Wednesday 6 October 2010



Perhaps I've been spending too much time with obscure gems from the past, but I'd have thought that playing broken software from two decades ago would give me a new found love for the blockbusters of today. Yet I can't shake this feeling that BioShock, the supposed 96-point masterpiece by 2K Games, is also a piece of broken software too. I'm having to question my own taste in video games - not a single person in the gaming press gave BioShock a score of less than 80%, and some people have the audacity to give it a perfect score. What's going on? When did I develop a dislike for this genre? Why don't I like this game?

I'm going to keep this one short because I fear BioShock has already taken up too much of my time. Two weeks ago I was under the impression that BioShock was a revolutionary first person shooter that supposedly set the bar higher than it's ever been before, like Doom, Quake, Half-Life etc. The scores backed me up on this theory and as such it was something I was interested in trying out, but not a game I felt obliged to purchase.

It's fair to say I have always preferred the multiplayer aspects of FPS games, which is why the likes of Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament are good friends of mine. But these are deep rooted feelings that come from the late 1990s and early 2000s, where a single-player FPS game often cut back on sounds and action in order to build some sort of atmosphere and length with the restrictions of the day. Nobody played FPS games on consoles a decade ago, but thanks to games such as Halo, now they do, and they expect nothing but the best. And from what I gather, they've been relatively satisfied as of late.

A few minutes in to BioShock and I soon became aware that the game does not fall under the traditional "FPS" genre that I had assumed, but rather, in a hybrid "FPS RPG" genre which I didn't even know existed. Apparently it's a spiritual successor to the System Shock series, which also fall under that category (again, news to me). The RPG element comes from upgrading weapons and skills... which isn't a bad idea if done well and not something I can openly criticise on the surface.

But it doesn't take long to realise the problems with this genre. It might look like a first person shooter, but believe me, the "shooting" aspect of this game is in very short supply. It's a game that expects you to be conservative with your weaponry and strategise in order to stay alive. I found both of these impossible, because even though there's a lack of firepower, there's never a lack of enemies. And so, you quickly make friends with your wrench and play the "try and run through the level without being hit" card, which just makes you feel like a bad gamer.

Taking place in the underwater city of Rapture, the player, apparently known as Jack, has to OVERTHROW THE GOVERNMENT and ESCAPE. It's a very creepy but visually appealing game set in an alternative 1960. Everything aside from the gameplay is done exceptionally well (though I did feel the ending was a bit abrupt and unpolished). The graphics are amazing, the atmosphere perfect and the story's not so bad either.

Unfortunately though key FPS game mechanics were abandoned in BioShock and I can't for the life of me understand why this was considered acceptable, let alone worth critical acclaim. No auto-switching of weapons when you run out of ammo. No automatic health refils when you pick up a medi-pack. Filter effects that cloud your judgement when you're hit and don't always give a clear indication of where you've been hit. These are all extremely important features in FPS games and BioShock doesn't bother with any of them. Yet apparently this doesn't phase us. I guess it'll be interesting to see how Duke Nukem Forever fares then.

And it's not like it even matters if you die, as you'll be respawned down the hall. BioShock isn't a challenging game, it's a frustrating one. It's just a struggle between the same four or five enemies down grim halls, listening to the glitches as your audio tapes play more than once and questioning how returning to the same Vita Chamber time and time again is excellent gameplay value.

Often you can blame deaths of this type on the move from PC to console, but the Xbox 360 version has an equal metascore so they should be the same... right? But I don't think it's a case of control issues, I think the game purposely puts you against enemies that are far stronger and physically better than yourself without much chance of overcoming them. Games aren't really supposed to do that.

Attempting to explain the use of ADAM and EVE and your range of plasmids is something I can't really be bothered to do, but basically the big semi-important part of BioShock is is the "Big Daddies" "Little Sisters" mechanic. You've got to kill all of the Big Daddies and rescue the Little Sisters, and there's three or four wandering around per level. Problem is the Big Daddies are extremely powerful characters and are mostly impossible to destroy without large amounts of firepower and several medi-packs, which you won't have at your disposal most of the time.

In one section you get to pretend to be a Big Daddy, watching your Little Sister slowly struggle down the hall being slaughtered time after time. Again, this isn't fun, and it's a bit misleading as I was under the impression Big Daddies were fun playable characters capable of kicking large amounts of face. Not until BioShock 2, says 2K.

Even the hacking sections, inspired by Pipe Mania, become too challenging towards the end without help. But again others have said these puzzles are constantly easy so maybe I'm just stupid. Though you can hardly expect me to like a game that makes me look stupid.

It upsets me that the video game industry finds this revolutionary when the gameplay is arguably worse than it was in FPS games twenty years ago. I bet there'll be loads of titles tossed aside this generation because they didn't have the marketing skills of big publishers, while this one ends up selling in the millions. BioShock is simply not for me, and I can only assume its top marks come from graphics and setting alone (which as you can tell in these screenshots I've stolen from IGN, are amazing). But it's a release that's just left me clueless, and although many will disagree it's good to have a bit of balance in terms of opinions.

It'll also be interesting to see how this game ages, because eventually we'll be looking past the graphics and concentrating solely on the gameplay value, something I can't see holding up in 2020 or whenever.


  1. It IS good to have balance, and it's refreshing to hear someone finally say anything about this game other than abundant praise for qualities that just don't come across to me. I admit I've never played it, but nothing I've seen compels me to. I don't even see what the big deal is about the graphics. It looks technically accomplished, making use of plenty of geometry, but I find the style pretty dull.

  2. Video game developers these days have totally forgotten what makes an FPS fun, yet theyre so popular =/ Why is crap in demand right now?

  3. I'm curious about your Kashmir Restaurant screenshot, don't you get the pistol from the baby carriage that the woman is standing in front of? I just realized that, and i was like "how do you have the pistol if the lady is unbothered yet..."