Saturday, June 1, 2013

EDITORIAL BIOSHOCK PRSD POST RAPTURE STRESS DISORDER


There are not many games that I claim to be a fanboy for.  I mean sure, there are plenty of games that I love and adore, but only some really strike that nerve that electrifies me.  Bioshock is one of those few, special games.  However, Bioshock 2 is quite possibly the greatest gaming disappointment Ive ever experienced in my life.  And so with Bioshock: Infinite less than a week away, my excitement is reaching a fever pitch... but my fear and apprehension are lurking close by.

One of my biggest concerns is just how vehemently they are pushing pre-orders.  I mean even apart from the lame weapon skins, in-game cash bonuses, super-elaborate Songbird Collectors Edition, and the limp-dick "Industrial Revolution" web-based minigame that you can unlock, theyre also doing a whole lot of unlock bonuses on PC.  If they reach X pre-orders, it unlocks Game A for free.  If they reach Y, it unlocks Game B.   Hell, GreenManGaming is giving away THREE free games and $15 cash/credit back if you pre-order from them. 

As great as these PC deals are, why does it make me feel like the game cant stand alone on its own?  All of these bonuses give me this sense of dread like theyre trying to cushion us from something bad.  Like theyre going to soften the blow if the game is terrible.  The trailers for the game look absolutely incredible, and I find it incredibly hard to believe that Bioshock: Infinite will be a bad game.  However in the wake of recent disasters like Aliens: Colonial Marines and the new SimCity, games that everyone was 100% certain would cure cancer and end world poverty and give you a blowjob every time you booted them up, its kind of hard not to have that creeping sense of worry.

And then theres the track record of Bioshock 2.  I followed it like I am following Infinite.  There was absolutely no way in hell that Bioshock 2 could be anything but absolute excellence in every possible way.  God was I wrong.  It still shocks me that this awful game got review scores ranging in the 9 out of 10 range.  Allow me to elaborate on why Bioshock 2 is among my personal Worst Games Of All Time.

For one, the plot felt tacked on.  At no point did it feel like a natural extension of the Bioshock world. All of the characters and their story lines felt like they were retconned into the Bioshock universe; I mean they make Lamb out to be one of the most important people in Rapture, and one of the biggest threats Ryan faced. All of the people you encounter throughout Bioshock 2 were supposed to be absolutely vital to Raptures creation, and yet...in the first game, there was not so much a mention of them.  Even the novel prequel, Rapture, kind of highlighted this. It tried to fit Lamb into the plot; in the beginning she was this big looming spectre of revolution with her cult. Then all of a sudden shes thrown into the Persephone detention center, and the book just moves on. Every now and then theyd make a comment about her like "Oh yeah... almost forgot... Lambs there, I guess".  

Now I realize that they cant go back and change the first game to pepper these characters in, but if thats the case then you dont try to shoehorn this crap into it. You write a different plot that makes sense.  Hell, within the confines of the game is a sort of semi-hidden subplot of a man named Mark Meltzer... give us his story!  WHY was this a side story? That should have been the main plot of the game right there! Have it so Sofia Lamb was a crackpot that rose to power after the events of Bioshock, rather than retconning her in. You could play as Mark, even have some of the game start OUTSIDE of Rapture, and have the first hour or two be him discovering the existence of the lighthouse, booking passage, and getting out to it. I understand that since we played the first one, some of the shock and awe of seeing Rapture for the first time would be taken from the player, even though its all new to Mark. But still, it would have been a much better game than what we got. 

Hell, even the games DLC, Minervas Den, was superior to the core game in every respect.  It had a story that fit into the world and history of Rapture without feeling like someone just bolted it haphazardly onto the side. 

The gameplay was what really got me though. The only good thing about it was that they added the ability to dual wield weapons with plasmids. Other than that? Subject Delta handles like a drunken tank. I love that the game gives you a jump button, and you can jump a whole 1/2 inch off the ground.  Playing a Big Daddy sounded fun in theory, but in execution it was just terrible.  Even the weapons were bland and clunky.  The drill lost its effectiveness within the first few hours, leaving you with a bunch of slow, weak weapons that felt like they should carry much more of a punch than they actually did, and ran out of ammo far too easily.  The only gun that was even remotely fun to use was the Spear Gun, and it was nothing but a paltry attempt at recapturing Half-Life 2s crossbow.

But I could have forgiven that, all of that, if theyd kept the horror aspect from the first game. The first game had moments that were genuinely scary. Splicers were creepy as fuck, and they hunted you. They played with sound and echoes so you never knew where they were. They hid in the shadows and struck when you least expected it.  They always came at you one or two at a time, for the most part, so you were never sure if there were more out there or if youd killed them all.  The first Bioshock managed to provide scares and general creep factor throughout the entire game.
 
In Bioshock 2, literally almost every action moment was you walking into a big open room with a few obstacles for cover, and your buddy on the radio going "Hmm, well youre locked in. Ill try to- OH NO SEVERAL WAVES OF INCREASINGLY DIFFICULT SPLICERS! You hold em off while I try to get the door open!"  Either that, or you were standing over a Little Sister, protecting her from waves of Splicers as she harvested Adam.  The first time that I made this criticism, I had that little voice in the back of my head going "Oh Cranky, youre just exaggerating, and you know it." Then I replayed the game, recently and realized I wasnt exaggerating. At all.

Admittedly? I absolutely loathe wave/survival/arena combat in games. Always have, always will. I think its boring, I think its lazy game design, and I think its pretty much the antithesis of what Bioshock was.

And then there were the Big Sisters. Such a cool idea, but the presentation lost me.  If they had at least pretended to make them come out of nowhere and keep you on your toes?  That would have been great.  Theyre fast, agile, like deadly steampunk ninjas that we should have never seen coming.  They should have struck when we least expected it, coming out of the shadows to fuck up our whole day.  

Instead, you actually had a countdown of how many Little Sisters you could harvest before the next one came out to play. They werent scary, they were just another lame mechanic. And even then, when you harvested that last Little Sister, it wasnt like the Big Sis could come out of nowhere or surprise you. Youd hear an angry scream, and actually saw a big on-screen message saying "A BIG SISTER IS COMING".  Um, yeah Im pretty sure thats what the scream meant. I didnt need you to remind me.  But this was like cheaping out; it telegraphed everything and let you prepare, rather than actually being, yknow, scary.

I mean hell, from the Bioshock Wiki:
"After the player invokes the wrath of a Big Sister, there will be a set amount of time before she arrives at the players location. This gives the player a little time to set up traps and prepare for the battle or to buy ammunition and health from local vendors."
Ugh. Way to ruin the one thing we were most excited for.

The game was not all bad; there were glowing moments in it.  I loved that you could follow the Little Sisters around collecting ADAM, just like a real Big Daddy.  I loved the section toward the end where you actually got to PLAY as a Little Sister...that was kind of awesome. I really did not give many fucks about the main storyline of the game, but the aforementioned side story that played out in the audio diaries of Mark Meltzer? Heart-wrenching. The character of Eleanor Lamb was the shining beacon in the story, and I definitely enjoyed that there were multiple endings depending on your actions, not just the two polar extreme endings of the first one.  Everything you do in the game shapes Eleanor as a person, and I liked that.   But it wasnt enough to save the game as a whole.

And so this is why despite all of the amazing trailers for Bioshock Infinite, I still cant shake this feeling like its all going to go horribly wrong.  Im still incredibly excited, dont misunderstand me!  These feelings lie deep below, and are overshadowed by my sheer excitement for a brand new world to explore that is a separate game, yet spiritual sequel, and not just fucking up the canon and lore of the first game. The fact that Infinite has absolutely nothing to do with the first Bioshock besides the general feel, attitude, and design philosophies of the first game actually gives me a lot of hope.  And the fact that Ken Levine and 2Ks top guys are making it (Bioshock 2 was pretty much made by their B-team, 2K Marin, without Levine helping) really helps calm my fears a lot.

I guess well find out on Tuesday, eh?

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