Tuesday, July 15, 2008

bioshock: 1st impressions

I am in gaming heaven. I finished a manuscript this week, so to reward myself I hunkered down and installed Bioshock, which has been mocking me from my desk for nearly 6 months. Bioshock is a first-person-shooter (FPS) / role-playing-game (RPG) hybrid that was released for both PC and XBox360 about a year ago to widespread critical acclaim. I have delved into around 5 hours worth of the play, and can say without hesitation that this is a brilliant, immersive game.

The year is 1960. You play a character named Jack, who crashes into the ocean only to discover a vast, underwater city called Rapture. Originally conceived as an objectivist-utopia, Rapture has clearly seen better days. The infrastructure is collapsing, there's blood and broken glass everywhere, and the majority of the city is inhabited by crazed mutants and security robots. At its heart, Bioshock is a horror-esque FPS where you run around exploring levels, collecting various weapons, ammo, and upgrades, and killing nearly everything you see. But there's so much more.

Every now and then, I find a game that hits a "sweet spot" - that carries me away to a place far from my own cluttered mind every time I load it up. It feels like you're playing the starring role in a science fiction novel, or a spectacular new HBO mini-series. Bioshock is that kind of game. You keep playing not because you want to "level up" or find that next cool weapon, but because you've been drawn into the plot and want to see where the story takes you.

To give you a taste of what it's like, here's the first five minutes of gameplay and your introduction to Rapture...

As a game designed for the next-gen consoles and most recent video cards, Bioshock has astounding graphics. If you've got DX10 capability, it'll throw even more grandeur at you. I've been especially impressed with the use of lighting and shadow to create a chilling ambiance. For example:

If you're aware of Ayn Rand's philosophy, than you'll appreciate some of Bioshock's intellectual discourse:

But the game doesn't forget its action roots, and constantly pushes you along a heart-pounding ride. Dangerous areas are foreshadowed with blood spattered on the walls and floor, and horrifying gibberish. Here's the entrance to the surgery unit of the medical pavilion:

You may have noticed from these screenshots that Bioshock allows you to use two different modes of attack. In your right hand, you wield typical FPS weapons, starting with a wrench (like the crowbar in Half-Life), progressing to a pistol, machine gun, shotgun, etc. From your left hand, you can use psychic upgrades called Plasmids. So far, I've been able to hurl electric bolts, set people on fire, and manipulate objects via telekinesis. This combination of traditional weaponry and genetically-engineered "magic" makes Bioshock a bit steampunk-ish, on top of all its other genre-bending attributes.

Plasmids lie at the foundation of Rapture's decline. Some of Rapture's scientists learned how to modify/enhance human genetics, using stem cells taken from a deep sea parasite. Plasmid use and abuse spread rapidly throughout Rapture, and somehow, caused widescale psychic breakdowns among the populace. This is why you'll run into crazed lunatics throughout your journey. The problem is that in order to use Plasmids, you need a substance called "Adam." And the only people who have any Adam are the Little Sisters...

These tormented little girls wander around Rapture stealing blood and recycling Adam from fallen corpses. Creepy, yes. But not unprotected. Adam is so valuable a commodity, that each Little Sister is guarded by a Big Daddy...

Yeah, that's a giant drill that he has for a hand. There's a moral dilemma here. If you kill a Big Daddy (and you need to), you have the option of "harvesting" a Little Sister for her Adam or rescuing her. Here's what that screen looks like, and tell me what you'd do in this situation:

Bioshock is full of interesting and difficult decisions like this one. I've barely scratched the surface but I already feel like I've gotten more entertainment value out of this game than the past 3 movies I saw in the theater. Rumor has it, however, that the ending is very disappointing. Hopefully by then, I won't even care.

1 comment:

  1. i find it kind of amusing/sad that Objectivism implores man to live by their own moral code, unfettered by the rule of other men despite generating directives for seemingly all aspects of life, including what constitutes art. this game seems like it put the philosophy to a pragmatic test via a post-40's Randian dystopia ... seems clever. be interested to know how the game actually ends.