Friday, March 06, 2009

Bioshock (PC)

I finally managed to play Bioshock. I picked the PC version instead of the PS3 one, since it was quite a bit cheaper and because it had support for the Xbox360 controller. The controller support works for most part extremely well, you flip a switch in the option menu and the whole thing behaves pretty much like a console game and works out of the box without more configuration. Its really nice to see that at least some PC games these days allow you to use the game console interface on the PC instead of forcing mouse usage. One problem however poped up, the plasmid/weapon select was a little buggy, sometimes it would get stuck requiring pressing the button again to get out of it and then retrying, not a big deal, but enough to kill me a few times in the game. After a little bit of testing I settled with high graphic details in 640x480, which sounds pretty aweful, but looked, expect for the ugly font, good enough. A little annoyancy however was that I couldn't find any way to use widescreen in that low a resolution, the only resolution that actually properly filled my display was 1680x1050, but that was of course not really playable.

The gameplay of Bioshock is pretty much FPS standard, but with a few twists here and there. Probally most notably is the non-linear level layout, instead of just moving forward you have buttons to switch, items to collect or enemies to kill and so you run from one goal point to the next inside a level. A little arrow at the top of the screen guides the way. The overall level layout feels much more like that of Doom1 then that of Half Life, which I consider a good thing. One problem however is that the levels all feel pretty much the same, from start to finish there never really is a big change in the setting, its all just the same old dark under water city over and over again, not even the enemies vary. Which is kind of understandable in terms of story, but also pretty boring, since it simply gets old after a while. There is also a noticeable lack of swimming in the game, you do it in the first minute after the plane crash, but after that never again. Weird for a game that is all about water.

In terms of weapons you have the standard stuff, pistol, shotgun, rocketluncher and so on, but beside that you also have the plasmids, which lets you cast fireballs, freeze things and such. The nice part about Bioshock is that it allows plenty of ways to combine weapons and plasmids, you can for example set somebody on fire and then shoot a heat seaking missile after them. You can also use the environment and electrify water or set oil on fire. While this all sounds nice in theory, I haven't really used it all that much in the game itself. I think one of the bigger problems simply was the speed of the enemies, they were just to fast to make any planed attack much useful. Another problem was that the enemies just take way to much bullets to kill, meaning even if you tried to be clever, the enemies would jump around and attack you for quite a while before they finally died, making setup traps rather non-effective. The AI on the enemies however was good or at least interesting, since enemies on fire run for water and enemies low on health run to the next med-station to recover their health, doesn't happen all that often that one sees on enemy retreat in a game. The enemies are also very talky, which helps a lot in giving them a crazy human apperance instead of a mindless zombie one.

The vita chambers where kind of problematic, these things are basically just reset points, however unlike a normal reset point the enemies do not get reset, meaning you can't die in this game at all. The only penalty for dying is that you get send back to a vita chamber and have to walk back. But since the vita chambers are plentyfull, its never much of a problem. The good thing about this is of course that you have basically a zero frustration factor in this game, the bad part is that you start to use the vita chambers sooner or later as part of your strategy. With bigger enemies you just run up to them, shoot, die, respawn and repeat till they are dead. Leaving most of the flexbility that the weapons give you untouched.

The story in Bioshock is almost completly told through diary audio tapes entries, they do their job for most part fine to give you some back story, but they also keep you pretty distant, since you never actually interact with any person directly. Beside the diaries you of course also have the levels themselves, which thanks to the nice art direction provide plenty of backstory as well. However you seldom have much time for appreciation, since the game just seems to fast paced to really bother much with looking at the walls.

The 'moral choice' that you are offered in the form of rescuing or harvesting the little sisters is pretty much a joke, while somewhat import for the story and the ending, its really just a gameplay gimmick. The little sisters don't have any personality or individuallity that would make the decissions meaningful and that the choice is also offered via a big fat selection text, instead of being part of the normal gameplay, also makes things feel rather gimmicky.

The ending of Bioshock feels quite rushed, you fight the last boss, then you see a short cutscene and then you are already back at the main menu. You don't even get to see the credits roll and a proper epilogue that gently brings you from the current events to the cutscene is simply missing.

Overall, Bioshock is a bit more interesting then the average FPS, thanks to the art direction, non-linear levels and interesting weapons, but it feels quite a bit to streamlined. The navigation arrow that points to the next target, the vita chambers and all that stuff makes things a little to easy and the lack of variety makes things a little to monotone. That's not to say its an easy game, I died plenty of times, but instead of more carefully planing or experimentation, the streamlining just leads to repetition of the same strategy of just running up and shooting them over and over again, because that is what actually works best. As far as mainstream FPS go, its quite decent, but in terms of story I have certainly seen much more engaging stuff.

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