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Friday, September 07, 2007

Game Play: BioShock Mechanics

As Winkyboy pointed out in a recent comment, BioShock is something of a mixed bag when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the gameplay. I'm not talking about the excellent use of the Unreal engine or the amazing water effects - I think we can all agree BioShock looks good.

And it plays good - don't get me wrong there either. In fact, it plays better than 90% of the shooters ever made. It's solid and holds its own against heavyweights like Deus Ex.

But how does it hold it up against heavyweights like System Shock? Or System Shock 2? It's easier to compare them since it is a direct development evolution. BioShock clearly pulls from System Shock 2's playbook. It corrects some things and simplifies some things - with interesting outcomes.

Firstly, the use of plasmids and other mods seems more user friendly to me than SS2's power ups. Here the streamlined nature, while not providing nearly as much variety as Deus Ex did, is a lot more user friendly than SS2. It feels harder to have a bad set of mods and the frequently available Gene banks makes sure your decisions can be temporary.

Which brings us to the Little Sisters. Winky pointed out that as ethical decisions go - this is a pretty light one. Oddly, I've heard arguments for both sides - either always harvesting or always rescuing the girls. Personally, I've fallen on the latter simply because the gift mods seem to offset the additional Adam one might get - and I haven't really been starving for Adam anyway. The Big Daddies provide mini-boss fights sprinkled throughout the game and quite honestly the whole setup seems magnificent.

I'm enjoying the hacking minigame as well, although there seems to be little punishment for failing. Sure, you get hurt and sure eventually you might get assaulted by security drones ... but why waste an autohack or cash?

Especially when you have the Vita-Chambers. I can't get a handle on these things ... if I like them or not. I think they are better than many of the alternatives. Basically a combination of quick save (which is either absent by design or the save files or too big to allow) and checkpoints - they are at least very convenient. They seem to make the game really easy though - and if that doesn't at least draw away from immersion it takes away some of the scare factor.

Which is a shame, because it is one of the game's real strengths.

I only have one real suggestion - but first, let's talk about the weapon modification and invention system. I love that you can collect random objects, put them in that bottomless pocket all shooter heroes are equipped with, and then convert them into something useful ... like bullets. So why can't I take the rubber hose, some batteries, a sump pump or whatnot, and increase the damage on my shotgun?

Well, clearly because that might make the game too easy. Halfway through the game you'd have a full set of souped up weapons.

Two things would have adjusted for that - one being a mod system more like Deus Ex's where weapons can only be upgraded to a certain point. So you could turn that assault rifle into a high rate of fire sniper - but not a cannon. Also if there was a penalty to dying.

How does the Vita-Chamber reconstruct all my weapons anyway? I suppose it teleports me wholesale, fixes me up and sends me on my way. But that's some deathgrip I've got on the shotgun there.

It would have been interesting to use a Halo style inventory, with only a couple of weapons capable of being held, and you lose whatever gun you had on hand when you died. If you had another one, you get to keep that. You can try and go back and fight your way back to your gun, or get a new one.

Just something so that I can't use a strategy of constantly bum rushing my enemy right after death.

Winky also pointed out that some of the design decisions seem to be console-biased ... a trend which is becoming more and more pervasive for PC games.

Anyway, it is a great game - and with the Big Brain upgrade for the CheapBox++, plays great now. I really wish they would release an editor and SDK for it though, because I'd love to try some different concepts with it.

I've also got a rant on BioShock's story. how it falls in line with Valve's notion of a narrative (and that's not a good thing) coming forth, but I feel I should finish the game first.


Thomas said...

You know, I've been playing Deus Ex for the first time lately. And I'm just not recognizing the game that everyone says it was supposed to be. The interaction is clunky, the combat is terrible, and the voice-acting is just plain bad. I'm trying to get past the New York warehouse stage now, and I'm having to force myself to keep playing in case it gets better.

I can see where it could have been cool at the time. But it hasn't aged well at all, particularly compared to some of its contemporaries.

On the other hand, it might just be that I don't care for the subgenre that it shares with Bioshock and System Shock 2. Because neither of them particularly rang my bell either.

Josh said...

The graphics, animation and to a certain extent the AI are certainly dated. Some aspects of combat, like being forced to occasionally crawl, never worked great.

Still, it was a landmark game when people thought the next Quake killer meant better graphics and more inventive weapons. That the ideas haven't been properly expanded on is possibly most lamentable of all.

And I think it does get better - as you get more options and mods. Deus Ex is almost like that movie you can't fully enjoy the first time.

But if you didn't like SS2 and didn't like BioShock - very possible it isn't going to jazz you though.

Thomas said...

I hope I'll start to dig it. The concept is great.

What I can definitely see--and what I can understand that people miss in Bioshock, what with the lack of inventory and all--is the way that there's lots of random interaction that opens up the world. There's no particular reason that I should be able to pick up a flowerpot and throw it around, for example, or why all the books should be readable even when they don't directly pertain to the storyline.

I think it may have been a victim of the technology of the time. I remember reviews saying that it crawled on "modern" machines. There just wasn't enough horsepower to populate the world the way it needed to be done.

I bought it as part of the Steam package, so I'm curious as to whether or not Invisible War will address some of these issues.

Anyway, sorry to hijack your Bioshock post.

Josh said...

Well, to warn - Invisible Warn won't. Personally I had a good time with DXII, but it doesn't live up to the potential of the first - and in many ways is truncated to be playable on a console. It is a much prettier, much less intelligent, cousin to the original.

It's fun, but it isn't any kind of valid evolution. Snowblind, actually, is as good or better of a sequel.