Every so often, a game comes along that “has it all.” It doesn’t happen all that often, maybe once or twice a year, more likely every two years or so. Last week I picked up the the PS3 release of the formerly Xbox exclusive title Bioshock. Folks, Bioshock is “one of those games.” I now know what all those fams of the Red RIng of Death machine were crowing about.
To put it simply, this game is nearly perfect. It has anything a gamer could want. Gorgeous graphics, superb sound-voice-music, easy to handle game controls, and an engaging and intelligent story line. The last bit is especially rare for a First Person Shooter (FPS), as most just concentrate on the action, with a broad over arching story line that really is just window dressing. Not here though. The story line is part and parcel of the whole game, and is as integral a part of it as the shooting or puzzle solving. You can blast through the game in traditional FPS style, but you’ll be missing out on a whole world of interesting bits that really make this game special.
The basic story line is this: You’re on a plane in 1960 that crashes in the Mid-Atlantic. You surface among the wreckage, and see what appears to be a small island with a strange looking lighthouse on it. You are the only survivor. Now you must survive. From that point on, it really starts to get good. I’ve tried to come up with a way of describing the story wiht out giving away any spoilers. It’s tough to do, but I’ll give it a try.
If you take one part LOST, one part Metropolis (Fritz Lang), one part Lord of the Flies, one part Heart of Darkness, and have it directed by David Lynch, you come close, but still miss. It gets even harder to describe the story line, with out having the visuals of the in game environments, the music playing in the background, the ads and postcards in the loading screens, the look and design of the various enemies in game, the various radio transmissions and diary entries you find in game. It all works together to create a wonderful and immersive world for the game.
In terms of technical aspects, I have seen few games as beautifully rendered as Bioshock. It’s actually fun to just look around in game, especially through the windows at the sea surrounding the city. The dynamic lighting really makes this work well. The sounds just add to the experience. The music is period to a degree, when not original compositions, and provides a somewhat eerie feel to the setting. The sound effects are well done, from gun shots to steps, to electrical wires shorting, to water falling. The voice acting is top notch as well, even though I only recognized two names in the actors list (juliet Landau and Armin Shimmerman).
The actual game play is straightforward standard FPS game play. Your view is that of the character, as if you’re looking through their eyes. Your viewing control and movement controls are separate (the left and right joysticks on the PS3 controller). Most of your combat is controlled through the Left and Right “shoulder buttons” on the controller, giving avery “natural” feel to it. The four traditional controller buttons are used for healing, reloading, jumping, and interacting with the environment.
Combat is also typical of the genre. You face the enemy you want to get rid of, press the R2 button to fire, and they go away. You get a selection of weapons to choose from, gaining them as you prgress through the game: Wrench, Pistol, Shotgun, Tommy Gun, Crossbow, Grenade Launcher, Chemical Thrower (Flamethrower), and a camera (more on that later). You can also have a selection of ammo types for each weapon (except the wrench and camera), that have different effects, and do more or less damage to some enemies. The one difference here is the use of special powers, or “plasmids.”
Plasmids are genetic upgrades to yourself, that give you special powers. Most of these are typical ESP type powers. Plasmids are controlled by using the Left shoulder buttons, in exactly the same way as the physical weapons are by the right ones. It is very easy to switch between Plasmids and weapons, which is important, as you can only have one or the other active at a time.
You can upgrade yourself, and your powers, and your weapons in a semi-RPG style. While there are no levels, you can “advance” yourself in game. While not required, I wouldn’t advise trying to get through the game without upgrading. Upgrades to your health and “Eve” (used to power your plasmids), are gained by purchasing them from special vending machines in game using “Adam” (gained through game play from specific creatures). You also have a number of “slots” in a couple of categories for “gene tonics” which can give you special abilities as well. You can unlock additional slots from the same vending machines as your health upgrades, so you can equip more.
Vending machines are important in game. Very important. It is from these machines that you get items to heal, additional ammo and Eve Hypos, as well as your character upgrades. There are also other stations you can use which can heal you (or you can blow them up for a first aid pack), stop the security bots and shut off alarms (for a cost), allow you to “invent” ammo and items, swap around your plasmids and gene tonics, or upgrade your weapons (one use only on one weapon only).
There are a lot of machines to deal with in Bioshock. And almost all of them can be “hacked.” Hacking will give you a beneficial effect based on the type of machine you are hacking. If you hack a vending machine, the cost of items will be reduced, and additional items may become available. If you successfully hack a sentry robot, it will follow you around and attack your enemies. But this i where my main complaint about the game comes in.
Hacking is a board puzzle, where you have to redirect the “flow” from a starting point to the right outlet. You reveal tiles and get a new connection piece. You can swap the one piece at a time from the board to a holding box. The problem here IMO, is that the randomness of what gets turned over can be too much of a “game breaker” at times, more so with the higher difficulty hacks. Even with high level tonics equipped, I found many of the hardest hacks to be too hard, and the random aspect in several cases made the hack impossible to complete (the target outlet surrounded by alarms and short circuit tiles). Fortunately, there is a way aorund this, the autohack tool, which can be found or made in game. You can only carry so many of them however, but it does mean you can avoid frying yourself (you get hurt if the board short circuits), and avoid nasty alarms.
My only other complaint about this game is minor. The initial load time, when first installing the game is a bit long, and some of the level shift loads can be a tad long as well. At least during the initial load there’s some nice classical jazz to listen to, and during the level loads, there are some helpful and entertaining postcards to read.
as I said above, you can blow through this game pretty quick, as many veteran FPS players will. But in doing so you miss out on everything that really makes this game a cut above the rest. You will miss out on the diary entries from various residents of Rapture, which will tell you the main story not only behind the city, but how it got to where it is when you arrive. You will miss out on some stunningly created environment views (more impressive even than those in Oblivion). It took me aorund 20-25 hours of game play to complete a first pass through the game, and I didn’t get everything. Plus, there is replay value here, in that in game actions can effect how the story line plays out. There are at least two things I intend to do different my second time through.
This game is rated M (Mature). Heck, I got carded when I bought this. I can’t get carded at a bar, or the liquor store, but for a video game? You betcha! But that’s for another day. The game rating is based on the level of violence and gore, which is prolific, but almost necessitated by the story line. A “clean” version just wouldn’t work. But the story line itself is a very mature one as well. Not for the usual reasons (sex, violence), though there is some adult language, but for the themes and concepts that drive the story. The ethical, moral, ideological, and philosophical concepts, ideas, and dilemnas proposed in the story line will be lost on anyone who hasn’t taken at least a high school ethics or bioethics course. It’s that involved, and that thought provoking.
I can’t reccomend this game enough honestly. I would classify it as a “must have” for any PS3 owner over the age of 16. This is better than CoD4, and while not the same value as Oblivion, it is still that good, worthy of the $60 price tag. So go get it now. Don’t wait. Don’t even finish reading this. Don’t turn off your computer or even your monitor. Grab your keys and go get this game now.