I must confess that I haven’t really played the Bioshock games in any real capacity. For one reason or another I just kind of skipped them all together even though I know the original Bioshock has had a tremendous impact on the gaming community. So I decided why not give the franchise a try, I mean, the steam pre-order of the game came with a copy of the original Bioshock why not check out the game that has the whole world buzzing and its famous predecessor? So I decided to download it and all I have to say is BEST GAMBLE EVER!
The story takes place in an alternate version of the 1900s and follows the very shady and somewhat unscrupulous mystery man Booker Dewitt as he ascends into the cloud city of Columbia to retrieve a mysterious girl named Elizabeth in order to clear some bad debt. His plans go awry as this mysterious girl is a valuable asset to the leader of Columbia, the self proclaimed prophet Comstock. The world is deep and engaging with the setting feeling apropos to the religious and political overtones of the story. Everything from poverty, to race, to overzealous spirituality and ridiculous jingoism is all covered but never feels in any way heavy handed. While these things are going on and are a part of the world the main focus is to rescue Elizabeth and take her to your employers. The characters are a driving force so it pleases me immensely that they are all rich and complex. Characters and their traits are revealed as you play from objective to objective throughout the game instead of some kind of ridiculous forced exposition at the expense of the players patience. Booker Dewitt is not a silent boring protagonist, he is a battle hardened pragmatist and while he doesn’t mind getting blood on his hands at any time he tries to avoid it if he can.As you play you learn more about his past and more about who he is. Possibly my biggest yet most pleasant surprise is Elizabeth herself. While the story at first seems like some kind of typical damsel in distress stereotype it becomes QUICKLY apparent that Elizabeth is NOT your typical damsel. She is innocent and childish due to being locked away by Comstock but she is also clever and intuitive. You get to see her character constantly progress from an inquisitive sheltered girl to a woman of her own and gradually she comes to the realization that the world isn’t as beautiful as she thought. She has this sense of wonder at everything and it’s a nice touch that when you brutally dispatch of an enemy she often times gasps in horror. She isn’t a do what you have to do character at first, she often times grapples with choices she makes and how she relates to the bigger story. She feels like a living breathing part of the story, instead of some trumped up plot device or male fan service like so many female characters in games. She DEFINITELY has that sex appeal air to her that I think is hard to avoid in gaming these days but for the most part she is a strong character and a strong part of the story alone. While I don’t think all of our problems with shallow female characters are gone I definitely think that this is a step in the right direction for the portrayal of females in gaming.
It is EXTREMELY hard to find an FPS these days with any kind of depth in the single player campaign so it’s EXTREMELY refreshing to me that the game play never really seems to get old. In the game you have a variety of weapons to choose from to suit your play style, everything from a shotgun to an RPG is readily available with purchasable upgrades to improve them along the way, but be careful because once you drop a weapon it may be hard to find another one and/or find ammo for the weapon you just picked up. Luckily the vendors have ammo that you can purchase if you get in to too much of a pinch. There is also gear that you gather throughout the game that gives you boosts and perks for your personal preferences. some gear gives you the ability to gather health from killing enemies when you dying, some perks give you the ability to have enemies catch on fire when you melee them and these items can be switched in and out at any time. Exploring rooms and corridors isn’t ESSENTIAL but it is EXTREMELY helpful as you will find audio logs that chronicle important or interesting events for characters in the story OR more importantly you will find new gear, money and potions that give you boosts in health, salts (mana) and shield. One aspect that stands out for me is in the vigors that you collect. Vigors are essentially your magic powers that you get from drinking these odd concoctions. There are SO many different powers you can get and each one of them has its advantages, there is one that allows you to control a swarm of birds that pick the flesh off of your enemies, one that allows you to wield fireballs, one that allows you to wield lightning and one that allows you to control machines or players to name a few. Each of these vigors can also be upgraded with the right amount of coin which makes exploration that much more rewarding. This isn’t in any way different from a lot of other games like it HOWEVER it feels like a natural part of this strange world, and while the powers themselves are not all that unique, for me they don’t feel stale or as if they are trying to copy something else and they are incredibly fun to use in battle. The last aspect I want to touch on as far as game play is concerned is how Elizabeth relates to it. My first impression was that she was going to be this annoying little tag along that I would constantly die trying to protect but once again I was surprised at not only how useful she is to game play activities but downright ESSENTIAL in a way that doesn’t feel forced or typical. She finds ammo when I am running low, she finds health when I start to die, she finds salts when my vigors start to drain, she opens portals with automated machine gun turrets, she finds coins so I can upgrade my weapons, she picks locks so I can get to the next stage or so that I can find new loot. She is the most useful A.I. companion I have EVER had in a game PERIOD. While there were times when she would disappear offscreen and other glitches (but I kind of expect those in a first print copy of the game) they are so minor that it’s not even enough to gripe about. Having Elizabeth by my side doesn’t feel like a liability or a chore. I don’t scream at the screen for HOURS on end about how she didn’t do something or how stupid she is.I ENJOY having an A.I. partner that doesn’t fall off the face of the earth when I need them or doesn’t try to steal my thunder or doesn’t hit me in the crossfire. Whoever programmed her and that system SERIOUSLY deserves kudos and a raise because it’s EASILY the best A.I. partner in any game I have EVER played and I can’t reiterate that enough.
The game is DEFINITELY pleasing to the eye and adopts a sort of faux realism that reminds me a lot of something like Dishonored. My PC isn’t the latest and greatest but it can run it on a pretty high quality without any massive frame rate drops. The pallet is very steam punk with a lot of copper and iron and other weathered colors but it is far from dull as dishwater grey. It’s got an almost oil painting style pop to it which definitely compliments the setting well. Once again the show stealer is Elizabeth. Her facial expressions and the way she reacts to the world she is in is such a great touch to the aesthetics of the game that often times I want to follow her just to see the things she will react with or what her facial expressions are at certain moments. Walk in to the bathroom and she holds her nose and whines a bit, walk towards certain objects and she will explain them to you, in a moment of betrayal or anguish she looks troubled and pensive. I can tell someone put a lot of time and attention in to the details for her character. The world just feels alive, characters feel real in the way they interact with things and while character interaction with random people is pretty much nonexistant there are times when you can eavesdrop on conversations that feel a part of the environment. The soundtrack is truly awesome and I wouldn’t be surprised if I actually get a copy of it for myself if they release it. It really adds to the experience when you walk in to a bar in Fink’s Shanty Town and a haunting old timey rendition of Tainted Love is playing on a radio as the patrons stare at you with their worn out faces or when you come out of a war zone and atop the stocks a woman is singing Fortunate Son reminding me that the song is more than just some over used background music to sell jeans but it is a poignant commentary on the society we Americans have created. I literally halted all gameplay at that moment and sat there listening to the song. It’s moments like that that you just don’t see in most games and remind me that soundtrack is just as important to a game as anything else.
If I could give this game a score it would be a 10 out of 10. A part of me hesitates to give this game a perfect score because honestly for me a game would need to be flawless but this game seriously gets so close that it might as well be. I can’t think of any real BIG flaws that hinder this game from being a fun all around experience. FINALLY a game that I feel lives up to every bit of hype that people are giving it and THEN some, which is something even RPG juggernaut Skyrim couldn’t even achieve. With most FPS games there comes a time when I feel like I am going through the motions, like I am just trudging through to get to the next level of repetitive action but with this game it’s in a league of its own. For the first time in a long time I found myself going through levels and searching most if not all the little nooks and spaces and even listening to audio logs or watching kinetoscope videos which is something I RARELY ever do in any game which is a HUGE testament to just how interesting and intricate the setting and story is. The game play is so much fun with numerous ways of dispatching any enemy. There is nothing better than using your sky hook to explode enemies heads or use it to get onto an airship and use your vigor to punish the annoying douchebag spamming you with RPG fire from above. It completely flips the idea of a damsel in distress story and takes a big step in a better direction for not only female characters but partner A.I. in gaming. This game reminds me a lot of Dishonored in the way it approaches things however where I was disappointed in how underdeveloped that game was and how it boasted a “complex” world with multiple pathways it just felt like a different road leading to a bland place, THIS game however is linear, knows it’s linear but it’s a wild ride to an interesting destination. This game proves that the dystopian steampunk victorian feel can be done and done MUCH better. If you have seen all the praise this game has gotten and have come here looking for the truth as to whether or not this game is worth your time then I STRONGLY urge you to pick up a copy of this game because it’s worth EVERY bit of the $60.00 price tag.