No Kings or Gods, Just Men: Bioshock Demo Impressions

14 08 2007

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I have a horrible confession to make: I’m easily manipulated by hype. This can be problematic for someone who is an aspiring game journalist. Especially when all you have to go on are the promising words of game mags and blogs, it’s easy to be excited about something you haven’t played–say, for example, Bioshock. When Kyle and I heard about the demo on Xbox Live, I believe it was followed by a loud “squeee!” in stereo. I have another horrible confession: I never played the System Shock games. I can’t tell which of these indiscretions is worse, but the latter is the one I feel most ashamed of. As I watched the demo slowly download, I could feel myself hoping more and more that this could be what was promised, another “thinking-man’s” shooter that is long overdue.

“The told me, ‘Son, you are meant to do great things.’ They were right.”

The demo starts with a plane crash. Your (so far) unnamed character finds himself swimming up for air after an unexpected dunk in the mid-Atlantic. As soon as he comes up for air, you are given control to move and look around. Already you can see Irrational’s hard work on water effects begin to pay off. The burning wreckage is gloriously reflected onto the Ocean’s surface. In the distance you can see the tail-end of the plane sinking steadily down. To the right of it, you can see the slight glint of a beacon, a lighthouse where it shouldn’t be. You swim towards it, climb the stairs, and enter the door to a dark foyer. As the door suddenly closes behind you, the lights turn on to reveal an iron-carved face of a man, a red silk banner hanging from his neck that reads “No Kings or Gods. Just Men.” You continue on your path, descending a winding staircase, and entering a biosphere that will take you to a wondrous place.

From the moment the lights turn on in the lighthouse, Bioshock’s atmosphere is evident. When the city of Rapture is revealed to you for the first time, on the outside, underwater, it’s hard not to be in awe of it. From this perspective it looks gorgeous, a 50’s utopia of metropolitan commercialism. Neon-lit signs and advertisements act as street lamps for the towering buildings ahead. Suddenly a whale floats by, not remotely phased by its surroundings. Seriously, a god damn whale! But this is just the outside. The insides of this city, its guts, are even more gorgeous and pitch perfect. Everything has an exaggerated late 50’s art-deco look about it, except it’s not just a look; it’s a lifestyle. All of it is incredibly immersive, surrounding you till you choke on late-romantic music stylings.

But Bioshock is not all sights and sounds. Ken Levine has been saying for months that his game is an FPS first and foremost, and this demo presents a pretty convincing argument. As soon as you step out of the biosphere—which is destroyed by a disfigured women with hooks for hands—you begin to wonder, “Just what the fuck happened here?” Good question. The first weapon you pick up here is a wrench—no crowbar, but it’ll do. The first few enemies aren’t too tough, simply dodge and pummel until their faces are pulp. It’s when you get your first plasmid—genetic enhancements that give you abilities—that the action really gets going. The first plasmid you get is Electricity, which lets you go all Raiden on your enemies. Initially, the ability simply stuns your enemies, allowing you to wail on them with your wrench without fear of reprisal. Later on you can also use it to electrocute enemies standing in water—this is so useful—and open doors that have been short-circuited. You soon pick up a pistol, a machine-gun, and the Incinerate plasmid—you can imagine what that one does.

The action is pretty intense, which is helped by how damn atmospheric it all is. Your enemies are truly creepy, all disfigured and dressed in masquerade garb. They ramble on as they attack you, accusing you of doing things you haven’t done to people you’ve never met. Though one thing I couldn’t really gather from the demo is just how smart the AI really is. While some things seem genius—like throwing themselves into water when you light them on fire—they also don’t seem very tactical. Not that they should coordinate flanking positions, but they seem to always a) come out of nowhere in the magically appear sense and b) always know where you are. This might just be virtue of a 45 minute demo, but it does make me a little worried.

So far, Bioshock is not only living up to my hopes for it, but making me even more hopeful. It’s only two weeks away. Hopefully I can get one night of gaming in before heading off to PAX.

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One response

23 03 2008
RMB Hack

Well, I download Bioshock (full!!! in a DVD .MDF image!!!), and I install it, but my PC doesn’t have the system specs what the game need to run good, so, I run it slow to me…, no too much, but yeah it run slow…, otherwise, it’s an amazing experience, (I was close to shit on my pants when I saw at the first time a big daddy!!!). Yeah, well, uhm…, I recommend the game…, (If do you like shit on your pants when something scared happens to you…)… that’s it… I’m out of here!…

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