Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Developer: 2K Boston/2K Australia (Irrational Games)
Publisher: 2K Games
First Person Shooter - PS3
1 player

I remember my old roommate being really excited about a game trailer he had seen for this upcoming game called BioShock. It was the first and only time he called me to watch a game trailer. The footage was all FMV, but it showed off water-themed environments, and this hulking menace with a huge drill as an arm. It certainly piqued my roommate's interest. Fast forward to three years ago, when BioShock was finally released to the world to unanimous praise. I didn't (and still don't) have a PC capable of playing it, but I knew I had to try it. Thanks to my succumbing to the current generation of consoles, now I can.

Lauded for its portrayal of an alternate reality, BioShock begins fairly normal. You start the game in the ocean, having just crash landed. There's little explanation for what has just occurred, but you know one thing: you must survive. You come upon a lighthouse. But things are not what they seem. The moment you board a bathysphere, you are brought into an underwater city you had no idea existed. It is modern, technologically-advanced, and is vastly developed. The only problem is, the environment is eerily deserted for the most part. And the life that you do find is quite unexpected...

BioShock is a pseudo-horror First Person Shooter. Just like any FPS, shooting action is a priority. You'll have your assortment of weapons - even different bullet types to fit the occasion. You'll also have an assortment of plasmids, special powers that allow you to do some cool things like freeze an enemy or use telekinesis (think Half-Life gravity gun). There's flexibility in using different plasmids with your standard weapons, as they tend to complement each other.

But BioShock also has elements typically found in the survival horror genre. Since the environments are sparse, most of the storytelling is told in audio logs spread throughout the universe. By listening to them, you can piece together the back-story of all the events. The backdrops of the stages themselves also contribute to the feeling of dread. The first stage, for instance, takes place in a medical clinic. Some of the wards are pretty gruesome, with disfigured bodies and blood spilled all over. It's similar in feel to the horrific scenes in Silent Hill. Creepy stuff.

The thing is, after that first stage, things go downhill fast. A game like this is about the atmosphere, but apart from the medical clinic and maybe one other stage in the game, most of the scenes come off as generic, underwater city or not. The bulk of the game just feels like any other FPS, but quieter. It feels like the game wants to be horror, but is hesitant to take it all the way.

The story? Dreadful. And not because it lacks scares. The plot has its own logic that's equal parts convoluted and just plain ridiculous. Not that the story has to be grand, because I'd just as well have any paper-thin excuse to go out and shoot things. But with all the praise lopped onto BioShock, you'd think it won a Pulitzer.

But the worst sin of all is that BioShock is just plain boring.

First of all, the game is guilty of lacking "design". Sure the stage design is fairly solid, but enemies are haphazardly placed - especially since they respawn randomly. My number one complaint about Western developers is how they focus their talents on the big picture - creating a world. It then becomes up to that world and the player to generate a game. But it just doesn't work for me. In that kind of "design", enemies are merely filler, set up as random obstacles between you and your goal. This contrasts what I play video games for, where every scene is a specific challenge to overcome, and enemies are integral to that experience. Needless to say, BioShock generally follows convention, and comes up short in this area aside from boss fights.

Secondly, there are only five enemies in the game. Five.

Third, you have the ability to hack into machines and locked safes. When you do so manually, it'll bring up a water puzzle, where you must flip and exchange tiles to connect the pipes so that it will flow properly. While it was an amusing diversion initially, by your 10th hack (and 20th and 50th and 100th), you're so annoyed by it that you simply just pay the hack cost so you don't have to do that stupid puzzle anymore.

And that brings us to the totality: BioShock is full of repetitive tasks. You fight the same enemies over and over. You solve the same water puzzles over and over. And if that wasn't bad enough, the game makes you do it for 10 more hours than it should have. The pacing is painfully slow, with no reward.

I'm surprised - Shocked even - that sequels were made of this tepid game. Funny enough, when I last talked to my old roommate, he thought that BioShock sucked too.