BioShock (360) – Review

BioShock - CoverBioShock, developed by 2K Games Boston/Australia (previously known as Irrational Games) has been stated as a spiritual sequel of System Shock 2, likely one of the best strategic FPS games of past generations. BioShock does an excellent job in capturing many of the elements that made System Shock 2 what it was: using the environment against foes, hacking security systems to your side, choices on what powers to develop further, and the like, while adding in new features to complete the gameplay. While the game is outstanding in both story, visuals, and audio, there are a few gameplay decisions that I question that detract from the difficulty of the game, notably how the player is allowed to take the path of least resistance and is not encouraged or forced to alter a gameplay style learned early in the game in order to complete the game, and which could have been easily tweaked without significant alteration of the game.

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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.

Eternal Sonata (360), Stranglehold (360), Bioshock (360) – Demo Impressions

Eternal Sonata

First off, this game is extremely beautiful – this is definitely the type of game that should take every advantage of the graphical power of the 360. From a standpoint of a typical JRPG .. ok, the combat system seems awesome, being a mix of turn based and action modes, but my only concern in this being brought to the 360 market is that all other usual features of a JRPG are there – minimal VA, the typical town searching, etc. For people that have played JRPGS, this is completely expected, but as this is either going to be the second or third JRPG for the 360 (after Enchanted Arms, which is highly deviant from usual JRPGs, and possibly Blue Dragon) the style of play may not appeal to all games. That’s not to say it won’t do well – this appears to have the potential to do for JRPGs as Final Fantasy VII did for them back 10 years ago.

Stranglehold

I like the concept of the game, as it brings to mind Max Payne to some degree, but two things put me off initially. First, the shortened perspectively feels really odd compared to other third person games, and I don’t yet see why that option was used , but we’ll see what comes from that. The other problem was that if you just walked against a waist-high flat surface, you’d butt-slide across it — I may be able to get used to that but the concept is so weird, I don’t think was a smart thing to make this an automatic move. However, I’ll have to see how it plays out in the full game. Also, demos that require you to see a movie before you can fully quit them are extremely annoying. I don’t mind one or two ad screens, but a 2 minute movie to quit out is way to excessive.

Bioshock

I haven’t played through the whole demo yet (as it came out last night, and I only had a brief time before work to try it), but I will say right now, it’s nailed down the environmental and the graphics perfectly.  I get a weird mix of System Shock 2, Starship Titantic, Myst, and “Metropolis” the movie and/or anime with how the architecture and mood are presented.  There’s one point where you have to run across a couple of bridges as they are filling with water (given that you’re in an underwater city and all), and man oh man the water effects are done beautifully.   Gameplay so far seems to have the feel of SS2, though as far as I’ve played, it’s similar to many other shooters, but again, I’ve only played like 15 minutes if that much.