BIOSHOCK

a review of BioShock
a videogame developed by 2k boston
and published by 2k games
for the microsoft xbox 360 computer entertainment machine
text by tim rogers

2 stars

Bottom line: BioShock is “not art.”

If you imagine for a moment that all of the emails I received between last November and today asking me the eternal question “Why don’t you have cancer?” didn’t exist, that would leave an overwhelming majority of emails asking me why I haven’t reviewed BioShock yet, with runner-up email topics being when I’m going to review BioShock, or if there’s some reason I am blatantly ignoring BioShock. I imagine that a good percentage of those of you sending me such emails are genuinely confused, because you know deep in your bones that reviewing BioShock is something I need to do as a “critic” of videogames. The rest of you are probably sneering in anticipation of some belly-laugh worthy one-liner smackdowns. You probably have a bottle of brandy in your cupboard, and your best snifter polished and at the ready. I’d like to say that I will make sure your brandies do not go to waste. Though a small part of me (definitely not my penis!) is a little hesitant, because I just plain don’t like BioShock enough to tear it a new ass-hole, and I don’t hate it enough to pretend I love it. It’s just kind of . . . there.

Here we are, anyway, with today’s installment of the Action Button Fashionably Late Review:

Oh, the critics screamed themselves red-eyed, they did. Though we must be careful when we call the game-review-writing masses “critics” — a vast majority of them really just got into the habit of writing about the games “industry” so they could get free passes to E3, where they could get free, XXXL, radical, awesome black T-shirts with centered, capitalized company names in sans-serif font. This was before that sort of thing was even ironic. I saw a hip kid at a party the other night wearing a T-shirt that said “T-Shirt” in the middle of the chest, in Arial font, for example. I don’t want to name names (though by the end of this paragraph I might end up doing just that) — just believe me when I say that the majority of “game critics” have really poor taste regarding pretty much anything that qualifies as entertainment. The first time I met Chris Kohler, for example, I learned that he’s actually not pretending when he says his favorite band is Fleetwood Mac! For shit’s sake, that guy gets paid a robust salary by WIRED, of all people, to blog about videogames!

And, according to Game Set Watch, “he’s the best mainstream commentator on digital download matters right now”. We are so screwed, my fellow gamer-kinds!

Here at Action Button Dot Net, we listen exclusively to music like this, or this, or sometimes this (when we’re having awesome 2P co-op sex). So you can bet your bottom dollar that we’re not going to be fooled by something just because it has Django Reinhardt in it.

For the record, Django Reinhardt is more of a father to me than Jesus ever was, and I grew up Catholic. I sat and listened to his recordings in dumbstruck silence for probably more hours of my young life than I spent trying to perfect a play-through of both quests of the original Zelda. I didn’t realize that the man was able to make such beautiful, complicated music with just two complete fingers until many years later, when I saw the Woody Allen film “Sweet and Lowdown”. There; I’ve just succeeded in mentioning Woody Allen in a videogame review. This will likely get me more emails asking me why I don’t have cancer, though hey, so be it. What I’m trying to prove here, perhaps a little snidely, is that I have interests outside videogames, interests in things like other forms of entertainment. I might even mention that I enjoy swimming and weightlifting. Might as well! Now I’ll step back, put my toes on the other side of the line, and say that I liked Japanese hardcore music before I played Jet Set Radio. What I’m trying to say is that videogames are not necessarily a poor introduction to culture as they are a weird one. There’s really no insight to be gained from this statement of opinion; I’m just throwing it out there. I find it weird that some people are suddenly pretending to have always been deeply interested in Art Deco, the literary works of Ayn Rand, and the expert guitarring of Django Reinhardt just because of a videogame. It’s like, at this point, with so much qualified culture in your videogame, it doesn’t even need to be “good“.

Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli’s “Beyond the Sea” is a timeless, objectively brilliant piece of music; its inclusion in the opening of BioShock is a no-brainer in almost every sense of the word: obviously, this is the kind of music that would play over the PA at the supermarkets of choice of elite artists and urban refugee philosophers in an alternate-reality 1950-something. On the other hand, it is also a “no-brainer” because this is a game about a community beneath the sea; hours into BioShock, which soon proves to be little more than a videogame, the possibility that the people in charge of music selection might have been confusing it with that song from “The Little Mermaid” becomes strikingly relevant.

What I’m saying is that BioShock is a pretty shell.

This game is not a masterpiece — it is the bare minimum. Its attention to detail with regard to its atmosphere and its narrative is not, in and of itself, a glorious feast: it is the very least we should expect from now on.

I have said before that “Each work of expression humankind creates will sit at the bottom of a gazed-down-upon canyon for centuries to come, as messages from the past.” BioShock will, I’m afraid, for the futuristic alien-robots that eventually come to earth and sift through the nuclear wreckage, most likely be virtually indistinguishable from those 1990s short-film monsterpieces about dudes driving a mine cart into a volcano full of dinosaurs, where the chairs tilted left and right and fans blew your hair back.

To explain it simply, without re-referencing the game’s core wallpaper themettes of Ayn Rand, Art Deco, and beautiful triumphant jazz music, here is a description of BioShock‘s story: a man is flying over the ocean in a plane. The plane crashes. He survives. He swims toward a monolithic structure. He goes inside. Without questioning why, he boards a deep-sea-diving vessel, and finds himself in an underwater “utopia” built years before by scholars, artists, and philosophers who found the then-modern society not suited to their ideals. Upon entering the city, he discovers it has been destroyed, and is currently teeming with drugged-out brain-thirsty genetic psycho-freaks. A man contacts the hero via short-wave radio, and offers guidance. He wants the hero to save his family, and himself, and help the last few sane survivors of this nightmare get to the surface and go back to the society that they had once seen fit to leave.

Of course, between point A and point B, there’s going to be a whole lot of psycho-freak smashing. “That sounds good”, says the entertainment connoisseur. “That sounds plausible”, says the literati. “That sounds fucking bad-ass“, says the gamer.

Unfortunately, the cracks in BioShock‘s facade start to show themselves sooner rather than later. Most pointedly, the hero is a boring, nameless, voiceless dunce. He speaks one line at the beginning of the story, and then undergoes a vow of word-silence (grunts only) for the duration of the tale. There are thousands of people, no doubt, capable of constructing arguments that seem convincing to themselves, who can defend the nameless silent protagonist in a videogame, though it just doesn’t cut it for me anymore: if you’re going to build a rich atmosphere, if you’re going to try to tell a story, you’re probably going to need more than just “a character” — you’ll need an interesting character. Even Grand Theft Auto started giving the hero a voice and a personality after Grand Theft Auto III, and that game’s main goal was presumably just to let the player mess around and live out stupid fantasies involving casino roofs, rocket launchers, city buses, and digital law enforcement.

Say what you will about the silent protagonist thing: we can all at least agree that the hero in this game is a bit weird. He will eat potato chips that might be a year old immediately upon finding pulling them out of a garbage can in a city full of genetic freak-out zompeople; where hypodermic needles are as “daily-routine” for the citizens as a cup of coffee, you’d think that the basic idea of “this place is a filthy bio-hazard” would at least be on the tip of one’s subconscious when one finds food in a waste receptacle.

He’s also the type of guy to have a tattoo of a chain on his left wrist (“Maybe he was in prison?” the thirteen-year-old gamers wonder, and feel like geniuses), and make a medium-pitched grunting sound once every twenty times he jumps. I’m no expert in Hard Dudes, though I imagine that a man crawling on his stomach through a knee-high sewer hole would probably stop repeatedly and nonchalantly smacking his wrench against the palm of his free hand every few seconds. Not so with our hero.

Also, judging by the various sounds he makes when eating food, I have to say he would never be allowed in my house. (Or within fifty feet of my house. (I have Dog Ears. (While we’re on the subject, please don’t ever, ever, ever call me on the phone if you’re chewing gum. I’m fucking serious as a heart attack. If I call you and you happen to be chewing, hey, I can accept that as my mistake. Just don’t do it the other way around. In addition to being disgusting, it’s also rude.)))

Not ten minutes into the monster-smashing portion of the game, the player comes across his first ever hypodermic needle — a “Plasmid”, the game calls them — and upon plucking it out of a busted vending machine, he immediately jams it into his arm, goes into wicked convulsions, crashes through a banister, and slams into the floor twenty feet below. The potato chips thing had made me laugh; this thing involving the instant hypodermic needle snapped me out of my trance; all at once, I was awake in the world of BioShock, watching the dream armed with rubber gloves and forceps. Our guiding spirit contacts us via the short-wave: “You’ve just used your first Plasmid! It’s a bit of a doozy! Your genetic code is being re-written!” Thanks for telling us that before we jammed it into our arm! I bet your starving family finds it fucking hilarious that you’re willing to let their only chance of salvation flail around on the floor while an entire troop of psycho-freaks walks by, stares at him, and laughs.

As it turns out, the first Plasmid our silent hero obtains gives him the power to shoot lightning bolts from his fingertips. Wonderful. In case you’ve forgotten what happened one paragraph ago, yes, this Plasmid came out of a vending machine. So here I am, awake in the dream of BioShock‘s cluttered study, thinking up reasons that artists and scholars and philosophers who saw fit to run away from modern society would want to be able to shoot lightning from their fingertips, much less be able to purchase this ability from a vending machine. What would honest, society-loathing, government-rejecting artists, scholars, and philosophers need the power of telepathic electricity for? To recharge batteries? The game has some cute little graphic designs explaining the power of each Plasmid as you obtain them, though they always make the powers look like little more than fuel for painful pranks. And here begins the slippery slope of my One Night With BioShock.

BioShock fails, and quite embarrassingly hard, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes time to tie all of its genuinely enthralling atmospheric concepts (underwater city, inspired art design, excellent music, political message, overt genetic enhancement as common and convenient as multivitamins) into an actual knife of entertainment. As-is, there’s just too much to do, too many choices to make. I like having to choose my weapon upgrades wisely, and I can honestly see the pure-hearted intent of the game designers in making me do so; it’s just that, in something like BioShock, the richer and more excellently executed the atmosphere, the more shocking and bubble-bursting are the whip-cracks of context.

Now, 95% of Bioshock‘s appeal for me, personally, is the mystery of this destroyed undersea utopia, and the pleasure of wondering what exactly went wrong. Early on, I felt like Sherlock Holmes as I pieced together the smaller clues: I saw the signboards discarded at the dock, displaying messages such as “WE DON’T BELONG TO YOU, RYAN”, and thought, “Aha! These people wanted to leave! Something was going wrong here — and someone named ‘Ryan’ was to blame!” It would have been really nice if these sort of hints had built gradually in momentum. Not so: eventually, quite early on, you get to the point where you can purchase the “Enrage” plasmid, which, according to its item description, “ENRAGES target, causing it to attack someone other than you”. In a game so steeped in lore and godly details, I can’t help wondering for a second what function such a genetic enhancement would serve in a society focused on self-betterment.

Ultimately, I come to the conclusion that this society failed and exploded because people are jerks: the people making these biological “enhancements” were jerks, and the people buying them were jerks. It really only takes one jerk to destroy a world.

I now stand a precarious step away from implying that the people who made this game are jerks as well, though I’ve seen that one photograph Kotaku always uses whenever BioShock director Ken Levine says something in an interview, and he doesn’t look like a bad guy at all (if you’re ever in Tokyo, Ken, we must do lunch, seriously; I know an excellent ethnic-mixture vegan curry place).

Still: they could have buried the mystery a little more deftly.

Or: I can sort of believe vending machines in the middle of the city, though why are there vending machines for Expensive Things in these god-forsaken maintenance tunnels under the city? It doesn’t make sense — how often did workers suddenly find themselves in need of psychic power upgrades in the middle of a walk up to the surface? Wouldn’t they have dealt with their psychic inventory management on the way to work in the morning, or waited to do it after their shift was over and they were headed back home?

The thing about giving all of the videogame-power-up dispensers in your immersive videogame concrete, in-world justifications, with tastefully tacky, interesting, exuberant neon graphic design, is that you’re begging for the player to supply real-world-logic to explain why they exist where they exist. At one point, your constant narrator informs you, of the ruin of the city: “Nobody knows exactly what happened . . . maybe he found he just didn’t like people.” Duh! What other kind of human being would take a look at a scientific research lab where a man had accidentally created a psychic-power-modifying injection that imbued the user with the ability to send any target into fits of violent rage and say “Yeah, sure, let’s put that in the fucking vending machines all over the city, see what happens.” And seriously, what kind of society-shunning undersea magical enclave of artists and scholars would literally need plentiful vending machines, complete with a stereotypical cigarollo-chomping Mexican mascot, to dispense weapons and ammunition for cash? You can say that they were having problems with smugglers, or that the genetic-splicing freak-bastards were overrunning the city and the people needed to defend themselves, though seriously, I’d imagine that, at a point like that, you’d just have government officials handing out guns in the street (err, “glass connecting tubes”). Maybe if they hadn’t taken time to convene the fucking Board of Artists and decide on what kind of rugged yet cute gun-belt-wearing mascot to stamp all over all of the gun-vending machines, they would have had time to fight back the threat before it ruined the whole damned place. In this, a game so reliant upon its immersing environmental qualities, In many ways — dare I say it — these context-ful vending machines are actually worse than the ammo crates of yesteryear. Nice job on that, guys! Try nuclear fusion, next!

Here I could ask the burning question: “Did no one in this society detect that maybe something about the psychic-enhancement thing was asking for trouble?” Though I’m pretty sure someone would link me to the Wikipedia page on Scientology, and then I’d have to pretend to feel ridiculous.

Around the time the game introduced the interestingly modeled neon-glowing vending machines that let me manage my psychic power slots — that is, let me un-equip one psychic power to make room for another — my Night-Vision was on, and I was seeing pink all over the place. I had a bunch of guns, and I was shooting lots of dudes, and I kind of wasn’t feeling it. Then there was this “boss” encounter where I had to put all of my weapons into a pneumatic tube before entering the room. I got to the end of the encounter and reclaimed my weapons from the other end of the pneumatic tube, at which time my characters hands flipped up and down, wielding each weapon for a split-second before snapping to another one. If only this had been Burnout Paradise on the PlayStation 3, where users with PlayStation(R)Eye(TM) cameras connected to their USB(C) ports will have a snapshot of their face taken at the precise moment of fatal impact with a rival racer in an online match; I would love to see what facial expression I was wearing when that thing happened with the pneumatic tube. I’d put it on every time I go to Starbucks; that way, when I saunter up and say “Shot of whiskey” to the gorgeous girl at the register, she might actually realize that I’m joking, instead of saying “We only have coffees and teas here, sir.” Seriously, I used to work at a Target store, for crying out loud, where three out of ten male customers over forty would spout such small-talky “jokes” as “Workin’ hard, or hardly workin’?” or “‘Tar-zhay’, huh? Fancy French establishment you got yourself here”. Walking into Starbucks and asking for a shot of whiskey in a perfect rendition of a Japanese Clint Eastwood is pretty fucking hilarious, compared to the shit I had to put up with!

At any rate, I’m officially bored enough of writing about BioShock to begin thinking about what I’m going to actually order at Starbucks tonight, so I’m going to pause for ten minutes to do some deep knee bends, some crunches, and some push-ups.

 

TEN MINUTES LATER

I believe I was talking about my “Night Vision” being turned on, about my “seeing pink” all over BioShock. “Seeing pink” is a catch phrase I just copyrighted, meaning, well, that I am officially distanced enough from a work of media to see all of its logical inconsistencies as though they be made of neon. Even so, without my critical night vision, I’d be able to see BioShock‘s trespasses, because it’s just so eager to show them to me: Majestic vistas such as water cascading out of a cracked roof and onto a dilapidated dental chair are undermined by the glinting, glowing boxes of shotgun shells conveniently forgotten — and dry — atop nearby cabinets.

Seeing all drawers of said cabinet suddenly flip open when you press the A button is jarring. It makes you think, “A cabinet that well-rendered and normal-mapped shouldn’t pop open that quickly”, which is a strange sentence to put into cognition. (Then again, Physics are Weird, here in Rapture — sliding metal doors make creaking sounds, for example.) If you’re going to spend so many thousands of man-hours on rendering glossy torn upholstery, you could at least put in a drawer-opening animation. A fast drawer-opening animation.

And so many of the damned drawers are completely empty, as well. Why even show me three little empty bubbles with the word “Empty” by them, anyway? Can’t I see that the bubbles are empty? If it’s empty, why even show me the bubbles? Why not just show the cabinet as flipped-open and ransacked to begin with? Even if the item placement is random, it can’t be that hard to program, can it? Can it?

The weirdest of the little logic hiccups unfortunately involve the game’s strongest element — that would be “the mood”. All over the ruined city are these . . . tape-recorders, just lying on tables or desks, or hanging from hooks on walls. You pick them up, and you get to hear a private voice-diary from someone’s life. The first one you find is sitting on a table in a bar, overlooking a frankly spectacular view of the ocean. The voice of a woman echoes out of the tape, with microphone clarity, over the din of people enjoying themselves in a quietly lively place. She says she’s getting drunk, and alone, on New Year’s Eve. She laments what a “fool” she is, for “falling in love with Andrew Ryan!” It’s not impossible to believe that this woman would be drunk enough to tape-blog about her Deepest Personal Secrets in such a public place on New Years Eve; the very candor in her voice indicates immediately that she’s That Type of Woman. Her tape diary ends abruptly with an explosion sound and an “Oh my god!” So the story creeps up and seeps into our brains: something happened on New Year’s Eve, and this woman’s tape diary was forgotten here on the table.

As things progress, though, the tapes start to seem vaguely . . . rude. There’s a point where you see a frozen-solid pipe-tunnel leading to another hub of the undersea city; there’s a tape recorder lying on the ground, glinting ferociously, as you approach. You play the tape, and out comes a thick Cockney squawking: “These frozen pipes! I keep telling Mister Ryan, frozen pipes break easily! We have to fix the frozen pipes, or we’ll have some serious trouble.” I hear this and think, “Uhh, thanks for that?” The little monologue comes within millimeters of saying “We’ll need to use fire plasmids to melt this ice, if it gets too thick!” I imagine the original script must have called for such a line, though someone on the Quality Assurance assembly line must have realized how dumb that would sound. However, without such a connection to the flow of the game as a game, this disembodied flavor-monologue just seems wickedly out of place. It’s damned if it do, damned if it don’t. Around then, the Awakened gamer should begin wondering about the tapes; wondering why these supposed private diaries have been exhumed and strewn about in convenient locations. What with the weird satanic costume-ball masks being worn by the weird klepto-psychos gallavanting all over the place, it’s not hard to make some kind of synapse connection between “Crazy People” and “Crazy Behavior”; maybe one of these genetic blowouts made it a personal mission to arrange these tapes in convenient locations. If you’re like me, and you’re thinking this critically about BioShock, you start to notice, even, that someone was apparently being cremated in the mortuary at the exact moment this underwater apocalypse went down, and you begin to feel a deep dread — like you’re in the audience at your little brother’s school play, and he’s on stage, dressed up as an ostrich, and you know for a fact that he’s going to go shit-ballistic, vomit blood all over someone, and storm through the audience biting people’s throats — you start to kind of pray, whether you Know God or Not, that at some point soon, this game is not going to try to explain this. Like you’ll get to the Final Boss, and he’ll be standing atop his Ziggurat Of Glory with his imperial cape billowing and his monocle glinting, and he’ll drop the megaton bombshell that he is both your father and he placed all those tapes so that you would find him — and then proceed to die by his hand.

Six hours or so into the experience, I’m kind of tired. The introduction of the oft-discussed Big-Daddy/Little Sister dynamic has come and gone, and the plot has at last let go its iron grip. The storyteller has succeeded in getting us drunk, and proceeds to stand us up and push us out the front door of the bar. We look back, and he’s dusting off his hands, turning around, and setting up the “CLOSED” sign. We are now free. Free to Move Forward in this Meticulous World. Free to Enjoy the “Game Play”.

Well.

I’m not going to lie to anyone, here. I know how “game development” goes. I know it involves a Lot of People with a Lot of Ideas, working a Lot of Hours in a big, fancy office. I know that some of the ideas some people work on end up being a whole lot better-executed than some of the other ideas other people work on (witness how great the driving is in Burnout 3, and how drop-dead terrible the menus and interface are). And though I do believe I originally said that Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was not a perfect game, I believe it demonstrates a much “more perfect” way to appropriately use an epic amount of human resources: basically, you write down what the player can do in your game, then you figure out what’s going to happen in your game, then you build a story around that, then you tell everyone, “This is the plan, and we’re sticking to it”. BioShock has too many ideas; too many Little Things To Do. And it’s a shame, because, as I might have said a dozen times before in this very article, the game has some drop-dead genuinely brilliant concepts. It’s just that everything turns into a grind in the end.

It’s like, in an action movie, yeah, where there’s a montage depicting a character’s recovery and/or training in the martial arts. Can you imagine what it would be like if the first forty-five minutes of “Rocky” breezed by, only to pause for three real-time months of footage of Rocky Balboa punching a heavy bag, jogging, eating oatmeal, doing sit-ups, perusing Reader’s Digest while taking epic shits? That’s kind of what happens to BioShock: it’s top-heavy, and then it’s boring. A little rearranging of the Feng Shui is in order: a little, gasp, Zelda-ism.

Take the Big Daddy / Little Sister dynamic I touched on earlier. This has been a firecracker of media discussion; this was the darling pet feature of the game. Basically, there are little girls, turned into demon-children by genetic experimentation, who represent the physical embodiment of some Great Power. They are accompanied, at all times, by giant bio-behemoth men in modified deep-sea diving suits. The image of the “Big Daddy” is so striking that it adorns the game’s box, that a metal “Big Daddy” figurine was the Grand Prize awarded to all rabid pre-installed fans savvy enough to pay an extra twenty dollars for the Limited Edition. Basically, the situation is this: The Little Sister is a harmless Little Girl. She has Great Power. If you so choose, you can “harvest” her for that power, making your in-game avatar stronger. However, the only way to get close to the Little Sister is to kill the Big Daddy. Do so, and the Little Sister will cower sadly. Save her, and your character does a Jesus Hand Dance, and sucks the evil out of her with his fingertips. Harvest her, and she sinks off screen, and there’s a scream.

In this day and age where Mass Effect can feature two muppet-like human beings having purely consensual prime-time network-TV Clothed Sex preceded by Literally a Dozen Hours of Accountant-worthy Courtship and cause even mildly Christian people to accuse games of instilling Our Children with the Hunger To Rape Other Children, one has to wonder whether the underlying “problem” with the videogame “industry” is one of people pressing too many buttons or not enough buttons. BioShock‘s “kill little girls for profit” mechanic is a surefire conversation-starter, though in the game, it’s handled with such sterile laryngitis that it might as well just not let you kill them at all.

My “idea” for how to “fix” this element of BioShock‘s game design, I’m afraid, is easier said than done. I’m going to go ahead and give the dudes and babes at 2K Boston the benefit of the doubt, and say that they probably thought of it first:

My idea is that there should have only ever been one Big Daddy, and one Little Sister. The story of the game would branch depending on whether you kill the Little Sister, and at which opportunity you kill her. Maybe the Big Daddy has some kind of card-key and can open doors that your character can’t, so it’s to your advantage to slink around behind them. Every time your path converges with theirs, there’d be some kind of big cathartic showdown. Maybe enemies would attack the Big Daddy, and he would destroy them, and you’d have to avoid getting caught in the fray, or else join the fight to take the Big Daddy down. Maybe the Big Daddy, ultimately, would perish at the end of the game if you let him live long enough, forcing you to make a decision about what to do with the girl.

Of course, this is easier said than done; it would require construction of actual thoughtful set-pieces; it would require the Big Daddy to be an epic, impossibly, amazingly difficult and worthy adversary; furthermore, it would require the Little Sister to be an actual character in the plot, even though she might be presented as an incidental bystander in the context of the greater story. Allowing context to render bystanders as “characters” is one of the great organic traits of modern fiction. BioShock, unfortunately, fails as “fiction” — and as “entertainment” — because its characters are as sharp as lead pipes. Everything that could be emotional or poignant is constantly having its lungs punctured by a rusty spike named “This Is A Videogame”. I shit you not: at one point, just as the plot is about to let you go and plop you into The World, armed with your Fantastic Weapons and Psychic Powers, your guardian angel on the other side of the short-wave radio exclaims, in tears: “We’ll find the bastard! We’ll find him — and we’ll tear his heart out!” and at this exact moment, I spontaneously picked up a “battery” from the floor, resulting in harsh letters jumping up on the screen and poking their fingers into my eyeballs: “You got a component! Use components to invent things at a U-Invent!”

Eventually, everything in BioShock becomes “Something To Do In A Videogame”. Harvesting Little Sisters or Setting Them Free becomes a decision you make every fifteen minutes. Instead of a punctuation mark, it becomes a verb — and not just any verb, it becomes like a conjugation of “to be”. Killing Big Daddies, even on the hardest difficulty (we here at ABDN wouldn’t have it any other way), is repetitive and hollow. Just lob a bunch of grenades at him, electro-shock him, blast him with a tommy gun. Blow the fuckers right up. Who gives a shit? Not you, that’s for sure.

There was some talk — I think on Gama Sutra — wherein a BioShock game designer or someone related to a BioShock game designer talked about how there was too much stuff to do in the game, and that ultimately detracted from what could have been a tasty, crunchy flowing, living experience. To this, I say: no shit, Sherlock. I’d like to congratulate you guys for acknowledging your flaws, and I’d like to hold out hope that you might turn out a brilliant game in the future, though seeing as you only recognized BioShock‘s packrattism in hindsight, I can’t be too optimistic.

BioShock means well, at least — its thrilling, thoughtful presentation is a testament to that — as at first it shows you an oblivious enemy standing in a puddle of water, and your guide whispers over the radio (how he can see what I can see, I don’t know): use your electric bolt on the water! Fry him! You do this. Said bad guy fries. Now he’s dead. Nice.

Six hours later, when you’re spilled out into the Game Proper, you’re still seeing guys standing hip-deep in water, and you’re still shocking them. There’s no catharsis in it anymore.

There’s a “puzzle” slightly before the game pushes you out into the street, where a door is locked and you need to find the combination. Amazingly, the combination is written on a piece of paper on a shelf just five meters away from the door. This is precisely where BioShock‘s good intentions crumbled into dust, and made me feel kind of sad; the game’s MO had been, from the outset, to “relay information to the player through atmospheric elements”. The beginning of the game, with luggage stacked on the dock at the city entrance and declarations of protest written on discarded picket signs, had felt like a triumph; now here I am, looking at a number scrawled very legibly on a sheet of paper. It’s four digits. The combination lock on the other side of the room requires four numbers. This absolutely, positively has to be the correct combination. I feel like I’m Sherlock Holmes, and Watson just confessed to me that every mystery I’ve ever “solved” had just been elaborate dinner-party skits concocted by him and a bunch of friends I’ve never met. For one thing, the revelation that Watson has friends is a real downer; for another thing, I’m still a smart guy, though only in the context of some drunk people’s idea of “fun”.

Night-vision goggles on, in the back of my brain, I’m solving ancient riddles: I now know why modern Zelda games are so heavy-handed and sucky. It’s because they spend so much time on them. They’ve got dungeons, plotted out like works of architecture, with hallways of yea length and pits of yea depth. Nintendo’s quality assurance period is so deafeningly long that the level designers must sit around tinkering with the dungeons sixteen hours a day, hoping they’ll get an order from above to “announce the release date already”.

“We’ve got this hallway here, see? In dungeon number six. It’s about fifty meters long. Tanaka put a lantern here, and you light the lantern, and this iron grate opens. That still leaves us with, uhh, like, thirty more meters. So check out what I did. I made a pit of spikes here. And see that wall over there?”

“Awwwwwwww shit, Yamamoto-kun, is that a hookshot panel?”

“Yes, sir. The player obtains the hookshot in dungeon number four, and it’s only used three times up to this point in dungeon number six, so–”

“You are getting a ray-zuh!”

Et cetera. Or I could mention Rare’s Star Fox Adventures, where you get this “flame” “attachment” that lets you shoot “balls of fire” out of your “magic staff”, and how rather than be used to actually light things on fire, it’s usually used to shoot a “ball of fire” at a “flame panel” on a wall somewhere so that a door opens. Some ten hours of your life after getting that flame attachment, you might be at the end of a cavernous dungeon room, all the enemies dead, all of the blocks pushed, wondering what the hell you’re supposed to do to open the sealed door. You go into first-person view mode and scan the walls. There, way, way up behind you, is a “flame panel”. Both because there’s nothing else you can do and because you know this is the solution to the “puzzle”, you shoot the flame panel with your flame rod, and the door opens.

Seriously, aren’t there more clever things to do with 3D cameras than make me look for a flame panel to shoot with my flame rod?

This applies to BioShock all over the place, into infinity. Except it’s never as clearly offensive as the Star Fox Adventures Flame Rod Example. In fact, in giving me a “choice” of which gizmo from my Santa-sack of Stuff to use to conquer each pseudo-situation, BioShock is actually kind of worse off.

To wit: It used to be that characters would do stuff like fall asleep and dream about ravioli if you didn’t touch the controller. In BioShock, if you don’t press any buttons for a few moments, the words “Hold the right directional button to get a hint if you are stuck” appear on the screen.

The little puzzle-like mini-game you “play” every time you attempt to hack a downed turret or hover-drone-bot is about as fun as those rare, bizarrely self-important moments during your day at the office in which you actually have to use your cellular phone’s calculator function. Really, though, with all the concessions this game offers inexperienced players, I have to wonder when someone is going to make a puzzle element in a game that lets you end the whole charade with a single button press when you see the solution and have far more than adequate time to implement it. Call it the “I Get It Button”. While we’re at it, someone call Sony and tell them to include a feature in the next PlayStation 3 firmware that allows me to navigate several backdoor selections and eventually find a huge-text menu allowing me to disable the mandatory warning in front of every fucking game that tells me not to unplug the console from the wall and/or throw it out the window and/or experience a sudden power outage while the hard drive access light is blinking?

Eventually, the game gets just plain sloppy. There are several copy-editing related errors I have stored in the back of my head for some reason, like this one on-screen message that read “Your maximum health has been increased, allowing you to take more hits before being sent to a Resurrection Station”. I thought they were called Vita-Chambers?

Vita-Chambers are explained, very, very early in the game, as capsules that can re-energize your tired (and even dead) body, using some kind of mystical cloning technology. I’ll admit that I winced when I first read the explanation of Vita-Chambers, first because the description tells me that there’s “no need to touch or otherwise interact with a Vita-Chamber in order to activate it”, which is really dumb and silly, and second of all because I knew in the pit of my stomach that the game — a game with a story about life and death (and politics) — would not be able to roll on until its conclusion without somehow using the Vita-Chamber as a Key Element in the Plot. And when it did, my groan could have shattered a gazelle, had a gazelle been lurking outside my window, nuzzling through my sweet, hot garbage.

 

big daddy again

Tons of objects — beer bottles, some crates — have physics, and can be burst and blasted apart to reveal Delicious Items. Other crates, the likes of which are used to impede your progress and force you to seek Some Other Route, simply won’t budge.

When your main character gets wet, his field of vision becomes blurry the way that a camera lens does.

If a videogame is to be rightly hailed as a “masterpiece” and/or a work of “genius”, things like these need to not happen in the game, at the very least.

What we have here, with BioShock, is a well-meaning game with some excellent concepts and an iron grip on its execution. It’s just a shame that “its execution” equals “execution of absolutely fucking everything written in every draft of the design document.”

There’s been talk lately of Gore Verbinski, director of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” flicks, signing on to helm a film based on BioShock. The inevitable fanboy knee-jerk reaction was that it’d be “impossible” to relate BioShock‘s deep atmosphere in a movie. Are you kidding me? The only parts of BioShock that wouldn’t “translate” to a movie are the heavy-handed bullshit things. Are the fan-creatures afraid that the film would neglect to inform the audience that the thing the main character rides down to the undersea city of Rapture at the beginning of the story is called a “Bathysphere”? Come to think of it, maybe that was my first hint that I would neither love nor hate BioShock: when the big white help text floated into view, telling me to press the A button to “Use Bathysphere”. Mac OSX’s spell checker doesn’t even say “Bathysphere” isn’t a real word, though, so maybe all of the internet forum-dwellers who instantly regaled friends with tales of “OMG” re: “the part in the bathysphere at the beginning” were just really big undersea lore aficionados.

At any rate, I think a BioShock film is a tremendous idea, and that Gore Verbinski is the perfect director, not because he’s amazingly capable of sculpting, like, actual art so much as because he at least has the conscience to request that his screen-writers use Microsoft Excel instead of Microsoft Word, you know, so that they can go to the bottom of the columns and see if there are any arithmetical errors before shipping it off to the storyboard artists: I swear, when I went to see the third film in a theater in Tokyo, they handed me a fuckin’ flowchart explaining the relationships between the characters. Who hates who, who loves who, who’s being paid to backstab who, et cetera. I thought for a second that the flow-chart only covered the first two movies, though apparently it turned out pretty useful for piecing together the third. In the end, the story, though idiotic, was air-tight. What the hell more could you expect from a movie based on a theme park ride featuring animatronic cartoon pirates? That the film looked really good and was nominated for a record-breaking number of Academy Awards for “Best Johnny Depping” — that must have been Verbinski’s idea. It looks to me like it’s Verbinski 1, theme-park rides 0. And what is BioShock, in its present state, if not a theme-park ride with more Shit To Do? The presence of a pre-installed plot, the very idea of catharsis existing between the Big Daddy and the Little Sister is more than enough feeling to shape a compelling narrative. The game misses the opportunity to be Something That Is, because it is too busy concentrating on being Something To Do; a film could really capitalize, whether or not it offers the lead character the choice of lightning or fire rounds for his shotgun, whether or not the character recovers psychic power and loses health when he smokes a pack of cigarettes. Or at least it could bring Django Reinhardt back to the pop-culture pre-conscious.

Well.

I arrive at the end of this review, then, wanting to say something positive aside from my constant beating the dead horse of “lovingly crafted atmosphere”. Here’s all I can think of:

1. The water looks great!

2. It’s perfectly fine to set games in destroyed places because it gives level designers a perfect excuse for why there’s so much shit unnaturally thrown around.

3. The arrow that guides you to objectives is smart, guiding you in the direction of the stairs and then in the direction of the door. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a guiding arrow do something like that in a game before, though it’s possible that I played a game with such an arrow and just didn’t notice because I otherwise wasn’t lost.

 

the first game to ever pit a buff man against a crazy nurse!

We here at Action Button Dot Net are planning something. It’s to be called “The Action Button Dot Net Manifesto”. It can and will be a list of what I (uhh, “we”) consider the best twenty-five games of all-time, ranked in order and everything. Naturally, these will all be games that would score four stars on the Action Button zero-to-four review scale.

I mention this because the game we will crown as the number one best game of all-time shares many, many traits in common with BioShock. However, it absolutely nails everything it aspires to. It is a tremendously great videogame, the likes of which BioShock had every opportunity to be; yes, I am rating BioShock as harshly as I have because I genuinely recognize and respect its potential when held up alongside the Best Game Ever. I’ve offered plenty of hints to the identity of that throughout this review. Feel free to guess, in the comments thread, what you think the game is (and if you already know, please don’t spoil it T-T).

The game is not Gears of War, so I’m fully free to use Gears as an example for my conclusion. Yes, we’re still operating under the belief that, game-design-wise, Gears of War is As Good As It Gets For Now.

Gears of War‘s simple mechanics are like a survival knife stabbing into an invincible watermelon: a delicious crunch of impact every time; we delight in beholding each and every watermelon tumble down the stairs, or come flying out of a window. BioShock‘s unwieldy choices-laden limp-noodle of a “game system”, on the other hand, is like swishing a chopstick in a glass of water. Eventually, it lets you swish a chopstick in a bathtub. The point is, both of these actions produce sounds — it’s just that one of them is just magnitudes more satisfying than the other.

Ultimately, what we need is a game with BioShock‘s love of details and Gears of War‘s crunch and flow. Because God help us if all of our “intelligent” games are going to be boring to play, and all our exciting games are going to star oatmeal-skinned meatheads. Come on, people. Let’s show a little creativity, a little diligence.

–tim rogers

Comments

171 Responses to BIOSHOCK

  1. oh well now it’s quite obvious what the number one game is.

    and i think i’ll wait for the movie.

  2. let’s hear your guess, then!

    (seriously, though i won’t reveal the number-one game until the feature goes live, i’ll, uhh, gladly read everyone’s predictions, and possibly adjust my list if anyone brings up any glaring omissions.)

  3. well, obviously it’s duke nukem 3D, and not something totally lame like deus ex or one of the system shock games.

  4. aww damnit. i had a whole big comment right after my previous one on how seriously it pisses me off that hollywood’s best attempt at a successful film adaptation of a game is mortal kombat, and how there are literally dozens of ideas that are not being considered, but would be incredible, if done correctly.

    but then i saw that sad face, and in turn, that made me sad. i’m sorry. :(

  5. to tell the truth, i actually wrote out a long review of mortal kombat (the film) written for ABDN, thinking it was justified on a website devoted to providing intelligent, insightful and entertaining reviews for electronic interactive video games.

    and for that, i am a bad person.

  6. but honestly, genuinely….is it deus ex? system shock 2? half-life? metroid prime? or not first-person at all?

  7. Another great review. I enjoyed the shots they took at Ayn Rand, though.

  8. “Both works of art, in my opinion.”

    when did “art” become the word to attach to a game in order to proclaim it as important?

  9. I thought the best game of all-time it was Bangi-O Spirits?
    I mean, it’s Mother 2, but I thought that you said it was Bangai-O.
    Then again: This is coming from a man that’s never played Mother 3!
    Then again: Though I’ve been butt-stomped firmly into the Mother 2 camp, if I die and go to heaven and meet God, and I’m like “God, what was the Best Videogame of All-time, as of May 2008?” and God’s all like “Super Mario Bros. 3″, I’ll probably be like, “Yeah, that makes sense.”

  10. Yeah, but Jeff, I got the feeling that the shots they were taking at Ayn Rand were kind of half-hearted. I even recall an (I think) Gamasutra interview with Ken Levine in which he said that he thought objectivism had genuine merit. I’m sorry to say, I don’t think that a videogame is an appropriate place for this sort of commentary. There are conflicting goals here; they conceived of a failed underwater utopia, a horrible place where you would never want to go, then they made an awesome psychic playground that you totally want to hang out in. They had to, or else, why would you play the game?

    The Little Sister thing is the most offensive part. To even think that the choice between killing a young girl for resources or not would even remotely engage the morally-critical part of my brain betrays some pretty disturbing industry wide psychological damage. I never killed any of those girls. Why should I? The game’s not hard.

    Actually, it’s kind of fun to play on the easiest difficulty, because the splicers are so weak that you can kill them with their own hats. Or their own bibles, during that one part. How’s that for psychological damage?

    Anyway, Mother 3 and GTAIV outclass pretty much everything else that I can think of, but I can’t imagine a GTA making your list (and it’s a three-and-a-half anyway). Metroid Prime seems like a good guess.

  11. Sorry if you cover this after the first few paragraphs, but I’m impatient and wanna post now.

    You’re making the same mistake as the people you’re judging at the start of this review. The point of Bioshock isn’t the story, it’s how the different game mechanics work together. The story is there merely as a setting and excuse for kicking crazy lunatic butt with cool powers and pimped out weapons.

    Hell, I think even Levine has said this before, or something similar.

  12. Demaar:

    Yeah, please read the rest of the review when you have time!

    Kitroebuck:

    Metroid Prime is indeed a pretty good guess!

    Might not be right, though!

  13. Should be Mother 2.

    Or Mother 3!

    But is probably Super Mario Bros. 3.

  14. Guessing at the ABN Greatest Game Ever is like a riddle. The answer is obvious and the last thing you’d expect all at once.

  15. but then again, we’re still in the gears of war GAME OF THE DECADE…decade. so a big ole’ hmmm…

  16. keep in mind, dear sir, that there were . . . other decades before the gears-of-war-game-of-decade decade.

  17. It’s probably pretty douche-y to say “this article is so much better than most of what I read on this site” but I just said it, and I’m justifying it to myself and the world by pointing out that this is a blog about dishing out criticism.

    Seriously, I feel pretty alienated when I read things like the Mario Kart review that go off on crazy-long over indulgent tangents, and are coated in acerbic language seemingly because you have to be aggressively negative if you fancy yourself outside the mainstream. I’m pretty sure other readers feel as I do — there are often comments from outside what I perceive as this site’s inner circle to that effect, and they get responses like “you must be new here” or “go read Kotaku,” and I end up feeling like, “I don’t know who this Tim Rogers guy is but he seems to write his reviews for a small audience of internet dudes who already know each other and I am not a member of that audience and therefore don’t belong here.”

    This review, by contrast, felt like real criticism. It spent most of its time really addressing the game in question – what its creators’ intentions were; whether those intentions are worthwhile; how successful the game is at realizing them; what you felt while playing it; the reaction of mainstream critics to the game and why you don’t agree.

    I laughed, I cried, I finished reading and felt like I had been enlightened. Please keep this sort of thing up!

  18. Why is it when an blogger asks me to leave a comment, I’m compelled to?

    ABDN’s top game evar: either Puzzle Pirates (was all the PotC talk a clue?) or Fallout, which is what Bioshock seemed like it wanted to be but didn’t have enough R or P in its G to really get there.

  19. oh man. i forgot you even said gears in the review. now i feel like a dope.

  20. Tim Conkling:

    There are . . . a couple other reviews here where I’m not actively trying as hard as I can to be a jerk. I can’t really remember which ones off the top of my head.

    I can guarantee you that just about every review in our upcoming top-25 feature will be pretty a straightforward of what precisely is so great about the selected game, and what modern games could learn from it.

    I mean — 25 reviews. Seriously, I wouldn’t have time to sit here and think of great lines like that one about how my little brother’s part-time job involves “accidentally keeping stampeding antelopes out of Wal-Mart at 2AM”. (I think that was in the Smash Bros. review.)

    At any rate, keep reading!

  21. I’ll take that text silence as being a yes then? I mean, you haven’t shot my guess down or anything…

    … Will I get a prize for getting the right answer?

  22. Man, it feels REALLY GOOD to be in on something that everyone else is in the dark about.

    The Little Sister Big Choice ends up being about as palm-sweatingly, teeth-chatteringly existential as staring down the Folding@home option on the PlayStation 3 crossmediabar and deciding whether you’d rather cure cancer or delay global warming for nine twelfths of a second. But I suppose it wouldn’t be a significant-with-a-capital-s videogame feature these days unless it boiled down to selecting a binary (or trinary!) choice from a menu. If you gutted all the abstract combination-entering, tile-sliding “hacking” minigames, inventory fiddling, and general menusurfing, it really would be an Unreal-lacquered sit-down ride. Forget the Wii, man, if our most meaningful, cutting-edge pull-and-tug with videogames can barely rival text adventures, we might as well just download footage of a new level every week, and vote on what happens with our cell phones.

    The plausibility of populating areas with goodies always bothers me. I’m always relieved when the items just hover in rotation on the floor, Quake-style, or the money is represented by glowing golden treasure chests or floating orbs of essence, because at least then I won’t have to think about it. At least with a Halo, it’s easy to throw a rocket launcher beside a marine corpse, or bring in the Flood as weapon grab bags. But BioShock invents a game device specifically as an item delivery system, gives it a name, a mascot, etc., which starts to dabble with World, which opens itself up to justification, etc. Someone should make a game where you can only regain your life by being exposed to sunlight. I wonder how many excuses they could get to blast holes in the ceiling, or how many light-reflecting mirror puzzles they could throw in there.

  23. portal is a good guess. although with this group, who knows. (protip: they do.)

    now i’m just making overall list guesses.

    metal gear solid 2? the original?

    sonic heroes? sonic heroes is it. that’s on there.

  24. to be honest, i don’t agree with tim’s choice for the #1 spot. it’ll be interesting to see how others react.
    i doubt anyone’s going to guess what it is.

  25. Why shouldn’t it be a PC game?
    Planescape: Torment definitely won’t be No.1, but it deserves a mention, as does Fallout. Both works of art, in my opinion. Black Isle represent!
    Portal is mega-nice, but it doesn’t seem the kind of game that Tim Rogers (uhh, “they”) would pick as the Number One Best Game Of All Time Bar None. Also, he not-too-subtly hinted that the game in question is from the nineties or older.
    However, I’m gonna go with Ico/Shadow of the Colossus. I realize they’re too new to be it, but I *always* go with Ico/Shadow of the Colossus.

  26. Dead Rising.

    No probably not, though it should be on the list.

    This was a good critique Tim, probably the best I’ve read of a hugely praised mainstream game in a while. Somebody should link the Kotaku/NeoGAF crowd to this.

  27. I’m rooting for Pac-man CE Edition, peronsally. Or Tetris, which better get 4 stars when you review it.

  28. Tim Conkling:

    I was just having a discussion with a great friend of mine, the friend of mine who was my dearest comrade in two-player co-operative gaming all through college, who conquered Contra III on Hard with 3 Lives with me (the Scorpion to my Mad Dog) and carried the sniper rifle while I covered his ass with the LMG, Gold Team style, in Rainbow Six: Raven Shield. The point is, this is the guy I talk to about videogame stuff really fucking seriously.

    I was just having a discussion with this guy about Tim Rogers reviews of the Action Button variety. His question basically boiled down to, “Does this guy really give a fuck?” How sincere is he being? He knows that he’s being a dick to the internet, some of the time – it’s not as if he legitimately believes we want to read about vegan curry. He’s in on the joke. The question is, is he being sneeringly snide about it? Or is he rock-hard serious about changing videogames?

    I think the best explanation is this: whatever level of jerkiness a Tim Rogers review exhibits, that’s the level of jerkiness that the subject game deserves. As the man said of his own Tekken 6 review, it’s the most fatutous thing he’s ever read, precisely because Tekken 6 is so godawfully conscienceless that it deserves nothing more than belitting contempt. Nintendo’s modern design, philosophy, too, is little more than white-knuckled fear candy-coated in a Casual Gamer Grandma shell, full of empty calories. So reviews of their games garner authentic Tim Rogers jerkiness as well.

    I don’t think the idea is to alienate people who haven’t been around this little subsection of the Internet Videogame Criticism establishment (succinctly, the old Insert Credit forums) for a decade. I think the idea is to challenge the games that deserve it and ridicule the games that don’t. This BioShock review is much more directly critical because it is a game that possesses much more potential for improvement. The review is in earnest because the game is in earnest. BioShock deserves an honest appraisal. Tekken 6 deserves a punch in the eye. And Mario Kart Wii deserves little more than a sigh and half an eyeroll.

    Yeah, he overdoes it, sometimes. But I think you should stick around. Really – if you like reading about videogames, can you name anything else as consistently interesting?

    Also – not every review on this site is by Tim Rogers! And most of the ones that aren’t are at least as good. And different in style, though perhaps similar in mission. You seem like a smart dude – might be able to contribute yourself, maybe, if you felt up to it. Point is, I want (as a person with no affiliation with the site) this site to attract genuinely smart people (as opposed to, say, academic “ludologists”). Don’t let what amounts to a debate over tone drive you away.

  29. CubaLibre:

    Yeah, I disagree with the idea that just because a game is without merit it shouldn’t be the subject of serious criticism. Tim’s “Saints’ Row” review, for example, is still one of the best (“best” meaning containing actual substance and insight) on here, and that game is as creatively and ideologically bankrupt as you can get.

  30. Well, it also depends on the way that it is without merit. Saints Row isn’t just insulting piffle, it is actually, actively evil. It merits true combat. Tekken 6 on the other hand is just… ugly.

    More to the point, combating Saints Row directly can change hearts and minds (as your example shows). But there will always be Tekken 6es; they exist on spreadsheets and proliferate through the sewers of culture. Saints Row is like an evil army: you can fight them, conquer them, let good reign, spread peace and light over the land. Tekken 6 is like cockroaches. The best you can do is step on them when you see them, at forget about them the rest of the time.

  31. To put it in terms of my earlier post, Saints Row doesn’t deserve “jerkiness.” It deserves open-mouthed, white-hot righteous rage. You react to Tekken 6 the way you’d react to an orange-tan, frosted-hair, roid-raging guido at a downtown bar. You react to Saints Row the way you’d react to Bull Connor.

  32. i’d love to have a shield with that little rocket-face-thing at the bottom of the page, for use of fighting evil, bastard games.

  33. My guess for the number 1 game would be either Dragon Quest V or Earthbound.

    DQV is now one of my favourite RPG’s ever, in fact I first played it a couple of years ago largely on the strength of Tim Rogers’ comments about the game in one of his old GamesTM columns. Thanks to you Tim for alerting me to such a fantastic game. Can’t wait for the DS remake!

    Just wanted to say I enjoyed this review of Bioshock, it’s nice to see someone actually giving it some valid criticism and not just following the herd and heaping endless (and boring) praise on it. The only thing I was disappointed by was that I was hoping to hear what you thought of the now infamous plot-twist/big reveal that occurs later on – personally I thought it was a bit ridiculous and nowhere near as clever as some would have you believe. Certainly not one of the ‘finest masterstrokes in videogame writing’ that I remember one review said.

    And before I forget, the review says that Bioshock was one of the most requested games to be reviewed, but are you ever going to review Lost Odyssey?

  34. Allow me to echo comments that this is one of the better review on the site. I scrolled aaaaaaall the way down before actually reading it and thought oh gawd, this is going to be even more onanistic than usual, but lo and behold, it was actually focused and cogent. More along these lines.

    A game I’d like to see on the list is Psychonauts. Rarely has a game world been so fully realized and so mind-bogglingly inventive, and the integration between world and game mechanics is more smooth than it sounds like it is in Bioshock.

  35. i’m going to go with another world as no.1, because it’s the first thing that popped into my head when i read that last bit and is definitely something i could get behind.

    i mean, it sure does succeed at a lot of the things that bioshock attempts!

    and, well, it’s probably in my top five, so yeah. go for it.

  36. As far as guessing goes, Tim does specifically say that the game shares many common traits with Bioshock, which I think would eliminate Mother 2 or Mario 3 (both obvious contenders for the TIM ROGERS GAME OF THE YEAR XXXX) as they’ve got fairly little in common with Bioshock outside of being, well, videogames. Although who knows what the criteria for commonality here is.

    Portal makes sense in that it arguably achieves everything that it sets out to do. Not only that but it, at least superficially, is akin to Bioshock in that it vaguely fits in the same genre of things in the first person. But by that standard Moby Dick is akin to The Baby-Sitters Club Mystery Book 14: Stacey at the Mystery at the Mall. I’ll let you decide which of those is Bioshock and which is Portal. I suppose you’ve also got the character being lead through hoops by a disembodied voice (and the silent protagonist!), and the character eventually reacting against and destroying the antagonist behind that voice, but again, that’s a fairly superficial connection.

    As far as the review goes, I thought it was great. I’m interested to know what you thought of what it had to say about player agency and free will. It was one of the few games, to my mind, to address the question of why the character (and by extension the player) should, or indeed would, simply follow orders. For all of the dissonance between the way that Bioshock attempts to present itself as being realistic, and the inherently unrealistic elements its required to contain in order to work as the type of videogame its trying to be, this is the one thing that it pretty much succeeds in finding a harmony for, albeit is a fairly far fetched sort of way.

    As well as this the revelation about your character being lead around through mind control was probably a more interesting examination of the idea of choice than the whole “moral” decision regarding the little sisters (which as Kitroebuck points out, is laughable to even consider something a moral person would have to make a choice about) in that it suggests that perhaps choice has little or nothing to do with the way we behave. Or at least that’s how I read it.

  37. Forgive me if this is posted twice, but I submitted it once and it didn’t show up so I’m trying again.

    As far as guessing goes, Tim does specifically say that the game shares many common traits with Bioshock, which I think would eliminate Mother 2 or Mario 3 (both obvious contenders for the TIM ROGERS GAME OF THE YEAR XXXX) as they’ve got fairly little in common with Bioshock outside of being, well, videogames. Although who knows what the criteria for commonality here is.

    Portal makes sense in that it arguably achieves everything that it sets out to do. Not only that but it, at least superficially, is akin to Bioshock in that it vaguely fits in the same genre of things in the first person. But by that standard Moby Dick is akin to The Baby-Sitters Club Mystery Book 14: Stacey at the Mystery at the Mall. I’ll let you decide which of those is Bioshock and which is Portal. I suppose you’ve also got the character being lead through hoops by a disembodied voice (and the silent protagonist!), and the character eventually reacting against and destroying the antagonist behind that voice, but again, that’s a fairly superficial connection.

    As far as the review goes, I thought it was great. I’m interested to know what you thought of what it had to say about player agency and free will. It was one of the few games, to my mind, to address the question of why the character (and by extension the player) should, or indeed would, simply follow orders. For all of the dissonance between the way that Bioshock attempts to present itself as being realistic, and the inherently unrealistic elements its required to contain in order to work as the type of videogame its trying to be, this is the one thing that it pretty much succeeds in finding a harmony for, albeit is a fairly far fetched sort of way.

    As well as this the revelation about your character being lead around through mind control was probably a more interesting examination of the idea of choice than the whole “moral” decision regarding the little sisters (which as Kitroebuck points out, is laughable to even consider something a moral person would have to make a choice about) in that it suggests that perhaps choice has little or nothing to do with the way we behave. Or at least that’s how I read it.

  38. Good guesses all around re: Best Game Ever!

    I will not dare reveal what game it is, or if anyone got it right, or if no one got it right, or even if anyone is close!

    Also, to anyone on the staff, I request that you also do the same.

    Anyway, uhh.

    Benjamin: Congratulations, you are officially the last person who will double-post a comment because it doesn’t show up immediately.

    The reason being — I have edited the WordPress template so as to include an explanation of our spam-filtering practices.

    It Is Rejoice Time!

  39. It’s good to know my inexperience will aid in saving future first time posters from such devastating embarrassment. Consider me rejoiceful!

  40. Even if none, one, some, or all of these guesses are accurate, not accurate, close, not nearly close, or even off topic, I’m going to use this thread as my Games To (re)Play Some Time Soon List.

  41. The thing with Bioshick (i entirely agree with two stars here) is pretty much that it seeks plausible reason for every element of the games narrative to such an extent it leaves the player thinking:

    “common your bullshiting, you seriously expect me to believe this crap”

    I pose this question to you all in hope of an answer.

    Is the element of disbelief present in Bioshock helping to deliver its underlaying plot lines or hindering them? Is the way Tim feels when he plays the game the whole point?

    I posed this to an old friend who liked Bioshock

    1 what is the chances of a plane crash?
    2 then surviving even though its in flames in the ocean?
    3 then you “happen” to swim to a spec of land “alone” and that spec of land just “happens” to be some long lost failed under sea “distopia”.

    Its almost beyond the realms of possibility, which left me asking the question is that the whole point? I personally hoped that Bioshock was operating on a higher narrative level that made all of this part of the plot line, i suspect however it wasn’t. Making this game “not art” as Tim puts it.

    I haven’t completed bioshock, but i keep thinking of what level the game is operating on. Maybe he died in that crash, maybe rapture is his personal hell. Maybe the rules of reality change there.

    But seriously i need to play this game properly, i am talking pretty much out my arse here.

  42. GilbertSmith: Yeah, definitely.

    ario (Re: me describing Fallout/Planescape: Torment as “works of art”):
    > when did “art” become the word to attach to a game in order to proclaim it as important?

    Hey now, I never equated artistry with importance. (I could try, but good luck pulling me into that particular argument.) You could even say that Planescape: Torment wasn’t all that important – as I recall it wasn’t played by too many people. But it was art.
    By that I don’t mean that it was a fun game (though it was) that I enjoyed playing more than most others (I did), I mean that it contained that certain spark of brilliance that touched me. It was a unified package of moods and ideas; it made me think, it made me feel. It embedded itself into me, and became a part of who I am. I will even go so far as to say that it made me a better person, and if that doesn’t make it art, well then fuck, man, I dunno.

    All of the above also goes for Fallout, which I consider a slightly lesser work of art than P:T, but only slightly, and which I love with a nerdy love (ask me to recite the intro by heart in a bad Ron Perlman voice! Go on, ask me!)

  43. Yeah, I’ll throw my hat in the ring for Out of This World.

    I’m not sure I’d agree, though.

  44. Oh and Tim, your an excellent critic, so good that i feel you should be making games as opposed to writing about them. The best way to predict the future is to create it after all.

    I know you worked for a large multinational company once, that may have been involved with games. But seriously i think you would make an excellent leader. At the helm of a great new game.

    Ever considered it?

  45. #1 is clearly Gumshoe.

    The whole vending machine thing seems to have arisen from the sort of unwritten modern gaming rule that everything you need to progress be readily available. Another direction would have been nice, but they route they took was no doubt tempting as another chance to flex their art direction muscles. It’d be cool if games were harder in this regard, though. When I was playing through Deus Ex 2 (I never played the first one, so sue me) I got into a situation where I was super depleted and just couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. It felt like a situation born of my own choices and it was strangely satisfying.

  46. panther: no, I don’t want Tim to start making games. We have a lot of gamemakers. What we lack are critics.

  47. I agree we have a lot of gamemakers, Bad ones! Motivated purely by money!

    Thing is i think he would make a good one, a great one even. He would have to be the lead, the very helm of the ship, he strikes me as having that all encompassing vision, a rare trait. Thats not about normal maps and concept art, But pure vision and leadership.

    Thats the problem with games right now, they lack the sense of a creator the way a film or book does. Its all about bottom lines. See Tim knew what Viking should have been. The only way of changing that really is to put your own balls on the line and make history.

    Being a critic is very safe when you think about it. Thing is Tim criticizes games for taking safe decisions. When he is being safe in his very pursuit. A critic is “just” a critic, it changes nothing really.

    If a critic gives a game 10/10 and goes on to sell millions of copies its not doing well because some critic gave it 10 but because it was a good game.

  48. Having said that i think we would all miss you sorely if you stopped, best game critic i ever read thats for sure.

  49. i’d imagine tim rogers game would be a cross between a beat takashi/desert bus “anti-game”, some type of dragon quest, and huge, sweaty tits.

  50. OR

    he already MADE this game, and THAT is the NUMBER ONE game on the ABDN AWESOME LIST.

    did i win?

  51. hey how the hell did you manage to double post? I just tried that.

    I have no idea what a Tim Rogers game only that it would have to drip awesomeness from every crevice.

  52. Look, I’m being a faggot here, but to me, some of Tim’s reviews have helped me better understand the way human beings relate to video games. I don’t think many game designers even understand that video games are supposed to affect human beings in the first place.

    If Tim doesn’t go on to head a prolific video game studio, we should at the very least form a terrorist group that forces major game producers to read every single review on ABN at gunpoint, and then write an essay on what they’ve learned.

  53. tim, your cup is cresting the brim with lavish praise. drink up!

    also, what boris record are you fondest to?

  54. I agree, before reading his review on Metal Gear Solid 2 i thought all that game over stuff was a load of utter random nonsense, then realized Kojima just delivered his narrative without the use of a cut scene, but the medium its self(and a cut scene).

    I remember being seriously pissed off at Metal Gear Solid 2. What an utter master stroke!

    Thats why you should make games dude, you see things the most of us dont. I want to play games headed up by genius and nothing less, Tim is that such guy.

    A Small studio in japan, making quirky, clever DS games with an eye to greater things one day. I think that is within the realms of possibility no?

  55. Hey guys!

    mini-attacks: I guess “Akuma no uta” is my favorite because it’s so easily and repeatedly consumable. And I reckon that the title track is probably the Hardest-Rocking Thing In Creation.

    panther: I have considered making games. I may or may not actually be making a game right now. I may have even made games in the past. Who knows? I won’t bother saying what I’ve made or am making until I’m really proud of something.

    Because, as many of you probably realize, if you’re not the leader, you’re hardly anything when it comes to making Big Decisions. All I can do is Make Suggestions.

    Judging by my email inbox, I think I reach a lot more game directors through these reviews than through my Day Job.

    As for the person who said that maybe my number-one game is a game I have ALREADY MADE — well! Let’s go ahead and say that if I could make the one game I know I want to make, it would be my number-one game.

    Naughty Dog! If you guys are listening, and you want a bona-fide world-wide smash-hit multi-million-selling game that is also The Best Game Of All Time according to Action Button Dot Net, please hire me as a director and pay me $110,000 a year.

    That’s not a bad salary!

    I will gladly move to Southern California, and lease one of these bad boys probably six seconds after getting off the airplane.

  56. geez.

    you praise MGS 2, you earn cult status.
    you degrade smash bros. brawl and you’re burned at the stake.
    and then you middle ground analyze bioshock, and suddenly you have your own devoted religion, begging you to change the world.

    isn’t the internet a fantastic place?

  57. “Thats the problem with games right now, they lack the sense of a creator the way a film or book does. Its all about bottom lines. See Tim knew what Viking should have been. The only way of changing that really is to put your own balls on the line and make history.”

    Me and a friend of mine were just talking about this, how videogames need auteurs and how most of the greatest games are made by one person with unwavering vision at the helm. “Design by committee” is the death knell of all art.

    EXCEPT

    Valve does literally the opposite; there’s no heirarchy at all and everyone has input on everything. And they make fantastic games anyway!

    Do they have to be the wonderful counterexample to every rule of design? Really?

  58. CubaLibre: Well, I very much love a lot of Pixar’s movies, and they employ a similar philosophy to Valve: everyone is trained in everything, and everyone may contribute. So I guess if the people/environment are right, it can work very well.
    But then again, the best two movies they ever made were directed by Brad Bird, who is most definitely an auteur in the strictest sense. Go figure.

  59. iwontusemyname: yeah, I was just thinking that. I love Tim’s reviews but it’s sort of shit-scary how few fans of this site disagree with him. When did he praise MGS2 though? The only MGS2 review I read on this site gave it something like zero stars, which I wholeheartedly agree with.

    If Portal gets the top spot I’m going to have to be a complete cunt and state that it’s technically not actually a game but a collection of puzzles.

  60. Whether I agree or disagree with Tim’s evaluation of a game is beside the point, really. Tim’s reviews ideally spark real conversations on game design, not just “This game roxorz!” “No it don’t, U a faggit!”

    I think most ABN readers kind of ignore the star ratings for all intents and purposes.

  61. I might just change my guess to MGS2 after reading your article. That game is also one of my all time favourites, along with the other game mentioned in that piece, Ico.

    I’m wondering if you have ever come across and read the MGS2 analysis piece by James Clinton Howell “Driving Off the Map”? It’s a very well written piece and one that I would have to recommend to anyone who is looking for a deeper understanding of the game and Kojimas mind.

    You can find it here:
    http://www.deltaheadtranslation.com/MGS2/DOTM_TOC.htm

  62. I really like this review. Four stars!

    I agree with some earlier comments that a major flaw in game development is process!

    I also agree with earlier comments that the Metal Gear series succeeds where this game fails, especially when it comes to taking a hard look at how ridiculous videogames are! And Snake’s skin isn’t even oatmeal!

    I’m a very agreeable guy today!

    Storytelling in games. A high point of that, for me, was when the ridiculously easy rabbit-handed first boss of Alpha Mission II returned several times, harder each time, for an ultimate showdown as the penultimate boss. Another one was Angel Island in Sonic 3 – first, it was green and lively and blue skies, then it was firebombed at the end of the first act and the next act was a trek through a burning tropic. Where is more of this?

  63. oh crap. kotaku linked to this review. now commencing knee-jerk reactions.

    “A message to Tim Rogers: shut the frak up, nobody cares what you think.”

    his newly reenforced “Church of the 108″ would probably disagree.

    (by the way, i still love that show, but jesus, i just want to punch otters in the face every-time i hear “frak” in real life. there’s a perfectly good word we use to describe those sort of things.)

    FUCK.

  64. I find my thirst for “Old Insert Credit Crowd” styled tomfoolery returning to my dry mouth now that I’m working at a job again, in an office run by “young people” who enjoy playing what they perceive to be videogames day in and day out without any real critical thought going that way.

    All of a sudden, even though I play games just as infrequently as before, I am compelled to think about them again, and try to find a way to share… quality, to communicate videogames’ worth beyond finger-exercises to the regular Joes I am surrounded by.

    They play a lot of NHL games — NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT. I just keep trying to convince them to get Ikaruga on the office 360 to no avail.

    It is downright refreshing to find places around this old internet that are on the same kick.

    –Oh– for my guess: River City Ransom

    Because it hasn’t been said yet, because you buy upgrades in a way that is integrated in the world, and because it is a world that sucks me in.

  65. Pingback: MMO Clerks » On BioShock: Don’t Eat Underwater Garbage Potato Chips [Nitpicking BioShock]

  66. Pingback: www.tibia4you.org Opisy broni, magii, pancerzy, przedmiotów i map, zasady gry, poradniki. » Blog Archive » (K) On BioShock: Don’t Eat Underwater Garbage Potato Chips [Nitpicking BioShock]

  67. You had me until Gears of War. So often during that game did I think, “WHY?!” I could never for a moment take it seriously.

  68. Interesting. I had never really considered the importance of my name on the dog tags before “Anybody you know?”

  69. tim — best review i’ve read on the site so far, though i admit i have a lot of catching up to do. i’ve yet to play bioshock and i still intend to do so, but i’ve really enjoyed reading this critique.

    you might enjoy reading the interview mathew kumar and i did with ken levine at GDC, though that might be the gamasutra article you were referring to (though i don’t think so?)

    http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3636/ken_levine_on_bioshocks_narrative_.php

  70. “Everything he nit picks about can be summed up pretty easily: It’s a video game.”

    Yup, that pretty much sums up why people are willing to put up with bullshit in Bioshock. It also pretty much sums up why Bioshock is the best most people can do, these days.

    It’s bizarre to read even the most intelligent of these comments. “Yeah Vita-Chambers are dumb and they put plasmid-dispensing vending machines in the middle of nowhere, but it’s a game, they have to make concessions to gameplay.” That doesnt’ even mean anything. Seriously, it is meaningless – it is nonsense. Gameplay is not an idol you genuflect to, that you sacrifice artistic quality to. Gameplay is the experience of playing the game. The experience of playing the game is WORSE because the game, so self-invested in Making Sense, doesn’t make any sense. I mean, man, if your “gameplay” requires you to violate the “atmosphere,” maybe you should reconsider your fucking gameplay!

  71. Also, these kids are gonna have to stop conflating “internal consistency” with “realism” before anyone is gonna take their little excursions in Randian territory seriously.

  72. i like when i read something and think a word only to find that someone who has also read the same material to have said the word i was thinking. except, i followed “knee-jerk” with “prejudice”, because wow, they really like to concentrate on the hate.

    for all the “not getting it” that a good amount of those people are doing, it’d be at least decent if they considered the fact that when your game tries to make it’s main conceit of an immersing atmosphere and narrative, that you don’t immediately eat munchies of indeterminate age out of a trash can in a unknown underwater world of mutants and mutative chemicals and numerous other such instances that tim as mentioned. it’s fine if you like to ignore the nitpicking (lol) to be done in a game, but when it’s just so hilariously and jarringly counterintuitively to the game’s main conceit, well… for fuck sake, give the player the choice to eat those snacks!

    and then with the “survivalist” argument they bring up, well, shit, let’s do this thing. let’s make a campsite, gather survivors, see who has the schematics to this place so we can find a alternative route to the surface, ration what goods with have… oh wait! i just ate what food we had upon sight! but then that goes off into a whole role playing agenda, and i can’t be bothered with that.

    iwontusemyname, you are so very correct. “frak” is such a poncy word. not nearly the oomph that “fuck” has. when i hear “frak” being used, i giggle as if a grown serious man were trying to make “poppycock” or “poopy” work.

  73. Well seeing your taste in videogames games that sure are going to be in the list are: Portal, Bangai-o Spirits and Pac Man CE, if I remember correctly you say on early reviews that those games are best of all time. So my guess for the best game of all time it’s without doubt: Windows Solitaire (although it seems you use Mac).
    But why you never wondered why you have to eat fruits so you can through missiles, or destroy robots using football balls with a bat?? And now you say it is bad (or at least explain why they are there) to put vending machines even in bathrooms that sell enhancements that let you burn people. A lot of things that you point in you review I wondered too when I played the game, like using that huge nail to so you can use plasmid that’s stupid, but maybe the protagonist was a addict and when he saw that he through that he was going to heaven.
    I think that something that it’s marvelous about videogames is that they can come up with stupid concepts and make it look like something normal, like in RPGs where you enter in the houses steel things in front of the inhabitants and get out without problems, or try to kill zombies with a dead fish, or how is that monsters have money, or kill people and before dying they through the money and weapons they have so the one who kill them can use it and kill more people.
    If all the games try to have realistic things in the context of their worlds, I think lots of games will become an annoyance to play. Lots of people say that it’s better to read books so you can use your imagination, I say play videogames to use your imagination.
    That’s my take.

  74. Another thing, i agree Bioshock it’s not art, it’s a good videogame

  75. gosh, i should really look over what i type a little more.

    another thing i wanted to touch on was the whole plasmid thing. besides your all-seeing radio buddy not giving you fair warning, there’s the whole “jamming a needle into your body” thing to deal with. people are quick to state, “hey tim! the game explains it! epic fail!” say i make a movie. i have my actors portray just the most ridiculous and non-contextual scenes i write for them, and i have them do this for, oh, say the first hour and a half of the movie. then in the final minutes, i have my voice of reason character put the previous hour and a half into context and explain everything. at this point the entire audience gives a collective sigh of relief: “ah, thank goodness they explained all that! for a second, i thought i had just sat through a very horrendous movie!” :3

  76. Mini-attacks, ever see Lucky Number Slevin or any of the Saw movies? Or… any thriller or action movie produced since Fight Club?

    Everyone wants to get a twist ending in there, so like nine out of ten genre movies end with the main character going “So this is why that happened, and that’s why this happened”.

  77. CubaLibre: I figure by “gameplay” they mean what would remain if you removed all context and theme and were just left with a completely abstract game. To be honest I see the play of the game and the total experience of the game to be seperate entities, where one includes the other, too. Their excuse still sucks because Bioshock didn’t exactly have amazing gameplay anyway.

  78. wouldn’t you say that you enjoyed all the grand silliness of those movies because it was just honest and fit with what those movies were going for? in bioshock, it’s just weird and ugly. i should have added “offensive” to the scene descriptors. as offensive as the majority of a movie may be, that big reveal at the end doesn’t cut it. yes, i realize answers are given to questions at the END of a movie. my point was it’s no excuse to the narrative hell i was put through. and i’m inclined to agree a lot of movies do that!

  79. Kinto: I know what they mean. I’m saying it’s dumb. Abstracting a game out of its context leaves you with a different game, saying different things, having different goals and, therefore, most importantly, meaning different things to the people who play them.

    Like I said, Bioshock is utterly self-invested in Making Sense, and yet it doesn’t make sense, and for what? To prop up the “gameplay”? When people say that the mean to prop up the shooting. It belies a prejudice that playing a game means shooting.

    That isn’t to say I love shooting games. That IS to say that Bioshock was pretty obviously meant not to be about shooting, but the shooting part was shoehorned in there to satisfy… well, the people who comment at fucking kotaku. And the – yes – gameplay suffers because of it. It becomes an unfocused mess, like Tim says, pulling in too many directions at once.

  80. Uh, I mean, that isn’t to say I DON’T love shooting games.

  81. I think one of the greatest directors ever is Takashi Miike. Miike doesn’t ask you to think about anything, he just needs your emotional investment, and none of his movies make sense at all. It sounds like Bioshock is demanding that you see how much (or little) work they put into making sense.

    This is why Bioshock is subject to this kind of scrutiny, yet we would never ask why the badguys in Earthbound and Mother 3 leave ultimate weapons for you to find immediately before fighting them. Earthbound isn’t asking for that kind of investment on the player’s part.

    I think there’s kind of an unspoken contract between an artist and the audience. The audience is expected to only judge based on how the artist fulfills their promises, and the artist is expected to not make promises he or she can’t keep. We can criticize the Sex Pistols if they play a show without much energy, but they don’t ask you to put on headphones and listen closely to their complex layering, so we can’t criticize the simplicity of their compositions. We can criticize Pink Floyd for being overly simple, but we can’t criticize them for being inaccessible to the first time listener.

  82. “It’s bizarre to read even the most intelligent of these comments. ‘Yeah Vita-Chambers are dumb and they put plasmid-dispensing vending machines in the middle of nowhere, but it’s a game, they have to make concessions to gameplay.’ That doesnt’ even mean anything.”

    this bothers me, too. in a medium where many people are constantly trying to assert its worth, a well-developed pile of criticism produces the “it’s just a game” response. it’s like the “lol internet” argument to fall back on whenever the issues become challenging. we want to be taken seriously, and yet we’re prepared to let so much stupid shit fly. it’s a god-damned paradox, i tell you.

  83. It’s not a paradox, really, it’s just that some of “us” are liars. When posters at Kotaku (you know, most of them) say that they want videogames to be taken seriously or whatever and then justify Bioshock’s retardedness by saying “it’s a videogame” they’re just lying to begin with. But they keep saying they want things to be taken seriously, so they get lumped in with those of us who actually want things to be taken seriously, and it becomes a mess.
    It’s kind of that way all across the videogame spectrum, isn’t it? When I tell my girlfriend’s mom that I “play videogames,” she thinks I spend my time with Madden, Halo and/or WoW. And you can’t blame her, because most of the people that “play videogames” do play these things!
    It’s really not fair to, you know, us, is it?

  84. Hey now, Madden is all right.

    And Halo is just straightforwardly mediocre. No more reason to be ashamed of playing that than regular people are ashamed to watch Sex and the City.

    WoW, though. That’s rough.

  85. Well, here we are down in the >100 comment dregs, so lord only knows if this’ll even get noticed, but here goes:

    Tim, I’m very curious if you ever played System Shock 2? Because a lot of the jarring world-vs-gameplay issues that you (very correctly) note about BioShock are very firmly rooted in the fact that BioShock, far from a “spiritual successor” to Shock2 as Ken Levine kept saying during the pre-release hyping of the game, is really a remake. The core gameplay elements, the basic arc of the story, the “big reveal” in the middle, and the mechanism by which the story is doled out to the player: all completely identical…

    …and that’s a problem, not because it’s bad that Levine and the crew at Irrational Games decided to recycle some of their earlier ideas with a much bigger budget (hell, that’s not just understandable, it’s probably a really good idea), but because they went and took nearly all of the “game” elements of Shock2 — a game set in the far future, where you were a military-bioengineered human weapon — and bullheadedly transposed them nearly unaltered into BioShock’s quasi-steampunk 1950s undersea dystopia, and more often than not it’s a just a terrible fit. Not that Shock2 wasn’t littered with its own set of issues, but the narrative and the “game” elements were at least theoretically complimentary to each other: at no point in shock2 did you find yourself wondering why re-routing the plumbing in a (somehow) motion-sensitive turret gun would make it friendlier.

  86. am i out of line when i say that we, the ABDN community, the melting pot of elitist, douche-bag, faggot and people who take children’s toys way too seriously, should band together to create an outline for a video game?

    i’m not even going to say it’s the “ultimate” just A great one.

    i’m just scanning the comments, and the articles again. you all are really bright individuals (and i’m not just talking about that rogers fellow.) barzan, edwards, parker…everyone else who writes on this site, along with the regulars like cuba, crispy, gilbert and more. you can all bring interesting ideas to the table.

    am i out of line? am i being a fag or what not?

    hell, it certainly beats lamenting on the current games.

  87. You criticize the game for not being as logical or realistic as you wanted it to be, and then make fun of the use of it’s use of the word bathysphere. It’s called a bathysphere because it’s a goddamn bathysphere. Not just a real word, but a real thing! Here’s a photo of one

    http://secondedition.files.wordpress.com/2007/08/bathyspherebeebebarton.jpg

    look familiar?

    You also start off your review by insulting another reviewers taste in music, and then name off some obscure bands to prove how cool you are(that are all from Japan, how videogame nerd of you). I like Boris too, but it’s not because I’m that is obsessed with all things Japanese, solely because they come from Japan. (do you listen to Envy? great Japanese post-hardcore band, you’d probably dig them). How this has anything to do with Bioshock is beyond me. I actually wish you didn’t know who Django Reinhardt was, so I didn’t have to read about him for half of the review, and how rad of a guy you are for knowing who he is.

    I also like how as soon as someone mentions all of your ‘cool’ references and ‘blah blah kotaku’ and how it could make someone feel excluded from the readers circle, someone comments “Somebody should link the Kotaku/NeoGAF crowd to this.” Case in point right there. Ironically enough, Kotaku already did it for you.

    I would never call Bioshock art, but I still say it was one of the best games I played last year, and a hell of a lot better than Gears of War.

    Anyways, keep doing what you’re doing, and I am interested in what your top 25 will be.

  88. Dear nothankyou:

    Uhhh! Wait, doesn’t knowing who Django Reinhardt is kind of indicate that I do like some music that isn’t Japanese? In my Rock Band review I explicitly mention Steve Albini and The Stone Roses; I figured if I linked to YouTube videos of theirs, it would be repetitive.

    Seriously, you accuse me of liking a Japanese band just because they’re Japanese because of . . . . . . what? I mean, listen to that shit I linked; that’s some good shit no matter what language you speak. Hell.

    Envy is alright, I guess. Though they weren’t my sort of thing. I prefer the poppier side of post-hardcore. Then again, I also really love Bloodthirsty Butchers!

    Also, insulting Chris Kohler’s music taste is never beside the point, for the sole reason that it is hilarious!

    Also, next time you try to levy a precise criticism of a criticism, apply the use of a calculator: I did not, in fact, discuss Django Reinhardt for half of the review — it was hardly an eighth of the review! :(

    In conclusion, you need to cool down a little bit; this is the internet; I LOL’d a lot while writing this review; you are free to LOL while reading it.

  89. Just to add my 2c.

    I agree, Bioshock was a fairly mediocre experience. And if I wasn’t locked in Hype-Hell and didn’t actually *listen* to a single word from levine before the game shipped etc. I might have actually enjoyed the game more than I did.

    Panther: re plane crash inconsistencies etc: yes it is all plot. And actually quite well integrated into the rest of the plot. (typical American TV-style explanations, where they give you heaps of hints about something; and then basically a huge hint [ie *almost* saying it out-loud] – and just to make sure that the more obtuse viewers didn’t get it, one of the support characters ask the main character a rhetorical question explaining what was just hinted at – well they do that.)

    I would go on (agreeing with more and more features) but I figure you all know everything I’d say.

    At the end of the day; I like Bioshock. It has some fantastic things going on. But I agree totally with almost everything in this review, the glaring problems (once you finally recognise their existence) are hideous ugly things that didn’t need to exist. (in many cases).

    But, where I played SS2 10+ times start-to-finish; I’ve yet to replay Bioshock yet – telling much?

  90. Yeah, about that bathysphere, forgot all about it by the end of the article.
    Tim, don’t make stupid mistakes like that. Use Google. You know people are gonna latch onto stuff like that, so don’t give them the chance. So you didn’t know about bathyspheres, so what? That’s why they invented the Internet, right? You realize that you put yourself in harm’s way, so to speak, whenever you write something like this; don’t take it lightly.
    Also, whatever happened to that Tokyo Psychic University game? The design document had some cool shit, did anything ever come out of it?

  91. “I would never call Bioshock art, but I still say it was one of the best games I played last year, and a hell of a lot better than Gears of War.”

    Man, your taste in games SUCKSSSSSS.

  92. GilbertSmith

    i absolutely agree with the understanding between artist and audience. and i’ll even apologize for being initially apprehensive towards the Plasmid scene. it just irks me when your ability of choice in a videogame is ripped away to have your character stick a foreign object into his body, using that form of cinema to undermine what i feel should be something more. not saying that you can’t have these silly events happen, because i’ll even enjoy them when done in a certain manner, but that scene absolutely felt shoehorned in as this uncreative way to explain how your character should get accustomed to using these chemicals. i realize how subjective i’m being, which is why i wished they’d do it better. but you make a very good point on how we should objectively criticize a piece of work presented to us. thanks for that!

    also, i’m curious what you thought of the scene.

  93. It seems to me that the reviewer failed to do one of the most important things a reviewer can do before they review a game. He hasn’t completed it. The revelations towards the end of the game are nothing short of stunning and go a long way towards explaining a lot of the difficulties one might have with the early plot.

    It seems to me that the reviewer felt determined to hate Bioshock for no other reason than because many people found it to be an amazing game experience. Well done, but you now seem like an idiot to anyone who has actually fully played through the game.

  94. Dear iwontusemyname:

    What exactly makes you think I’m intelligent, let alone in the ways of video game design? Genuinely intrigued!

    Dear CommanderHate:

    Oh the irony.

  95. It seems to me that the commenter has failed to do one of the most important things a commenter can do before they comment on a review. He hasn’t completed reading it.

    Revelations at the end don’t justify forty hours of Stupid.

  96. CommanderHate: I discussed this game with some friends because of this review. They told me your mind-blowing plot twist, and I felt like betting on the movie to be half as insulting.

    Based on that knowledge, you should probably PLAY TO THE END of Grasshopper Manufacture’s Contact. It’s at least as intriguing.

  97. Alundra for Playstation 1 should be in the top 25. (Not to be compared to Alundra 2, an awful awful 3D game)

    It is the Kwisatz Hederach product of a couple generations of Landstalker and Zelda breeding program.

  98. Hello!

    Dear Commander Hate:

    You said this:

    “It seems to me that the reviewer failed to do one of the most important things a reviewer can do before they review a game. He hasn’t completed it. The revelations towards the end of the game are nothing short of stunning and go a long way towards explaining a lot of the difficulties one might have with the early plot.”

    Oh? I actually did complete the game! However, the AMAZING PLOT TWIST revelation that YOU ARE BEING MANIPULATED BY MIND CONTROL did absolutely nothing for me. I mean, I’m already manipulating this game character by videogame-controller-control. That the main character is BEING MANIPULATED BY MIND CONTROL is just another layer of unnecessary abstraction. Like, seriously, we do need more games doing things with the medium of videogames, though we really need people to lay off the lame “OOOOOH, IT’S ALL JUST PART OF A VIDDDDDDEOGAME” metaphors/analogies/whatevers. Telling the player that all of the decisions he thought he made on his own were really being controlled by MIND CONTROL is about as lame as it gets. I mean, yeah, I’ve got a guy controlling my mind, telling me to do, uhhhhhhhhhhhhh, the only thing I can do? I’ve got a guy leading me down the only open path?

    In the end, it still doesn’t answer the question of why the artist-people in this underwater artist-people city could purchase a hypodermic needle with which to rewrite their genetic code so they could inflict a target with a psychic fit of rage — at a vending machine.

    In other words, no, the “stunning plot twist” does not make me forgive the earlier plot, because the earlier plot involves things like eating potato chips out of a garbage can.

    Someone over at Kotaku said, “Well, if you’re being led around by mind control, and part of the mind-controller’s intent is to keep you alive, naturally, if you need energy, you’ll eat anything, even potato chips from a garbage can.”

    I challenged this rationalization, and said, if you’re willing to go that far, you might as well go one further, and ask, really, do potato chips give a person energy? Do real potato chips increase the number of times a psychopath can hit you with a lead pipe before you die?

    Fucking seriously, now, people.

    As I believe I said to someone yesterday, a game is a game because I’m presing buttons on the controller; while a “mind-control” plasmid power makes sense in BioShock’s fucked-up world — and even offers more half-baked idiotic explanations for how the world might have been destroyed — it also completely falls apart if I decide to put the controller down and just stare at the screen for ten minutes. What if I never pick the controller back up? The mind-control plotline isn’t working anymore, is it?

    In closing, it’s okay, sometimes, for entertaining fiction to hide things from the viewer; it’s okay for there to be secrets, and surprises, and twists. This is why people keep lining up to be entertained. However, there is a big fat line between surprising the viewer and lying to him; BioShock is well over into “lying” territory. To put it bluntly, BioShock feels stupid as fuck for the first act; the big plot twist is supposed to make me go back and go “Oh, so that makes sense that Big Plot Point G happened; that makes sense that my guy would eat potato chips out of the garbage.” Though look, man, there’s a huge difference between a plot twist in a movie like “Fight Club” (which I don’t like), where the whole time, before the big reveal, you’re like, “Man, this movie is crazy and funny — though there’s something kinda not right . . . what could it be?” and the plot twist in BioShock, where, yes, the story just feels dumb as fuck. It’s possible to make a viewer feel uneasy before “explaining” everything, though making them feel inanely silly isn’t a way to execute dramatic impact, as far as I’m concerned.

    Sure, if you have no standards whatsoever, if you don’t wonder what a woman’s going to look like after she’s had three children before you ask her to marry you, if you’ve never read, say, a fucking book to the end and seen the various things fiction can do, you might say BioShock is well-crafted.

    If you want “plot twists” that don’t involve lying to the player or even making the player feel lied to, try Call of Duty 4!

    That’s an Excellent Videogame in every sense of the word!

  99. crispy:
    i’m talking more like bringing interesting ideas to a theoretical table, and being quite entertaining along the way. i enjoy everyone’s comments, and i’d just like to see how we, as in ABDN folk, would come up with a cool design doc for a game.

    i dunno. it’s something to do. at least we might come up with better twist endings.

  100. I should have thought of River City Ransom. That’s a pretty fucking good guess.
    Or how about Cave Story?

  101. the #1 TIM ROGERS BEST VIDEO GAME OF ALL TIME is the TIM ROGERS INTERNET VIDEO GAME REVIEWING WEBSITE EXPERIENCE, and we are all playing it right now

    what it has in common with bioshock: it is pretentious

  102. Pingback: This week: Defeated 5/25 « Defeating The Purpose

  103. I think there is something quite similar with metal gear solid 2 and bioshock, that is they both intend to piss off and confuse the player to further key plot lines. I think Tims got a point there about bioshock going about it in a deceitful way though. Where as metal gear did it in a purely post modern way, “stop playing the fucking game asshole etc etc”. Bioshock does just bullshit you pretty much non stop, you know the plane crash just pissed me off because it seemed like an implausible story plain and simple.

    Essentially bioshock just pisses you off with plain inconsistent unmotivated plot finally admitting it. Metal gear 2 pisses you off with the narrative, an honorable act.

    I see why people love Bioshock, Its like Lost or prisonbreak, those popular episodic sagas twisting the fuck out of you. But to the highbrow gamer in search of an amazing narrative experience: we demand more, we demand nothing short of masterpiece.

    Good as Bioshock is, good as the episodic series Lost is. Both are seriously not anything close to say “Ivan Turgenev’s, Faust “, or “Murakami’s, hard boiled wonderland and the edge of the world” not even remotely so.

    Bioshock is seriously overrated story wise, its core “gameplay” is mediocre at best.

    At least Halo3 has great game play, it doesn’t pretend to have some deep intellectual story like Bioshock to push it through, the game is just honest. Even if i do think Halo3 is a massive pile of shit.

    That said Bioshock was massively over hyped, and yes we are all taking this a little to serious. But hey! Bioshock did actually raise the bar, cant deny it. Only problem was that bar was pretty damn low to begin with.

  104. And another thing while iam ranting the fuck out of this comments section. lol

    Why do highbrow games always insist on confusing the player so much, to the point of pissing said player firmly right off? I know its all playing with the nature of interactivity and control. Seriously though theres only so many stories that can be told using “control” and “illusions”

    You know theres a lot to be said for rendered tears :/, watching a friend playing Lost Oddesey today, man that scene(CENSORED FOR SPOILER REASONS) it fucking almost made me cry that scene, only reason it didn’t was because i was in company of said friend and would look like a total douchebag. You could see though he was welling up too though, and also didn’t want to look like a total douchebag. Man that horridly flawed game is amazing, the character… it is a great game. Not Turgenev, but damn good.

    Tim, anyone. Please review that 4 DVD monster of a game..seriously i know its 4 DVDs but…man that hasn’t happened since FF7….

  105. Even if you were enjoying that scene (I wasn’t!) didn’t the Worst Fetch-Quest in Videogame History sort of snap you out of it?

  106. To kill or not kill a little girl is perhaps a legitimate moral dilemma for someone who would set another human being on fire and electrify the water that very same inundated victim would jump into for relief.

    The video at the end of the demo tells us to do this!

  107. # belthegor Says:
    May 30th, 2008 at 11:31 am

    “I would never call Bioshock art, but I still say it was one of the best games I played last year, and a hell of a lot better than Gears of War.”

    Man, your taste in games SUCKSSSSSS.

    —- MAN, YOUR SKILL IN DEBATING IS AWESOMEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. Would you care to elaborate? You’re judging my entire taste in videogames based on my dislike of a very lackluster game. So, if you choose to challenge my “taste”, I would be very interested to know what your top 3 games are. And, of course, if they are not up to my personal standards, than you sir, are a fag(by your logic).

    For your reference, my favorite game of all time is Snatcher. Feel free to google it and pretend that you have played it before. Take care.

    I look forward to you response.

  108. nothankyou said:

    For your reference, my favorite game of all time is Snatcher. Feel free to google it and pretend that you have played it before. Take care.

    . . .

    Wow, boys! Look! His favorite game of all-time is directed by Hideo Kojima, and he’s presuming up front that we have no idea who that is!

  109. 8128, Yes it was totaly a “oh you fucking cant be serious!!!” type of moment. I have to admit the gameplay side of Lost Oddesy is pretty, how shall i put it…..antiquitated.

    I recomend forcing girlfriends into watching some of those Lost Oddesy tear jeark moments. lol

  110. Hm. My girlfriend would laugh, for sure!
    Maybe she’s better than yours?

  111. Hey guys! I have a girlfriend! She sucks my peepee every now and again!

    This makes me superior.

  112. crispyambulance: for some some reason I find your comment hilarious :-)
    it’s probably, like, something annoyingly post-ironic in me or somesuch…

  113. “—- MAN, YOUR SKILL IN DEBATING IS AWESOMEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. Would you care to elaborate? You’re judging my entire taste in videogames based on my dislike of a very lackluster game. So, if you choose to challenge my “taste”, I would be very interested to know what your top 3 games are. And, of course, if they are not up to my personal standards, than you sir, are a fag(by your logic).

    For your reference, my favorite game of all time is Snatcher. Feel free to google it and pretend that you have played it before. Take care.

    I look forward to you response.”

    Man why did you even dignify me with a response, lol

    (I don’t have a top 3)

  114. I for one, find it amazing that writing a game review can land you with such hatred, purely because someone else has a different opinion than yours (or the generally accepted opinion). What does this say about video games as a medium, does it say anything? Is this sounding really pretentious?

    Anyway, I’d like to say, that although I prefer the more raw, writing shit about games, and the first semi relevant thing that pops in to my head or penis style of this site, I enjoyed reading this one.

  115. So I waited and, O my brothers, I got a lot better munching away at eggiwegs, and lomticks of toast and lovely steakiwegs and then, one day, they said…

  116. I think there was a definite point in the disparity between Lost Odyssey’s more heartfelt moments and the game itself. I’d bet money on it. Can’t figure what it might be, though, outside of Mistwalker’s way of telling us to go read a book.

  117. Of Lost Odyssey: did the print version of “A Thousand Years of Dreams” come out yet? In English, that is.

  118. Dear KillahMate,

    I no longer have any respect for you.

  119. 108 Says:

    “— it also completely falls apart if I decide to put the controller down and just stare at the screen for ten minutes.”

    It would be pretty cool if when one let the game sit still for a few minutes, it just kicks in to auto-play mode.

    Not that sitting back and watching BioShock is better than playing it, I wouldn’t know, I’ve only done the former; it would just be an interesting way to field the “mind control” element.

    Or else, hell, just have the controls get all jerky every once in a while, say guide your crosshair towards a little girl and you’ve got to actively fight against this mind control instead of just hearing about it later on.

    Alternatively, there could just be a vindictive part of me that enjoys the notion of people all across the globe just putting their controller down while a videogame does its thing.

    Maybe they would take a step back and think about the absurdity of their situation.

    Maybe they would take a look outside.

    Maybe they’d think about it.

    Maybe they’d stop playing games that could just as well play themselves.

    And maybe, just maybe, this could lead towards games that don’t patronize us by thinking we’ve got nothing better to do than play them.

    Second Top 25 Guess: Eternal Darkness, man. Creeping your way through some crazy ass places and times, working your way deeper and deeper into madness, hallucinations abound.

  120. “Or else, hell, just have the controls get all jerky every once in a while, say guide your crosshair towards a little girl and you’ve got to actively fight against this mind control instead of just hearing about it later on.”

    Now you mention it, it would have been pretty easy for them to play with the nature of control, for obvious reasons..

    Some nice points there Cian.

  121. Eternal Darkness was lame; colour-coded enemies and the hallucinations were only a factor if you wanted them to be after you got some restorative spells.

  122. someday im going to design a game called “eternal starkness” where you play as the actual PS2 model of Carl Johnson and have to escape high-resolution alien tormentors on a planet where there are no cars.

  123. panther Says:

    “…it would have been pretty easy for them to play with the nature of control, for obvious reasons.”

    It never ceases to amaze me how often this is true.

    Just a little tweak, a bit of forethought, and we’d be off to the races with exponential fun.

    An example from far afield: Shadow of the Colossus. Every time I climbed & conquered one of those living mountains, I wanted nothing more than to reach my horse before those damn inky tendrils ripped the life from Wander’s lungs.

    Why not program them slightly differently: instead of having them immediately strike you after a set amount of time, give them some sort of “heat seeking” tracking system whereby – if you keep moving – if you get to Agro quick enough – if you dash and dash like a motherfucker – maybe, just maybe, you can keep ahead of them for a while.

    It would just be far more thrilling to have the illusion of escape that this would render, as opposed to the current definite conclusion.

    Of course, it would still be inevitable that you would succumb to the tendrils, because you can not run forever. But it would be because You Stopped, as opposed to because They Decide To Get You.

    Galloping through those fields with a swarm of psychic leech things swarming towards you would add a whole new dimension to the game, and one that I would heartily enjoy.

    In Defence of Eternal Darkness:

    Not going crazy in Eternal Darkness (or, “managing your sanity meter”) is like not pressing the “run” button in SMB3.

  124. Panther said:
    “1 what is the chances of a plane crash?
    2 then surviving even though its in flames in the ocean?
    3 then you “happen” to swim to a spec of land “alone” and that spec of land just “happens” to be some long lost failed under sea “distopia”.”

    I dunno if your still reading the comments down here, but you asked if the game will explain this later… It will, though, it still doesn’t stop the story from being complete garbage.

    The super hyped up endings were the most depressing part of this game. Even SOTC and Beyond Good & Evil couldn’t pull this off though at least they weren’t laughably insipid. There will probably wont be a morally deep game for a long long time and this is because, like the comic movement in 1960s, the medium is afraid of the govt. backed by the parents of America. Once video games calm down and stop getting as much pressure I am sure we will start seeing a lot better art.

    I almost afraid to play Deus Ex or Chrono Trigger for fear they wont match the hype….

  125. Yeah ive heard its some mind control crap going on, but you know i played the game for a couple of hours or so. And still think that whole begging was the games excuse for rapture existing

    He makes no serious attempt to radio for help, its just oh its broken jyeah well fuck even looking at it for more five whole seconds then. And who in there right mind would go in some seriously dangerous looking lift shaft, At night and after a massive, in flames, FUCKING PLANE CRASH.

    Its not even like you can wait for day to come or anything. And then its like, yeah well all that cliched game stuff is ok because its “mind control” some mind control i just thought fuck this! and never played it again.

    It became yet another environment design “specimen” for examination and assimilation. this is what i call the “Borg approach”and i give it to all games at first, if there good ill play them for fun. This happens very rarely i have to say, the last was call of duty 4, lost Odyssey was moving, but thats got more to do with the amazing cut scenes and story, most certainly not gameplay.

    I should not have to complete the thing to be told its not shit, its like explaining away intrinsic faults that so easily and often haunt games, instead of intelligent subversion of interactivity. Bioshock is especially guilty of this, given its plot lines and premise, its not like there telling a love story now.

  126. Well I’ve been waiting for this one I guess, surprised you gave it two stars, or even called it a ‘pretty shell’, hahah.

    God damnit, Bio Shock is a hideous game, bad art, horrible idea of what a “DEEP MORAL CHOICE” is, etc. etc. etc.

    and it’s horrifying to have it hailed as a great accomplishment of storytelling.
    The only thing next gen about games now is marketing.

  127. Cian: it’s really more like not jumping into a hole on purpose. Since, you know, the objective of the game was to not go crazy?

  128. Hello Tim,

    Did you know there’s a “neutral” ending to the game? It’s identical to the “bad” ending, except the narration is read with a sad voice instead of an angry one.

    (watch out for spoilers!)
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=GwaludYBbxU

    Thanks for the great review and comments. I am glad that someone finally pointed out that Bioshock is just plainly dumb. Really. Thank you.

  129. Cian: I don’t know about that. I always try to escape the tentacles of darkness, myself, but after reading your comment I’m glad they can’t be escaped, because the alternative sounds like it would be really dumb.

  130. Whoa, opened up a few kettle-cans of fish-worms!

    Let me elaborate, please.

    Kinto: My apologies for the extremist statement, I should have said “Not going crazy *at all* is like not pressing the “run” button *at all*.” If you don’t let your sanity bar (patented by Nintendo) slip at least a little bit here and there, then you miss out on so much in the game, it would be akin to plodding through SMB3 without ever running. Y’know, Risk vs. Reward.

    ray: Well, they couldn’t be escaped either way, hence the term “inevitable”. It would just be less contrived, which is to say more natural, to have the illusion of escape, the feeling of possibility instead of the feeling of fatality. They’d still get you, in the end, no matter what – but it would be based on when you quit running, instead of a timer. Call me really dumb, but I’d rather have the whole thing be based on interactivity of some sort.

  131. no no no, I understood you the first time. It’s just that I mentally pictured running away from evil tentacles of darkness on the horse, and I thought “man, this is dumb.” I’m glad that I identify with the protagonist enough to make a run for it, vainly attempting to escape, but why should the game let me give myself false hope and look really dumb in the process?

    If you want to struggle vainly against your inevitable fate, why not just play Tetris and not ruin (or muse about ruining, I know you’ve not ruined anything and are actually a totally great guy) a perfecly good other game’s perfectly good sensibility?

    Oh, and, incidentally, when I first played Super Mario Brothers I had no idea you could run. Sometime between then and now, I’m not sure when but maybe it was around when I first played Super Mario World, I figured it out. It wasn’t really world-changing, but now I couldn’t dream of not running.

  132. Cian: yeah, I got bored one day and just ran through all the insanity effects. I’ve honestly never been impressed by a game designer that points out that I’m playing a video game, “No shit, really? For a moment there I genuinely, fully immersed into your fucking zombie/spy game. Thanks for pulling me out there, champ, I could’ve been lost to the virtual world forever!”. Missing out on the insanity effects is really more like not trying to die when you have an invincibility star, it’s just a bunch of different ways of showing you you’re losing when you’d have to be a complete retard to lose in the first place.

  133. Dudes:

    Interesting, and awesome. Thanks for the divergent opinions, I think we’ve looked each other in the eye and are now more enriched because of it.

  134. hey guys! just wanted to say that i’ve read, maybe, all of this thread here.

    my dream is coming true — it is so close i can taste it: a community of people who will respond to this bullshit i write with excellently entertaining comments; soon, i won’t even have to read the news anymore, because i’ll have you guys, and videogame reviews.

  135. re: SotC control tomfoolery

    One thing that I kind of really liked/disliked about Shadow of the Colossus‘s ending was that you could put it off endlessly by bunny-hopping away like a madman. It was very emotional for the first minute or two, and then it turned into sort of a game for me and my friends to test the limits of the game (where would that “invisible wall” finally kick in?), and then it just became an utterly ridiculous and unnecessary abstraction…

    I think this is probably what ray kind of meant. The illusion of choice can only be taken so far before it breaks the narrative. Those tendrils are plot-important, after all.

    The one thing about Shadow of the Colossus was that the various tortoises that dot the land are the ONLY thing in the game that cannot be harmed whatsoever.

  136. oh, and um, Bioshock…

    I played the demo, and I might have TOTALLY been sold on it if Atlus would have fucking TOLD you what that syringe WAS before your character JAMMED it into his WRIST…

    That water IS gorgeous, though. I felt like going for a swim!

  137. Pingback: fscked.co.uk » Blog Archive » The Bioshock onslaught

  138. >>it is so close i can taste it: a community of people who will respond to this bullshit i write with excellently entertaining comments

    what does it taste like Tim?

  139. “hey guys! just wanted to say that i’ve read, maybe, all of this thread here.

    my dream is coming true — it is so close i can taste it: a community of people who will respond to this bullshit i write with excellently entertaining comments; soon, i won’t even have to read the news anymore, because i’ll have you guys, and videogame reviews.’

    This cannot be allowed. I shall now respond to nearly every thread with incredibly droll comments. Your fun shall not be had, Tim. Shall not at ALL!

  140. I posted a link to this review in a couple of forums that I tend to visit from time to time because I think you make some very good points.
    However, for some reason everybody seems to hate you Tim.
    I don’t know why, I happen to think you’re quite funny and honestly critical. Though I think there are sometimes you seem to miss the point and pick up on frivolous issues; overall I think what comes out in your reviews are some harsh realities that need to be addressed by the gaming industry if they are to ever truly take this medium to the next level. A lot of magazines and review sites seem to skip past the real issues, preferring to concentrate on lighting effects etc.
    It’s refreshing to come here and read something with a bit more thought. Don’t ever change….

    … Oh, and hurry up with that Metal Gear Solid 4 review.

  141. Gamers are a really fetishistic group. Tim Rogers telling Nintendo kids that the new Mario is kind of dull is like telling gay furries that they should try for better storytelling in their shitty webcomics, and less gratuitous semi-human nudity.

    I actually like when Tim goes off on a single frivolous issue, when that frivolous issue runs violently against what the game pretends to be going for, like with Saint’s Row, how your vigilante, anti-crime friends are quick to gun down any old lady you aim at.

  142. I kind of hate the term New Gaming Journalism. In every single field of journalism besides writing about video games, talking about your own life to provide context for why you do or don’t like something isn’t enough to justify someone coining a new term to describe your revolutionary approach to writing.

  143. I have read Alex Kierkegaard´s article and I can say that it is bullshit full of resentment. I can´t believe that someone who actually dares to quote Nietzsche can say things like this:
    “A review of a thing cannot rise above the value of that thing, after all, whatever Tim and Eric-Jon might try to tell you — because if it did it would not be a review of that thing any more.”
    So actually things have stablished, solid values, and one cannot go beyond them in a critical aproach… Ever heard about the Umwertung alle Werten? Maybe he should read Nietzsche a little more, perhaps that would make him rethink the problem of Art, technique and it´s relationship with the concept of life and Will (for example, like Sloterdjick´s reading of Nietzsche), problems that are in fact present in Videogame culture. Laying that aside, the statement is false in an even more basic, non philosophical level. All kind of artists and philosophers have made approaches to popular phenomena, and by no means this approaches can´t “rise above the value of that thing”. Well, go and tell that to philosophers like Walter Benjamin or Slavoj Zizek (the latter made an excellent philosophical essay on the Kinder Egg which actually deals very seriously with the hegelian notion of subject) or writers like Thomas de Quincey, who took all his formidable classical erudition and wrote an essay about the aesthetic value of murder: he gave something that was inherently immoral, low, base, an aesthetic value, even if it was more or less a mock essay. Result: E. A. Poe, detective fiction, etc. I don´t say videogames are the same, but perhaps writing about them could become the same, because nothing is decided in this world, specially when you speak about “spiritual” values. The whole article is based in the prejudice that videogames are an inherently low subject and it´s critics can´t go beyond the base level of videogame journalism because that is lying. That is just another Denkverbot (a prohibition on thinking) and a prejudice which the very history of art refutates. For example, take this statement: “And even he understands that even the very “best” NGJ review is childish nonsense compared to any halfway decent film review. ” Making a review of Tarkovsky or Lynch doesn´t make you at instantly deep or intelligent. It´s all about the talent and intelligence of the reviewer, not of the work itself. Plus, come on, even masters like Tarkovsky and Lynch actually took “base” or “pop culture” subjects like sci fic (Solaris, Stalker) or Hollywood mysteries (Mullholland drive) and turned them into masterpieces. Of course I am not even trying to compare videogames with all these masters of art cinema (even if Shigeshato Itoi is not as far from them as you may think), but I strongly disagree with the whole tesis of the article, which art constantly refutates. He believes that someone who has interest in videogames and internet cannot have culture: well, guess what, there´s people that are actually interested both in the classics (history, literature, philosophy) AND videogames. You can say it is a result of the Zeitgeist or perhaps an effect of the Kaliyuga, but it is true. That shouldn´t surprise someone with a little of culture. Finally, the conclusion of the article is strongly false:
    “as if that profundity had always existed but failed to be recognised — defiling, in the process, everything that was geniune about the past; its simple, honest, childish innocence.”
    Well, maybe that profundity DID exist and we didn´t saw it, and if this proves to be true then someone has in fact made us aware of a new thing in the world, and that´s what´s art is all about. What some believe is simple childish innocence can become the high culture of next generations (think about Stevenson´s “Treasure Island”, for example, which Borges held higher than Goethe´s “Faust”). I don´t imply this is necessarily true about games, but then again, who knows?

  144. Kierkegard’s article is hilarious, spiteful shit, and anyone who takes that sociopath’s egomaniacal screeds seriously should probably just quit reading this site all together.

  145. Re: Erostratus

    Is it proof enough that I was more satisfied by this review of Bioshock than by playing the game about which it was written?

  146. The people who think that ABDN and IC are egotistical like shit should really read some Insomnia. Those guys have egos at least three times bigger than the average NGJ writer. Though maybe they wouldn´t notice, as they don´t talk about themselves in their stuff by principle.

    Seriously, I want to hear the story behind putting Insomnia as a link (not even because I think it´s bad, I just want to hear Tim´s thoughts on them).

    “A review of a thing cannot rise above the value of that thing, after all, whatever Tim and Eric-Jon might try to tell you — because if it did it would not be a review of that thing any more.”

    Then what about negative reviews? Is the point of a negative review not to see what the piece in question does wrong? And does one not do that by saying how it could do this right? And, then, by doing this, is the review not a piece more revealing and insightful than the piece being analyzed, while still being a review?

  147. …actually, now that I think about it, that whole sequel was basically a half-assed take on Tim’s idea to play up the Big Daddy, Little Sister relationship. Hey, Rogers! Quit hogging the Nostradamus Plasmid! All the other scientists and philosophers use those vending machines too, and by the time you’re done with ‘em all they’re left with is flipping Bee Swarm Attack!

    Because as any sociologist will tell you, rational self interest always leads to bees.

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