BioShock: Demo

 By Shamus Sep 10, 2008 102 comments

I wasn’t going to write an article on this at all, but now people have forced my hand. In the comments of my previous post people were shocked, shocked(!) that I dumped on BioShock after playing just twenty minutes of the demo. I claimed it was shorter, shallower, and an example of what was wrong with PC gaming. Surely I needed I play for longer than that to make that sort of call?

No. Actually, I could have written those claims without even starting the game. I knew this was an empty husk the moment I opened the key bindings screen and saw it had about the same number of inputs as (say) Doom. Or Serious Sam. You can tell the experience is shallower before you even start it up.

No map. No inventory screen. No leveling. No research. No open levels with multiple paths. No economy. No hacking for supplies. As soon as you click on a food item you consume it on the spot. (Think about the many ways in which that flattens the game out. Suddenly instead of managing supplies, you’re just picking up healthpacks. Like Doom.)

I know what I’m talking about when it comes to System Shock 2. I can’t count the number of times I’ve played through the game. I could sit down and draw the entire floorplan of the Von Braun right now. I’ve explored every aspect and every activity the game has to offer. I know System Shock 2 personally, and BioShock is no System Shock 2.

And of course the game is eight hours long, instead of over twenty-five. Okay, I cheated on that one. I didn’t play through to check, I just listened to every single person everywhere who ever commented on the game length. Feel free to set me (and everyone else) straight if there was another ten to fifteen hours of gameplay tucked away in there that they missed.

Infected by DRM. Eight hours long. Stripped down to a shallower experience. Based on a popular franchise of the past, while abandoning key features and depth. BioShock is the poster child for everything that’s happening to PC Gaming. I’m sure the game is fun for many, and it’s certainly got more going for it than a straightforward shooter, but it needs a lot more than that to step into the legendary shoes of its System Shock grandsires. Which is exactly what it pretended to do.

It’s okay if you like it better. Maybe you don’t go in for all that leveling up nonsense and inventory management. Fine, fine. But the game is simpler. End of story. Full stop. I don’t need to play the whole thing to see that. If my comment “disappointed” you, then you must think I’m a profound idiot. Because you’d have to be pretty thick to need more that a few minutes with BioShock to notice that half the expected “Shock” gameplay is gone. Maybe you don’t miss those features, but they’re still gone and I noticed.

Someone even had the nerve to compare me to the idiots who denounced Mass Effect as SimPorn without ever looking at it, which is what set me off here. If you want to debate the merits of the game, go find some other site and talk about what an irresponsible hate-filled slacker Shamus Young is, because I don’t think I’m dedicated enough at this to hack my way through every tepid stub of a videogame before I’m allowed to tell you I didn’t enjoy it. I’d just as soon you write me off now than hassle me about this. I don’t need people telling me I need to eat the whole pizza before I’m allowed to point out that it’s three inches wide, cold, soggy, and covered in insects.


A Hundred!2102 comments. Quick! Add another to see if this message changes!


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  1. Kel'Thuzad says:

    Wow. Quite a rant there.

    So, for someone who’s never played System Shock 2, would it be good?

  2. Eathanu says:

    Yeah, Bioshock doesn’t have anything on System Shock 2.. Pity, though, it could have been great instead of good if they just used their budget wisely (programmers’ salary, for example).

  3. Shamus says:

    Kel’Thuzad: A good question. I actually WOULD have to play the game to answer that one. Although, my guess is that BioShock is a good pick for anyone who likes shooters but finds them a little shallow.

    I went in hoping for something a bit like System Shock 2, which is a terrible way to approach the game. (Which is a shame, since that’s how they marketed it.)

  4. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Well, too bad with it. I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy your website again the same way..

    Naaa, who am I kidding? I don’t think I’ll ever stop reading you, or liking d20. And you are right, I went way over the edge by comparing you with the SimPorn hunter, and I apologize. It was totally uncalled for.

    (but I still think your love of SS2 gives you a biaised view of BS, which you don’t deny. Which is halfway sad, halfway good. Good, because people who loved BS may one day go and try SS2, and have their horizon widen because of it. Bad because the game it’s good in itself, and it’s main flaw is not to live up to it’s predecessor.)

    I personnally myself stopped playing games having played less than 20 minutes into the game, sure. Because I freaking hated the game itself, the interface, the gameplay, whatever else. I had needed about 10 minutes of the thing before I stopped trying. Usually, it happened in a game with a new genre, new things, etc…

    But.. Bioshock isn’t revolutionising the industry. Far from it. Actually, even the other way around, it was dumbing down the whole Shock gameplay! I stopped playing Morrowind after 2 hours because I couldn’t stand the absence of some Oblivion feature. And I am sure many people hated Oblivion because of some of the things it lacked (that Morrowind had), but I don’t think either of them gave up on the thing after a mere 20 minutes. The game may have been a different, dumbed-one, but they gave it a chance to try to like it until their frustration took over.

    So… That what buzzed me. That’s all. Sorry if I have started something I shouldn’t have.

  5. unitled says:

    First time posting a comment here…

    While I don’t really agree with you about Bioshock, Shamus, I hate people say you have to experience the whole of something before you’re allowed to have an opinion. There’s a difference between being ill-informed and simply not liking something for well thought out reasons. I don’t have to be stabbed in the eye to figure out I won’t really enjoy it.

    For the record, I liked Bioshock on a different level to how I enjoyed games like Deus Ex (to my eternal shame, I’ve never got all the way through SS2 as I can’t get it to run on my current PC). The atmosphere was fantastic, the combat was as much fun as an FPS can offer, and I did like the story (up to a point).

    To paraphase some famous guy’s quote, I may not like what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

  6. Chris says:

    I actually played BioShock, and I had this massive sinking feeling when I realized that there was no inventory screen. I couldn’t initially figure out where the first pack of chips was, and then I realized the crunching sound was that I had eaten it. I still loved the shooter side of the game, but at that point it lost any legitimate claim to having a role-playing element.

    I’ve never played System Shock 2, but I’d like to give it a try sometime. Would it be on eBay for relatively cheap?

  7. Alastair says:

    I have played both System Shock 2 and Bioshock, and while System Shock 2 had a lot more depth to it, Bioshock was still a lot of fun. The hacking and combat got a bit tedious, and the end dragged on a bit (yes, in a game with 8-10 hours of gameplay, it was dragging by the end…) but I still enjoyed exploring the environment and discovering the plot and what had happened to destroy this world under the sea.

    Bioshock is in that weird category of game where I don’t recommend buying it, but if you can borrow it from a friend (like I did) then by all means play it, since it is a good source of entertainment for a while.

  8. SolkaTruesilver says:

    @Alastair

    How can you rate Bioshock’s storyline compared to System Shock?

  9. Shamus says:

    SolkaTruesilver: A biased view of System Shock? Are you crazy? Do you think I’m one of those fanboy nutjobs would would go and write a whole fanfiction novel about a game or something?

    So yeah. Maybe. A little bit.

  10. No map. No inventory screen.

    Gee, not even up to the standards of Heretic?

    Ouch.

  11. Shamus says:

    To paraphase some famous guy’s quote, I may not like what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

    Yeah. He said that to me once. I told him to shut up.

    :)

  12. James says:

    I never played System Shock 2, so I have no frame for comparison.

    I enjoyed Bioshock quite a bit. It’s because I was tired of how shallow other FPSs are. Also, I got a real kick out of the Randian backstory.

  13. SolkaTruesilver says:

    @Stephen

    Hey, I liked it. It was more realist not be able to carry around 50 kg of stuff and still run/jump, and not having a map writing itself as I go on while fighting mutants. Yhea, it’s a gameplay feature, but on the other hand, I actually got lost, and began worried about finding food to get some health back…

    I don’t know, it gave a flair of survival game. If the whole game had been more difficult (because Yahtzee pretty much nailed the point about BS’s difficulty), I would have been panicking when freakies jumped on me when I was at half health.

    @Shamus

    You. Are. A. Freak. Seriously, I apologize. I should have known better than to provoke a fanboy on his home territory :)

    (you have to admit that a fanboy’s “home territory” don’t happen often on the internet…)

  14. Shamus says:

    Chris: I had the exact same moment. I clicked on some food. Then I went to open the inventory, remembered I didn’t HAVE one, and then noticed the munching sound.

    Facepalm.

  15. unitled says:

    The whole thing is a major suspension of disbelief anyway… Even JC Denton is happy to scoff down a chocolate bar he found lying on the floor in some sewer or something. And how can eating crisps possibly heal up a flesh wound? Can we get them on the NHS?

  16. Fenix says:

    So I haven’t played either system shock 1 or 2. However I only see people talking about 2. So does that mean I should avoid it?

  17. Jeremiah says:

    I’m currently playing through SS2 for the first time, ever. A couple months ago, I started playing Bioshock. I put a few hours on, but it just never grabbed me. SS2 grabbed me from the moment it started.

    A couple nitpicks, though, and maybe I just have a terrible memory or I don’t understand what you’re getting at. But, “…no map… no hacking for supplies.” I could’ve sworn I remember looking at a map in Bioshock, but maybe there wasn’t a minimap? Also, I thought I remember hacking those supply machines to get stuff cheaper, as well. Then again, like I said, it’s been a couple months since I actually played Bioshock, and I’m currently going through SS2, so maybe things are getting mixed up in my head.

    Edit: awaiting moderation? The man’s keeping me down! :)

  18. Kevin says:

    Being a “casual gamer,” I like the simpler, shorter games more. (Though I do wish they cost less as well.) However, I’ve made up my mind one way or another about many games with MUCH less than 15 minutes of play.

    Besides, isn’t that what demos are supposed to be for?

  19. Jim says:

    @Kel’Thuzad (#1): By a weird combination of events I never played System Shock 2, though from what I know of it I think I probably would really enjoy it (example: I love Deus Ex, but wish there were more RPG elements).

    I think the key is that this isn’t an FPS/RPG, its an FPS that has some extra “stuff”, Tonics and Plasmids, that you don’t normally get.

    The only real leveling is how you choose your Tonics and Plasmids, and you are only limited in that you can only equip ‘x’ number of them and you have to go to special locations to switch them out.

    Before I started playing I went to GameFAQs, made lists of Tonics and Plasmids and mapped out exactly how I’d try to equip them and what kind of “build” I was going for. In the end that was completely unnecessary cause I only really needed two or three plasmids and by the time you have enough Tonics that you have to make choices on which to equip you are powerful enough that it doesn’t really make any difference.

    Bottom Line: In the context of it being an FPS it was a good game. But I don’t think of it as an FPS/RPG at all.

    EDIT: Oh and to address Shamus’ point: not only can you judge the whole game by 20 minutes of the demo, but you’ll actually get an inflated sense of how good the game is. The demo is the beginning of the game so you don’t have enough plasmids to just wander around without fear or caution. I felt game-play got less interesting as it went on (though in its defense the story and atmosphere were solid throughout).

  20. Doug says:

    I played through the demo of Bioshock a couple of times and I discovered the same thing, only with the booze. I kept getting myself “accidentally” drunk.

    I’ve played System Shock 2 numerous times and I can say that Bioshock comes close to SS2 in creating an eerie atmosphere. I really got sucked into the the story and all the props and sounds. Those Splicers scared the crap out of me. But it has nothing on the depth of gameplay thet SS2 offers.

    Bioshock was still a lot of fun though and when I eventually find it in the bargain bin, I’ll buy it.

  21. cardboard says:

    I enjoyed Bioshock but not nearly as much as I wanted to. Having played System Shock 1 just a few months ago it seemed hopelessly shallow. It was certainly deeper than most other shooters though and I’d still recommend the game to people.

    We should start learning Russian, I gather that the PC games market in Russia is everything ours isn’t. They still make lots of point and click adventure games! :)

  22. Shamus says:

    Fenix: The original System Shock came out in 1994, and is usually priced like a collector’$ item on eBay.

    And while I love the game, it has not aged well. The interface is horrible by modern standards. Plus, it can be tricky to get the sucker to run. SS2 is pretty much the same fun, but it’s cheaper, looks better, and has a much nicer interface. You could even make the case the SS2 is a little deeper when it comes to character-building.

  23. Chris says:

    Uh… Bioshock has a map. I know – I kept having to look at it when I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go next.

    It also has a research component (through taking pictures), hacking of vending machines for reduced cost supplies, first aid kits, and a mechanism for building weapons and items using stuff you find (and keep in your apparently-non-existent-inventory). There’s leveling of plasmids (in that you can buy or not buy higher levels, just like SS2), gene tonics, research bonuses and available slots to put them in. Just like System Shock 2, I take my XP/ADAM/cyber modules to a machine and decide what part of my character I want to improve. There are plenty of levels where I’ve had more than once choice of how to approach things and where to go. And if it’s an eight hour game, nobody told me – I’ve spent way more than eight hours on it and don’t think I’m close to the end. Perhaps that time estimate assumes you don’t explore/sneak around/etc.

    Now, a lot of these mechanics trickle in gradually over the first few hours of the game, so you may not have seen them. It doesn’t have SS2′s awesome tutorial/character generation sequence in the first 20m (which pretty much sold me the game). But you’re extrapolating from scene setting and tutorial in ways that just aren’t right.

    I really like System Shock 2 – I’ve bought it more than once, played it a lot and have an unopened big box version of it in my collection. My impressions after an hour or so of Bioshock was that it was very much a successor to System Shock 2. And, yeah, I could pick up chips in System Shock 2 and carry them around with me. I never did, because the only time they were worth the space in my inventory was when I was low enough on health to want to eat them immediately.

  24. Reluctant DM says:

    Having played Bioshock and NOT System Shock or System Shock 2 I will add my 2 cents to the discussion (note that I am Canadian so my 2 cents are slightly less valuable! :) )…

    I dispised Bioshock. The story felt like an afterthought. The levels were semi-interesting but incredibly repetitive. The enemies were one-dimensional and I never got why each faction had the same people and why EVERYONE tried to kill you even when you were helping them. I grimaced my way through the game waiting for the moment of AMAZING people had been talking about but it never came. I was glad I bought it on sale. It makes me reluctant to even try SS2 but since Shamus has clearly indicated they are different games, I will still try it.

    /2cent rant.

  25. JohnW says:

    Covered in insects?! Where the heck do you order pizza from?!

  26. gi says:

    Bioshock does have a great story, one that pulls from Ayn Rand works. Excellent story if you get into it. The mechanics are less than compared to System Shock 2, but I felt both of the game’s stories were well worth it to experience. I also remember reading that the developers had to make the ‘story’ part optional for all the fans that just want a shooter. I’d have liked to see the game made more to the original developers intent.

  27. Avaz says:

    Is it interesting that BioShock gets abbreviated to BS?

    Coincidence? I think not. :)

  28. SolkaTruesilver says:

    I think we, as PC players, are somewhat strongly affected by the Console’s Golden Age of gaming. Since devs want to reach the wider audience, they feel like they need to make console version of their products. So, the dumb age of PC gaming is because of the Golden age of the other. Is this a zero-sum game?

    Now, if they started to make intelligent(er) games for consoles, would the people buy it? Should they dare?

  29. Zukhramm says:

    “While experience has told me that declaring a game shitty because of the first few hours is perfectly valid en completley proffessional, you should never assume a good game will stay good”

    I think, stripped down does not neccessarely mean shallower. Lots can be done with very simple games, Shadow of the Colossus is a great example. I have nothing against short games either, as long the games work as short games, here, Portal is a good example.

    Now, I’ve played neither System Shock 2 or BioShock. Which one would I like? I don’t know, some things you see giant differences in, I see almost none. You hate Halo, but likes Half-Life 2, they felt quite equal to me.

  30. Cineris says:

    Bioshock being a disappointment is no surprise to me.
    Ever since game graphics have gotten good enough to simulate the cinematic experience of watching a movie, gameplay and storyline have suffered. [Not that storyline was ever consistently good in videogames either.]

    My theory is due to the profit-driven and highly expensive nature of videogames today, there’s too much of an investment to allow a bunch of random nerds to deliver something kind of experimental which explores the videogame medium’s use of gameplay and story as a unified thing. Instead we get cutscene emulations of an entirely different medium which people already have plenty of knowledge on how to experience (movies), and barely noticeable innovation in gameplay mechanics.

    [@EDIT: Or no innovation in gameplay mechanics, or steps backward in gameplay mechanics. Wouldn't want to step on the toes of the 'cinematic' experience by forcing players to fiddle about inside an inventory menu. Managing inventory isn't cinematic!]

  31. Factoid says:

    SS2 is the better game, but Bioshock is still one of my favorites. I didn’t really analyze games the way I do now when I first played SS2, so it’s hard to say what I would think of that game now. Maybe it would blow Bioshock out of the water. I haven’t played it in a long time.

    Yeah, Bioshock was pretty short, but I said the other day that I felt like it was the right length for the story, and it’s not because the story isn’t deep (because I found it to be very thought-provoking). The story just wasn’t served by being a lot longer than it was.

  32. CobraCmdr says:

    Hi, first time poster, long time reader. Put me in the category of never having played SS2 but enjoying Bioshock. I’m actually not a big fan of shooters, but I enjoyed this one. I actually liked the story a lot and I really liked the retro environments. The game was a bit short I suppose, but fortunately I rented it, so that wasn’t a problem.
    Not sure how I’d feel about System Shock 2, it was Bioshock’s Steampunk meets Jet age setting that made me want to play it. I’m not really a big fan of cyberpunk type settings.

    Also, some other posters have pointed out that Bioshock does have a map, hacking, and a sort of leveling up system. I played the game on the 360 though, so I don’t know what the PC version is like.

  33. Groboclown says:

    I, too, played the demo for about 20 minutes and got sick of it. In my case, though, it was due to running Windows 2000 and the graphics looked like crap. Even though HL 2 + all the episodes looked great.

    However, on the note of inventory management and all the other fiddly bits, I don’t think that it adds depth to a game or its enjoyment. For instance, I thought Warcraft 3 was a much better and deeper RTS than Sins of a Solar Empire. SSE is riddled with fiddly bits to much with. Yet, that may be a bad analogy.

  34. Ben N. says:

    You’ve been doing a lot of rants lately. Any particular reason?

  35. Jimmie says:

    Now, a lot of these mechanics trickle in gradually over the first few hours of the game, so you may not have seen them.

    As I understand it, the game itself is only 8-10 hours long. Which means that I’ll finally get the mechanics I want for the last two hours of gameplay?

    Oh, that’s just spiffy!

  36. Groboclown says:

    I just wanted to add a second thing I just remembered.

    In regards to the length of modern games, I don’t think that having a shorter game is all that bad. With that flamebait, I’ll dive a bit deeper.

    I played Final Fanatsy I when it came out countless times (including a party of all black mages). However, that was back when I was a kid, was broke, and there weren’t all that many good games out. Spending several months on one game was the norm for me.

    A few months ago I went back and played Final Fantasy I on a NES emulator. Without the emulator’s save state function, I wouldn’t have had the patience to get through it. Just because it was a long game didn’t make it that much more enjoyable.

    On the other end of things, I agree that a really short game makes me feel like I’ve been ripped off. But there’s a happy medium.

    I could have played Oblivion in about 20 hours and been done with it. But, because it provided so many side quests, I clocked in over 200 hours playing them all (I mean all) before even touching the main quest. It may have its problems, but it’s a game that balanced the ability to play it in a short time, versus the potential to explore it deeply.

  37. Shamus says:

    Another issue I left out of the BS discussion: Performance. I can run HL2 with the frame rate maxed out, but BS was choppy at the same resolution. Does one REALLY look that much better than the other? (I will admit the BS water effects were pretty sweet, but this applies even when you’re away from water.) I suppose in a side-by-side comparison I might give the edge to BS, but that could be due to stylistic factors as much as graphics technology.

    It’s another graphics generation ahead for such a small gain in visual quality. Is it better? Maybe. I guess. Is it a $200 upgrade better? Meh.

    Again, this doesn’t RUIN the game, and there are games which are much worse about this, but it is a good example of a problem that’s pervasive in the PC world.

  38. Shamus says:

    Ben N: A lot of rants. Yeah. You’re right. Several factors:

    1) Rants are the easiest type of post to author. Then I’m behind on my reviews (which I am) I can bang out a rant to help catch up.

    2) BioShock. I always get tempestuous when this game comes up.

    3) Category problems. A lot of these would normally go into “videogames”, but I’m re-organizing the site and trying to restrict that category to JUST reviews. Which means posts about the industry in general don’t really have a home right now. And I HATE putting things into “Random Thoughts.”

  39. Avaz says:

    Seems to me someone needs a new category in their site.

  40. K says:

    I could not get the demo to run on a MacBook Pro… Go ridiculous specs!

  41. SimeSublime says:

    Point of interest. In my experience, Bioshock is much more stable the SS2. I have never had a problem with BS, but SS2 required at least 2 patches and turning off a processor to work at all, and it still crashes regularly. True, I’m not running it on the expected platform, but from my perspective BS seems to be the far stabler game.

    As for comparison, BS is far too easy, but SS2 seemed notoriously hard. I didn’t get much further then the second deck(where I was running through a maze of radioactive tunnels), though that was due to crashes then difficulty. But I noticed that SS2 was incredibly limiting in what you could do as a character. That is, there were plenty of choices, but they were so stingy with character points that it made things unnecessarily hard. Some middle ground would have been nice.

  42. K says:

    Oh, on another note: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/op-ed/5236-The-Needles-The-Gamers-Bill-of-Nice-Ideas

    The Escapist also has it’s host of utter idiots. Worst text I have encountered in quite a while.

    @SimeSublime: SS2 worked quite well in it’s days. ” and turning off a processor ” wasn’t much considered then, because machines did not have two processors. You can hardly blame a game from 10 years ago to not run perfectly well on current hardware and OS. That’s like using a car from the 20′s and putting lead-free gas in it.

    SS2 has a difficulty setting which can be accessed even during a running game. On the lowest setting, it is *really* easy, since you basically only take half damage and do twice as much. Also, you get (a lot!) more character points on lower difficulty. You just missed that setting it seems.

  43. gi says:

    I remember when the new Wing Commander games came out you knew it was time to upgrade your computer because the game was made for the latest hardware…I remember not caring at the time because the game was so good. At least back when I was a teenager that was what I thought. The $200 to upgrade your computer to ‘fully’ experience Bioshock might not reach the threshold of being enough to warrant the spending. Back then it did for me.

  44. Nazgul says:

    I’ve suffered through things to fully review them and it’s like torture. So I totally agree that you don’t have to endure several hours of anything when the first hour (or whatever) is painful enough. Yes, you might miss some silver lining later on, but life’s too short for that. it misses the point anyway. It’s like saying “The first three movies in this series were garbage, but 1hr 38min into the 4th installment there’s a really funny joke.”

    Shamus, I think maybe you have to learn to ignore the rants from people that don’t understand that you’re providing a subjective opinion, and can’t accept that you don’t share their enthusiasm for a game.

  45. krellen says:

    I played both Morrowwind and Oblivion for about twenty minutes each. It was enough to know I hated them.

    I sent my copy of Morrowwind off to some Canadian commenter here. Thank heaven I never bought Oblivion, just played it on a friend’s machine.

  46. RudeMorgue says:

    BioShock was very pretty and had some great moments, for a shooter. It also had some entertaining weapons, like the booby trap that launched enemies into the ceiling.

    The storyline had one, maybe two real kickass scenes. The rest was, “Find the trigger to open the door. Hack the security bots. Freeze the bad guys. Shatter them. Repeat.”

    Very early on you get an electric blast power that is almost the only weapon you’ll ever need. Once you get the “stand still and become invisible” power, the game is
    effectively over, challenge-wise.

    As far as Ayn Rand themes and depth go, they are window dressing on an otherwise simple plot. So the megalomaniac who built the city is a typical Libertarian extremist. Big deal.

    Plus, eight hours is generous. An experienced FPS player could probably burn through the thing in five.

  47. Justin says:

    Ah, BioShock! Nothing seems to cook Shamus’ noodle like this bastard game. I actually love the game, but then, I’ve always been a console gamer and a Halo fan. I don’t feel like that makes me dumber, but allayall can make that call for yourselves. It’s true that I wished I could save a bag of chips for later. There was no map, but I didn’t get lost much because the world was claustrophobic. I know there are good reasons for that too, but still… I never played SS2, but from what I gather, it sounds like everything I wanted out of Oblivion. I’m a much bigger cyber-punk fan anyway.

    As for the “hasty judgement,” I have dropped games in under a minute. I know what I like in a control scheme, and I know the difference between a new idea and a crappy idea. I know my tolerance for glitches, bad controls, and bad storytelling. In my opinion, a 5 minute demo is enough to know how good or bad something is gonna end up being. Soggy pizza indeed.

  48. Shamus says:

    Justin: I certainly don’t think console games (or gamers) are dumb, but PC Games do get “dumbed down” when they move to a console. It works the other way as well: If you had to adapt Mario / God of War for mouse & keyboard, you’d likely have to do horrible things to the flow of gameplay to make it work. It’s hard to imagine how it could be done without ruining the thing.

    And yes: BioShock is the Kirk to my Khan.

  49. Vacca says:

    ok, so what if they took System Shock 2, and re-coated it with modern day graphics. Sort of reworked it for modern day technology. That would bring a great game to the millions who never played it back in the day (probably because they weren’t born yet >:)). That would save the developers the onerous task of writing a detailed story line (or even thinking) and alow them to concentrate on the only thing that matters to them these days ….. selling the latest hardware.

  50. Michael says:

    Never played SS2, but I did get enjoyment from Bioshock. After my initial disapointment of it being much less of an RPG than I originally thought, I managed to find my fun. I think what Chris mentioned earlier is true, a lot of what you said was missing *is* there, just later on. The parts of the game that were lacking to me were the RPG bits… story was lacking. The ending sucked horribly. The “choice” the game gives you is ridiculous and even though this choice is given to you multiple times in the game, if you go one way the first time, even if you decide to go another way for all the rest of the time, your ending is ultimately decided by that first choice.

    But the environment was awesome (although very linear). The atmosphere is great. I did find myself getting immersed. The systems they had were fun to play with (bullseye plasmid on big Daddy and watch as security bots whittle him away until I can finish him off).

    As a game, it was fun. An overall good experience. But no where near the hype.

  51. Heph says:

    Having played neither game, I’ll try to give just €0.01 instead of €0.02. Ah well.

    First off, a big difference, of course, is personal expectations. Shamus’ expectations were made by their PR: a follow-up to a great RPG. A lot of other people went in with another thing in mind: an FPS with some bits added on.
    While they’re essentially the same thing, “FPS some modification possibilities and a decent story” sounds like a great plan, while “RPG with most of its good elements ripped out and dumbed down” sounds awful. I do agree with Shamus that if they delivered this type of game – RPG-lite for Halo-players – they shouldn’t’ve gotten RPG players’ hopes up.

    Secondly, while I do agree somewhat that some gameplay elements can’t properly be judged from just the beginning of the game (cfr. my position on the Witcher, where a *lot* of the good parts of the game really only start to shine after the first 5 hours or so), some aspects can be judged inside, say, 5 minutes. Character customization options, art direction, UI problems, control scheme, etc.

    Thirdly, as far as games being dumbed down goes for consoles: we’ve been over this a million times, I think. Yes, games get “dumbed down”. Some of this is because of controller limitations (most FPS’s on consoles have auto-aim, because no matter what, an analog stick just can’t be moved as fast and as accurately as a mouse), some because of graphic differences (inventory screens showing just 5 items on a whole screen, because they have to be recognisable on a TV screen across the room vs a sharp and detailed screen in front of you, huge letters for the same reason,…),…This doesn’t necessarily mean – in most cases – that the game requires less intellect, but it makes every thing look simpler and dumber. Think Duplo vs. Lego.

    Fourth: short games = bad. I’m a casual gamer these days, but frankly, that doesn’t mean I want a game to last 6 houyrs instead of 60. Some games these days have the story of a TV show, while before they had the story of a TV season. Some games aren’t really hurt by a short story (Unreal Tournament has a single player story, but who cares? it’s not the point of the game), while others are badly crippled by it (BS is a single-player-only game, right?). If the story’s not good enough to expand it another 10 hours, they should’ve made a better story.

    Fifth, and addressed to Shamus: I’m being an asshole here, I’m aware, but you’re very specific. This gets blasted (and, imho, rightly so) for overly easy and uncomplicated interface and control scheme, no inventory, no map, no levelling decisions, too short a story, not a lot of immersion. The Witcher got blasted for overly complicated control scheme and interface, too slow a story, hard-to-navigate inventory,…pretty much the exact opposite. So a game needs to be complicated enough, but not too complicated. Interface where you can do a lot and access all kinds of stuff, but not so complicated you need to check the manual for reference. And so on. They need to hit a specific “sweet spot”, apparently. Now, I agree in principle – Fable is too stupid to be called an RPG, some games are more like calculus with spreadsheets and crap than having fun – but yours seems to be pretty narrow. So how many games do you know that are just right for you? (note that I’m *not* trying to suddenly make you realise the Witcher or BS is a good game, as there are other, irresolvable reasons you don’t like the Witcher and I don’t give two hoots about BS, and in any case, since you’re giving personal opinions, you’re quite right to dislike games outside your personal enjoyment bandwidth and so on and so forth; I’m just genuinly interested what games *do* fall in the right zone)

    Sixth: I’m not sure if BioShock is the game Shamus gets most worked up over…It’s just one of those that don’t sit well.

  52. Nilus says:

    I personally liked Bioshock but I agree with your rant. It is a dumbed down System Shock 2, it is short and the DRM sucks(which is why I played it on 360). But honestly of those three things the one thing that does not bug me is its shortness. Maybe I am getting old but a first person shooter(even one with a lot of depth) gets old to me after about 5 to 10 hours. So I personally think that is the ideal length for a FPS. Of course I also tend to rent and not by FPS because I can’t see myself playing them longer then 10 hours(I’d rather blow 40+ hours into a good sandbox game or RPG). So what do I know.

  53. Sam says:

    I’m sorry to hear that so many people are being so negative about one man’s opinions. You have every right to be pissed. They’re your opinions, and if all anyone has to offer as a counterargument is “Ur dumb Bioshok was T3H AWESOMEZORZ!” then they deserve to be ignored.

    Personally, I’ve never played either System Shock game or BioShock. I never had any interest in BioShock simply because it looked like every other FPS out there, only for some reason it was getting massive amounts of hype. I’m curious about System Shock, though. At least they sound like great games.

  54. Shamus says:

    Heph: A fair question. I think of complexity as a “cost” to playing the game. As long as it pays off, I don’t mind complex. XCom or other turn-based empire games make even the deepest RPG look tame, but they offer a ton of depth for all that complexity.

    I don’t think the Witcher was “too complex” – I think it was too complex for what it seemed to offer. The bits of buttons and toolbars didn’t seem to have any compelling activities behind them. (As opposed to something like WoW, which is more complex than Witcher, but all that extra stuff translates into all sorts of different activities.)

    BioShock wasn’t “too simple” – it was too simple to be a pretender to the System Shock throne. You nailed it with your second paragraph. If I went in expecting Doom and got BS, I’d be tickled. If I go in expecting System Shock and get something like Deus Ex 2… well, it sort of reinforces my belief that those deeper games are a thing of the past.

    I mean, if the ‘Shock “series” isn’t going to give us an RPG – what game will?

  55. Neriana says:

    Bioshock really does look like every other FPS out there. The RPG “elements” are extremely shallow. It is a poster child for what’s happened to PC games. I don’t know why I’m bothering posting when I just agree with everything Shamus said :P.

    I don’t want incredibly long games any more, either. I don’t have the time, really. But I do want depth, and that’s really hard to come by these days.

  56. K says:

    I would like to see what you write on Mass Effect, since that one is in the same category as BS: Hyped, Pretty and (if you ask me) horribly shallow. But probably won’t happen due to funky DRM. Not that I was bothered by it for long, the second crack worked well, even though they actually added glitches to the game which would crop up if you cracked it. So yeah, defective game on purpose. Thanks for treating everyone a criminal (again), I might as well take you up on it.

  57. Duffy says:

    I have to agree with Shamus here. I was likewise disappointed in the final product, I was expecting the same SS2 resurgence that they were toting in the marketing.

    However, I will say, considering it as shooter, it was pretty refreshing experience. (Disclaimer: I’m a modern FPS hater; Long Live Q2!!)

  58. Carra says:

    No map. No inventory screen. No leveling. No research. No open levels with multiple paths. No economy. No hacking for supplies.

    Seeing how I loved the game, I feel the need to make a reply.
    -> There is an inventory. It’s used to make some items (mostly junk tbh)
    -> You can hack for supplies. Well, it lowers the price of items.
    -> It’s only 8 hours but heck, what other game is > 10 hours these days… I’d rather play a great 8 hour game then a shitty 25 hour game.
    -> It’s a shooter, HL2 didn’t have an inventory, research, economy, hacking either and still, it’s also a great game.

    Now with all the negative vibes, give us a review of a good game :)

  59. Steven says:

    Well, I stopped playing System Shock 2 after twenty minutes. My experience of that game was me going through a bunch of doors to pick skills (No idea what those skills were supposed to do, but whatever) and then the game started, a bunch of crazy fast zombies ran towards me, I hit them until my wrench broke and then got brutally murdered. What a great game. :P

    PS. There is a map in Bioshock. It’s just really hard to find. Which is something they probably should have looked into fixing.

  60. Katy says:

    BioShock wasn’t the first game I had ever played that could be completed under ten hours. Right now I’m thinking of the first of the newer Prince of Persia games. However, I agree that somehow, BioShock just…wasn’t all that great. The atmosphere was excellent and the story, though not entirely original by any means, wasn’t half-bad either. Great voice acting.

    The two things I didn’t like was that it didn’t actually seem like you could be either good, okay, or bad at combat–you just mash buttons, drink some health potions (of which there were an abundance even on the second-hardest mode), and you win. I like to be rewarded for doing things like ducking behind columns, aiming well, and using the right weapon for the right enemy. If you can win just by shooting whatever weapon has ammo in the general direction of an enemy and just stand in one spot taking bullets by the dozen… :(

    The other thing I didn’t like was that despite my new desktop with its fairly nice setup, it still had trouble running the game at a decent framerate, despite the fact that my system more than met the minimum system requirements. I understand that video cards can be finicky, but it’s too ridiculous to expect a consumer to have the right brand and model video card installed in order to play the game like…AT ALL. Mine wasn’t old at the time. It just wasn’t the “ideal” brand and model listed in the recommended system requirements. I had to ask my geekier friends for help with tweaking my video card settings just so I could have enough FPS to see what the hell I was doing!

  61. Adam Greenbrier says:

    I actually just admitted to myself last night that I’m not going to finish playing Bioshock. I’m most of the way through it, but I can’t stand the thought of playing through the rest of the game (and that I know it ends with an escort mission doesn’t help in the least).

    I’m a huge fan of System Shock 2, and I was initially disappointed that Bioshock wasn’t more like System Shock 2, but I think that even on its own Bioshock fails as a game.

    It’s easy to see where the designers were going with some of their choices. They replaced a lot of the numbers-based RPG elements of SS2 with more interactive designs that are theoretically dictated more by player skill. This is best illustrated by Bioshock’s hacking system where the largely numbers-based system of System Shock 2 that players could really only affect by raising abstract stat points was replaced by a mini-game that players could alter the mechanics of (flow rate, alarm frequency, etc.) with the plasmids that they chose to equip. However, because of balance issues, a handful of the hacking plasmids are strictly better than any combination of the others, and the entire system is made irrelevant by the player’s ability to easily invent any number of automatic hacking tools. Likewise, balance and implementation issues hamstring the efforts to make research interactive, and the designers didn’t even try to make weapon upgrades anything more than a free bonus.

    Balance is actually Bioshock’s main weakness. There are few decisions the player makes that have any sort of consequence. Even death itself is largely obviated because when players die the worst that they have to deal with is running through a portion of the map again. If you choose to rescue the Little Sisters instead of harvesting them, you get regular gift baskets that give you experience, items, and special plasmids that make-up the difference between rescuing and harvesting. Plasmids and tonics can be regularly and freely swapped out, and upgraded plasmids and tonics are so cheap to purchase that by the end of the game you’ll have enough ADAM to acquire anything you want. What’s the point of allowing players to make choices if those choices are irrelevant? (And for a game with themes about the importance of choice and free will, that’s not a good question for a player to be asking. The extent to which Bioshock’s story’s themes are contradicted by Bioshock’s gameplay is astounding.)

    Those gameplay and balance issues are enough to cripple the game, but for what it’s worth the flashy graphics and atmosphere are tiresome. The murky darkness of the game had me wishing for a flashlight, and after awhile the admittedly gorgeous art-deco rooms all begin to look the same. If this is a city under the water, why do I never get to see anything that seems remotely like a city? Why don’t I get to wander through those apartments and office buildings I can see out the windows? Don’t promise a city and deliver a submarine.

    You’re right to dismiss this one, Shamus. It’s not only a more shallow experience than System Shock 2, it’s a shallow experience without the context of the previous two “Shock” games.

  62. Robyrt says:

    Shamus, here are some corrections about what Bioshock does and doesn’t have:

    Yes, there is a map. It looks just like SS2.

    Yes, there is leveling up. It functions just like SS2, except you are forced to be a Psi character (no Navy or Marines).

    Yes, there are open levels with multiple paths. The first level is linear, but so is the first 30 minutes of SS2.

    Yes, there is hacking for supplies. It works just like SS2.

    Bioshock is a simpler game than SS2, yes. I do wish there were inventory management and multiple classes. But I’m glad that they took away all the useless stuff like weapon degradation.

  63. Dev Null says:

    Got to mostly agree with Robyrt. “Just like” is maybe an exaggeration, but all of those factors are present in BioShock, and really pretty similar to the level they were present in SS2, from my memory. I chose to “level up” sneakier and better at hacking than shooting – it was a choice, and it affected the way the game played. Maybe not quite as much as I remember it affecting the game in SS2, but it certainly made a big difference.

    And as for 8 hours; well I’ve heard that number from enough people now that I guess I have to believe that its possible – on a speed run. I don’t know what the fastest you could push yourself through SS2 would be. All I can tell you is my own experience. When I played BioShock I snuck around, and went back to explore places I hadn’t seen even though I had already found the level exit (so they couldn’t have been entirely linear levels) and hunted for different plasmids to “level up” in different ways… and it took me weeks to get through the game. I didn’t log the hours or anything, but my wife could assure you that they weren’t all 1 hour sessions. I think I only pulled an all-nighter once.

    I’m not saying you have to like the game – obviously thats personal preference. And I’m not saying that you couldn’t work out that you didn’t like the game in 20 minutes. It just seemed out-of-character for you to be dinging a game on specific features like length and lack of a story from a 20-minute exposure (and I had somehow missed that you had even played the demo, so it seemed like you were commenting from hearsay only.) Wipe your memory and go back and play SS2 for 20 minutes and then stop. How long was it? How good was the story? How in-depth the leveling?

  64. JT says:

    I started playing SS1 when it first came out, but got distracted (college or something) and never finished. I then re-played it, followed by SS2, followed by Bioshock, all back-to-back-to-back earlier this year. That said, Chris #23 above is absolutely spot-on and made essentially exactly the post I was about to make (disclosure: I played it on 360 ’cause I wasn’t about to deal with the DRM):

    Uh… Bioshock has a map. I know – I kept having to look at it when I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go next.

    It also has a research component (through taking pictures), hacking of vending machines for reduced cost supplies, first aid kits, and a mechanism for building weapons and items using stuff you find (and keep in your apparently-non-existent-inventory). There’s leveling of plasmids (in that you can buy or not buy higher levels, just like SS2), gene tonics, research bonuses and available slots to put them in. Just like System Shock 2, I take my XP/ADAM/cyber modules to a machine and decide what part of my character I want to improve. There are plenty of levels where I’ve had more than once choice of how to approach things and where to go. And if it’s an eight hour game, nobody told me – I’ve spent way more than eight hours on it and don’t think I’m close to the end. Perhaps that time estimate assumes you don’t explore/sneak around/etc.

    Always cracks me up when people say a game is 8 hours long. Are these reviewers the top-of-the-food-chain FPS players who are so good that they never have to sneak around and/or use strategy because they can run in at a full sprint and within nanoseconds have spotted every single enemy in the room and plotted a least-time course through them all, while waggling the mouse/thumbstick back and forth with such accuracy & pressing “fire” with such rhythm that they vanquish all enemies in three-and-a-half heartbeats and proceed to sprint on to the next room? Do they never look around and enjoy what they’re running through, and stop to listen to the logs & radio messages, or do they just wave it off and say, “yeah yeah, where’s there more stuff to shoot?!?!”? ‘Cause if so, they clearly oughta be playing something else.

    I mean, I played Bioshock for 21 calendar days and not much else during that time span ’cause I was hooked. ‘Course I only got to play after the wife & kids went to bed but that still averaged around 2 hours a night. I’m not saying I played it for 42 hours, but it was at least half that even after you take away time spent @ loading screens & reloading saves after dying. Not no paltry 8 hours.

    Anyway…. SS2: awesome and engrossing. Bioshock: engrossing and awesome. IMO, SS2 was an RPG in a shooter milieu, and Bioshock was more shooter with slightly (a bit) less RPG-ish-ness, but (again, IMO) the narrative of each was just as fantastic in their own way.

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  1. [...] After reading a post on it about how people ripped him on the BioShock demo(you can read it here: http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=1875#more-1875), I decided to talk about another of EA’s properties, namely The Sims [...]