BioShock: A game review for non-gamers

This here is the companion post for Mark’s gamer review of BioShock, which you should probably read first. As indicated in the title, I will be giving my impressions of the game from the perspective of a person who didn’t play the game, but watched it. Which I did, all the way through. I got a great deal of cross-stitching done while he played.

I really did like this game. As a measure of how much, I told Mark he wasn’t allowed to play it when I wasn’t there, because that would make me miss something. My two main criteria for a game I’m willing to watch are that it be pretty and have a plot. The prettier it is, the less plausible the plot needs to be, though it’s looking like good art and good plot are starting to go together a lot now. Yay!

BioShock is a verypretty game. The designers really thought about creating a look and feel that would fit the backstory of Rapture, their underwater city, and they carried it through. It makes it worth it to explore all the levels of the game, just to see what you can see. (This is important when watching Mark play a game. He’s very thorough.) Lots of Art Deco-ish architectural elements, every poster you passed on a wall fit the style, the background music occasionally pumped in added to the same feel, and it all combined to give you a fairly good idea of what Rapture had been like before. Because it is, of course, a utopia that has gone horribly wrong.

As Mark mentioned, the tape recorders you find scattered around the game fill you in on the backstory, giving you an ever more clear picture of how Rapture fell. This was what made me prohibit Mark from playing without me. I got really good at spotting tape recorders and helping him figure out how to get to them. Anything to get more bits of story. They were like little bits of candy. You never knew which storyline you’d be getting a bit of when you first found the recorder, so you had to piece them together like a puzzle to follow each one, and it was fun watching them all converge toward the end.

But now, some quibbles:

Plasmids, tonics, and splicing: Before you even step into Rapture, you pick up a Rapture-insider radio guide, who gives you bits of information you need to understand how to play the game. (He becomes a more complicated character over time, but at the beginning, he’s mostly instructional.) One of the first things you learn from him is that the reason Rapture now appears to be populated by insane zombies is because they all started “splicing” their genes so many times, in order to have more plasmids and tonics (super powers), that it drove them utterly mad, led to chaos, and destroyed Rapture. Oh, look! There’s a plasmid and tonic vending machine. Let’s go get you some.

Does this strike anyone else as a bad idea? I mean, he just got done telling you how screwed up all this genetic modification can make a person, and now you should get one? As it turns out, it’s pretty much impossible to play the game without having these powers, but my very first thought was to try to avoid these things at all costs. (Mark’s own feeling that these ended up being more gimmicks than really cool innovations seems related.)

Vending machines: One of the other people you start hearing from on the radio pretty early on, and in tape recorders and other messages, is Andrew Ryan, the founder of Rapture. He makes it plain that Rapture was founded as a libertarian utopia, away from the grasping hands of government taxation and regulation, devoted the a completely free market in which people were utterly responsible for their own success or failure. (Please remember, the man is crazy, rich, and built a city under the sea.) So, in this city of free market economics, why are there only three basic types of vending machines, each one representing a different monopoly?

The reason I started thinking about this so much is because these vending machines are everywhere, and each one has its own jingle that starts playing when you come near it. The Gatherer’s Garden sells plasmids and tonics, and has a creepy little girl’s voice asking customers if they’re “as good as [her] daddy,” who is apparently full to the gills on plasmids. The Circus of Value sells basic stuff, like med kits, food, and some ammunition, and has really, really annoying circus music with a cackling clown voice inviting you to “fill your cravings at the Circus of Value! Ha ha ha ha ha!” I really hate that clown. El Ammo Bandito sells, as you might imagine, ammunition, and has a voice with a truly horrible Spanish accent greeting you with “Bienvenido al Ammo Bandito!” and sending you off with “Muchas gracias, señor!” I cannot convey in print how irritating this voice is. It took me maybe two levels of visits to this type of vending machine to actually understand everything the voice was trying to say.

So anyway, after a while, I really started wanting a little variety in vending machine choices, which led me to think about how antithetical to the very spirit of Rapture their sparsity was. I decided that, during the chaos leading to the fall of Rapture, there were great vending machine company wars. Circus of Value clown gangs hunting down and beating rival gangs from the Carnival of Savings. Massive shoot-outs between Ammo Bandito and Munitions Mercenary tactical teams, (which seems rather dangerous in an underwater city, I have to say.) I never did come up with a good rival for the Gatherer’s Garden, though, since the storyline seemed to be revealing that plasmid and tonic R&D was not exactly free market in any way.

Repetitive zombies: As seems inevitable in video games, eventually the stock character interaction sequences become repetitive. At first, listening to the zombie denizens of Rapture yell at each other and talk to themselves is kind of interesting, because it’s more discovery of the plot. But then they start saying the same things over and over again. The main one that seemed most often repeated was the vaguely Russian sounding male, wandering the corridors (heavily armed), imploring God to explain why He has deserted the zombies and promising to be good. Towards the end, it became a priority to target and kill those zombies first, just so they’d shut up.

Given that we got several weeks’ worth of entertainment out of this game, though, these are very minor quibbles, and really, I got more entertainment out of pondering ways to close up holes in the backstory about the vending machines anyway. I think I am going to have to say that this is the most enjoyable video game I’ve watched Mark play yet. I’m almost kind of worried it has set my standards too high now.

-posted by Dana

One Response to BioShock: A game review for non-gamers

  1. […] that created Bioshock, which I reviewed earlier here on the Buffet, and for which Dana published a review from the perspective of a non-gamer. This is also the same company that created the game Knights of the Old Republic (and its sequel, […]

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