Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bioshock 2 - final thoughts

More apologies. I finished Bioshock 2 over the weekend and have been meaning to write a quick thing about it, but time has gotten away from me. But let's be honest here - the game itself isn't all that inspiring to write about.

It's not necessarily a bad game; it's just unnecessary. And yet, ironically enough, I would love to keep exploring the world of Rapture. My favorite moments in Bio2 - as they were in Bio1 - were the moments in between battles, when I could take in the architecture and explore all the nooks and crannies of such a meticulously designed world. Make no mistake - Bio2 may be uninspired as a game, but its vision of Rapture is just as sumptuous to take in as in the original.

Let's just say this - Bio2 does work better as a game. The combat mechanics are a lot more solid and satisfying, and the clunkiness of the first game's interface has been replaced by a much more efficient design. (And this must be said - it's awfully nice to not have to hear "Welcome to the Circus of Values!" constantly, unceasingly.)

But there's also a great deal of Bio2 that feels awfully contrived; the constant babysitting of Little Sisters (of which I struggled with at first and eventually got better at) is the worst offender, but pretty much all of the game's forward momentum is clearly scripted and inelegantly presented. And I am really, really tired of the game's strict adherence to plot development via tape recorder and offscreen narration; after a while I just tuned it out, and as a result I'm still not quite sure what the hell I was doing or why I was doing it. It feels lazy, and the voice acting and dialogue is too stylized to feel urgent. My own personal motivation for finishing the game at all was that in spite of all the aggravations that the game foisted upon me, I just wanted to see more of Rapture.

So let me say this, then. If there must be another Bioshock game, let it be something different. Get away from the Big Daddies and the Adam and the plasmids and the combat and all that shit. Give me more of Rapture. Give me characters that actually talk to me, face to face. I would ABSOLUTELY play a Bioshock Zero prequel if it meant seeing Rapture in its heyday, before all the badness happened. Fuck, let me play it as Andrew Ryan, SimCity style. I'll even settle for a 3D point-and-click adventure game, if it came to that. I want to walk around and see shit that I've never seen before. Rapture is one of the most atmospheric worlds ever created - let me soak it in, rather than making me run through it and kill things for no apparent reason, other than that I have to.

At the end of the day, Rapture is the star of the show, and the fiction is what gives it weight. The combat is certainly OK, and I guess you need it in order to sell millions of copies, but it's not nearly as interesting as the world itself. There are lots of stories that can be told in the city at the bottom of the sea; I would much rather see one of those, than having to go through the same motions as before.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Apologies to the 2 or 3 of you who read this blog on a quasi-regular basis - I'm moving at the end of this month, so my game time has been minimal and my blog time even less than that.

I continue to trudge forth in Bioshock 2. I re-started that last level and had, for whatever reason, a much easier time defending my Little Sister, and now I've sorta gotten it; I know how to set up for ambushes, I've gotten better at using the right plasmids, etc. I'm still not sure I know who all these people are that keep talking to me, or why I'm doing what they tell me to do, and the only reason why I continue on is that I keep hearing that the end of the game is really, really good. So there's that to look forward to.

Other than that, it will likely remain dark in this space until Heavy Rain comes out, which I'm ridiculously excited for.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bioshock 2: the first hour

I don't like going to bed angry, but that's exactly what happened to me last night.

I was back in Rapture, you see. And even though I had been highly skeptical about Bioshock 2 and repeatedly questioned the necessity for its existence, I found myself as absorbed and invested in the new game as I had been in the original. The thing that I loved most about the first game - more than the story, more than the combat - was the atmosphere; I loved exploring every nook and cranny and the original game constantly rewarded such exploration with loot, backstory and, if nothing else, incredible tableaux. And the first hour of Bio2 felt much the same way - I was enthralled with the world, again, and running around and exploring was just as rewarding as it used to be.

But more than that, the game certainly felt better - the combat was more responsive, and the duel-wielding of plasmids and weapons makes perfect sense. OK, so the story is a little obtuse, and the storytelling method is so identical that it feels somewhat cheap, but that's OK - the world of Rapture is still among the most vivid and unique as anything in the medium.

And then I got to the part of the game where you have to defend a Little Sister while she harvests ADAM, and I nearly threw my controller out the window.

Let me back up here a second. A lot of people gave the original Bioshock a lot of shit for taking strange liberties with the audience's suspension of disbelief - i.e., the unprompted self-inflicted plasmid injection at the beginning of the game, the idea that year-old potato chips found in garbage cans actually increase your health, etc. - but I fell for it anyway. The most controversial element in the first game, though, was the way it handled death. If you died, you respawned at the nearest "Vita-Chamber", and the world would be just as you left it.

In Bio2, death is handled somewhat differently, and it makes me want to kill it.

So here's the scene. (I'm still at the very beginning of the game, so I'm not really spoiling anything.) I've adopted my very first Little Sister. In order for me to get to the next level in the game, I need to inject myself with a plasmid that will let me shoot fire out of my hands. And in order to get that plasmid, I need ADAM. And to get ADAM, I need to escort a Little Sister to a particular dead body and defend her against Rapture's crazies. (In this particular case, I need to harvest ADAM from 2 dead bodies; I'm at the 2nd body.)

And now, I need to set traps, because we're in the corner of a room and as soon as I set this little girl down, we're going to get swarmed. So I set up all the traps I've collected over the last hour, replenish my ammo, and hack the nearest health-vending machine, and I set the girl down. The crazies come pouring in, and in spite of my traps I'm soon overwhelmed, and right before the girl is done harvesting, I die.

I respawn in the Vita-Chamber directly behind the girl. And now, I'm in a bit of a pickle - all the ammo I used in my last fight is gone, all my traps are gone, the health machine is toast, the sentry bot I hacked is destroyed, I have no plasmid energy or medical packs, I have no money because I spent it all replenishing my ammo before I died, and - to top it all off - as soon as I recover what I can and get set to defend the girl again, I notice that the girl has to start harvesting from scratch. Harvesting appears to take between 1-2 minutes; there's no way I'll have enough ammo, let alone anything else that might help. So I die, again. And again, and again, until I can loot enough from the accumulating corpses to put up a halfway decent fight, although it won't nearly be enough.

I spent close to 45 minutes trying to get past this fucking area last night, and never even got close to succeeding. And furthermore, I didn't think to save before that section started, because I didn't think I'd be getting my ass kicked so thoroughly this early into the game, so I'm probably going to have to replay the entire level again in order to be properly equipped.

And that fucking SUCKS.