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Game Review: BioShock

I love rummaging through the bargain bins or checking out used game stores because you never know what you might find for a steal.  As much as some people might harp about used games taking profits from the developers, there’s no denying that they help extend the life of a game in the social consciousness & help people who might not have otherwise paid full price experience the game, which could mean increased sales on the developer’s next project.  Besides, most people in the industry say that the only profit that matters to publishers is within the first few weeks, as that’s how they recoup their expenses & finance the next game.  So theoretically even waiting a month can hurt studios, regardless of the price you pay.  Because of this, I felt no guilt buying what is by most accounts a superb game years after its release.  BioShock is one of those games that is so often discussed in gaming culture that it’s almost a requirement to play it.  I feel like it was a strike against my gamer-cred (if such a thing exists).  So how does this game stand up from a fresh perspective looking back?

BioShock_cover

BioShock is a first-person shooter action game where you play as Jack, a plane crash survivor who finds himself escaping the flaming wreckage into a mysterious underwater city.  Completely out of his element, Jack must rely on a voice on the radio to navigate the dilapidated labyrinth filled with genetically mutated monstrosities.  But when everyone’s looking out for themselves, who can he trust?

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I think I’m outclassed

Thankfully, there are many ways to brave the trials ahead.  The boring way would be through brute force with the aid of weapons, but the more daring might prefer to alter their genetic code with Adam, a strange substance that lets you do things like shoot bees from your hands.  But the only way to access Adam is to take it from the Little Sisters, who are guarded by the baddest monstrosities in Rapture.

 

Narrative: I mentioned in my first impression that it was impossible to go this long without having some of the game spoiled, so I went in knowing a certain pivotal plot twist.  However, I don’t feel that negatively impacted my experience, aside from being a good example of gameplay-as-narrative, meaning the actual mechanics of the game are reflected through the story.  Overall, I found the story engaging, but aside from the spoiler nothing came as a surprise to me.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’m looking back almost a decade after its release, but a lot of the ideas in the game are pretty standard fare.  Destroyed utopia, forgotten past, morally questionable scientific discovery leading to ruin, betrayal… I’ve seen them before, & the game is actually quite good at giving you hints to the twists.  All the other plot twists, such as who Jack is relation to Rapture, didn’t come as a surprise.  But I do feel the ideas explored are interesting, if a bit trite.  The characters encountered all have distinct personalities & are recognizable despite us rarely seeing them.  And I think Jack makes a good silent protagonist.  I could project myself onto him, but the devs gave him enough history that he’s not a complete blank slate.  My only real complaint is that a lot of Rapture’s history is told via recordings, which aren’t bad, but sometimes it was hard to keep the minor characters separate.  Overall, though, despite seeming a little predictable now, I thought the story of BioShock was very interesting & engaging.  Score: 4

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Most impractical location ever

Mechanics: For the most part, I think BioShock strikes a good balance between giving the player freedom to handle situations as they please & not feeling overwhelmed.  You’ve got weapons, plasmids (Adam-based superpowers), tonics (grant certain skills & abilities), stuff to buy, stuff to craft, hacking, research through photography… It sounds like a lot, but you can focus or ignore whatever you want, which I appreciated.  It lets the player decide how they want to play.  Personally, I favored my weapons, sticking mostly with the electrobolt plasmid only when overwhelmed.  Between the static charge tonic, armored shell, and natural camouflage (which let me turn invisible when I stood still), there wasn’t much I couldn’t handle.  Everything feels fun to use, with one exception.  I found the hacking tedious, & odd from a world-building standpoint.  Throughout the game, you’ll come across security cameras, turrets & attack drones that will view you as an enemy if you don’t destroy or hack them.  If you hack them, they’ll attack enemies for you.  But I found the pipe mania mini-games you have to play to do so tedious.  Also, are these machines water-powered?  It makes sense based on water being readily available, but I’m not sure how semi-sentient machines could be water-powered.  Even stranger, you can pay money to override these machines.  Who am I paying?  Am I bribing the machine?  I appreciate having options, but towards the end I was either bribing the machines or using the auto-hack tools.  The lock-on system also seemed a bit laggy, especially when enemies are running around, & often seemed to stick to one side of the enemy, making it hard to be accurate during a heavy firefight.  Other than those minor points, I felt that everything worked well.  Score: 5

 

Cohen's_Collection

Horror in non-horror games

Aesthetics: Despite being almost a decade old, the graphics hold up pretty well.  The world of Rapture is beautifully unique & atmospheric.  Although structurally questionable, I love that so much of the game space shows the city at large & the ocean environment.  It really sets up this isolated, alien feeling.  Each level feels unique, whether it’s a garden or apartment, & is populated with signs of life, lending to the feeling that this was a thriving city before everything went to Hell.  The voice acting felt solid.  I don’t recall a lot of music other than a random jukebox, but I did think the sound direction was spot on.  Debris skitters, splicers mutter & scratch the walls, & Big Daddies clomp around.  Being able to hear enemies is crucial.  And the moments when everything is still & quiet can be nail-biting.  Score: 5

 

Replay Value: Moderate.  BioShock does have two endings based on whether or not you harvested the Little Sisters, but I don’t think there’s enough difference to warrant a new playthrough.  But I do think it’s the sort of story where people might want to go back to find the little clues they might have overlooked.  Score: 3

Breakdown

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Overall Score: 4

Final Word: It’s hard to judge a game’s originality years after it started influencing the medium as a whole, but any criticism I have of the themes BioShock explored don’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the title.  Aside from some minor complaints, I recommend this game for pretty much anyone.

– GamerDame

Title: BioShock
Consoles: PC, 360, PS3
Rating: M
Developer: 2K Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: August 21, 2007
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Filed under 4, FPS, PC, PS3, Reviews, XBox 360

Game Review: Painkiller

Technically, I haven’t finished Painkiller yet, although I only have a few levels left to go.  So why am I reviewing it now instead of finishing those levels?  Well, because my computer of four years decided to finally keel over today.  I have a new one already ordered & hopefully I’ll get it sometime this week, but because all of my saved games were on it, I’ll have to start Painkiller all over again before I can finish it.  So since I was so close to finishing, & I highly doubt my opinion will change in that short time, I decided to go ahead & get it out of the way.

Purgatory is no place for brooding

There are several versions of Painkiller available, including several expansions.  But while my version includes the ending expansion, I’m only going to focus on the original game for this post.  In this version, you play as a man named Daniel Garner.  After dying in a car crash with his wife, Daniel is trapped in Purgatory while his wife Catherine goes to Heaven.  After surviving on his own for a while, Daniel is approached by Samael, one of God’s angels.  Samael offers Daniel a deal: hunt down the generals of Lucifer’s army before they march to war & he’ll be allowed into Heaven.  Thus begins Daniel’s journey through a wide variety of areas, taking on the forces of evil.

The Leprosy Patients like to jump at you

Painkiller is an unabashed FPS.  You can run, jump, climb & shoot.  And that’s about it.  Daniel will come across several very unique weapons to aid him in dispatching Hell’s army, all of which has two different modes of fire.  The weapons include the Painkiller (rotating blade/holy beam of light), shotgun/freezer, stakegun/grenade launcher, chaingun/missile launcher & the Electro (ninja stars/electric bolts).  As Daniel kills enemies, they leave their souls behind for him to absorb.  Absorbing 66 will send Daniel into a temporary demonic state, where he inflicts massive damage & can’t be harmed.  You can also gain Tarot Cards for completing certain objectives within the levels, such as beating a boss in a certain amount of time.  These cards can be equipped if you have the gold & grant a variety of abilities, like sucking up souls.

Story: If you’ve ever played an FPS, you’ll know that their stories can be a bit… lackluster.  And Painkiller’s no different.  Really, the story is just a way to string together a bunch of different levels.  You only get cutscenes between the chapters, adding to the feel that the story is just background noise.  The handful of characters you meet aren’t that interesting & have very little personality.  Daniel in particular seems a bit daft.  We’re never told why he was chosen to hunt the generals instead of God’s army.  The game seems to be hinting at some sin in Daniel’s past, like maybe he was a hitman or something, but it never explains.  Score: 2

The levels are as striking as they are grotesque

Gameplay: So if the story is bland, then you’d expect the gameplay to be the selling point, right?  Well I’m happy to say that Painkiller is a hell of a lot of fun to play — no pun intended.  There’s a simple elegance to the violence.  Enemies swarm you in waves & you have to kill them.  There’s no cover.  No inventory to deal with.  It’s just run & gun.  And it works.  I think a large part of the fun is the guns.  Sure, you’ve got your old standbys like the shotgun, but they mix it up by giving you a shuriken launcher that also shoots lightning.  And there is some strategy to the enemies, as they behave in different ways & are better disposed of by different means.  Larger, singular enemies may be best disposed of by freezing & then blowing them apart with the shotgun, while your rapid-fire weapons are better for large groups.  Score: 4

… I think I’m gonna need a bigger gun

Visuals & Audio: To me, this is the best part of the game.  Both the art & sound of this game are fantastic.  Each level is completely different from the others.  Over the course of I’ve seen cemeteries, catacombs, an opera house, a snow-covered bridge, a plague-ridden town, an asylum, a military base & the freakin’ Tower of Babel.  And despite being almost a decade old, the graphics still look really good… except in cutscenes.  While the models aren’t bad, the cutscenes look a bit grainy to me, & the characters’ faced look a bit off.  As in blank.  However, the cutscenes are far between, so it’s not a deal-breaker.  The same variety in the level design is also in the monsters.  You start out with your standard skeletons, but it isn’t long before you’re facing down witches, ninjas, hellhounds & zombies who throw their own innards as projectiles.  The best thing is that the monsters fit the stage & you rarely see them in more than two stages.  And no discussion of the enemies would be completely without mentioning the bosses.  Some of them are huge & all are interesting in their own rights.  The audio also fairs pretty well.  Although I didn’t really like the fact that the same music plays during combat, I have to admit the heavy metal keeps the heart pumping.  There really isn’t a lot of music during the game, but the sound effects are nice.  Playing with headphones on, it’s easy to get immersed in the game, jumping at a sudden scream or groan.  So overall the presentation is excellent.  Score: 5

Replayability: Decent.  Although technically there’s no reason to replay the game, I’m sure there will at least be stages you’ll play more than once.  Some of them are short, particularly the boss fight stages.  Plus, each stage has its own challenge to complete for Tarot Cards.  Some stages can only be access on harder difficulties.  Also, the fact that each stage is independent really lends to replaying your favorite.  Just select the chapter & stage you want & away you go.  Score: 3

Overall Score: 4

Final Word: While it will never win a Pulitzer, Painkiller is a fun little throw back to a simpler time.  I recommend it for just about everyone.

– GamerDame

Title: Painkiller
Console: PC
Rating: M
Developer: People Can Fly
Publisher: DreamCatcher Interactive
Release Date: April 12, 2004

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Filed under FPS, PC, Reviews