So, BioShock was, apparently, a very big thing. And i still don’t get why exactly was that. Now, don’t get me wrong, BioShock was a rather good, if frustrating at times, FPS «with a twist». It was nicely made, had several really good things about it but… That’s about it. And the entire situation of BioShock’s popularity really reminds me of Halo popularity — it seems that people consider BioShock is big simply because they were continuously told that it is big. But let me explain myself in detail.
When somebody’s praising BioShock, more often than not, the biggest praise is given to the «clever story». But what’s so clever or even good about it? It’s yet another «failed utopia» setting (like there can be a successful one). yes, it does use concepts of objectivist philosophy in it and… i’m sorry, but so what? Is it the first game to reference or even base itself on some philosophical tenants? No. Is it the first game that uses real historical events as a reference for the in-game story? No. Is it the first game about utopia? Like i said, no. In fact, i don’t even know how can anyone be surprised at the utopia-like story after the rather recent fall of Soviet Union — a symbol of the communist utopia (which also failed miserably, of course). There’s nothing fresh in the story or it’s presentation. Nothing really bad, yes. But it’s bland and boring and hardly interesting to follow. And has no interesting twists or moments.
Yes, it doesn’t. «Oh, what about that thing about that Atlas guy and the «would you—». No, it’s not an interesting twist. The «you’ve been played» twist is so overused in… well, pretty much any storytelling art, that it’s really hard to pull of in the interesting way. BioSHock fails to do that at least because it fails to establish any motivation for the player to be interested and invested in the story or characters. Really, can you remember any of the characters from the game? Ryan, obviously — he’s always *there*. And it’s, pretty much, the only reason to remember him — because we’re constantly reminded of his existence. Is he interesting? No. Yet another idealistic and dickish stereotype of a guy with lots of money and\or power who thought he can do better than somebody else. Oh, hello Stalin, how’s it going? You’re totally unlike this guy, right? Oh, and Hitler’s here too? And Napoleon? And Alexander the Great? Those are real life examples, you say? Okay, should i name most of the baddies in the Final Fantasy games, or you get the idea? Ryan is so two-dimensional, so bland, stereotypical and boring, i fail to understand how he can be considered a good character. Atlas/Fontaine — yet another stereotype, with examples from other stories and even game stories, and real life. Nothing really intriguing about him. His true nature reveal is not as predictable as it is simply «oh, so it’s that guy after all. okay. cool.» for the very same reasons, you don’t care about Ryan — you’re not motivated to care about any of this. Probably you also remember Tenenbaum, but i don’t think it goes farther than «oh it’s that science chick, who did the gene experiments and cares about little sisters». Which is, again, a rather bland stereotype of the «scientist with a change of heart and desire to make everything right».
Oh yeah, and the «twist» itself — what’s so cool about it? I heard lots of «well, they explained a game mechanic through the story! that’s so cool!» I’m sorry, they didn’t. You, as a player, do all the stuff you’re «kindly asked» to do because it’s the *only* way to progress in the game. It’s an old linear game design feature — restricting player game progress until he does something to progress the story. It gets an in game story explanation in «would you kindly». So what? Is it better than any other way of restricting the player, like some «hack the console», «talk to the character, so he opens the door», «find the new ability to progress further» thing? I don’t think so. Is it using any game mechanic? No. It’s a plot device explaining the plot device. Want some examples of using the gameplay to blow your mind? Use the usual player interaction, which he does by choice or because it’s a common gamepleay mechanic, and then make a reveal about it. «Do they look like monsters to you» line in Silent Hill 3 makes you suddenly afraid of being a murderer. God of War 2 (of all games) pulls a similar thing with the «dark room fight» (hope you get, what i mean). Both Portals do similar twists to smaller degrees. Hell, even Braid’s «metaphor for an atomic bomb» does that. Getting an explanation as to why you couldn’t progress further in a linear FPS is «okay, whatever, like i care». Even the Ryan death scene is not interesting to watch — the game already used non interactive cutscenes, it’s not the first time you’re not in control of your character. There’s nothing shocking, surprising or even new in that experience.
And the entire game is filled with that. Not bad, but ultimately forgettable moments. The message in the glass is the only truly amazing, inspired and unforgettable moment in the entire game. All the other stuff is similarly boring as the story and the characters. Game occasionally tries to be scary, and fails. Tries to amaze you with the wonders of the city itself, but only the art style can be interesting to look at, as the city locations themselves don’t seem neither logical, nor very interesting. Most people’s hobby seems to be running around and throwing around parts of their huge dictophones all over the place.
But i must agree that it’s not a very bad shooter. Not very good either, as it tries to hard to pretend it’s a survival horror like thing. And does it by making the playable character, his abilities frustrating to use. I know that the game was originally designed to be more of the System Shock kind of survival horror FPS game. But the final release was a streamlined shooter with magic/biotic/psy-powers. So why is the action still clunky? And, i’m sorry, even the sequel understood it and fixed it, making the game a much better FPS (with better story and characters. less pretentious and more interesting). Yes, there are some good moments in the game and, probably, the only interesting gameplay moments were in making traps for Big Daddies or other enemies. It wasn’t new at all, but was actually exciting.
And there you have it. What’s so big and good about BioShock again?
Also on destructoid.