Some games are enjoyable in a way that you are consciously aware of the fact that you’re having fun. “This game is awesome”, you might think (or even say out loud) to yourself as you play it. Other games are more subtle. You don’t notice how much you’re enjoying yourself until you look up at the clock and realize that you’ve been playing for 4 straight hours without knowing it, and then when you decide to call it a day, you end up saying “just one more level” and end up playing for two or three more hours. That’s the kind of game Bioshock is — you sit down to play it for a few hours, and next thing you know, the editor at the gaming website you write for is calling you on the phone to find out why you haven’t been at the office all week and your Bioshock review isn’t finished yet.
EFFICIENCY IN STORYTELLING
After playing the Bioshock demo, I was sure that this was going to be yet another game that thinks its story is a lot better than it really is, and wastes valuable playing time on cutscenes, dialogue and unnecessary details. I could not have been more wrong. First of all, the story is actually pretty good, and more importantly, the game sets up the plot in the first 10 minutes or so. After that, the narrative never gets in the way of the game, but instead complements it wonderfully.
In fact, pacing is probably Bioshock’s strongest point, and a big part of why it’s so darn addictive. The game is like a 15-hour amusement park ride in that it rarely lets up or slows down, and is all-action all the way. The story is told almost entirely through the gameplay, with very few cutscenes, and almost all in-game dialogue is broadcast while playing to avoid interruptions. Bioshock puts on a clinic in proper game design, and the Metal Gears and Grand Theft Autos of the world ought to sit down and pay attention — this is how you work a good story into a great game without ruining both.
The pacing has more to it than just how the story is handled, however. The game itself has very few slow points. Almost every time you complete an objective, a new, more challenging one presents itself immediately and you’re thrown right back into the fight with hardly a moment to catch your breath or reload your weapons. It seems like the goals you are trying to complete are always being moved just a little bit out of reach, with complications and obstructions screwing up the best-laid plans. Enemies seem to be constantly stalking you, so that even after you clear out an area, there’s a good chance you won’t be safe there for long. Even dying offers little reprieve, as you are respawned at the nearest checkpoint almost immediately. All this probably makes the game sound like an exercise in frustration, but thanks to a well-balanced difficulty, it remains fun and addictive.
Oh yes, the difficulty…
IT’S NOT SO BAD BEING LIKE LAZARUS
One aspect of Bioshock that has been a bit controversial to gamers is that, in its default settings, the game uses a checkpoint system that offers almost no consequences for getting killed. When you die, you are respawned at the nearest checkpoint, but lose no progress, so that enemies you killed since the last time you were at the checkpoint are still dead, and bosses remained damaged. This essentially gives you infinite lives, and makes it completely possible to win by attrition. You could, in theory, defeat the toughest enemies by simply standing in place, trading blows with them and getting killed a lot. In fact, I did end up doing exactly that in a few tough battles. However, for the most part, the simple desire to get through the game efficiently and with little repetition was enough motivation to keep me playing the “right” way.
Bioshock is one of the better FPS games to come out in a long time and definitely worth your time. Now would you kindly go and check it out for yourself?