My Brother Plays Bioshock (Part 2)

Bioshock Big Daddy Screenshot

You’ll want to read the first part before diving into this; trust me.

UGH. I am finding myself HATING this game. HATE HATE HATE. It’s just awful sometimes, as if someone in the room wasn’t thinking that someone would analyze the game itself rather than the aesthetics. As you know, I’m not that person. CYNICISM UNLEASHED!

Watching my brother play this time was an exercise in turmoil, torture, and yelling at the screen. Either due to the nearly month-long hiatus, or just because he hasn’t played a first person shooter in quite a while, the flow of the game was a TOTAL mess. He wandered around Rapture, trying to figure out what we did and where the game deigned to send us. I believe we just killed the Doctor last time (who could care what the guy’s name is, really), completely abusing the Vita-Chambers to move forward. Simply put, things weren’t going swimmingly in this underwater paradise.

I’m not sure if this message pops up for every player, but the game literally halted our progress, told us that “you’ll need more Adam for the trials ahead”, and may as well put up a big neon sign that “YOU FAILED”. Given the vast number of messages that appear during the course of the game, even this was shocking. So, my brother wandered around town, trying to find out where the Big Daddy wandered. I goaded him on, telling him to “circle-strafe” and use some Plasmids. For whatever reason, he only had Incinerate (the one that puts people on fire) and Telekinesis (manipulating objects in the environment with your mind). None of those options worked particularly well on the Bouncer, who must have quite the large health pool. In a matter of twenty seconds (everything feels like it’s in molasses in this game), he died. And then he died again. And then he died again,

All the while, he refused to listen to me. I told him that you can’t just wail away on a giant suit of armor with a WRENCH, for God’s sake. Incinerate does a damage-over-time affect; it doesn’t do much to this particular model. Like any other big challenge before it, he gave me a smirk and said “Who cares? There’s no consequence for death, so why not just do this over and over again until he dies?” Good plan – problem, that may take a lot of time. A half-hour, to be exact. That was an exasperating time, let me assure you! We did eventually kill the darn thing; our frustration made the decision to Harvest, rather than Rescue, all the more easy. At that point, who really cared?

Further into the game, he found himself at the Fontaine Wharf. It was, at this point, that I noticed he was missing attacks by just a hair. The aiming cursor seemed to indicate he was right on point, but even when he led the targets, he would miss. Now, this makes sense in real life AND from the perspective of firing a gun, but lightning? Why should a giant lightning bolt that grazes past your ear do nothing to your body? Isn’t this a game, in some sense, grounded on a realistic feel? Well, I guess eating potato chips from a genetic freak-house out of a garbage can isn’t a realistic notion, either. He would die repeatedly, just because he kept missing with weapons. This was to the point that he would die repeatedly, and he RAN OUT OF AMMO. I kid you not. That includes EVE. Wow, is he bad, I thought.

Not that the turrets in the first wide open area helped any. They kept killing him – so I told him to run in and hack them. He happens to like the hacking sections a great deal because, as he said “they’re the only part of the game where I feel like I’m in control of something”. You stun them with electricity and then hack them. Problem is, he hit the chair instead of the turret. Why would you have such an object in the way, really? It rotates on top of said chair, making the aforementioned aiming inconsistency even more pronounced. Honestly, I didn’t believe that the aiming was THAT bad – he let me play for a while. We’re playing on a high-end PC with a PS3 controller, so you’d imagine that things would work fine (Bioshock was developed for consoles in mind, for sure). Either the sensitivity settings went completely insane or the game has twitchy controls, but I found it incredibly difficult to aim correctly. No wonder he likes the wrench so much! I’m growing fond of that delightful piece of metal – it’s the only reliable weapon in the bunch. None of the weapons really amaze or become that interesting, either; the boring standards are here with none of the flair.

In most cases, it felt to him like enemies jump out of the dark just to kill you before you even know what’s happening. I understand the developers want to “immerse” the player, but they’re something wrong when a person’s so detached from the experience that they can sense it in advance. OH NOES, JUMP SCARE. Repeat ad nauseam. If you die…respawns! Yes, this game’s showing off its realism in spades. I couldn’t believe that the game plopped enemies into the environment after you died, but it dawned on me: they exist to get your ammo/EVE/health packs back to some reasonable level again. They give you plenty of health/EVE when you respawn already, but here’s yet another safety net if you happen to find yourself “stuck”. They thought of everything. didn’t they?

Except for the collection aspect. Being a natural gaming kleptomaniac, I pointed out the shining things on the ground – pick that up, pick this up! Why this bizarre design decision came to light baffles me; don’t you want the players looking at all the gorgeous, dilipidated scenery? Don’t you want them immersed in this world? No, apparently having the player scan the ground for NEW STUFF every few meters sounded like a grand idea. The corridors seem designed to make you look at stuff, yet surviving requires looking at the ground nearly half the time.

Am I nitpicking? Sure! I imagine many people got their money’s worth, had a great time taking in all the little touches, and enjoyed themselves. My brother? Not so much. He finds it wholly uninteresting, but by golly we’re going to finish it. If there’s one thing we’re not, it’s quitters, and we’ll crush this boring game into dust when we’re finished with it. We stopped caring about the story at this point – I don’t know what’s going on, other than I want everything in Rapture to die or blow up so we can all go home or something. At least that’s keeping my brother and I playing the game, even if it’s not for the developer’s intentions.

I wish I could accept the critical acclaim for this game, but I just can’t. My brother’s made it clear to me that Bioshock contains a host of design flaws because it focuses on atmosphere at the expense of the game. That’s a real shame. This goes for much of my thought in video games, either in the Christian or gaming culture: I just don’t agree with anybody on anything. I’m not much of a rebel, really, but I can’t reject the objective facts of the matter. I don’t write these things to “fit in” – otherwise, I’d be pretty famous (I kid, I kid!). Rather, I try to write whatever I think is true. As it says in Colossians 3:

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledgeaccording to the image of the One who created him— 11 a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

Feel free to disagree in the comments below! We’ll be playing this until we finish it. Man, I really should have recorded some of this.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • From a gameplay mechanic standard, I’m annoyed. But only because I’m agreeing with you. The game seems to function at two levels: experiential, or survival horror. I don’t think I’ve played too many “survival horror” games that were truly scary, so if you compare Bioshock to something like RE4, (if on Hard and you forsake the Vita Chambers) I think it works. RE4 was great, but definitely suffered from wonky aiming like Bioshock. I went from CounterStrike: GO to Bioshock and can’t help but feel like BS’s shooter mechanics are just that. Okay, they’re at least functional. But not certainly not intuitive in any sense. When I killed my first Bouncer, I found myself relying on tricking the AI by jumping on and off a counter and unloading all my ammo into it. I’ve been conservative with my resources, too. But those stinking Big Daddies really eat up your ammo and don’t feel like solid boss battles. I never thought I’d say that Metal Gear does something better than Bioshock, but boss battles it is.

    • @Mjoshua Haha, that Big Daddy strategy sounds hilarious. Just imagine being filmed doing that!RE4 has an intentionally slow movement controls – rather than scare you through jump scares, it makes it so if you’re not good at moving, you’ll probably die. It’s pretty nerve-racking when you know something’s behind you and you can’t turn around in time…I think that’s what they were going for, perhaps I’m wrong. I don’t particularly love Resident Evil, though, so don’t quote me on that. I think Bioshock doesn’t work in this sense because it gives you the same intuitive controls of other shooters with wider arsenals and the like, but doesn’t combine it well with the atmosphere.

      • @Zachery Oliver Yeah. I think I like Bioshock kinda like I like many other early-generation games. They were phenomenal in their time. But retrospectively, their temporal innovations don’t carry as much weight. And like my other comment, Rogue Leader comes to mind. The game was fun back then. But it doesn’t exacly instill a sense of wonder and awe like a timeless game.

        • @Mjoshua Sounds like Alpha Protocol, almost! You may write for Eurogamer yet.

        • @Zachery Oliver I kinda crush on Eurogamer a little bit. So that idea makes me smile. I’ll get Alpha Protocol after I am half satisfied with Nier. It might be in the mail today! Though, I got to play some more of XCom last night. I might not play anything else for a while….

        • @Mjoshua OHH NieR! I’m guessing I spoiled it already though with blogs and articles and podcasts.