Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
04 February 2009
Review: BioShock (PS3)

Yes, you should play BioShock. Not finish, mind you, but play. You can get everything you need by reaching the big confrontation, putting the controller down, and pretending that was the final act.

BioShock gets one thing perfect: a beautiful and dark alternate history vision of a 1950s-era dystopia, Rapture, created on the ocean floor by an affluent Objectivist. Decor, apparel, and music blend together brilliantly within a majestic but cracked underwater complex. For hours I was satisfied to stroll through the world and soak up the rich atmosphere.

The grotesque genetic modifications common among the remaining Rapture survivors lured me deeper into the city and drove the basic combat and defense which served as my only interactions with most of those survivors. As I collected Adam and Eve, the two substances used in the genetic upgrades, I modified my own body and grew in both power and versatility.

That the game boils down to these simple combat interactions is its ultimate failing. There are only three persons in the world of Rapture with whom I could interact meaningfully. Andrew Ryan, the creator of Rapture, insulted me over my radio, sent his underlings to kill me, and ultimately proved me the lesser man. Atlas, resistance fighter and nemesis to Ryan, kindly asked me to join his side and fight to survive and escape from Rapture. And Sander Cohen, a demented and cruel artist who trapped me and enlisted me in the creation of a mixed media assembly.

The last of these, Sander Cohen, is the height of the game's vision. After carrying out the assassinations required for his art, Sander rewarded me with some resources, and turned his back to me. I had a clear choice. I could let him live or I could kill him, and my role within the game told me that killing him was not only the rational choice but the correct moral choice. So I shot him in the back, and ultimately destroyed him.

I actually felt good about that, and truly understood why BioShock is so highly regarded.

Later, when I finally dealt with Ryan, the game reached another climax -- but did not end. While that confrontation had clearly been a primary goal all along, my character's motivation beyond that point is weak to the point of irrelevance. The game finishes with a contrived scavenger hunt, a Sister's Keeper mission, and a boss battle that was as uninspired and simple as the rest of the game had seemed complex.

BioShock delivers an unforgettable experience. Ultimately my disappointment with it stems from its failure to live up to the promise of its premise.

(Image credit: This amazing thread of alternate cover art.)

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--Matt Matthews at 18:41
Comment [ 4 ]

Comments on this post:

Yeah, as we've discussed I had a pretty similar experience. I'd agree that Cohen was a highlight and the end a low, low point in the game. This is a game that forms an epitome of the question - why do so many game plots end so badly?

Hence, BioShock and Half-Life 2 share a very similar spot for me. Mechanically decent shooters with topnotch production values, but if you really pull the pieces of the narrative apart - you have something a hollow shell.

Or in BioShock's sense, something of a mess.

I'll still keep my eye out for a sequel.

By Blogger Josh, at 05 February, 2009 09:27  

This is a game that forms an epitome of the question - why do so many game plots end so badly?

Because playtesters/focus groups only really check out the first half of the game? (aka, "Iff the first 30% is good, you'll make money. The rest is gravy.")

By Blogger ruffin, at 07 February, 2009 20:48  

"BioShock gets one thing perfect: a beautiful and dark alternate history vision of a 1950s-era dystopia, Rapture, created on the ocean floor by an affluent Objectivist. Decor, apparel, and music blend together brilliantly within a majestic but cracked underwater complex. For hours I was satisfied to stroll through the world and soak up the rich atmosphere."

You know what? That was what I HATED about the game. I felt he story, look, and feel of the despotic/dystopia of Rapture was poorly though through. Not only did I find the concept of someone building Rapture improbable; more importantly, I just felt they totally missed what a society would do, how its would develop, and how it would destroy itself if it created ADAM.

I suppose it the same issue I have with Resistance and Fallout 3, they just don’t view the 1950s intelligently. It always this fun house mirror look at the 50s that then gets even more distorted as they try to bring it forward in a ham fisted manner. If anything any break away society of the 1930s, 1940s, or 1950s would not have that Art Deco look because that was mainstream. The breakaway society of Rapture would have used International Style or Brutalism except do it years ahead of everyone else. To make it interesting they could have married Brutalim with Deconstructivism (this is fantasy after all) and you could have Brutal- Blobitecture. Now underwater Brutal-Blobitecture would have made sense, far more sense they that silly Art Deco shit. What’s more when they explain how Rapture came about they could easily say how Brutal-Blobitecture took hold as an ‘alternative’ to what mainstream culture was doing.

Now ADAM...well that takes more work because any society that made ADAM would not have fallen like did in the game. But lets be real for a second, ADAM was just a useful gimmick made so they the game developer could do for stupid shit an allow people to make biological flamethrowers or heal... technological/biological magic. And I have to say Bio-magic is just a poorly conceived idea.

By Blogger Lincoln, at 12 February, 2009 11:59  

Lincoln: I'll admit that my approach is simpler. Their vision resonated with my imagination. I wasn't really interested in whether the architecture made sense, for example, but whether the world they created was evocative.

For me, that succeeded.

The Bio-magic (excellent word) is problematic. Josh and I were recently emailing about the handling of death in BioShock and Prince of Persia (2008) and for us the Vita-Chambers were truly out of place. They're perhaps the most egregious example of magic, and I believe go against the coherency that you might have wanted from the game.

By Blogger jvm, at 12 February, 2009 12:15  

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