Saturday, December 10, 2011

Forty Seven - BioShock

I'm closing in on that goal of mine, and if I can finish roughly one game a week until the end of the year, then I'm golden. Finished my most recent project late last night, and it was one of 2007's best games in a strong year. Say hello to BioShock, Mr. B.

BioShock is the spiritual successor of the popular 90s PC games System Shock and System Shock II, both of which involve a space cadet of sorts stuck inside an abandoned spaceship up against its mutated residents and a malicious AI. BioShock has some of System Shock II's staff behind it, and its premise is similar but... fairly unique. A plane crash in the 1960s drops your character somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, where he discovers an domed underwater city that's existed since the 1940s, Rapture. Rapture has fallen into disrepair, though, and many of its denizens have, well, gone insane. Our hero must navigate Rapture's corridors and discover the secrets behind its rise and fall.

BioShock, at its core, is a first-person shooter with a ton of RPG elements. There is also a little horror flavor mixed in, as most of your enemies are deranged humans armed with some of the same weapons you can use, and they aren't pretty or subtle when they tear at you from across a hall screaming bloody murder. The game's chief customization element is Plasmids - Rapture became a haven of genetic modification after a few important scientific discoveries were made, and both you and a few of your enemies can equip plasmid tonics that give you powers and bonuses, from telekenesis to lightning to summoning swarms of bees. You can purchase gene tonics and plasmids with ADAM, a sort of biological currency.

ADAM was tightly controlled before the fall of Rapture, and the city's power players (mostly city founder Andrew Ryan and corrupt businessman Frank Fontaine) fought over ADAM more than money. Eventually, Fontaine's scientists determined a way to house and harvest ADAM that is... a little disturbing, but is probably BioShock's signature gameplay element: Little Sisters and Big Daddies. Little Sisters are genetically engineered little girls capable of storing enormous amounts of ADAM in their bodies. Little Sisters, both in its heyday and in its present, haunt Rapture, harvesting ADAM from any available biological tissue they can find. Little Sisters are harmless on their own, and are often targeted by Rapture's band of crazies to steal their precious ADAM, like junkies chasing after free cocaine. This is where the Big Daddies come in.

Big Daddies are the terrifying motherfuckers on BioShock's cover, and indeed on any promotional material you'll ever see for this game. Once human, these monsters are about seven or eight feet tall, covered entirely in bulky, old-timey dive suits, and equipped with either deadly drills or enormous rivet guns. If you want some ADAM for yourself, you need to track down a Big Daddy accompanying a Little Sister, take down the big guy (no small feat, especially early in the game), and then deal with the Sister. Here's the game's moral dilemma - you can choose either to "harvest" a defenseless Little Sister by killing her and taking a whopping 160 ADAM (that's enough for two stat upgrades, or several tonics), or rescue her by using your own genes to remove her Little Sister programming, turning her back into a normal little girl; that option sends her back to a caring doctor met early in the game, and nets you 80 ADAM.

So while you're collecting ADAM from Little Sisters and improving your gene powers, you also have several weapons at your disposal. Our man is armed with a Wrench, six firearms, and a research camera that you can use to learn more about different types of enemies and earn things like free gene tonics and damage bonuses. Each gun can be upgraded twice at (oft-hidden) Power to the People machines, letting you play to your preferences with your arsenal. I was a big fan of all the weapons except for maybe the pistol, which is just simply outclassed too fast. Oh, and speaking of machines, nearly every item in the game is either looted from your environment, looted from a corpse, or sold at one of Rapture's hundreds of vending machines. It works.

Look, this game has a really strong framework in place, and it did an excellent job with MOST of its zones. When it's at its best, BioShock gives you a large area to explore with Little Sisters, plot-related enemies and items, and a crazy theme or personality holding it together and keeping you on your toes - that describes my favorite area of the game, Fort Frolic, to a T. Other open areas are made more boring by a lack of color and lack of entertaining NPCs, or done in by their own linearity and could be a stage in any old boring FPS game. Towards the end the linearity can be excused by hurtling towards the game's conclusion (which is satisfying from a story perspective, but underwhelming from a gameplay perspective), but a lot of the game's weaker zones just don't live up to the game's best.

I really liked BioShock - this is a game with a lot of fans and for good reason. If the entire game was as good as Fort Frolic and Point Prometheus, then I would still be ranting and raving about it. BioShock's an A+ title, but it's also uneven and gets a little too easy at the end, when all those plasmids and weapon upgrades have turned your character into a nigh-on juggernaut of destruction. Look, this game isn't perfect, but it has some fantastic moments and I'd definitely say it's worth playing.

Games Beaten: 2011 Edition

1. Mario vs. Donkey Kong
2. Primal Rage
3. Torchlight Hat Trick
4. Ghost Trick
5. Flower
6. Batman: Arkham Asylum
7. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
8. Sly 2: Band of Thieves
9. Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
10. Tales of Eternia
11. Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
12. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
13. 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
14. Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
15. Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
16. Dragon Age: Origins
17. Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
18. inFamous Evil Finish
20. inFamous 2 Good Finish
21. Big Bang Mini
22. Final Fight: Double Impact
23. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning
24. Cthulhu Saves the World
25. Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword
26. Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening
27. Disgaea Infinite
28. X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse
29. Jeanne d'Arc
30. Dragon Age II
31. Jade Empire
32. Cthulhu's Angels
33. DeathSpank: Orphans of Justice
34. Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten
35. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
36. Trine
37. Prince of Persia '08
38. Final Fantasy IV: Anniversary Edition
39. Professor Layton and the Last Specter
40. inFamous: Festival of Blood
41. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
42. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
43. Bastion
44. On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episode 1
45. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
46. Portal 2
47. BioShock


Only three games left! Next is either Half-Life (which is getting pretty difficult - this one might end up being #50, even) or Shadow of the Colossus, which I've only barely started but really enjoy so far.

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