ended the city.
Adam is a strange substance that acts as a genetic blank state. When unrefined Adam enters the bloodstream it replaces damaged cells with stem cells that ultimately repair damage, but the problem is that the instability of the cells lead to cancerous growths that drive the user insane and can ultimately kill them if they don't constantly consume more fresh Adam to stem the tide of the decay. A professor named Tenenbaum discovered a sea slug that produced Adam, and before long made contact with a smuggler named Fontaine so that she would have the funds and means to mass produce Adam. The ultimate solution was to embed the slugs in the stomachs of young girls so that any food they consumed would be largely converted to Adam, making them nearly indestructible, immune from the Adam decay since they always have a fresh supply in their blood stream, and able to release usable Adam by vomiting. When it was discovered by the Rapture populace during the Civil War that these Little Sister's not only produced Adam but could create even more usable Adam by consuming blood from the bodies of users, armored soldiers called Big Daddies, men in extremely heavy armor who have been genetically modified and mentally conditioned to defend the Little Sisters mindlessly as they tend to the task of gathering Adam, a role that became all the more important when the Rapture populace went mad.

There is a lot more to it than that, but it would fall under the realm of spoilers. Since Adam is so important in Rapture it serves as a secondary form of currency that can be exchanged at vending machines called Gatherer's Gardens that sell new and updated Plasmids and Gene Tonics, as well as health upgrades, Eve upgrades, Eve being a highly refined form of Adam that makes Plasmid use possible and serves as your sort of MP, and new slots so you can equip more Gene Tonics, of which there are three major types: engineering, physical, and combat tonics.

The first big gripe you can make about the game though is the process of gathering Adam. In theory even getting your hands on Adam is a high risk high reward venture as in order to get to a Little Sister to gain Adam you have to first kill her protector. Big Daddies almost always carry loads of cash and the Rosie type of Big Daddy usually carry components you can use to make specialized ammo, but actually killing such a heavily armored and aggressive enemy is a very hard prospect since they can tank an enormous amount of damage and are armed with ridiculously over the top weapons, the Rosie type fires rivets, heavy duty spikes usually used in construction, and the Bouncer fights with a drill and is not only obscenely fast but can let out a roar that stuns you and leaves you open to attack. If you manage to bring down a Big Daddy, you then come across a moral dilemma, do you kill the Little Sister or use an item given to you by Tenenbaum to neutralize the slug in their bodies and free them? Killing the Little Sisters lets you take the slug in their bodies and collect a massive amount of Adam, while rescuing them yields half the Adam. The big catch is that the overall difference is actually very small since if you decide to rescue the Little Sisters, Tenenbaum gives you a gift for every three you rescue that usually contains around 200 Adam. Plus, Adam isn't as important as the game makes it out to be since the most valuable Tonics come from the use of a research camera which gives you damage bonuses and gene tonics based on what type of Splicer you photographed, and really the most valuable Plasmids are either cheap to upgrade or don't upgrade at all. Another big issue is that the "High Risk' of going up against a Big Daddy is ultimately made pointless by the fact that if you do die, you just respawn in a place called a Vita-Chamber with absolutely no penalty, you don't even lose progress in the game, so you could just do a suicide rush against a Big Daddy, setting it on fire and hosing it down with lead, die, and then restart the process after respawning with a fresh supply of health and Eve. And even though health doesn't regenerate, med packs are common, it's easy to get money to buy more, using the research camera properly makes most encounters laughable, ESPECIALLY when you combine research with the lurker and camouflage tonics and a bow gun you get late in the game that instantly kills most Splicers since the camouflage makes you invisible and lurker tonics boost the power of sneak attacks.

The other big gripe is environmental control. While taking control of the environment by hacking vending machines to make items cheaper, turrets to make them attack enemies, or other items to give you an extra edge is a nice strategic element and is a good way to calm the difficulty curve in higher difficulty levels so that you aren't visiting the vita chamber every five minutes, the process of hacking is annoying. To hack an item, you have to play a pipe dream minigame which breaks the flow of the game savagely. It's not always necessary, if you get strong enough to take down Big Daddies without taking too much damage you can simply pay out the item you're hacking since money is easy to get once you can take on the Big Daddy, but it's still annoying.

Those gripes aside, we come to the question: is BioShock good?
Yes. Absolutely. In my opinion it's one of the best shooters to come out this console generation and a must own for any shooter fan. PC gamers familiar with System Shock may find the difficulty and heavily toned down RPG elements disappointing, but it's still fun to play and very cheap to buy used or on Steam. Check it out if you haven't already, and breath in the beautiful atmosphere and psychotic combat.

Bizarrely, some of Andrew Ryan's rants really do come from the protagonists of Ayn Rand books. How did objectivism not die on arrival?
--Pyramid Head

Next Game Review: Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

A first person shooter typically credited for the modern moral choice system

In what sense? I'd define the 'modern moral choice' system as being heavily influenced by KotOR's moral choice system, and even then I'm not sure it was the first to do it in that way. Bioshock's is just one choice over and over and over.

As for the game itself, I didn't like it the first time I played it. Tried it again though and found it more enjoyable, but it has some huge pacing issues. The build-up to meeting Ryan himself was absolutely slaughtered by the old-school (and crap) '4 items to open the door!' nonsense.

And yeah, the Vita-Chambers were a terrible idea too. I know they're optional but I can't for the life of me figure out why they're in there at all.

Woodsey:

A first person shooter typically credited for the modern moral choice system

In what sense? I'd define the 'modern moral choice' system as being heavily influenced by KotOR's moral choice system, and even then I'm not sure it was the first to do it in that way. Bioshock's is just one choice over and over and over.

As for the game itself, I didn't like it the first time I played it. Tried it again though and found it more enjoyable, but it has some huge pacing issues. The build-up to meeting Ryan himself was absolutely slaughtered by the old-school (and crap) '4 items to open the door!' nonsense.

And yeah, the Vita-Chambers were a terrible idea too. I know they're optional but I can't for the life of me figure out why they're in there at all.

Apparently the Vita-Chambers were a carry over from System Shock, though usually they charged money for your fuck-ups apparently. As for what sense... i don't know. I consider moral choice systems to be far too polarizing and usually don't talk about them. Knights of the Old Republic isn't one i've played, so i honestly can't say how different or better it is from the Fable system of last generation or the BioShock system which actually tries to make good on the actions have consequences moral choice. I honestly think Mercenaries and Disgaea had the right idea by scrapping the morality business and just penalizing you for killing innocents.

 

Reply to Thread

This thread is locked