Trashed Post: State of the Bioshock

I was going to trash this post sitting in my Drafts section but decided to let it out, unfinished, into the light of day.  I’ve pretty much come to accept what I see as Bioshock’s shortcomings.  Will I finish the game?  I don’t know.  It just hasn’t really been fun for me and there is just so much other stuff I’d rather be doing, and other games I’d rather be playing.  This will be the last time I’ll talk about the game here…unless I finish it.  So here is the scrapped post:

Just so you all know I am still playing the game…occasionally.

My previous thoughts are here so I’ll try not to repeat myself, but I still  don’t quite get what the big deal is.  I’m not going to touch the story, the art, the graphics or the soundtrack since all of those reveal a level of attention and quality unsurpassed, or even equaled, by games past and present.  No, my problem is with the gameplay.  Let me address the points in bullet fashion:

  • AI: The AI for splicers is, to put it simply, dumb as a rock.  Sure, they seem concerned about staying alive (evidenced when they run away to hit a med station, the economics of which I won’t address) but seem almost uninterested in actually taking me down.   Plus, they all do the same thing.  As far as I can tell there are only three kinds of splicers: hittin’ you guys, shootin’ you guys, and explodin’/burnin’ you guys.  Some have minor variations: climbing walls, teleporting, hacking security bots but none of them actually do anything different.  They don’t work together in any meaningful way.  Maybe it’s intentional, a fact that the smarter AI of the Big Daddies would seem to support.
  • Character Models: I can’t blame Bioshock too much for this one, every game does it.  But the splicers don’t look very different from one another…or maybe it’s just me.
  • Rails: While many reviewers harped about the organic and detailed world of Rapture I have to wonder if they were playing the same game as me.  Rapture, cool art deco architecture, creepy lighting and atmosphere aside is just a fancy dress on that same old FPS level design.  It lacks an openness (in terms of when you can go where, not in terms of open spaces) that hearkens back to the very earliest shooters.  The levels feel contrived and never organic.  In truth, and perhaps a weakness in the game, is that the level design serves the story forcing you down a predetermined path.
  • Colored Keys: Once upon a time there was a game.  In this game you would come across a door banded in red (or blue, or yellow, or green) that just wouldn’t open.  Low and behold in you travels you would come across a key that was red (or blue, or yellow, or green) which would open the aforementioned door.  This game was called Doom.  Now, Bioshock isn’t nearly as obvious but each major section of the game is, in truth, a key hunt.  Save the trees by finding the serum, assemble the bomb, take pictures of certain things, etc.  Each of these quests inevitably unlocks that mysterious door which, unfortunately, only really leads to the next key hunt.
  • Ill-timed Narrative: A minor item but sometimes my allies/antagonist chime in at terrible moments when I can’t listen (or read subtitles), which is shitty since they generally have interesting things to say.

I know Bioshock tries to do some revolutionary and innovative things but I don’t think it really accomplishes them.  I know the whole save or kill the Little Sister thing is supposed to draw you into the narrative with a serious moral quandary and, as a result, engender a deeper emotional attachment to the proceedings but I just don’t feel it really works that well.  However that single element seems to be the only real moral conflict in the game and you’re left literally no other choices in determining how the narrative unfolds.  I’ve already harped about the plasmids, but similar abilities have been tried elsewhere with more success and, the real clincher, none of your abilities ever really offer you alternative means to getting things done only slight variations on the same method.

All this leads me, almost ineveitably, to the conclusion that as well-crafted and powerful as Bioshock’s story is it actually gets in the way of the game.  Film is a wonderful medium that through the use of well crafted story and stirring visuals transports the viewer outside him/her-self and can bring them to places, and create expierences, encompassing the entire range of the emotional spectrum.  Games can do the same thing, but I’m not sure that Bioshock’s methodology is necessarily the correct one.  It takes steps in the right direction certainly, by forcing players to contemplate their moral standpoint and reaction to the decisions they have to make, but it seems to me that the game largely ignores one of the most powerful aspects of video games: the ability of the player to craft the story through their own decision making.  As ambitious as the game is it tries to hard too walk a middle ground between film and game, makes too many concessions towards the latter rather than the former, that it falls just short of being revolutionary.

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