As we continue to bring you daily looks at the big name games we saw at E3 2007, we focus in today on BioShock. This game launches later this month and provided us one of the most complete and impressive demos at the show. Period.
2K Games (Publisher) / Irrational Games (Developer)
Article by Dana Massey
Normally, the closer a game is to launch, the less impressive the demo. 2K and Irrational Games turned this rule of thumb around when they showed as BioShock on the last day of E3. Available exclusively on the PC and Xbox 360 on August 21st, BioShock presented a top flight experience that left everyone in the room giggling like they'd never seen an FPS demo before.
BioShock is a classic example of what a team can accomplish when they carve out a niche and go for it. The list of things that the game doesn't do should damn it to the lower end of the review totem pole around the web, but it won't. Sure, there is no online support through Xbox Live. Hell, split-screen multiplayer isn't even an option. You'd think that Microsoft execs are happy that a AAA title exclusively on their Games For Windows and Xbox brands doesn't take advantage of the new tricks they're doing online? Of course they're not. But at the end of the demo, I didn't care. All I wanted to do was lock myself in a dark room and play this thing until my 360 overheats.
The integration of not just story, but style is what really got my engines purring. It's tongue-in-cheek, it's smart and at times it can be laugh out loud funny.
The story goes like this: a World War II-era industrialist (who made a fortune selling cigarettes) gets fed up with the capitalists and the communists and decides he needs to start his own civilization where great minds are free to do what they want. So they head under the sea and create the retro sci-fi "utopia" called Rapture.
Of course, this is a first person shooter, so disaster soon follows. They discover a sea creature that they can harvest for (social commentary alert) pure stem cells. When injected, the stuff gives the receiver special abilities, like you know, throwing fireballs, bolts of electricity or even a hive of evil bugs.
The game begins in 1960 when the protagonist's plane crashes into the ocean. The cut scene is brief and seamlessly segues into gameplay. The first writer to get a turn was shocked when he realized he was actually had control when the character surfaced and sat bobbing neck deep in water, surrounded by burning airplane debris. The only landmark is a lighthouse, which conveniently provides submarine access to Rapture. Once, there, the city is found in ruin and the inhabitants forever twisted by abuse of the substance that was supposed to be the city's greatest discovery.
As stories go, it's not especially spectacular. It's how they use it that really makes this game both frightening and hilarious simultaneously. The wrecked innards of Rapture have the potential to scare you, like when the broke hull of the airplane crashes through a glass tube hallway just as the player enters, sending him on a made dash against for safety. But equally, they can delight you with advertisements for ADAM (the super-power enabling goo), recorded lectures from the colony's founder or even the names of areas, built right into the architecture. BioShock oozes style. Whoever put the story together has a top-notch screenwriter's ability to intermingle comedy, drama and horror in such a way that none overwhelm or grate at the nerves, but instead provide welcome relief or chills.
Style's great, but what about gameplay? Well it definitely excels there too. I'd go so far as to call it a fast paced first person puzzle shooter (FPFPPS for short, of course!). Every area was crafted carefully and while in some the best way through is obvious, in others the number of ways to complete an encounter is limited only by the player's imagination. The demonstrator told us that after two days of the show, playing the same high level are over and over, he was still able to find new ways to kill the bad guys. Normally, I'd ignore such a comment as presentation hype, but frankly, I believe him.
The key to BioShock is the way weapons interact with the environment. Shock a guy and it's basically a stun. Shock a guy in a pool of water and everyone with a toe in fries.
In our demo, with the skill of a man whose played the same area a hundred times, he booby trapped the whole area before the bad guys rushed in to achieve maximum carnage. He was locked in an area as enemies slowly cut down a metal door, complete with a fiery line slowly creeping in an arc around the door case. This gave him time, so he used his cross bow to set trip wires for them to run through and even showed us how he could move the wires if his initial shot didn't please him. Then, through the next door, with the aid of special abilities, he set up three cyclones that when run through, shoot the enemy straight into the air. As if bashing a half crazed zombie man in a New Year's Eve outfit off the ceiling wasn't enough, he stuck some proximity mines on the ceiling directly above the cyclones.
The effect was as spectacular as one might have predicted. The door fell and the bad guys, with a yell, bolted through and after their prey. The first in line was nearly decapitated by the electric trip wire, flopping to the ground with an appropriately satisfying thunk, while her comrades ran on past. Then through the next door, disaster nearly struck. The first guy hit a cycle and bashed off the ceiling, but missed the mines. It was funny, but we came for explosions damnit! The guy behind him, undaunted by his broken friend, gave us what we came forward. He leaped forward and into the second cyclone. Boom! The explosion leveled all the baddies pouring into the room. Voila, an encounter that would have seen the player hunker down, wait for the door to fall and try and shoot their way through in 99% of the games out there was solved in spectacularly rewarding fashion with nary a shot fired.
The designers admitted that players could chose to blast their way through these places, but that if they do not think, puzzle and act appropriately, it becomes a heck of a lot harder and infinitely less satisfying.
Irrational also showed that they'd put a lot of thought into the way conventional and non-conventional weapons interact. Remember that wrench everyone gets early in an FPS? Well, it's certainly still useful in the high end game. They froze some enemies just as they were about to strike blows - which looked really cool by the way - then nailed their frozen visages with a wrench. They shattered even more spectacularly then they froze.
BioShock redefines the bar for Xbox 360 graphics, both in terms of polygons and art direction. Gears of War was spectacular, but it wasn't beautiful. Think of that level of quality, but with an artist's touch. That's BioShock.
Sure, the game has no multiplayer, but clearly they turned those thoughts elsewhere. This is a custom crafted FPS adventure unlike anything else available. There's no split screen because the story is a solitary adventure. I'd love to freeze my friends on Xbox Live, but as our hosts told us, "Maybe in BioShock 2". I'm content to wait for that privilege since I can keep myself busy booby trapping rooms and thinking of new and evil ways to fire my enemies off walls. It's inventive, it's original and on August 21st, I'm locking myself in my living room. You might want to do the same.
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