ICJ 10/12/2007 

BioShock 2
I loved BioShock, but holy shit, what was going on with that ending. It must have taken all the restraint they could muster to not fight the last guy inside a mine cart with a mess of rings popping out of him every time you got off a good combo. I think I may have hated the last scenes more than most, due to the aggravation of trying to search for my gamepad this close to the ending -- I just knew that it'd be easier to inevitably turn that upside down when the controls were reversed, than doing so with my keyboard. Maybe for the sequel we'll be forced to use SEWQ.

But the last two boards stand out as such abominations only because the preceding 8 hours of stuff is so good. BioShock will prove to be the most important first person shooter made since Doom because it's going to be seriously difficult for regular people in their thirties to go back to the way things were. The game is totally made for those of us who get pulled in a million directions, what with its numerous handy, time-saving features. I played it over the course of six weeks and was able to recap audio logs and see unique-to-BioShock gameplay reminders on the loading screens and access the very helpful map system to get instantly back into the business of killing hundreds of people in a drug-fueled psychosis. I never want to play another shooter without telekinesis. I always knew I was entitled to those things in an FPS, just like how Andrew Ryan tells me I am entitled to the sweat of my brow. I don't know the first thing about the philosophy of Ayn Rand, but her being tangentially responsible for a game this awesome makes me not dislike her for being a preposterously selfish and socially irresponsible Soviet Bloc caricacture, but instead for simply being a girl and much more successful than me.

But while we have plenty of new things to see and experience, there's some old stuff in the mix, too. Irrational, the developers, do love their ghosts. I guess when you decide to make the player character a mute, you solve the problem of an interactive narrative by writing, "GHOSTS" on the whiteboard during a meeting and sitting back down with a smug look on your face. Ghosts are usually tricky do well, because it's very difficult for them to do in video games what they do in real life, which is scare us without being able to physically harm us. A lot of games cheat and make the ghosts some kind of tangible monster, like Pac-Man and, er... well, Ghostbusters. For instance, King Lysandus, the ghost from Daggerfall, was so thoroughly unlikeable, unkillable and irritating that I spent four days trying to save Patrick Stewart's character in the beginning of Oblivion from his scripted death to simply eliminate the possibility of him coming back later to annoy the shit out of me. Regardless of BioShock's excuses, there is nothing remotely logical about drug use making you see phantoms, but it's OK because they help advance the story outside the use of audio logs, and they look great doing it. At one point we see a reveal through these ghosts where apparently Dr. Suchong, noted asshole, was molesting some of the Little Sisters. The developers show enough restraint to not have this scene take place between train tracks, with Suchong twirling his moustache as he extra-robs the girls of their innocence. They really didn't have to go that far as having him rape kids, as I fully loathed him just due to all the broken grammar he used on the loading screens.

No wonder my parents hated Russians, this is how they talked back then.
A truly great game also includes other ones as "mini-games," much how like Grant Theft Auto 3 destroyed the Crazy Taxi and Driv3r franchises. The photography bit in BioShock is going to make it real difficult for me to go back and finish Beyond Good & Evil, at least by what I've seen of BG&E, which seems to be framing photos properly by ensuring that the snout and gut of your buddy the Pig Cop doesn't get in the way. The missions where you have to photograph some assholes hanging around the artist's colony gives us a new take on the fetch quests, which is enough for me when getting there is as fun as BioShock makes it.

Furthermore, BioShock proves that getting worked up about what you hear during the game's development process is moronic. (Unless it's Fallout 3, natch. Even I'm on board with those disgusting Bethesda butchers ruining everything. I'd like to tell you my ideas for what they should do for FO3, which include,) While there's only around seven "weapons" in the game, that's not really a low number because virtually all of them can shoot different kinds of ammo. More, you'll probably do a lot of your fighting with plasmids. At one point the game has you throw your weapons into the garbage so you can fight exclusively with your super-powers. I'm not the kind of person who can complain about this, because I went halfway through the original Max Payne before learning about bullet time. It's unlikely that there were players avoiding the power-ups and playing exclusively like the thing was a WWII shooter, but the scene where you kill that one dumb motherfucker (or so it seems... he's actually completely correct in his paranoia, which nobody in-game really addresses, probably because it's a rather awkward thing for the player character to cop to) was worthwhile and fun anyway. Plus, every single three-dimensional container dispenses ammo, so you re-arm quickly.

'... All right.'
Mitch Hedberg says, "OK, the one exception to the containers-dispending-ammo thing is a beehive, so no... but wait, fuckin' bees make up an attack plasmid, so technically yes!"
At no point do you encounter the sun in BioShock, so I tried to only play it at night. It worked out well, because everything in the game is very dark. I have a Samsung SyncMaster 750s as my primary monitor, and I'm pretty sure that's the worst tube on the Internet -- save for a couple guys that read Caltrops who apparently installed Firefox on an old pinball table's dot matrix display. (The flippers map to left and right clicking, but the creative use of the plunger allows scrolling.) In fact, on my SyncMaster the color of the forum almost matches the background color of this review. BioShock nevertheless looked gorgeous all the way through, so shitty hardware doesn't faze it.

The game looks so good that I didn't move my guy as the plane crashed until the game helpfully told me what "forward" was, thinking I was still in a cut-scene. In fact, the game was constantly telling me what the keys were. You'd think that by the time I was fighting the last boss it would lay off telling me what the default key for crouch was, but I took it as the game just helpfully telling me to hide and take my beating like the constantly-Big-Daddy-hypnotizing pussy I was. Ultimately, I wasn't sure if the game sent in a bunch of knobby-kneed four-year-olds because it was scripted, or because it had held my hand the entire way through and that was the best way for it to register its contempt. Whatever - I liked the constant reminders, so it was fine with me.

The game world is not one I'd like to live in. On a scale of Leisure Suit Larry 8 down to to Chiller, I'd put the city of Rapture just above an EA Sports hockey game when playing as the 2007 Philadelphia Flyers: miserable, filthy and filled with irritating, unshaven hippies from the 60s and spectators you'd wish all dead. I'd like to say that the security systems made some kind of narrative sense, but I found it difficult to get in position to "hack" certain devices, couldn't get the option to hack everything all the time, and I still have no idea what the Security Bullseye plasmid was supposed to do. Was it supposed to permanently make cameras switch to my side? It did cover them in blue bits of gay light, so maybe there was a Sander Cohen side quest I missed. I didn't want to say anything, but towards the end you'd think the cameras would have figured out that I was winning the game when the body counts were something like thirty thousand to zero. It might have made sense for them to switch sides and start front-running. I guess they sort of did when I donned the Big Daddy suit, but that's like switching allegiances to the Patriots only when they signed Randy Moss.

What I'm going to ultimately take away from BioShock is that someone made a game that gets all the little details right, that someone made a game that advances the pleasure of the shooter more than any other in a long, long time and that the best game I've played in ages got totally fucked over by their publisher. 2K's use of DRM was laughable in how poorly it performed. Their forum mods were condescending little shits who honestly couldn't believe that someone might want to let multiple XP logons use the game, saying words to the effect of, "Why should your brother play for free?" Their official PR people were largely illiterate and nobody could keep the authorization servers up. One of my best friends can't get the game to run on his brand new laptop and I know several others turned off by the rumors of rootkits from SecuRom.

A game this good is going to lead the next round of discussions when it comes to artistc merit. And rightfully so if you can get past 2K's incompetence. But I don't know if PC games will ever have the opportunity to be more than what they are considered to be by Roger Ebert and everyone's parents -- if even BioShock, a game that so wonderfully gets virtually everything that matters correct, can have its narrative experience almost completely submarined by the desperate interference of its publisher, what chance does anyone else have?