Bioshock

‘I Chose Rapture!’

Bioshock descends into darkness from the very beginning, both literally and figuratively; the crash that deposits you in the middle of the ocean is just the start of the visceral horrors that you face in the deep.

The world of Rapture is at once familiar and bizarre. A mixture of 30’s and 40’s propaganda litters the bloody streets of the claustrophobic tubes and bathyspheres that connect the gardens, hospitals and arcades, but it’s not Capitalism or Communism that rules in Rapture, it’s Ryanism.

Andrew Ryan is a grotesque figure that is revealed throughout the course of the game to be a despotic, visionary recluse. While he built Rapture, and plays a large part in the game, he is obviously not in total control, as there are a number of fiefdoms within the city. The killing of Frank Fontaine, Ryan’s nemesis and head of the criminal underclass, two years ago, that should have cemented his power, led to a full-blown civil war.

Initially your only contact is with Atlas, the leader of the resistance that has risen up against Ryan over the last two years. Atlas’s family has been trapped in a different part of the underwater city and he asks you for help in reuniting him with them. Very quickly you realise that Rapture has gone badly wrong.

Genetically modified humans, called splicers are everywhere. While nominally under the control of Ryan, these crazies have been driven mad by their lust for ADAM, the source of Plasmid power, and have managed to kill most of the normal inhabitants of Rapture. They prey on the Little Sisters, the only beings capable of harvesting ADAM from the dead. Luckily for the Little Sisters, they are protected by Big Daddys, the deadly, diving suit wearing behemoths that have become the game’s iconic figures.

The central choice in the game of Bioshock is how you choose to deal with Little Sisters. If you rescue them you can gain a small amount of ADAM, if you kill them you can take it all. Either way you have to kill the powerful Big Daddys who act as mindless guardians, unaware of your intentions. Perhaps most horrifying, if you do attempt to kill the Big Daddys, the Little Sisters will goad and shout at her guardian to kill you. And they usually do.

Communication in Rapture is done in a number of different ways, but most of the time you’ll be picking up transmissions from your radio and finding audio diaries that are scattered around the city. It is very rare that you hear someone that isn’t using a mechanical device to talk to you, with the exception of Splicers and Little Sisters. This makes every interaction seem either very cold and distant or violently charged. When you actually meet a person face to face the moments are so much more powerful, mostly due to the change in timbre, the heightened reality and the addition of visual cues.

The game does have flaws, although they are really quite minor. It is easy. You will die a lot, but because you are resurrected in nearby Vita-Chambers, you can continue without losing your progress within the game and without resorting to an out of date save. I actually quite like this, as it doesn’t take you out of Rapture. The more time you spend living in the game world, not navigating save game files, the better, as you aren’t constantly shifting from real- to game-world and back. Bioshock is immersive and to be reminded that you are playing a game would destroy some of its power.

Mechanically, Bioshock is not amazing and adds nothing to the FPS genre in terms of technical innovation. Plasmids, additional psychic powers you can develop, are nice but not amazing, the weapons are fairly standard and level design can be sometimes confusing. There is also no multiplayer aspect. It is unfair to concentrate on these and call the game average or even flawed, as the game is not about technical brilliance, unlike, say, Halo 3; its all about great storytelling. It’s like saying that Great Expectations is a terrible book because it doesn’t have a chapter on Dinosaurs or the option to read it from the perspective of Herbert Pocket.

The triumph of Bioshock is that it plays with traditional conceits of computer games in general, toying with the ideas of fate and free will. Atlas asks ‘would you kindly’ do such and such a task, but there is no option within the game not to do it. Instead of ignoring the weaknesses of computer games and the usual linear gameplay options or meaningless dialogue box choices, Bioshock confronts this issue and convincingly deals with it. The stand out scene is the first meeting you have with Andrew Ryan, as it not only shows you why you’ve been doing what you’ve done, it also gives you a truly compelling reason to continue. Rather than fall into the trap of loading the first chapters with exposition and cut-scenes to entice the player in, 2K Games have worked on the whole game and polished Bioshock until it shines with a bloody, crimson sheen.

Other considerations

  • The achievements are fun and range from ridiculously easy (Toaster in The Tub) to insanely difficult (Historian or Tonic Collector)
  • Great soundtrack – A combination of in-game snippets of 40’s/50’s records and by turns beautiful and disturbing orchestration
  • Hacking, Tonics, Plasmids, and Research all extend the life of the game
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Fable

I don’t like Zelda.

I sometimes feel like I’m the only one.

Having been brought up on an Amiga 500, my first experience of the franchise was the N64’s Ocarina Of Time. While it was enjoyable to begin with, the constant dungeon crawling and repetitive gameplay left me cold. Not being the quickest fox in the chicken coop, I tried The Wind Waker. Again, it was fun, to begin with, but it felt exactly the same as Ocarina Of Time, except it was even longer and the sailing sections added years to my life.

What does this have to do with Fable? Well, it feels like the best parts of Zelda. There are cosmetic differences, obviously, but the bones of the game, the combat system, the fantasy setting, and the oversized-boss fights make it feel like a uniquely British version of the Zelda franchise. There is one thing that Lionhead got right in its version, however. They made it short enough that the player can’t get bored of the genre.

There are, of course, other things to get excited about within Fable. It has the Lionhead visual and audio style that has been evolving since Black & White. The look is dominated by oversized objects, be they feet, hands or weapons, and the sound by the cream of British voiceover actors. There is a musical theme written by Danny Elfman, but it hardly makes an appearance outside the opening cutscene and the credit sequence.

You start the game as a young boy and are thrust into the world of Fable after a brief tutorial. Your family is murdered in front of you and you’re taken into the care of the Heroes Guild. The guild is an apolitical organisation that is purely mercenary. If you have the money, no matter the cause, you can buy the services of the guild. This does raise the question as to the nature of the guild and whether or not it is really a heroic endeavour.

Even if you decide to be a saviour or a scourge, the game’s storyline leads you into conflict with the mysterious hero Jack-Of-Blades. He is seeking the Sword of Aeons for typical vllianous purposes up to and including the destruction of the world. His mistake, it seems, is to have used the players family as means to this end. Like an east-end gangster, the hero gets all tetchy when Jack decides to mess with ‘da family’.

Fable’s mechanics are an interesting failure. In particular, the passage of time flows differently for the player and every other being in the game. While the player’s age is dependent on the amount of experience he has the rest of the world is in some sort of suspended animation. Children remain children and old folk don’t die even when the player looks like a octogenarian hobo.

There seems to be no reason for some of the armour choices to exist, unless the player is a slave to fashion, as a mage can cast spells in plate mail and the light armours don’t boost your magical ability or increase your skill with the blade. Of course, aesthetically, its better if your rogue is wearing appropriate gear, but from a gameplay standpoint you end up severely hampering your ability to progress.

Despite these flaws, and the bugs that make it ridiculously easy, the game is enjoyable. The character and level designs are varied, distinct and avoid being overly familiar and repetitive. The twists in the story are easy to spot but not offensively so and this makes the game seem like an old sofa, cosy, and familiar.

So, bringing it back to Zelda, Fable is an easier, shorter, more English, quirkier and less pretentious game. Is it better? Probably not, but despite this, I like it more. It’s the little game that could.

Other considerations

  • Three different classes that can be mixed and matched at will
  • Multiple storylines based on Good/Evil choices
  • If you like Zelda, you’ll probably find this offensive