Revisiting Rapture

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Around The World's development is moving steadily (if also slowly). I'm currently working on a screen-agnostic HUD and display system. And what does that mean, you pretentious dick? It means that the layout of the HUD and where models are drawn on the screen will automatically adapt to what kind of system (PC or Xbox) and what kind of screen (widescreen or standard) the user has, making sure that none of the important parts of the game are drawn outside of the Title Safe Area. Fun!


I am shocked, SHOCKED to be reading this game's Bio

Bioshock 2 drops in a month. I guess that gives me an opportunity to fume about the original Bioshock.

Truth be told, I mostly enjoyed the original Bioshock. Occasionally, I behave like Ben "Yatzhee" Croshaw, latching onto something undesirable in an otherwise perfectly acceptable game and making that issue the focus of a previously-unexpressed ire. So, allow me to make my remarks knowing full well that the game wasn't that bad.


What did I take issue with? It wasn't the plot, which was earnest in presenting its world of mystery and decay. I'd give most people a free pass if they've proven they can read Ayn Rand and come through the other side with enough energy to pen a video game plot about how much Ayn Rand sucks.

It wasn't the writing, which aside from the shrewd political observations of Bill McDonough, consisted of the workmanlike prose of people who are bound and determined to (a) write gritty video game dialogue, and (b) not have it suck like "all those other games." That said, the "Would you kindly..." twist was completely unexpected and blew my mind.

It also wasn't the characters, or lack thereof. The few that bothered to show up - Andrew Ryan, Dr. Tenenbaum, Atlas/Frank Fontaine - were more archetype than character. The game only really shined in its boss characters, like Sander Cohen and Dr. Steinman, who had minor parts but were allowed entire sections of gameplay and level design to flesh out their maniacal characters. (Ditto for Dr. Suchong, who we finally come across as a corpse with a Big Daddy drill stuck in his chest. That was a nice touch.)

Actually, you know what irritated me about the game? The game.

The gameplay was seriously deficient. For a game involving loads of customizable firepower and the acquisition of God-like powers, your character sure was weak as hell. Although Big Daddies were very fun minibosses, everything else you face should be your inferior: we've got, um, Splicers with wrenches... Splicers with revolvers... Splicers with claws... Splicers with grenades that only throw one every ten seconds... and, uh, Hippie Exploding Splicers? And (due to engine and polycount limitations, I bet) we only face about three or four of them at a time. I am a guy who shoots an RPG launcher with one hand and bees with the other. Why are these guys not pushovers?

Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast got the formula right: if you're going to give a player amazing powers of destruction (in that case, The Force), give him a ton of enemies to slaughter. And if there's anything Stormtroopers can do well, it's be slaughtered en masse. Not so in Bioshock... the game's pacing is such that three or four wrench-wielding Splicers are always a match for the player. Somehow, setting them on fire or electrocuting them just isn't lethal enough.

Indeed, if spatial limitations or polycount issues mandated that the player in Bioshock could only face a few enemies at a time, it stands to reason that those enemies would have to pose a challenge, even if the player was supposed to be a walking murder machine. Thus, we have wrench-wielding druggies beating the hell out of a demigod player. Worse still, we know that the enemies' stats are arbitrarily raised in later levels to maintain their level of threat. Whereas a Splicer... a deranged, drugged-out human... can die from a bullet to the head early in the game, by the second half they can withstand multiple headshots. Why? To maintain the level of challenge. And, I guess, a poor design decision. In that order.

This all amounts to very unsatisfying combat. Sure, you have all these great powers at your disposal, but they're not that effective. And that robs some of the fun out of it. Add on top of that the fact that you can't have a gun and a plasmid out at the same time, and the clunky weapon/plasmid-changing system, and now you've also robbed the game of spontaneity. Half the fun of Jedi Outcast was walking into a room of Stormtroopers and mashing each Force Power button until they all died in some random combination of powers being used. Compare that to Bioshock, where the weapon system is so clunky that you have to ready just one weapon and one plasmid in advance of any enemies you might encounter. There's no spontaneity... there's just whatever combination of weapons and plasmids is the least ineffective against whatever Splicers might attack you.

And that is my major gripe with the game. It's primarily a first-person shooter where the first-person shooting ain't all that great.

That said, a quick perusal of Wikipedia's writeup on Bioshock 2 lends me just enough interest to rent the sequel at some point. You can now dual-wield a weapon and a plasmid. There are RPG-esque weapon upgrade trees. You can go into the water outside of Rapture now, so hopefully you aren't stuck in a linear path through the city. And instead of choosing when to engage Big Daddies (which was enjoyable), the new Big Sisters choose when to engage you, adding an element of high suspense to the concept of "Oh God, there's a boss character out there somewhere that just decided to come hunt me down."

Those sound like some fun and meaningful changes. As shown by my willingness to purchase (and enjoy!) new intellectual properties with risky gameplay types like Mirror's Edge and Assassin's Creed, I don't mind when a game goes awry in executing something for the first time. Bioshock was one such game. And if they can polish up a lot of what bothered me in the sequel, well, there's no reason for me to avoid it, is there?

Oh, right. Time and money.