Monday, February 25, 2008

Playing Lately: Bioshock (*SPOILERS*)

After having the box sit on my desk for the better part of six months, I'm finally digging into 2k Boston's undersea homage to Ayn Rand, Bioshock. As a huge fan of its spiritual predecessors, the System Shock games, I'm predisposed to love Bioshock, even if it does take the basic gameplay from System Shock 2 and reskin it with a new setting and better graphics. (This is well-chronicled in Yahtzee Croshaw's Zero Punctuation review.)

That said, it did take a while before I reached that moment where the game was really able to dig its claws in. Where it got personal. Up to that point I was really only appreciating it on a technical level. The absolute beauty and grandeur of Rapture. The slick controls that allow you to so quickly switch between conventional weapons and plasmids. The nostalgia back to the days of System Shock I get from the audio logs found throughout Rapture's corridors.

The moment I speak of occurs when you finally reach the escape sub in the section of Rapture known as Neptune's Bounty. Up to this point I was convinced that the character of Atlas (the guy who's guiding you through the game up to this point) is playing the nice guy only to manipulate me into achieving his own ends. Actually, because of the parallels with System Shock 2, I was convinced that he was the labor-boss type character of Fontaine that is referenced throughout Neptune's Bounty, much like how your initial guide in that game turns out to be the computer A.I., Shodan (an incredible moment in SS2). I thought reaching the sub, which purportedly holds Atlas's wife and child, would be the point at which Atlas reveals his true intentions and that the whole wife and kid story would turn out to be a ruse. Instead, you enter a control room above the sub and see it explode right in front of Atlas.

That, I was not expecting and, for me, it's where the game changed.

Once the ensuing chaos from the exploding submarine subsides (ie - you kill off a new wave of splicers) Atlas gets back on the radio and the dialog from him, which comes as you're picking your way through the wreckage of the sub, is just amazing. I'm not sure who the actor voicing Atlas is, but I suspect it's the guy who played Chief O'Brien on Star Trek: The Next Generation. In any case, the anger and the pain he sells in the ensuing monologue is just note perfect. That's the point at which I finally got emotionally involved in the game. The point at which I went from, "Yeah, yeah. Let's stop that menace Andrew Ryan and save the day. Yeah!" to, "I'm gonna f#@'n kill this guy."

Brilliant. Even the first time I rescued a Little Sister (which is a powerful moment in and of itself) didn't have this kind of impact on me. (Though, for the record, I'm still not convinced Atlas is who he says he is.)

After playing for a large chunk of Sunday, I've managed to clear out the indoor forest level (the name escapes me) and the Garden Market level. And while the game has, what I feel are, a few missteps (I am so incredibly sick of hacking), I'll save those for another post. Ken Levine and the 2k Boston team deserve all the hefty praise they've been getting for this game.