Sorry, I just had to…

As an game designer, I look at games a little bit differently than most people. I try to be critical of video games as a medium, and not just games in particular. I also try to avoid playing games that I think will waste my time. I know that looking at scores for video games online is not an objective way to decide what games to play. However I’m baffled at the how positive the reviews were for Bioshock.

No offence if you’ve played Bioshock and loved it, but I just don’t understand why people would score the game better than Half-Life 2. And I don’t want to seem stuck in the past, I just feel that Bioshock was a flawed game.

Also, if you haven’t played Bioshock, I warn you that there are spoilers below:

The most obvious flaw, which I won’t go into very much because Jonathan Blow has already done it quite well, is the Little Sister dilemma. Simply enough, the game isn’t any harder if you save the Little Sisters instead of harvesting them. If you save them, you’re artificially rewarded for doing the right thing with bonus packages of ADAM and plasmids. This wouldn’t be a big deal, except that it happens often enough to become a feature. I found myself knowing that if I rescued just a few more sisters, I’d get the gift and could keep going. But this isn’t my only point, and if you want to hear more about that, listen to Jon’s lecture.

The biggest flaw that I found with Bioshock was the design decision to explain all of the abstract gameplay elements as part of the narrative. When I play a first-person shooter, I don’t expect anyone to explain the purpose of health packs or grenades lying around for no reason. I’ve become accustomed to these things, and I understand that they are just abstract devices which are used to make the game function as a piece of entertainment (if not art). For this reason, I found it refreshing that Bioshock chose to explain devices like Vita-Chambers and to leave most ammo that I find in relatively reasonable places such as dead bodies, and not just lying about. The design choice helps the immersion in a real environment. However, this pattern is somewhat half-heartedly used in the game, with Ammo vending machines healthily distributed about Rapture with no indication as of why they were installed in the first place.

So, I understand the reason for the decision, but the problem is that the “reason” for the Vita-Chambers conflicts directly with a major plot point in the game. An audio log in the game states that the Vita-Chambers were created for Andrew Ryan and that they only work on his DNA signature. This sort of makes the chambers make sense. You’re almost Andrew Ryan’s DNA, and nobody else is. So everyone else just dies, but you’re repeatedly revived at the nearest Vita-Chamber. So obviously, the next question is, why didn’t Andrew Ryan revive at a Vita-Chamber after you kill him?

I’m sure now that it’s just a ridiculous oversight on the part of the designers. But before I completed the game, I sort of expected that it would come up later in the story after Ryan’s death. Perhaps Ryan would show up just before the credits to set the stage for Bioshock 2? Nope.

Sorry guys, but Vita-Chambers just don’t make sense, they wouldn’t make sense if the game was in the future, and they certainly don’t make sense in a dystopian steam-punk alternate past. You don’t have to explain these things. It’s cool if you try to, but please don’t make the mistake of forgetting about the lore of your own universe when it comes to major plot elements. And alternatively, if the Vita-Chamber explanation idea came after the plot was written, which it most likely did, somebody on the team should have noticed. At the very least, that Vita-Chamber explanation went through three people, the guy who wrote it, the guy who said it for the diary, and the guy who recorded it. And nobody noticed that this completely deflated the major turning point in the game.

But then again, EA did spell Bret Favre’s name wrong in Madden 09 even though he was on the cover. So I guess these things slip through.

Should be back soon with film reviews…