Tuesday, October 02, 2007
BioShock (Xbox 360)
BioShock, quite simply, is the best game I've played this year, and maybe the best the last two or three years.
The game looks gorgeous, has interesting play mechanics put together in a way that matters, a great story, top-notch voice acting, stellar sound design, and diversity that kept me engaged throughout.
What kind of game is BioShock? At it's core, it's a shooter (First-Person Shooter), but it's a "shooter-plus" -- a shooter plus adventure game (so much fun exploring and figuring things out); a shooter plus RPG (what plasmids am I going to upgrade? Change out? Remove?).
Built on the Unreal Engine 3 (but given the nature of game development and customization, who knows how much of the UE3 is really still there), this is a pretty game. The fifties-deco vibe is well done, and gives a sense of what futuristic technology would look like in that era; and the signs and adverts are hilarious.
Water (one of the things for which I look in a now-gen game) is fluid and conductive (which means I can electrify baddies sitting in water, and get zapped myself if I'm not careful). If you light an enemy on fire, they'll throw themselves into nearby water to but themselves out and come back to attack you.
Which speaks to another strength of the game -- the AI. Enemies alternate between attacking and fleeing when you (for example) light them on fire. Sometimes they sneak up on you (via the ceiling, which creeps me out); sometimes they charge you. The designs of the "Splicers" are horrific and diverse enough between classes to visually cue me in to my attack or defense mechanism.
And there are a lot of options on this front. There are eight slots for weapons, and most have three different ammunition types (standard, anti-personnel, and armor-piercing for the machine gun, for example; or trip mine, fragmentary grenade, or heat-seeking RPG for the rocket launcher).
Then there are the plasmids -- basically your super powers that range from fire to telekinesis -- and those are just the combat plasmids. There are also sets of mechanical (safe hacking, etc.) and attribute plasmids. And you don't have enough slots for all plasmids, and you usually don't have enough Adam to purchase or upgrade the plasmids you want. This limitation (plasmids, ammunition, wallet for money, etc.) creates an RPG-ish mechanic that makes the game more than a straightforward shooter.
There is also a lot of diversity in the title. Far from just combat, there's exploration, puzzle solving, and a recurring mini-game in the form of hacking that is surprisingly engaging and white-knuckling at times.
The other thing the game does well from a design mechanic is that "just 5 more minutes" mechanic. More than once I'd go an hour or two beyond what I'd intended because I wanted to explore something new, take someone down differently, re-listen to audio cues or Foley, and so on. And there are 4 plasmids I still haven't found or unlocked.
And I actually like they way they implemented syringes and snacks and health stations scattered about Rapture. I also liked the various audio diaries and radio intrusions that added to the story (some other reviews have complained about these as too intrusive).
Of course, for me, a stellar story has to be married to top-notch gameplay, or I get peeved (except in multiplayer, where I just get peeved at the idiotic anonymous, socially challenged masses).
Anyway, BioShock delivers on the story front in spades. I don't know how much of this is Ken Levine, and how much is Susan O'Connor and other contributors, but the story rocks. It's full-featured, accounts for the fluidity of the game medium, and moved me along as a player. Stuff of this caliber shouldn't be so rare in video games.
And sound? Symphony orchestra for the score? Mixed (and balanced) surround sound? Some of the best voice acting since Carpenter in Hunter: The Reckoning? Great stuff. I'll try to post more about it on the acting side of my Website, if I can get permission to post one particular clip from the Sander Cohen character, and verify the voice actor.
Is BioShock a perfect game? No, but it's super close.
I mean, it's not all that innovative. Telekinesis? The evolution of Half-Life 2's gravity gun (or Jedi Knight's Force Push). Speaking of Jedi Knight, the electricity plasmid is akin to a certain Dark Force power.
But the way these things are put together matters, and is great fun. Light a Big Daddy on fire, then hit him with heat-seaking RPGs? Freeze an NPC, then bash him with the wrench? Set up trip wires, capped off by a proximity mine near some propane tanks? Good times.
And there are some minor missteps in otherwise great level design. I like how the map is implemented, but on the Arcadia level, the map and the level design caused some problems in smooth navigation that made me pretty frustrated.
And while I like health stations scattered about, I think health packs could have been left out, which would have made for a more frenetic, urgent experience (but leave the snacks, and the related plasmids).
And near the end of the game there's a type of mission that I don't like if it's not implemented well, and while it's implemented pretty well in BioShock, it's not good enough, and frustrated me when it felt like it wasn't possible to complete it with my (and, I suspect, most people's) definition of success.
But honestly, these are nits.
BioShock is a great game, and definitely the best I've played this year, and probably the best I've played in the last few.
Buy: Oh, yeah.