This week, The Escapist's Zero Punctuation reviews BioShock.
If my Psychonauts review taught me anything it's that nobody likes me when I'm being nice to a game. So, let me quickly get the praise of BioShock out of the way first. It's incredibly good looking but then what isn't these days, brilliantly written, masterfully atmospheric, and resoundingly imaginative, even if thematically it has at best taken a few pointers from Fallout and at worst held it down and bloodily ripped it off. And even considering all the horrible things I'm about to say, it's probably still one of the best games of the year. Right, is that over with? Let's talk shittiness.
BioShock is billed as a spiritual successor to System Shock 2 and I'm sure System Shock 2 will be very proud of its normal-mapped, phong-shaded bastard child because it takes after its daddy almost to the degree of George Bush, and I know what you're going to say, "Yahtzee, you Charismatic Stallion, what kind of complaint is that? System Shock 2 was brilliant, and any game that's in any way like it should be equally good." But that's the thing; it isn't like System Shock 2, it is System Shock 2. Oh, sure it looks different and it differs in the fine detailing and the character names are changed and shit, but once you strip all that out and the bad guy might as well be Shodan with a waistcoat and a copy of Atlas Shrugged. The Psi Powers are now Plasmids, the Hybrids are now Splicers, and the wrench is now...well a wrench, but it's a different kind of wrench. Everything that was cyberpunk then is steampunk now and sometimes it gets a little bit hard to swallow. How exactly does a steam-powered gun turret differentiate between friend and foe? I wasn't aware that boiled water could form allegiances.
The audio logs and ghost sequences return because obviously we all love sitting like a lemon listening to exposition when jabbering depression era mutants are on the prowl. It even pulls the same sidetracking shit System Shock 2 did. Every time you get a deceptively simple objective like "walk across the room" you can bet your bionic implants that the door's gonna lock or the ceiling will collapse and you'll have to journey to mount doom and back just to restore the status quo. Which is not to say it copies the gameplay of System Shock 2 exactly. Quite a few elements have been removed, presumably to dumb it down for the console tards. There's no inventory screen, so you can't easily check on what you're carrying and every time you pick up filth encrusted food or drink items off the floor you scarf them down right where you stand like you've got some kind of wasting illness.
And this FPS RPG hardly has any RPG elements. Your character can use every gun and every plasmid and can hack anything he likes from the word go. The only specialization comes from equippable tonics, but you get enough slots to pretty much beef yourself up in every area. And hacking, or should I say plumbing, has no cost and is pretty much piss easy right to the end as long as you have two functioning limbs. Cameras are sometimes a bit hard to reach, but if you jump and hit the hack button when it comes into range, then you'll remain floating in mid-air while you work and any enemies who happen to be around, obligingly wait for you to finish up before resuming the murder.
System Shock 2's difficulty fell somewhere between challenging and murderous, so perhaps a little scaling back in that area was desirable, but BioShock reaches the target and keeps going about ten million yards too far. You basically trip over ammo, money, and medkits everywhere you go. The life restoration chambers are back, but now there's no cost to use them and there's one every ten feet. So dying becomes more of a momentary annoyance, and once you realize that there's no reason to be careful, nothing really poses a threat anymore and the game ceases to be scary or difficult in the slightest.
In order to build up your character you need to gather cybernetic mod- sorry, ADAM. A mysterious compound that can only be acquired by doing dreadful things to little girls, and this is the crux of the game's touted "Moral Choice" system. But there are only two endings, a good one and a bad one, and the extreme contrast between them is rather jarring. In the good ending, you're a virtuous flower child with love and a smile for all the shiny-coated beasts of God's kingdom, and in the bad ending you're some kind of hybrid of Hitler and Skeletor whose very piss is pure liquid malevolence. I'm sick of games that claim to have choice but that only really come down either to Mother Teresa or baby-eating. All I'm saying is that a little middle ground is nice now and then.
Maybe it's because my heart is a dried up little rotten apple of cynicism, but when a game gets over-hyped it's more likely to make me suspicious than excited, so I was mentally prepared for BioShock not living up to the claims that it would descend from heaven in a silvery chariot and lead us to the promised land. Which is not to say that it's bad, it's just shallower than was advertised.
I suppose if you got the Xbox version and are used to insipid boom fests like Halo, then BioShock will seem like the shit. But if you're a long-time PC gamer spoiled by more complex FPS RPGs, then you're in for a kick in the balls. Maybe a gentler kick in the balls than most. An extremely pretty, well-executed kick in the balls, with the best of intentions, but at the end of the day you're still walking funny.
Tea making and scone buttering: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw.
"Octopus's Garden" by The Beatles
"I Can't Decide" by Scissor Sisters
Also if you were offended by the picture of Mother Teresa eating a baby's head then you should be aware that your mum was making me say even more offensive things while I was fucking her last night
Leap ignorantly to the defence of wealthy game companies who don't know or care about you: firstname.lastname@example.org