So yeah, obviously I have a 360 now. I've done a couple of video game reviews here and there but now that I'm actually part of this console generation (Wii doesnt' count, apparently) I figured I may as well blog off on some of the games that are oldies to everybody else but me. Think of it as an archaeological diary.
I broke in my 360 with BIOSHOCK, a game I've been hearing about forever. When it came out back in '07, I thought it looked pretty great and then I had to suffer hearing about how awesome it was from my friends. I downloaded the PC demo on my laptop, and my laptop kindly said "fuck you" when I tried to run it. It mocked me by letting me see the opening plane crash and swimming to the island before it practically said "no more for you".
But now, a few years on, I picked up the game for $15 last week and finished it last night. It was, in fact, a pretty great game. I'd say it was actually the best FPS since the first HALF LIFE and it definitely lived up to its billing as a "spiritual successor" to the classic SYSTEM SHOCK 2. It was also a good game to get me accustomed to seeing HD graphics since I've been a Wii-nii for the past three years- the game looks great, with some really nice lighting work and lots of detail that makes the world of Rapture come to life.
And what a world it is. The undersea city of Rapture is surely now one of gaming's great locations, and the level of world-building that the game accomplishes almost completely through visual presentation, posters, settings, props, and larger vistas is incredible. The first couple of times you look out of a window and see the underwater cityscape, with its neon signs and Art Deco architectures, are breathtaking. Rapture feels like a real place, even if the stylistic sensibility is kind of all over the place. It does feel like the visual style is a little too comprehensive in terms of 20th century graphic design styles- Art Deco prevails in most areas, but there's also everything from 1920s constructivism to 1950s commerical graphics. That being said, it hangs together pretty well as a whole, even if those with careful eyes are going to spot anachronisms and inconsistencies left and right.
Aside from the usual FPS/light RPG elements which were mostly well done, I thought the story was executed extremely well with no boring, dull cutscenes. I think it's a pretty effective technique in a game of this nature to filter the story out through diary entries. It adds a lot to the lonely, immersive atmosphere to hear a recording of a character that isn't even present in the narrative explaining a situation or event that you're seeing the aftermath of. Much was made back when the game released about its Ayn Randian elements, and that's definitely there, but there's also a lot of Orson Welles, George Orwell, METROPOLIS, BLADE RUNNER, Jules Verne, David Lynch, and a number of other cultural touchstones throughout. The connective tissue is intelligent storytelling with commentary on larger social and moral issues. It's rare to play an action game that dares to put forward an agenda, but BIOSHOCK definitely does and I appreciate that.
I also really appreciated the direction of the game- there are a couple of set pieces that are really amazing, on par with some of the scripted events in HALF LIFE. There's some great timing on a couple of them, but my favorite has to be a bit where you walk through a hall littered with corpses and at the very end, a couple of them stand up to say "hello" out of nowhere. Scared the shit out of me.
Overall, the gameplay is pretty stock standard for this kind of game, and that's OK. Weapons and plasmid choices are interesting and there's a whole array of skill "tonics" that can be equipped, although once I found my favorites I sort of stuck to them and never changed. You can "invent" items at special vending machines when you find various components, there's upgrade stations so you can pump up the abilities of your weapons. There's a kind of POKEMON-ish photography piece where you snap pictures to "research" the weaknesses of various enemies. There's a tile-laying minigame that represents hacking. Hacking gets pretty old after the 20th time you've done the routine on a security camera or machine gun turret- eventually I just electrocuted them and smashed them with a wrench rather than deal with them in a more civil fashion.
Enemies were kind of a major problem for me though. I really, really got tired of the Splicers in all of their variations, and I thought that their AI was mostly terrible and of the "run toward that guy" variety. Their incessant chatter was also more irritating than creepy after a hundred times ("There's semen all over everything" was the one that still freaked me out), and I also felt like there was some strange inconsistency in their vulnerability. Sometimes I could take down one with 10 rounds from the machine gun, sometimes I had to unload two full clips. There's really not a lot of variety in the enemies barring attack patterns and weapons, and really only the Big Daddies and various security devices are the only other adversaries.
I was glad that the game ended when it did- it was just the right length. When I'm at the very end of a game and I'm thinking "OK, I'm about done with this" and then it ends, that's just right for me. And it had the kind of end-boss fight that I really like, where you get smashed the first time or two and then you figure it out and you win- none of this Square Enix crap where the end boss is so unbelievably hard that you have to keep playing the last 30 minutes of the game over and over again. I'd say it took about 15 hours total to run through it, and I did in fact get the "happy" ending because I was nice to the Little Sisters. It was brief, but actually kind of touching.
Definitely looking forward to the sequel...I've heard that they're taking it in a different direction, I'd be interested to see what that means. There's definitely room to explore more facets of the concepts presented, and I hope they maintain the high-minded approach to story that really puts BIOSHOCK above a lot of other titles in its class.