Archive for XBox 360

Mass Effect 2

Posted in Button Bashin' with tags , , , on February 4, 2010 by Spike Marshall

The rather enigmatic Collectors

The first MASS EFFECT, released in the shadow of HALO 3, was a game that seemed to be a sleeper hit within my circle of friends. My friends picked up the game in the following years and each found something to love about it but at release it seemed to just get ignored. It’s easy to see why in a pre-COD4 world HALO 3 was the big game for the 360, the first real system seller and everything else paled in comparison to it (the fantastic Orange Box was another casualty of this, it’s amazing multiplayer mode hemorrhaging users almost immediately). It didn’t help that Mass Effect was a distinctly difficult game to get into, it was difficult and at a completely different tempo to what was expected by XBox 360 owners. Compared to the user friendly interfaces and general high production values of HALO 3 the game was glitchy and cumbersome. Menu’s were bewildering and cluttered, the inventory NEVER felt right, the graphics whilst suiting the game were jerky and the frame rate would grind to a halt if you even attempted to run down a corridor. These were problems that were ironed out eventually, the ability to install to Hard Drive countered a lot of the performance issues, but they all helped in making Mass Effect a game you really had to invest yourself in. Of course if you did take the time with the game and had the patience to predict and deal with its niggles and bugs (I must have saved around 200 times when I first went through the game, just to make sure I didn’t end up falling through the floor and having to start again) you were rewarded with a universe that felt vital, characters that were interesting and fun, and a story that just worked. It was a real roughly hewn gem of a game.

MASS EFFECT 2 in comparison is a lovingly and skillfully cut diamond. From the first minutes of the game the production values on show are considerably improved, a yawning chasm into the void of space showing off an overhauled graphics engine and fully implemented physics. It’s tempting to just stand around and watch as debris slowly floats away from you and gets picked up by the gravity pull of a nearby planet, objects slowly fading away into the distant blue of an alien atmosphere, of course whilst this is happening there’s important heroic business to attend too and as such there is little time for idle gawking. In terms of visual design it’s up with BIOSHOCK in terms of making you want to stop and really take in your surroundings and the game never really lets up. In terms of sheer design work MASS EFFECT 2 just towers over its predecessor, but that’s to be expected. Playing Mass Effect 2 makes you understand that MASS EFFECT was more of an exercise in world building than anything else. With all of the basics covered in the previous game MASS EFFECT 2 is far more concerned with plotting and character than set up, it’s central mission being the recruitment of a squad of mercenaries to undertake a task no one expects you to return from. With all the pieces already in place from the previous game MASS EFFECT 2 is allowed to explore the more peculiar, nicher sides of the universe, exploring smaller colonies and seedy spaceports and really expanding your knowledge of how the universe works. Continue reading

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Spike’s Underrated Games of the 360: Part 4

Posted in Button Bashin', Review with tags , on April 23, 2008 by Spike Marshall

The Criteria: Due to the fact that Just Cause was for all intents and purposes a port of a PS2 game its 360 iteration was largely ignored by the gaming media. The few magazines and sites that did review gave it a cursory bad review and the game kind of got lost in the shuffle.

The Game: Just Cause starts off big, laying its cards on the table from the off. You are given a half minutes worth of expository cut scene before your character sky dives to the island paradise below. Whereas other games would relinquish control, showing your characters descent to the island through cut scene, Just Cause puts the player in control from the off. As you control your decent you are given a marker to aim for, a plume of red smoke drifting off a beach directly head. A plane drifts by as unknown attackers below unload their machine guns at you, pulling your legs in for a controlled landing you hit the ground with a roll before dispensing with the soldiers who had been trying to end your mission before it starts.

Barely stopping for breath the game urges the player to take the gun in a mounted car as it speeds through a section of the island towards a secluded base. Military cars and helicopters attempt to thwart your escape and meet suitably fiery ends. One long car ride and demonstration of American taxes at work, F-16s vs. a Bridge is a pretty great example of the inherent goofiness of the game, and you arrive at your base. You can now go and continue your pitched battle against the police forces or continue onto the next mission, a siege against a well fortified detention centre.

Or you could have, whilst skydiving down, gone and latched onto the passing plane and took it for a tour of San Esperitos many islands and come back to do the car chase later. Admittedly this takes a little practice, throwing yourself out a plane and onto another plane isn’t something you’d qualify as an exact science, but the way the vehicle sort of swoops past your peripheral vision demands you at least make an attempt to hop on board. You will be given many opportunities to use planes later on in the game, but the general tone of the game almost compels you to make a mad grab for it. Just Cause is a Hollywood blockbuster of a videogame, a slab of goofy, visceral fun which abandons notions like physics and practicality to further its own entertainment value.

You are Rico Rodriguez, an American Black Ops agent who has been tasked with bringing about the downfall of a Caribbean dictator by the name of President Mendoza. You are dropped onto the islands that make up San Esperitos and through collaboration with rebels, drug cartels, and the United States Government you affect change by the barrel of a gun. Just Cause is segmented into just over a dozen main story missions, which are all the big set pieces of the game, but these missions are bolstered by the ability to help rebel factions take over more of the island.

When you start San Esperitos is under government control, as you complete missions more and more islands become destabilised allowing you to take part in pitched battles to shift the area into rebel hands. As well as this you can opt to help a drugs cartel who is in direct opposition to another drugs cartel, supplying Mendoza with money. These involve you attacking villas and mansions and allowing your drugs cartel to overrun them.

What Just Cause has in large quantities is panache and style. San Esperitos, despite being a port of a Playstation 2 game, is a stunning backdrop its tropical loveliness rendered with painstaking care and attention. The 360 still suffers from games with drab visual patterns so the deep verdant greens and crystal blues of Just Cause are a welcome change. In addition the game, as stated before, eschews a lot of reality to create an experience that is largely about mindless fun. In keeping with the mindless fun I’m not going to go into the moral quandary of a high octane action game inspired by the real world invasion of Panama.

In my first hour of play I managed to wind up the local law enforcement to a point where I was speeding around the island with helicopters on my tail. My motorcycle got rammed into a tree and I jumped from it to the roof of a truck, sliding from the roof into the driver’s seat and commandeering the vehicle whilst it was still bombing down the highway. The chase finally ended when I drove the truck off a Cliffside and parachuted to safety as my pursuers fell to a fiery death. Moments like that define the game and use its own hair brained logic to great effect. When it wants to Just Cause can be iconic and grand. A mission involving an assault on a building inside a volcano is a great example of this, the meandering road to the rim of the volcano and subsequent explosive firefight being a truly inspired moment in the game.

The problem is that the sheer scale of Just Cause works against it. San Esperitos is massive, probably one of the biggest open worlds I’ve seen in videogames, and as such losing a decent vehicle can set you back a good half an hour as you lug around the island looking for something to steal or ground flat enough for an air shipment. There is also too great an emphasis put onto the liberation missions which all devolve into simple checkpoint battles in villages and mansions. Whilst some spice is added by the larger scale city battles, lots of tanks and helicopters making the game exceptionally hectic and uncommonly challenging, you are generally forced to do the same thing close onto fifty times. When you are commandeering jets and blowing up drug plants Just Cause is a blast, when you are liberating your forty seventh town it is kind of a drag.

Another of the areas that Just Cause really falters in is its use of music. The games soundtrack consists of the same piece of Robert Rodriguez inspired Mexican guitar and it never really seems to have any oomph to it. Certainly it is one of the few games where I felt compelled to use a custom soundtrack, usually something I only do when playing online. Just Cause is a game that demands a high energy soundtrack to justify the inherent insanity of the gameplay and a repeated riff just doesn’t work.

But the problems fade into insignificance when the game lets you do things your own way. One mission tasked me with subtly assassinating a military leader holed up in a heavily defended base. I rode back across a few islands to an airport I had liberated from its dictatorial occupiers and got myself a small commercial airliner. I then proceeded to fly the jet over to the base and drop it on my targets head before making a quick getaway on a motorcycle.

All the quibbles don’t make the game bad; indeed as a piece of entertainment it is great to pick up for an hour or two. Rico is a capable enough main character and the enemies lunk headed enough to allow you to do pretty much whatever you wish. There is a certain thrill to base jumping off of a kilometre high mountain into the beautiful blue ocean below and leading a rebellion in a busy city centre is thrilling.

Simply riding around on a motorcycle can be joyous in itself thanks to the pleasingly responsive controls. There just really isn’t enough to justify the sheer size of the game though and I’m hoping that its upcoming sequel will give you a greater range of things to do.

The Art Of Killing Properly: Halo 3

Posted in Button Bashin', Review, Ruminations with tags , , on March 27, 2008 by Spike Marshall

halo3_002200692510555.jpgNote: This is not a review as such as it is my thoughts on the game in general. It has been written with knowledge of the game as a criteria.

Friends and Firearms

My first experience with the Halo franchise was on New Years Eve of 2001. At the time I was still the proud owner of an N64 and PS1, but my friend had made the first foray into the then next generation of games consoles. I’d be another year until I’d be given my GameCube and another two years until I’d get my PS2 and as such Halo would be my first real showcase of Next Gen power. Me and my friend would ring in the New Year taking on the campaign in co-operative mode, him keen to show off his new console and me keen to play a game that didn’t have the N64’s soft core gauze. We played for seven hours, with only minor pauses for drinks and food, storming through the first half of the campaign until our natural competitiveness forced an impasse of sorts.

You see like most people my closest and dearest friend is a person who would be my mortal nemesis if we hadn’t become friends. This unfortunately leads to an inability to co-operate in any manner, unless the ends truly justify the means. So essentially unless we are working towards an endeavour of pure focused malice we tend to lose our ability to cooperate very quickly. Such was the case with Halo, our initial teamwork quickly descending into farcical fights over who got to use the Rocket Launcher. Over the next few weeks and months I’d slowly pick my way through the game, beating the campaign on Normal and Heroic mode and even dipping my toe in the multiplayer waters. Halo wasn’t a big multiplayer game, Perfect Dark still being preferred for split screen thrills.

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The times I’d attempt to play a Halo Deathmatch against my friend would all end exactly the same way. I’d skulk around for a weapon for a while, my finding of which would coincide exactly with my sudden death at the wheels of a Warthog. Certainly getting run over by a futuristic beach buggy every time I laid eyes on a weapon wasn’t probably the best introduction to Halo’s rich and varied multiplayer, but it would have to do.

By the time Halo 2 was released passion for the series had quelled in my friends house. Timesplitters 2 on the PS2 and Team Fortress on the PC making the game effectively impotent. Whereas Halo had enraptured my entire friends household, his mother, father and sister all having saves to attempt the campaign Halo 2 was largely untouched. Even I only managed to get two thirds of the way through the game before my passion for it was quelled. I would play a few Xbox Live games on various friends’ copies of the game, but I never got particularly into it. My inability to understand the mechanics of the weapons and shield system making my few forays online a brutal experience.

By the time Halo 3 came around I was the nervy owner of an Xbox 360, a console which had been bought for Oblivion then largely ignored until the months leading up to November 2007. BioShock would be the game to get me back into the console and from that point on I’d get drawn into the hype of Halo 3 even purchasing a Gold account so I could attempt to play online. Halo 3 would be a game that I would grow to loathe intensely, and it would also be a game that I would play every night for nearly a month. Only the Orange Box and specifically TF2 freeing me from its pervasive grasp.

It was only after nearly five months of constant play on TF2 that I decided to give the game another go. The five months away from the game confirmed my low opinion of the multiplayer but allowed me to appreciate other elements of the game I’d largely ignored before.

STFU N00B HAL0Z FTW

2782408-full.jpgI’ll make this clear now, when it comes to Halo 3’s multiplayer I’m just downright bad. Tracking my stats online I have a usual kill/death ratio of -5 which effectively means that everytime I don’t kill someone in the game they kill me five times. Through sheer force of will, and the tactic of aligning myself with people who are good at the game, I was able to drag myself up through the ranks. Obtaining a grade of lieutenant which was probably not all that deserved. Back in the day being a lieutenant meant something (the 150 wins and skill rank of 10 required for it generally meaning that it meant you had no social life). Still objectively speaking I could never function in the deathmatch modes.

The main impediment to my killing prowess was the fact that the guns used in multiplayer seem to work less as armaments and more as practical displays of probability. The damage caused by weapons is largely variable in Halo. Sometimes a clip of assault rifle fire will finish off an enemy combatant, sometimes you’ll get a drop on someone shoot them in the back with a full clip and as you’re reloading your opponent will turn around and gun you down with maybe half a clip. The principals of combat are never fully explained in the game, the vagaries of why your shotgun can sometimes kill a foe in one shot and other times requires three or four point blank rounds just to mildly inconvenience them never fully explained.

In comparison to Call of Duty’s one shot kills and Team Fortress 2’s strictly regimented damage system Halo 3 just seemed far too random. With players even walking off rockets to face like it ‘ain’t no thing’ it leaves precision killing to either snipers or brawlers. What this essentially meant was that Halo Deathmatches turned into melee competitions more often than not, with beam swords, hammers and the rifle stocks being used far more than actual ordnance.

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As you progress through the ranks of Halo’s deathmatch you’ll start to notice the effects of the randomised weapons. Early on you’ll be involved in tense firefights and you’ll actually be involved in skilful competition with your opponents. As the ranks go up however you’ll notice the arenas become more and more sparse as traditional Halo tactics are utilised. You see the key to winning in Halo is in ambushes, what this leads to is players rushing to get effective close range weaponry and crouching in corners (so they don’t appear on radar) so they can shoot people as they walk past.

Whilst it is hilarious to watch replays of your opponents skulking around in corridors like a cybernetic Preying Mantis these tactics rob the game of a lot of its fun. When combined with the flakey weaponry it made the deathmatches almost unplayable for me. Of course this problem was compounded by the constant assertion that I was a ‘nigger faggot’ and that I ‘failed at life’ after being shot to pieces by the majority of Halo’s populace. In the world of Halo being brutally insulted isn’t a possibility, it’s an eventuality and it is another element of the game which rears it head in the more straight forwardly misanthropic deathmatches.

Like Mad Max, but without the Mohawks

Halo 3’s multiplayer has a saving grace in its variety. Killing each other only makes up a small section of the game options available, with tactical map variants offering scope for enjoyment for those not truly blessed in the killing arts.

Some of my fondest memories of Halo 3 are based around epic Control Point games on Valhalla. With two teams taking it in turns to capture and defend set control points, and with a full array of vehicles to use, the Control Point games were always the funnest facet of the game for me. They also inspired genuine combat, with people being spurred on to face the enemy instead of being allowed to lurk in the shadows. These objective based maps, especially when played with like minded people, would become the heart and soul of the Halo experience. Halo’s multiplayer in my mind would become defined by the vehicular carnage wrought by these games. Banshees duelling in the sky as down below the teams raced from point to point on Mongooses and Warthogs. Certainly it was all a bit George Miller but the accessibility of the vehicles and their practicality led them to become an integral point of the game experience.

6544406-full.jpgThe only mode to ever challenge the sheer joy of these Control Point games was the awe inspiringly crazy Rocket Races. Rocket Race essentially involves teams of two people (one to drive, one to shoot rockets), dozens of Mongooses, invincibility and a relay of ten checkpoints. It is basically a race, but the fact that you couldn’t be killed combined with the Mongoose’s propensity to shoot off into the air at the slightest provocation would make everything far more Mario Kart than Gran Turismo. Invariably you’d get a sad sack more intent on finishing the race than partaking of the carnage, but most people would be far more interested in the sheer spectacle of propelling futuristic quad bikes across the level with rockets.

Oh God! The Bloom, IT BURNS!

When I got Halo 3 the Single Player was largely an afterthought, I got up to the third mission and just moved onto exclusively playing the multiplayer. What happened was that everything that I had loved about the original Halo, the feeling of discovery, the feeling of being in a large expansive world was stripped away for the first few levels. The openness of the earlier games only coming into effect in two of the nine missions. In particular the first level of Halo 3 is almost hateful in its mechanics forcing you to confront hordes of enemies and ill equipping you for the job. In a mission desperately crying out for a sniper rifle you’re only given one towards the end of the level, at the point in which its theoretical usefulness had already expired.

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The game would gradually improve as the missions went on, kicking into gear from the fourth mission onwards, but its floundering first steps would initially mar the entire campaign. It was only when I picked up the game again that I was able to appreciate how well the campaign had been designed. Previously I had got through to the penultimate mission on my own in heroic, finishing the game on legendary with a few friends on co-op. I’d been rushing to get through the game and as such I failed to appreciate the little touches.

Given a second shot I took my time with the missions and slowly began to appreciate the rhythm and mechanics of each shootout and set piece. Even my earlier gripes with the game were generally dulled by how much the campaign enraptured me on the second play through.

I still found the faux-wackiness of the game to be utterly irritating. The pithy dialogue of your comrades and ironic comedy of your enemies giving the game the feel of a bad Joss Whedon fanfic. It was a game that cribbed from numerous sources without any thought or care, even making one of the main characters a composite of three Carl Weathers characters and Sgt. Apone.

27302233-full.jpgOther problems however became nonexistent as I started to pay attention to the game. Where once I would have criticised the game for its functional graphics and over reliance on eye searing bloom effects, I started to understand what the developers were trying to achieve. The beauty of Halo 3 came across in its minutia, little details only noticeable in the games revolutionary theatre mode. Watching individual shell casings career from your rifle, or watching AI characters work their way through areas of a level you weren’t even in gave a credibility and stability to the world that made me forgive its lack of graphical umph. I could still do without being blinded with each explosion, but generally speaking I grew to love the design ethos of the game.

With its pounding choral score and set piece led design Halo 3 was the equivalent of a summer blockbuster. It was designed to be entertaining and over the top, and that is another area the first few levels faltered. In a game that had aerial assaults on fortified installations, fights against skyscraper sized insectoid battle platforms, and the ability to punch tanks to death the first few levels of skulking around a jungle canopy/military installation just felt lacking. The Halo series operated on shock and awe, grandeur above all else and the claustrophobia of the opening levels almost betrayed this ethos.

I think this disparity between claustrophobia and grandeur is the key dichotomy in play in Halo 3. I’m a fan of the big operatic moments of destruction in the campaign and as such I move towards the grander elements of the multiplayer. Those who like the tense silence and stalking of the first levels will probably find themselves far more comfortable with the deathmatch aspects of the game.

BioShock

Posted in Button Bashin', Review with tags , , on March 7, 2008 by Spike Marshall

1600x1200d.jpgThe Rationale

In terms of videogames, BioShock is probably old news now. Winning a slew of awards and becoming the darling of the videogame journalist world, BioShock faded into relative obscurity after a flurry of accolades following its August release. Certainly it wasn’t that the games quality waned over the following months, it is just that its single player only gameplay was soon lost admits a slew of Online Enabled First Person Shooters.

Whilst most recognised the inherent greatness and complexity of BioShock, it was hard to look back at it fondly when engaged in a hilarious Rocket Race on Halo 3. Indeed, and to my shame, after completing BioShock I was quick to trade in the game for the latest thing.

It was only when BioShock producer Ted Levine made a keynote address at a recent developer’s conference that I started to think about the game again, and pine for the dingy, dank, corridors of Rapture. This got me looking through my old word documents and unearthing the below piece of writing. Written in October, the following is a sample review I attempted for the game. It is a prototype for a lot of the work you’ll see on whatspikelikes, but after re-reading the piece it became clear that it was probably worth bringing to peoples attention. Plus it allows me to update my blog whilst only writing a few paragraphs and adding some snazzy headlines and pictures.

A Bastion Of Laissez-Faire Capitalism

Your eyes flick around the auditorium; you focus your gaze on the statue stood in the middle of the stands. It is a crude approximation of life, twisted and bloody and wrong. Somehow it is moved down a few rows, stalking you across the room. But that’s impossible, isn’t it?

It is 1960. Your plane has crashed in the middle of the ocean; you find yourself alive, underwater, the possessions of your fellow passengers drifting down into the murk below. You scrabble towards the surface and find the ocean aflame, chunks of wreckage disappearing from view. A vast lighthouse stands in the middle of the chaos, a roving light fixing on your location as you swim towards it. Inside the garish hell of the wreckage is forgotten as you find yourself at the entrance to a mysterious Bathysphere, Django Reinhardt’s string led version of ‘La Mer’ enticing you to enter.

xbox360_bioshock.jpgTo say BioShock starts well is an understatement; the first fifteen minutes of the game are so visceral and so beautifully realised that most other games would struggle to move on from it. It is a testament to the strength of BioShock that it keeps this sense of artistry and urgency going for the duration of the game. In fact the game manages to outdo itself several times over in the first hours of play.

The opening stages are perfectly paced, new weapons, abilities, and set pieces being introduced every few minutes along with morsels of plot relayed by some fantastically produced audio diaries. In fact it is the first two or three hours in Rapture, the underwater city where you get deposited by the Bathysphere, that make it seem like a game of the year. There’s so much going on, so many new concepts, so many fantastic characters and so much beauty to behold that you start to become a little giddy whilst playing.

Just taken on a purely intellectual level, BioShock delivers one of the most fascinating console gaming experiences you’re likely to see. The plot is one of the first things which will draw you into the game, the immediacy of the opening segueing nicely into long dialogues on the theme of the game. The ride down to Rapture in the Bathysphere serves as the games thematic introduction and sets up the major conflict the player is going to be part of.

The game, ostensibly, is a deconstruction of the Objectivist movement started by Ayn Rand which viewed the creation of ideas and the profit generated from them to be all consuming. In the game Andrew Ryan becomes an embodiment of these ideals and flees from the rest of the world in the 1940s building a city under the sea, a bastion of laissez-faire capitalism.

Don’t Show When You Can Tell.

The player finds themselves trapped in Rapture after a civil war over a new scientific discovery, a substance that can alter things on a genetic level called ADAM.

The tale of this civil war is told partially through audio diaries which are dropped around the levels and partially through the mise-en-scene of Rapture itself, newspaper clippings, posters and desecrated corpses all furthering the plot visually. It is hard to think of a game which has as well a thought out back story as BioShock and it gets to the point where the player is more delighted to find a new audio diary than a new kind of weapon, the story of this civil war and of Rapture’s decadent past becoming increasingly interesting as the game goes on.

bioshock_10.jpgFrom Andrew Ryan’s empowering opening monologue onwards the writing never falters, everything is intelligent and interesting and often downright scary. There’s a sense of tragedy to Rapture purely because you get to know a dozen or so characters so intimately, the audio diaries also serve as fantastic ways to build up dread. The chance to listen to certain individuals in isolation far more disturbing than anything else the game has to offer. What comes to mind immediately in this regard are the audio diaries of Doctor Steinman, Rapture’s most coveted plastic surgeon. His discovery of ADAM and desire to bring Cubist ideals to his work are truly disturbing, the idea of abstract plastic surgery becoming far more terrifying than the actual confrontation with Steinman in his lab of horrors.

Implements of Pain and Destruction

Tied to this refreshing intelligence is gameplay which is both rewardingly tactical and surprisingly direct. Due to discovery of ADAM BioShock is loaded with substances known as Tonics and Plasmids. Tonics are just items to be equipped which serve to increase the potency of certain actions. Plasmids are a form of magic within the game giving the players the abilities of fire, ice, electricity, telekinesis, wind, swarms of bees and a whole lot more. You are free to use whichever tonics and Plasmids you want (only the fire and Telekinesis Plasmids are used for puzzles) and as such each encounter with the enemies of the game, the citizens of Rapture mutated by over exposure to ADAM and redubbed Splicers, is different depending on the player.

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There’s also a selection of fully customisable weapons in the game, plus a security system which can be hacked to do the fighting for you, plus a wrench if you want to get up close and personal with your foes. The choice these tools give you is incredible, you can fight Splicers head on or choose to hang back and let them fall into your carefully set up security traps. It is perfectly possible to kill most enemies with Telekinesis if you wish; just using the environment to dispense death and destruction, or you could use the grenade launcher and crossbow to mine and tripwire an entire level and let the Splicers meet a more survivalist fate.

During the game you’ll be given three essential Plasmids for free, the rest you have to earn or buy with ADAM. ADAM is very hard to obtain, in fact there’s only one way to obtain it in the game. Created by filtering certain genetic information through a living host ADAM can only be found by confronting creatures known as Little Sister. Little Sisters are the children of Rapture, genetically modified to process ADAM, walking incubators for a bizarre sea slug which produces ADAM. If you wish to buy more Plasmids and Tonics you’ll have to hunt these Little Sisters down. However they are never on their own, they are always followed around by their guardians. Terrifying biomechanical creatures named Big Daddies serve as the Little Sisters bodyguards. Looking like a cross between a Deep Sea Diver and a DIY shop the Big Daddies are perhaps the fiercest opponents in BioShock, the first few encounters most likely proving to be more epic than the player expected. Angry, fast, and nigh on invulnerable the Big Daddies are enough of an obstruction to make ADAM a premium as it is. However BioShock has another wrinkle in regards to Little Sisters.

The Price of Overambition

You have the option to either kill the Little Sister for an increased dose of ADAM or save the Little Sister, reversing the genetic modification, for a smaller dose of ADAM but bigger rewards in the long run. It is an interesting moral dilemma on a surface level, asking the player to choose between their own survival and the well being of an NPC. However the morality of the choice is largely a façade, most players will opt to save the Little Sisters largely because they’ve been conditioned to understand that in videogames the harder initial option usually has the greater reward. It is also something of a faulty moral decision as well, because it is completely black and white. You are either a kitten punching mass murderer or you’re a candy spouting divine saviour, there really is no middle ground to be had. The fact the Little Sisters are little girls is there just to try and bring real world connotations into a work of fiction and give undeserved weight to a rather basic moral choice.

The game makes this lofty choice its figurehead, the ending you get judged totally on whether you chose to save the Little Sisters or harvest them. But aside from a different cinematic at the end whether you choose to save or harvest the Little Sisters has no bearing on the game itself. Whilst at first ADAM is hard to come by, if you’re conservative you can use the ADAM you get for rescuing the Little Sisters to tool yourself us with Plasmids quite effectively, plus rescuing the Little Sisters gives you access to special Plasmids you wouldn’t normally be able to get. When one of the gift Plasmids allows you to control Big Daddies it becomes apparent which option is the more profitable. Having said that, unleashing a Big Daddy onto a group of Splicers is probably the definition of overkill. To be honest, once you get certain Tonics using anything but harsh language can be classed as overkill.

If there’s one thing the game gets wrong, it is the difficulty level. Whilst the game starts off hard enough, once you get yourself some Plasmids and Tonics the game never really makes an attempt to challenge you. The enemies do become more difficult to kill as the game continues, but your options for destruction and sheer brute power pretty much outmatch them from the fourth level on. With plentiful ammo, the ability to alter your base abilities with tonics, and a selection of exceptionally effective plasmids at your disposal the difficulty curve becomes more of a freefall off the side of a cliff. By the second half of the game the weapons only become a necessity for artistic purposes, the almighty wrench proving to be the endbringer in pretty much every encounter. While it is wise to whip out a shotgun for the more stubborn varieties of Big Daddy the game can be completed with judicious use of the initial Electro Bolt Plasmid and your trusty wrench, in fact this method is the most efficient means of defeating enemies in most cases.

bioshock_ho_leadin.jpgIt is at once the greatest feature and the curse of free form gaming, you get as much from the game as you put in. Certainly the Hitman series is a classic example of a game that without the proper scope and imagination from the player is needlessly limited, if you’re not willing to think about the possibilities of switching a stage gun for a real gun and dropping a chandelier onto a diplomat then you’re not going to get the optimum experience out of the game. The same thing happens with BioShock, it is feasible that players might never see the depths of BioShock‘s combat system. Certainly you don’t need to set a dozen trip wires, anger a Big Daddy with a solitary gunshot and then laugh maniacally as it charges you, hits the dozen wires of electrical doom, and skids to a dead halt inches from your feet. Similarly you don’t need to set dead cats on fire and use them as projectile weaponry, or take the hat from a Splicer and use it as a lethal weapon; you could just muddle your way through beating every living thing to death.

When A Splicer Asks You If You’re A God, You Say Yes!

bioshock200708261254317yr0.jpgOne of the major consequences of the easy difficulty is that on later levels it begins to harm the atmosphere of the game. When you start off and are essentially powerless the game is terrifying, each confrontation with a Splicer proving to be potentially deadly. When that potential is met and you find that you’re immortal some of the fear dissipates, despite the general creepiness of Rapture’s inhabitants they really can’t meaningfully hurt you, and any damage you do to them is carried over when you get resurrected so you can guarantee a victory next time.

Even with immortality the game is still fairly scary, the humiliation of death enough to keep you on edge and fearing the hook wielding psychos who stalk you through the dank art deco corridors.

But when you become unstoppable the game begins to throw more and more enemies at you in an attempt to even things out, chatty enemies at that. The first few levels are a cold and solitary experience, silence only interrupted by occasional murmuring in the background or the deadly ring of an activated security system.

The tranquillity lends itself to terror and the lack of action sets you up for some very well designed jump scares. Later on, when you’re balls deep in Splicers at all times, it is hard to get too worried by the game, no matter how creepy the mise-en-scene tries to be. There’s something innately terrifying about being attacked by a silent dentist, which just isn’t there when you’re being stalked by enemies who sing and talk loudly to themselves. Hearing a Splicer sing ‘Jesus Loves Me, This I Know” makes the skin crawl the first time you encounter it, by the eighth time you’re just using it as a tool to hone in on the loudmouth Splicer so that you can use your telekinesis to throw something heavy, and preferably aflame, at him.

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The fact that BioShock can still be unbelievably eerie even with the ability to cut down swathes of Splicer at a time is a testament to the design of the game. The developers know how to push the right kind of psychological buttons to panic their players and in doing so they can make the most innocuous occurrences seem almost demonic. When, on the fourth level, a jukebox begins to play “How Much Is That Puppy In The Window” and the player becomes immediately anxious you know that something has been done right.