Bioshock is one of the most talked about games (PC and console) to be released in recent times.

Almost all the major gaming sites, or major sites who also carry some games reviews, are lost for superlatives. Check out just a handful of reviews here, here and here. These are most representative of almost every other review I have read.

And I’m confused. I bought Bioshock on release day. And these guys are just plain wrong. Bioshock’s not bad. But in many respects it’s hugely average.

I’ll try and not give too much away in terms of spoilers here, but forgive me if I do give away a little of the plot.

First off, let’s recap what Bioshock is. It’s a first-person shooter (FPS) set in an undersea city. The city is pretty creepy since there are almost no “normal” humans left. Everyone has, for reasons we can skip over here, become a monster of some sort or another. You have to wander around the place, gradually migrating from one location to another, killing just about every damn thing that moves, via use of an increasingly large arsenal of weapons. Your main goal is to move forward to the next location, with the occasional side-quest (“Go find object X”) to keep you busy along the way. So far, so very VERY…. well, normal.

Now that’s not a bad starting point, for those (like me!) who enjoy an FPS!! But the rave reviews made me think I was getting revolutionary gameplay, in terms of weapons, storyline, scariness and scenario. Well that’s not so.

The weapons? There are the usual variety of guns. Fine but normal. Couple of chemical/flame throwers. Uh huh. A camera. Mildly original, but brings little to the gameplay. Plasmids. The reviewers get really excited about these, since they are bio-genetic enhancements to your body which let you do things like burn an enemy with fire (it’s a flame-thrower, that’s all…), shock things and so on. But they are really just mildly more imaginative weapons, with the usual need for scarce “ammunition”. You can also pick up various “tonics” that help you in various way, conferring greater skills and so forth. So… your character gets higher attributes / skill points / what have you.

OK, sod the weapons. What about the gameplay itself? Well the reviews make much of the depth and profundity of the underlying plot. It’s all deeply philosophically deep. And profound. With depth. The creators think that by not-very-subtly making references to Ayan Rand throughout the story that this makes it all very intellectual indeed. Well, aged 17 I would have agreed. But then aged 17 I thought The Cure’s lyrics were intellectually profound too. Now I’m…. well, quite a bit older than that I find those lyric’s nostalgic and charmingly naive. A bit like Atlas Shrugged, when read through the eyes of a cynical adult. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing WRONG with the intellectual posings of the plot – in fact I do find them rather fun when taken as a part of the whole. But they certainly are not in and of themselves in any way new.

So let’s take The Plot. The reviews assured me that I faced both terrible moral choices and a shocking plot-twist halfway through the game. Oh, that sounds fun. Trouble is, you don’t. I’ll gloss over the details, but the main “dilemma” is whether you kill or rescue the Little Sisters. Apparently that’s meant to be a tough choice. I am meant to have no qualms at all about blowing away everything else I meet, but because the Little Sisters look cute, I’m meant to be all wound up about it. Know what? First time through, kill’em. Second time through (if you can face it) save’em. Why? You get a different 20 second cut-scene at the very end. Yawn.

Oh, and the stunning plot twist? I kid you not that first time through, a little while after The Twist, I suddenly thought “Oooo – I suppose THAT was the twist. I think” Look, I won’t give it away, but the amazing twist revolves around someone who you thought was good turns out to be….. BAD! Pretty amazing, eh? Never had that happen in a game before.

Look: the game is actually (slightly) above-average fun. I almost feel bad about knocking it. It’s just that the reviewers seems to have gone completely gaga over it, and I can’t figure why.

What’s good about it? Well, the art work is very well done throughout. Lush and atmospheric. Beautiful in places. The audio is also spectacularly good in terms of both atmospheric sounds and the voice acting is especially high quality.

What’s bad about it? The draw distances range from modest to tiny – oh for at least ONE BIG area where I can see stuff hundreds of metres away. But no – the locations are never large. Yeah, I know, it’s set underwater, so maybe you wouldn’t have such large locations. ‘Tis true, but then Doom 3 is set in a space station, with similar external limitations, and they still managed some big, expansive settings. While the artwork is superb, the animation of the enemies (the “splicers” and the “Big Daddies”) is, well, crap. Very clunky.

My overall feeling is best described by how I felt about 80% of the way through the very first play-through: I waited a couple of days before going back to finish it. Hmmm. And a second time through? Well, I finished it, but it was rather a chore. Compare it with Half-Life 2 – where you can’t WAIT to try that strider battle again. Now.

Bioshock? Bit of a snooze, really. Buy it for fifty bucks? No – wish I hadn’t. Buy it in 12 months for 20 bucks? Yes, it would have been worth that. Just.

Comments are closed.