Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Top 50 Video Games: Number 14

Platform: Xbox 360
Absurdly Specific Genre: Refuting Ayn Rand, the video game
Difficulty: It *would* have a fair bit of bite except for reasons I'll get into. We'll say 6.
Beaten: Yes

When I sat down to create this list, this is the game that gave me fits. The atmosphere and story merited a pretty obvious inclusion in the top 50, and the twist demanded respect. The real question was whether or not the gameplay was all that great. I realize that it's cut from a similar cloth of old survival horror FPSes like System Shock (of course, the fact that it's a spiritual sequel to that game helps clarify that link), but the near perpetual ammo shortage always seemed odd (particularly considering there were vending machines that sold ammo littering the halls of the supposed utopia). Also (and I'll be getting into this a bit later in a non-spoilery way) the final boss fight is incredibly dumb.

Then I thought of the Big Daddy fights.

Oh. Uh. Hi there.
The Big Daddies are the sworn protectors of the little sisters, and care for nothing short of their safety. Should you leave the sisters alone, you'll never run afoul of the enormous suit-clad monsters. You could technically beat the game having not ruffled a single hair on the little sisters' heads. Of course, by doing so, you would be passing up both a ton of powerups and the best part of the game's combat. Before starting one of these epic miniboss fights, you needed to have a plan.

"Taking a drill through the chest" ranks very low on the list of proper strategies.
When you started a fight, the Big Daddies brought hell. The fights themselves were grueling, but incredibly satisfying, and when they finally fell, you felt as though you had accomplished something. The best part? You got to do it two or three times a level.

That doesn't even touch on the expertly creepy atmosphere of the ruined city. Rapture might be a deathtrap littered with psychotic freaks and John Galt stand ins, but it's a fallen paradise that you want to explore every part of. The recordings are fascinating, offering little tidbits of insight into Rapture, how great it was, and how it fell.

The story is, of course, the highlight, and the pacing is very well done (mostly). Andrew Ryan is a compelling enemy, and layered characters like Dr. Tenenbaum make the player want to delve further and further into the twisted backstory. The twist is what gets the most discussion, but with very few exceptions, the whole game is on key.

Now, on to those exceptions...

The vita chambers are... mixed blessings. On the one hand, they allow for the fights against the big daddies to be brutal events without ever succumbing to utter frustration. Unfortunately, since they don't give you your ammo back (while simultaneously keeping the damage you've already put on your enemy), resulting in some fights that turned into slogfests. I had a lot more fun with the game once I turned them off.

The end fight flat sucks, and makes no sense in the context of the game. The game attempted to keep a subdued, dark atmosphere through the entire game. The final boss is bizarre and inhuman, with a mechanic that doesn't even have a good explanation in game. The end cutscene is pretty awesome (and quite touching, should you have been a decent individual), but it doesn't really make up for the final boss.

Even with all of that, Bioshock is a fantastic game, and well deserving of its elite status. How could I have ever doubted it?

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