Although I voted BioShock the best game of 2007, the more I play it, the more it shows me how far video games haven’t come.
BioShock has one of the most chillingly powerful locales and universes in video game history, but sadly the game can easily be labeled a first-person shooter. It doesn’t really try to redefine what gaming is, or can be. It merely extends it, even though it redefined what a video game universe can be. Rapture is a fully-realized world; to an extent never before seen in video games. Rapture’s existence had purpose. People had lives, dreams, and aspirations. And Irrational should be commended for that. The writing/designing in this game is something most people can only dream about, or simply do not have the balls to even try.
But sadly, the only interaction a player has is still restricted to what gamers expect games to be. Simply put, all you do is pull a gun’s trigger and kill the bad guys. The enemies may be psychopathic denizens of a failed Utopian experiment with complex and sad lives, but a video game enemy by any other name is still a video game enemy. You kill them before they kill you, and a player’s experience is tailored (quite expertly, I might add) to give them multiple tiers of death tools (Electricity +1, Fire +2, etc).
The best example of this contrast between redefined context and refined gameplay is the first encounter with a female Rapture resident, the one that is talking of past regrets to a handgun in a baby carriage. I felt horribly sad for this lady. All she wants is to be back with her baby. Her mind is obviously warped, but the last thing I wanted to do was fight her. Sadly, the game gives you no choice but to kill her, in a pretty gruesome manner (with a bloody wrench). Couldn’t I simply walk away from this lady, to leave her to her regrets and fears? Unfortunately, video game standards dictate otherwise.
And that’s the basis of all interactivity in Rapture. Oh sure, you may have to solve a few puzzles here and there, but for the most part, the major scripting methodologies Irrational used when designing a level/area of Rapture were based around enemy placement. I’ve played BioShock a few times, and while I think it’s a great FPS, every time I replay the game, I want so much more than that. I want a diverse gameplay experience that combines setting and interactivity into more than what we’ve seen with BioShock and with video games in general. What that experience is, I can only subtlety hint at because it’s basically something I have never played before. But is that so much to ask for, especially when the world of Rapture is something I’ve never seen in a video game before?
Another squandered opportunity is the encounter with Peach Wilkins in Port Neptune. After I completed all his tasks, he finally opened the door. I was expecting maybe to talk to the guy, to hopefully be rewarded with an explanation of what the fuck happened in Rapture, but no. Immediately it turns into a fairly simplistic boss fight, something out of every FPS I’ve played. And why did they ignore all of the potential of this interaction by giving us a tepid boss fight? Because they never thought of why they shouldn’t just give us a boss fight.
I think Irrational just didn’t realize how potent Rapture was until development was nearing completion. Based on System Shock 2 I’d guess the first design meetings consisted of trying to figure out what kind of FPS they were going to make next, and the idea of Rapture came long after that. (As a powerful side note, it was originally planned for BioShock to star NAZI’s as your main enemy.)
Every enemy you encounter has to see the same fate, or your time in Rapture ends. And that disappoints me when I try to replay the game. I don’t want to worry about how to kill the next enemy. I simply want to experience all that Rapture has to offer. I can have some killing here and there to not make it too boring, but that should never have been the sole focus. Metroid Prime had a good mix of focuses with a 50/50 split of exploration and experiencing the world versus pure alien killing mayhem. I don’t want BioShock to model Metroid Prime perfectly of course, but I want Irrational to take notice and to use those ideas to bring something more fulfilling to the table, and not something I’ve played before.
I was hoping BioShock 2 would do that, but sadly, after hearing about the supposed coop features that the sequel will implement, I’m doubtful that will happen, as it makes me think Take-Two doesn’t understand why BioShock resonated so strongly with the educated gamer. However, I’m willing to be proven wrong.
And even though I put BioShock in a bad light with this article, it is an amazing video game, one that everyone should experience. Just know when you do, you’ll realize that video games still have a long way to go.