2007 Reviews

Bioshock

  • Review Date: 2012-05
  • Release Date: 2007-08
  • Developer: 2K Boston/Irrational Games
  • Rating: 9.0

Bioshock; the final action game on my 2007 list to play, which I've been saving up because I knew I'd love and hoped it would beat out Crysis for my game of the year. But it wasn't to be.

In terms of design; fantastic, intriguing, explorative, coherent and consistent. It's probably the best atmosphere in a game I've played in a long time, definitely best in 2007. But in some ways Unreal Tournament 3 actually had a lot more variety and more impressive level design and art. Is it a surprise that, of ALL the Unreal engined games in 2007 (and most of 2008 so far), it's Epic's own UT3 that looked the best.

Bioshock wasn't far off. It just lacked any big impressive set pieces. Bioshock's design style was much more closed off and claustrauphobic - which makes sense as it's set within an underwater city. The amount of detail and creativity throughout these small levels is fantastic. I think a comparison to Doom 3 is not a far stretch - they both feature similarly tight levels. Doom 3 got ripped to pieces over it, Bioshock not so much. But I personally don't mind this kind of layout. And that's not to say it's too linear - Bioshock gives plenty of paths throughout the levels. It's still more linear than an open world game, but if you're not going to build an open world sandbox style, then Bioshock is perfectly adequate and not TOO linear. The levels remind of more of 90's style level design and layouts.

If they had room for improvement, it's in the set pieces. Whenever you look out a window you just see a murky, blurry environment, perhaps a couple of buildings. That really was a missed opportunity in what could have been some huge underwater environment map giving you a proper sense of being deep underwater in a vast ocean. Where's the damn fish? Going to the local Aquarium will give a better presentation of fish.

It's really the atmosphere of this game that sets it apart from anything in 2007. The plot is intriguing and interesting all the way through the game. There aren't many cutscenes to tell the story, but there's a lot of radio chatter and voice journals everywhere.

The bulk of this review is the gameplay, because that's where I felt a bit disappointed. I'm a hoarder. In a game where you can collect items, that's exactly what I'll do and then save them up. My biggest guns won't get used unless really necessary. The first half of the game was fine - I happily used up health packs and eve (your super natural ability juice) when needed, quick loaded when things got a bit a tight (thank you so much for including quick saving 2K - I'm so sick of consolised checkpoints) and the game was super fun.

Now you have these chambers, a few per level, where if you die you're rejuvenated at a chamber and you can resume battle. I guess it was around level 10 (of 16) where I found enemies were requiring too much ammo to kill. And in Bioshock ammo needs micro-management. So it became more attractive to equip some eve and the wrench, and burn/whack an enemy to death. They'll end up killing you a couple of times first, but each time you re-spawn at a chamber so it doesn't matter. And each time you get 50% of your health and eve given back to you! Basically, if you ever find yourself under 40% of health and eve, there's no point wasting a health pack, it's better to just die and return to a chamber because you'll get health that way.

Ultimately, Bioshock is a game where you can't die (apart from the boss fight). It becomes boring and time consuming always re-spawning and having to run back to where you died to commence wrench whackage, but when, in the last quarter of the game, enemies can take 1/4 of machine gun ammo to kill, why waste it? So, I over-relied on these chambers and it ruined the gameplay. By the time I got to the last couple of levels I did a weapon upgrade which gave me health while using the wrench. I could wrench any enemy to death without dying because each hit would increase my health. Why would I ever use anything BUT the wrench unless I'm against a Big Daddy. I should probably be thankful I didn't find this upgrade earlier in the game or I would have become a wrench whore.

I also had a crash which killed my quicksave when I was 90% of the way through a level. I had to return to the start of the level with my key config reset and all my ammo I'd saved throughout the game GONE! This definitely didn't help in forcing me to use the wrench because I had to get my ammo reserves back up in time for the boss batttle. Ironically, I really only used the machine gun and shotgun on the boss anyway. All my hoarding of bigger weapon ammo was a bit wasted. Had I used some of my bigger weapons throughout the game perhaps I would have enjoyed it a bit more.

Bioshock would have had MUCH better gameplay if they did away with the re-spawn chambers, and just gave a little bit more ammo and didn't ramp up the health on enemies as the game grew on. I guess 2K wanted the tight ammo supply to force you to search in every little corner of the game - and it worked. It made the game much longer as you play at such a slow pace searching everywhere. This is the longest shooter I've played for a while.

Prey made the same mistake in not allowing the player to die, but at least in that case quick loads were fast and by dying you have to play through an annoying mini-game. It's easier just to try not to die or quickload. In Bioshock, quick loads and quick saves are slow - they take a 3-4 seconds each time. So when you're low on health and there's a chamber nearby, it's too easy just to die. I hope Bioshock 2 fixes this flaw.

And while I'm on annoying mini-games, having to hack so much in game just slows things down further. Later on unless you have lots of hack upgrades, the hacking mini-game is extremely difficult, and sometimes actually impossible to complete.

It's a shame because the weapons and enemies were all so creative and different. Big Daddies and Little Sisters were awesome - especially deciding to fight one. I feel like dressing as Big Daddy for the next Halloween! If only it stayed fun throughout the game. Like I said, a second playthrough I would enjoy more. I'd know to play on a lower difficulty, not hoard quite as much and hopefully not have to rely on chambers as much. And some of you will probably enjoy it more than I did; it just depends on your playing style. So I'll still give a 9/10, but it's the unique plot and atmosphere that get it there. And I feel I've been a bit strict on my ratings lately.

Crysis is definitely my final game of the year for 2007.