BioShock (360) – Mid-game Thoughts

I’ve gotten about 8 hours under my belt with BioShock, and while I posted some comments over at Shacknews, I think I’ve got a few more things nailed down about something that pokes me the wrong way about this game.

First, the game itself is visually stunning and beautiful.  Graphics are just fine, but the architecture and details of Rapture are just amazing.  The environmental immersion is excellently done.  From this standpoint, there’s no question about why this game works.

Now that I have opened up some more of the features (eg. the camera to do research to gain bonuses, the Gene Swap machines, buying extra slots for plasmids), the game play is very deep.  There is no one way to take down foes between physical weapons and your enhanced powers, alongside the security systems you can play with.  I’ve not hit the machines that allow you to use junk collected to make new things, but I am pretty sure that that only helpens to deepen the gameplay.  And it’s not too much stuff either: as the game has to be playable on a console, the number of input functions has to remain small, and to have too many deep gameplay features would have made this more difficult.  From this aspect, the game is super great.

However, here’s my list of nits that I haven’t seen too many others pick up on, if any:

– To this point, I feel like I’m playing a standard FPS “on a rail” game, in that while I’m open-ended in how I use my various powers and equipment to take down foes, at the end, I’m still getting the key from a boss to open the door to the next area.   I realize the game is trying to tell a story, and so railing the player is needed, but many of the reviews I read spoke of the game being more open-ended in the exploration.   Yes, I realize that I will be able to return to areas using the transit system later in the game, but I’m more speaking of having maybe two routes to a destination, one that may be filled with Splicers, another that requires dealing with security systsems, and allow me to pick which way I want to go.   There’s little beyond the rail that you ride on that if you did take away the deep gameplay provided by the various powers and equipment you get, you get a pretty but bland FPS.  I was hoping for a bit more in this aspect.

– I’m surprised there is no inventory limit.  While a bitch to deal with in System Shock 2, it was one of the more strategic elements of the game.  Now, here, I can button mash through boxes to pick up anything and everything they contain, and while a couple of items have a counterbalancing effect (liquid that improves EVE while nixing health, for example), the effects are so small that all I know is that I want to collect anything.  With SS2, you had to decide on weapons, ammo, and other details to carry around that made the gameplay much more tactile.  Now, I would argue also that this may have been omitted because dealing with inventory in this game on the 360 would have not been easy to do: all the buttons are already mapped, so it would have to be a screen accessed by the back button, and knowing how much fun dealing with that in Oblivion was, I can see where they omitted it.  But, it would have been nice to have some limitation.

– I would have liked stealth to be more useful and necessary to the game.  Yes, you can sneak around and do more damage to opponents if they are unaware, and there’s security cameras to avoid, but again, compared to System Shock 2, the need of stealth is very low.  Camera tripping is very forgiven (Medium difficulty, natch), you can make a lot of noise and Splicers won’t notice you until you are really close, and the like.   More specifically, I haven’t seen the rewards of being stealthy verses being brash beyond taking a little bit less damage (which the Vita-Chamber regeneration system nixes somewhat).   I don’t want something like Thief (all stealth), but something closer to both System Shock 2 and Deus Ex, a good mix of action and stealth.

– I guess what hits me the most is that there’s a shock value for this game: how to deal with Little Sisters, the results of the downfall of Rapture, and so forth.   I know I willing subjected myself to pre-press about the game, but I wonder how much the gaming magazines pushed this game because when I started playing, I didn’t feel the shock value that I was expecting.  Knowing the connection between Little Sisters and Big Daddies, and a few other such details, caused me to take the first sight of such a pairing for granted instead of being in awe, as the press seemed to suggest you would be.   I don’t know if the high praise for the game combined with this raised my expectations too high, or if I did ruin it for myself by reading too much, but I feel that something beyond the game’s control in the press did not help to keep the details of the game sufficiently quiet so that there would still be that shock value when playing.

I’m certainly not saying this is a bad game.  And while I know PC owners are fuming over the widescreen and activation issues, I’m not letting that cloud my judgment (note the 360 in the title of my comments here).  It’s definitely one of the better games I’ve played in a long time, but I wonder if the press is treating this game just a bit too special – of what I played, it’s not yet deserving of the near perfect grades, as there’s just enough “off” within the game that could have been added without changing too much else to really tighten the game up.

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