Prey 2017 Part 8: Yesterday’s World of Tomorrow

By Shamus Posted Thursday Aug 26, 2021

Filed under: Retrospectives 177 comments

Morgan is still trying to reach Deep Storage so she can obtain her arming key so she can blow up the station. At some point during this ordeal, Morgan needs to visit the Crew Quarters. This is actually pretty dang far out of her way, and the reasons for it are a little convoluted. I’ll talk about them later, but first let’s talk about the amazing design of Talos-1.

Art Deco and Yesterday’s “World of Tomorrow”

A fun exercise is to go around looking at random decorative items and remembering the typical size of orbital payloads. Like, these golden winged lion statues are large enough (to say nothing of their possible weight) to take up most of a rocket's available payload space.
A fun exercise is to go around looking at random decorative items and remembering the typical size of orbital payloads. Like, these golden winged lion statues are large enough (to say nothing of their possible weight) to take up most of a rocket's available payload space.

The construction of Talos-1 shows an incredible attention to detail. The designer thought about how the place would work logistically and allowed the player to see how people and supplies get around the station. They thought about the technology and showed us where the power comes from, how supplies reach the station, and how the station itself protects its inhabitants from the cold radioactive vacuum of space. They thought about how the place works socially and allowed us to see where people lived, what jobs they had, and how they amused themselves when not on duty.

In terms of style, the space station leans strongly towards Art Deco. This made me a little nervous at first, worried that this game was going to end up standing in the shadow of BioShock. (Which I guess it ultimately did, but only because BioShock is so outrageously overrated. More on that in a minute.) But as the game goes on it becomes pretty clear that Prey wasn’t cribbing from BioShock when the designer embraced all of these Art Deco designs. If we want to find something similar to Prey, I think the 1998 adventure game Starship Titanic is a much closer fit. Both games seem to be aiming for a kind of “luxury cruise ship” vibe.

In BioShock, the Art Deco styling is almost sarcastic, pitting the optimism of the era against the miserable failure of Andrew Ryan’s Pipe Dream. Even in its heyday, the corridors of Rapture were generally cold, dark, narrow, and industrial. Some of that was because everyone lived in a metal box at the bottom of the ocean, and some of it was because the game engines and level designers of 2008 were often still reliant on the “corridor shooter” school of design to keep the polygon counts under control. But regardless of the reasons, the Art Deco in BioShock was mostly a surface-level decoration slapped onto the face of a brutalist industrial complex.

This is actually really nice. (Aside from the 2-story Nightmare beast coming to kill me.)
This is actually really nice. (Aside from the 2-story Nightmare beast coming to kill me.)

In contrast, the Art Deco of Prey is brighter, more open, and truer to the original optimism of the form. The Art Deco styling isn’t limited to the signage, but infuses the architecture itself.  In particular, the golden walls, spectacular external view, and vast open spaces of the lobby capture the giddy “world of tomorrow” vibe that those designers in the early 20th century were so fond of. 

Unlike BioShock, these golden halls don’t feel sarcastic. The designer isn’t condemning Talos-1 for its accomplishments. Yes, the world of Prey has fallen. But it didn’t fall due to decadence and selfishness, it fell because an outside enemy overpowered everyone. BioShock presented Rapture as an idea that was rotten to the core, but Talos-1 is a place where noble intent was eroded by dishonesty and reckless compromise. Talos-1 is a place where evil deeds were done, but the place was not evil in its origins or intent. With a different leadership, Talos-1 could have been the beacon of innovation and knowledge that its designers intended. 

To put it another way: The fall of Rapture was presented as justice, while the fall of Talos-1 is a tragedy. 

BioShock Rant

The inherent contradiction of a statue of a single powerful leader, announcing the lack of a 'king'. I honestly can't tell if this contradiction is an intentional criticism, or if the designer was just trying to make cool-looking scenery.
The inherent contradiction of a statue of a single powerful leader, announcing the lack of a 'king'. I honestly can't tell if this contradiction is an intentional criticism, or if the designer was just trying to make cool-looking scenery.

Since we’re comparing the two, I need to get something off my chest: I was never the biggest fan of BioShock to begin with, and my opinion of it has continued to go down over the years. Back in 2013 I said:

[…]we had a thread where an Objectivist weighed in on Objectivism in BioShock.  It made for an interesting thread and was surprisingly civil, given the subject matter. At some point (and I can’t find it now) I said that it’s not at all clear what property anyone owns in Rapture. If Ryan owns everything, then he didn’t build an Objectivist society, he built an Objectivist house and invited a bunch of assholes to live with him. 

I mean: Ryan is a totalitarian thug. If they really wanted to explore the ideas of Objectivism then they ought to have messed around with the classic conflict between individual liberty and the common good. It’s like if I wanted to make a game about (say) environmentalists, so I fill the gameworld with standard mooks who talk about trees a lot. And then their leader loves pollution because ENVIRONMENTULISM! 

The further I get from this game, the more childish and sophomoric its handling of Objectivism seems. There doesn’t seem to be anything of the philosophy in the characters, in their discussions, or in how they relate to one another. The game comes off like a college senior who just got done reading Atlas Shrugged and is looking for a way to work bits of it into conversation. 

I know a lot of people are going to balk at the charge of BioShock being “childish and sophomoric”. This is a celebrated and award-winning game, and so it probably seems like I’m doing some sort of performative trashing of sacred cows for the sake of being edgy.

But the real problem is that it all comes down to expectations.

Great Expectations

Attention to detail: There's a treadmill in Alex's suite, with boxes piled on top of it. Elsewhere you can find an email from a doctor encouraging him to set a better example for the crew.
Attention to detail: There's a treadmill in Alex's suite, with boxes piled on top of it. Elsewhere you can find an email from a doctor encouraging him to set a better example for the crew.

I submit that both of these things are true:

  • BioShock is the smartest shooter.At least, as of 2007.Perhaps you want to argue that a classic like Marathon should be named “smartest shooter”. That’s fine. But for the vast majority of young people playing games in the Xbox 360 era, the PC and Mac titles of the 90s weren’t in the running because it wasn’t part of their shared gaming experience.
  • BioShock is the dumbest Immersive Sim.

So shooter fans were discovering how amazing it was to have things like characters, plot twists, atmosphere, and environmental storytelling to go along with their shooty gameplay. They discovered that puzzles and scrounging for resources offered a nice contrast to the sound and fury of combat, which made the action seem all the more intense when the shooting started again. 

Remember that this was a low point in history for the PC as a platform. Big budgets and media coverage were mostly focused on titles that were either console exclusives, or console-first titles with a half-assed PC port. For an entire generation of kids, the shooter genre was born in 2001 with the release of the original Halo. 

If yu were one of these console-focused consumers in 2007, then BioShock would have been absolutely mind blowing. Think about the titles that preceded it. Take a look at this footage from Black in 2006. Or this footage from Resistance: Fall of Man from the same year. I find that footage exhausting to watch. It’s just a steady roar of gunfire with brief intervals of people shouting. The game F.E.A.R. from 2005 fares slightly better in terms of pacing because the combat often slows down to allow for some haunted house style flashing lights and spooky noises. That’s nice, but mechanically it’s still pretty one-note.And to be clear: I’m a pretty big fan of FEAR. I think it did some really interesting stuff with AI that STILL hasn’t been replicated 16 years later.

Those games were also pretty dull in terms of visuals. This was during the Brown Age when game developers thought “realism” was making everything the color of mud and concrete dust.

Imagine you’re a young person that’s been on a steady diet of mid-aughts console shooters and you suddenly find yourself in the haunted hallways of Rapture, dodging splicers, solving puzzles, and connecting with characters that do more than just shout directions at you over the radio. Of course that’s going to feel deep and smart in comparison.

Now imagine you’re a 30-something PC gamer and you’ve played through the late 90s classics from Looking Glass and ION Storm. BioShock probably isn’t going to seem so explosively innovative in comparison. Thief did a better job of scaring the player. System Shock 2 had deeper systems, a more open design, and a more coherent take on the solipsism vs. collectivism debate. Deus Ex featured a bigger world, more varied environments, and a larger and more colorful cast of memorable characters. If those games from Looking Glass and ION Storm were your jam, then BioShock would probably come off like a slightly shallower Immersive Sim with better graphics. 

I admit that I’m trading in broad stereotypes here. I’m not saying that the only people who liked BioShock were 90s kids who never played an immersive sim before. And I’m not saying that BioShock critics like me are all Gen-X PC gamers. But it is true that BioShock is the first cross-platform immersive sim, and the gaming landscape of 2007 was very different from the one that existed when System Shock was on store shelves. BioShock reached a lot of people those earlier titles never could, and that had a huge impact on its reception.

Critical Reception

But fine. BioShock became a beloved classic. That’s probably a good thing. It showed the big publishers that the audience was eager for something more enriching than one-note shooters. It was a step down for fans of immersive sims, but it was a step up for literally everyone else. And for that, we should all be grateful towards BioShock. 

But what really makes me resent BioShock is how Prey was treated by the critical press. Prey beats BioShock in nearly every way that can be measured, and yet critics appraised it significantly lower than BioShock

Prey was nominated for a lot of stuff yet won very little, while BioShock won “Game of the Year” from numerous outlets, along with a lot of other awards. Prey’s systems are deeper, its world is more coherently constructed, its audiologs are less clumsily contrived, the environments are more varied and interesting, the enemy types are more diverse, and the various twists feel more earned and less like an ass-pull. Prey’s leveling system allows for a greater variety of playstyles and the world of Talos-1 is more open and non-linear compared to Rapture. 

Critics pissed all over the gameplay of Prey, but for whatever reason the mind-numbing one-note empowerment of BioShock was given a free pass. Worried that the player might need to explore the systems and discover strategies on their own, the designer has Atlas yell the strategy guide at the player. “Remember, the one-two punch!” he says, speaking of the process of using a plasmid to soften up a foe and then shoot them with your conventional firearm. That’s not bad as far as gameplay systems go, but that’s pretty much everything the game has to offer. The plasmids give you a half dozen ways to stunlock someone, and the guns give you a half dozen ways to murder them afterward. 

Most importantly, Prey has a very firm hold on its themes and has some interesting ideas to play with. This is vastly superior to BioShock‘s sloppy takedown of strawman Randian Objectivism that ended in a farcical brawl with a chatterbox cartoon character. BioShock is a poseur, strutting around with pretensions of being clever and deep, but in the end it shrugged and delivered a DOOM monster to fight. Prey ended not with a fight against a giant monster, but instead with several crucial moments of player agency, followed by a conversation that paid off seeds planted throughout the story. Neither ending is perfect, but Prey at least had the courage to commit to being a sci-fi story and didn’t feel the need to end with the Typhon version of a Cyberdemon. 

I guess I’ll grudgingly give BioShock credit for having a couple of really amazing scenes. I love Prey’s antagonist Alex Yu, but Prey doesn’t have anything as remotely as powerful as the final confrontation with Andrew Ryan. As much as I resent BioShock‘s ongoing critical adoration and Prey‘s relative snub, I have to admit that scene is an amazing moment that really sticks with you.

I’m bitter about this because BioShock is the runt of the immersive sim litter, and yet it’s also the one that won all the awards. Once again, I feel like reviewers have let us down. 

 

Footnotes:

[1] At least, as of 2007.

[2] Perhaps you want to argue that a classic like Marathon should be named “smartest shooter”. That’s fine. But for the vast majority of young people playing games in the Xbox 360 era, the PC and Mac titles of the 90s weren’t in the running because it wasn’t part of their shared gaming experience.

[3] And to be clear: I’m a pretty big fan of FEAR. I think it did some really interesting stuff with AI that STILL hasn’t been replicated 16 years later.



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177 thoughts on “Prey 2017 Part 8: Yesterday’s World of Tomorrow

  1. GGANate says:

    It’s all because of marketing, or lack of it. I remember Prey coming out and having no idea that it was an immersive sim or an unofficial sequel to System Shock. Bethesda really dropped the ball. There was no reason to connect Arkane’s Prey with Human Head’s early 2000’s shooter; the name doesn’t even make sense. The Typhon aren’t so much predators as a completely alien species with no common ground to share with humanity. Bethesda just wanted to use a property that had in their vault. There was also some resentment from the gaming community because a canceled version of Prey that put the player in the shoes of an alien bounty hunter. There was a cool E3 demo, but nothing else.

    Anyway, I was in my early twenties when Bioshock came out, and I had dabbled with System Shock 2 before hand, and played Deus Ex and the Thief games. I remember being very impressed initially; Bioshock looked really good for the time (Unreal Engine 3 was pretty impressive). But like Shamus, as the years go on, I’ve come to the same conclusion that it’s way overrated. It’s not even really an immersive sim. There’s very little exploration or alternate paths to take, and few situations that don’t boil down to “shock that Splicer and shoot them.” Like, you can’t bypass a room full of monsters by hacking or stacking crates, or otherwise manipulating the game systems in a realistic manner like you might in Deus Ex. Anyway, Prey is loads better, and it is a shame that it had little impact with the majority of gamers. I hope Deathloop is good and Arkane gets some much deserved accolades.

    1. Trevor says:

      The cover art and title art made me think this was going to be a game akin to Alien: Isolation, or maybe Resident Evil: Aliens. Some kind of survival horror on a space ship. And then I do not remember much marketing for it at all. I’m pretty sure this site is where I learned it was an immersive sim.

      But the reviews really tanked it. The early consensus was that the combat sucked and there was a post-credits scene that invalidated all your choices in the game, so what was even the point. To be clear, I don’t think either one of those things is true. Other articles in this series have talked about the difficulties in designing combat that is non-empowering and I’m sure we’ll get to the ending. But the nature of the video game review culture now seems to be that once a review consensus develops (which it does really quickly), it’s very, very hard to shake off those reviews.

      1. Thomas says:

        I don’t think it’s just on the (professional) reviews. The user score on Metacritic is exactly the same as the reviewer score. The two top Amazon reviews that I see are 3 out of 5s. One is talking up Prey but complaining about technical issues, but the other says they thought the start was great, but didn’t enjoy the combat or empathise with many of the characters.

        Maybe a AAA game that needs you to pay attention to it to enjoy it is always going to struggle? I don’t mean that to be condescending, just that if a run away success requires everyone who plays it to be blown away and tell their friends, then it needs selling factors that are broad and obvious.

        There aren’t many blockbuster films that are deep and thinky. So blockbusters with even very cursory themes get a lot of praise for those cursory themes (like Captain America: Civil War which makes Bioshock look like a literary thesis by comparison). But is Captain America actually going to sell better if it had less fighting and more involved conversations on unchecked power, government control and the nature of civil liberty?

        The only problem is it’s more expensive to make a niche immersive sim than it is to make a niche film. You can cut out 80% of the budget of a film by removing the special effects, not hiring stars and by making smart location choices. And the film can look great – better than blockbusters even – as long as the director and cinematographer are good.

        But cutting 80% of the budget of a AAA game involves drastically cutting back the graphics, or changing the genre entirely.

        And Prey might not have the mainstream appeal, but it’s well on its way to cult status. People, including Shamus, are putting in the work to make sure it gets remembered.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          Which is why gamedev tools becoming more accessible is a good thing and why we need a healthy mid-tier gamedev ecosystem if we want to see more games like this. While the indie renaissance did breathe new life into certain genres the immersive sim appears to sit at just the point where creating it at a quality level acceptable to most of the fanbase is beyond the reach of the indie scene.

          1. Lino says:

            I think we’re closer than you might think. Recently, I saw Graven, which is heavily inspired by Thief (although it also cribs a lot from Hexen). And there are also quite a lot of other upcoming indie immersive sims detailed in this video.

            1. Sleeping+Dragon says:

              Watches the video, furiously notes down the titles On a more serious note I know we had this discussion already in an earlier post but I still think that “imsim” is a bit nebulously defined and for my personal preference at least some of the stuff mentioned up there doesn’t count… but yeah, I suppose devs were bound to try, now it’s mostly the matter of whether they can find that sweet spot to have a niche and survive in it.

    2. RFS-81 says:

      Yeah, calling it Prey is so weird. It’s like they think trademarks somehow have inherent value, so you’ve got to keep them around. If Prey 2017 had kicked off a huge franchise, it would have done so equally well under a new trademark.

    3. Xsyq says:

      I second the lack of marketing. I picked up Prey from some bundle or another and never touched it until I realized it was like Bioshock and Dishonored by reading these posts. I immediately installed it and have been having a great time.
      I have to say though, the praise Shamus heaped on the Nightmare did not apply at all to my first playthrough. They must have sent me a defective one because it was always getting lost or caught on walls.
      I also propose another name for these types of games. Story-driven scavenging shooting stealth sim, or 5S games.

    4. Fallonor says:

      This was a big issue for me, I remember tooling around with the demo on 360 for the previous Prey and it was a weird physics-puzzle-enhanced shooter with an uncomfortable Native American gimmick attached. I passed because it was less interesting than even The Darkness at the time.

      To use that name to describe a game in the vein of Bioshock and Dishonored was a disservice because it sent me in the exact wrong direction.

  2. Ester says:

    I submit that both of these things are true:

    BioShock is the smartest shooter.
    BioShock is the dumbest Immersive Sim.

    That reminds me of Shibuya Scramble. Sorry if I’m going off-topic here; shooters are very much not my thing and I’ve never played Bioshock. I’ve played some old-school adventure games and quite a few JRPGs. I wanted to check out visual novels, and read on tvtropes that Shibuya Scramble was one of the better visual novels out there. It warned that it got really difficult during the last section, when the game stops giving you hints. I figured I could always check a strategy guide on the internet, and got started.

    Turns out, if you’re used to adventure games, Shibuya Scramble is really easy. You’re controlling between two and five characters, who are reacting to the other’s actions. There are usually two to four choices open, with two or three possibilities each. Try everything. Finished.

    My impression is: Shibuya Scramble might be a very difficult visual novel, but it is a very easy adventure game.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      This is why reviews need to do more than just throw out arbitrary numbers, and games can’t just use genre labels in their marketing. Those are too fuzzy to use on their own, but it’s much better to have something like this to decide a purchase:

      Death Trash has a world about as large to explore as Fallout, but with an apocalypse steeped in the bio-horror of the films Alien or Videodrome instead of the nuclear fear of the cold war. It’s got dodge-rolling, attack-timing combat like Dark Souls, and pixel art that’s nearly as good as Blasphemous (which also shares a world of blood and gore and Soulsian combat). The levelling system is more streamlined than Fallout, with only six primary stats and ten skills. The intent is to also have all builds balanced unlike Fallout and many other open-roaming RPGs before it, but in its current early access state, bartering is brokenly powerful, and animalism is almost useless.

      1. Addie says:

        Yeah, but Fallout (at least 1 and 2) is a role-playing game, and having some level-up choices being distinctly sub-optimal is reasonable – would *your character* have those skills? It’s fun to run through it with an alternative build, see what other paths open up to you. The problem is more that a few choices, eg. some of the perks, don’t even work as described, which is broken.

        Fallout also did fairly well at just implying acres of farmland / desert / derelict ruins; there’s no need for it to be *bigger* if all of it is just uninteractive space that pads out the game.

    2. RamblePak64 says:

      I wouldn’t even call it a very difficult visual novel, unless my own idea of what makes a visual novel is inaccurate. It’s actually incredibly linear, despite the gimmick. I don’t know who would find it difficult. To me, Phoenix Wright and Danganronpa would easily be more difficult visual novels.

      How that would impact someone used to point-and-click adventure, I don’t know. The “challenge” manifests in different areas than when you point and click. If you’re still willing to check out visual novels, I’d recommend the Phoenix Wright series first.

      I do like 428: Shibuya Scramble, but not because of its challenge. Not at all.

  3. Vertette says:

    I remember not being particularly impressed by Bioshock when I first played it back in 2013, but being immediately pulled in by Deus Ex when I first tried it back in 2019 (very late to the party, I know). It’s probably not that controversial to state Bioshock wasn’t all it was hyped up to be anymore as I’m witnessing a lot of people feeling less impressed by Bioshock and its sequels over the years.

    I do hope Prey gets some acknowledgement eventually though.

    1. Coming Second says:

      Anecdotally I’ve seen more and more people talk Prey up over the years. I think it’s well on the way to being a cult classic along the same lines New Vegas is, just not to the same degree since NV is blessed by association to the massively popular Bethesda Fallouts. As many other commentators have said that’s where the producers really dropped the ball, not linking it by name or marketing to System Shock.

  4. Gethsemani says:

    I feel that the problems with the BioShock/Prey match up is two fold:
    1) One is a shooter, the other is an immersive sim. Shooters, at least the sophisticated ones with great production values, are the Golden Gooses of gaming even today and typically get scored by reviewers to match. Immersive Sims are the redheaded stepchild (no offense redheads!) that journalists don’t know how to react to so they tend to get a mixed reception. As a journalist it is relatively easy to rate a shooter because it lives and dies by its shooting mechanics and wow-factor from story and set pieces count for a lot. On the opposite end the Immersive Sim is really hard to rate because if it is well designed it will contain half a dozen system that you are free to pick and choose from and has a map design that’s meant not to draw your attention to the next cool fight but to facilitate player agency in picking their path. The IS requires a lot more time to fully digest, time the reviewer doesn’t have, and the stress of feeling as if you don’t have enough time to properly engage with the game or it is too complex to allow for easy adoption means it scores lower.

    2) One is a decade older then the other. BioShock was an absolute bombshell in 2007, changing the trajectory of shooters in a way similar to how Half-Life had done almost a decade earlier. The ideas of “combat powers”, narrative cohesion and striking visuals all heralded change for the FPS genre and while BioShock only dipped its toes into the RPG genre (mainly with the weapon/plasmid upgrades) it also helped usher in the FPS/RPG hybrid. Then a decade passed and while Prey is a much better game it also has to contend with much better games then BioShock did. 2017 gave us Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Wolfenstein: TNO, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Assassin’s Creed: Origins and Resident Evil VII alongside Prey. All of those games were highly resonant in some fashion or marked new directions for their respective genres. Had Prey dropped in 2016, just a year earlier, it would have had way fewer great games to contend with (and be overshadowed by). It is the sad truth that it isn’t just about being a great game, it is about being a great game in an otherwise unimpressive year.

    1. DeadlyDark says:

      2007 had its share of big games. The Orange Box, The Witcher on PC, Mass Effect on XBox, STALKER, Crysis, Cod MW, Assassin’s Creed, Supreme Commander, World In Conflict… And a lot of smaller but interesting titles like Stranglehold, Tomb Raider Anniversary, King’s Bounty, NWN Mask of Betrayer…
      2007 was one of the really good years for games, not unlike 1998 or 2004. I wouldn’t say that it was the last great year, but I struggle to conjure up any other year just like that. May be 2011 – Shogun 2 Total War, Deus Ex Human Revolution, Bastion and some other games

  5. Coming Second says:

    I apologise off the bat for getting political, but

    The further I get from this game, the more childish and sophomoric its handling of Objectivism seems.

    The exact point Bioshock wants to make is that Objectivism is inherently a childish and sophomoric philosophy that would immediately break down in contact with reality and become totalitarianism/feudalism, cynically used by figures like Ryan to dupe people into their cultish schemes. The opening image of his giant golden head above the banner is that statement made flesh. You can deride its crudeness, but it’s absolutely intentional.

    On the other hand in the sequel Irrational demonstrated they do indeed have a pretty shallow understanding of political philosophies and conceits, so I’m all for criticising the series along those lines more generally.

    1. Dotec says:

      Objectivism obviously isn’t very popular, but frankly I don’t even think the game commits to that criticism as strong as you think it does. Rapture would have had a rot all through its existence. But having played through it again last month, ADAM seems to be a bigger source of the city’s dysfunction than any given political tenet. Drop that substance into any society or political framework and watch it combust. An Objectivist society doesn’t really have the guardrails to keep the wolves out.

      But I’ve read a total of 5 paragraphs about Objectivism so what do I know.

      I don’t think Ryan was a cynic, really – not in the sense that he was trying to pull wool over anybody’s eyes. I think even Ken Levine considered him to be a true believer, even if flawed and unable to live up to the ideal. Cynicism and exploitation I think are represented by Fontaine in the game, and you can consider him and Ryan to be two sides of the same coin.

      1. Chris says:

        While ADAM was the powder keg that ended up blowing up rapture, I think the system’s weaknesses allowed ADAM to destroy the place in the first place. Fontaine was the fuse, he ignored the system and managed to poke around until he found a weakness to exploit. Ryan forbid trade to prevent the outside world from knowing rapture existed, fontaine ran a smuggling ring to outcompete everyone. The free market left a lot of people bereft from wealth, fontaine recruited them knowing they would be loyal to him in a world where everyone else is loyal to money. People discarded children, fontaine ran an orphanage that ended up paying out with little sisters. Ryan discards his girlfriend, fontaine swoops in to get the baby. Even without ADAM fontaine would’ve been able to overthrow ryan in the end. He is a master manipulator that knows how to exploit people.

      2. beleester says:

        ADAM existed because Ryan attracted scientists who were looking to do their research free of any ethical oversight, plus the sort of citizens who thought that giving every Tom, Dick and Harry the ability to shoot lightning from their fingers was a perfectly reasonable idea, not to mention the sort of capitalists who thought that turning little girls into corpse-harvesting machines to meet the demands for ADAM was just “market forces at work.” ADAM is dangerous stuff, but it’s safe to say that being a mad objectivist society amplified all of its worst effects.

        And even if you stick to the non-supernatural side of things, there are still issues like how the oxygen supply is owned by a private citizen (something Ryan thinks is a wonderful example of the market at work), the vending machines full of guns, and that one engineer pointing out that the place is leakier than the White House press corps and nobody wants to fix it. An underwater environment is something that demands a lot more cooperation because you’re all literally in the same boat, and Ryan decided to populate it with people who held selfishness as a primary virtue.

        I don’t think Ryan was a cynic either, but I think OP is right that the point is how Ryan’s ideals instantly collapsed the moment they collided with reality. Ryan envisioned a society where, once the petty restraints of governments are thrown away, Great Men like himself would rise to the top. But then Fontaine goes and actually does that, by creating and monopolizing ADAM, and Ryan realizes that what he actually wanted was a world where he was on top specifically, and tries to hold on to power by force.

        (Really, it was poisoned from the very start, because Ryan’s vision for Rapture required it to be kept secret a la Galt’s Gulch, which required an ever more elaborate security apparatus to fight smugglers like Fontaine, so Ryan’s efforts to build a libertarian utopia were actually building a police state right along with it, complete with gulag.)

    2. BlueHorus says:

      So I might not have the greatest grasp on Objectivism, but to repeat a point that came up in an old thread about Bioshock a few years ago: Andrew Ryan is not a good Objectivist. Rapture as presented is a straw man.

      He starts out okay, founding his society of great freedom and expression, but he damn well makes sure he’s at the top of it…and as soon as people start doing what he doesn’t think they should (importing Bibles) or his position is threatened (i.e Fontaine turns out to be a better businessman than him), he drops the pretence surprisingly quickly and becomes a despot.
      Was that inevitable? Well, maybe – the game certainly seems to think so – but another person might have stuck to their beliefs more. It’s as much a critique of Ryan being a bad leader as much as it is Objectivism.

      Moreover, according to the game’s creator, it goes beyond any one theory to make a point about humanity in general:

      What I was trying to do with BioShock was to say, ‘Okay, well, [in Atlas Shrugged] that’s a utopia where Ayn Rand, who made the philosophy, made all the rules, and all the characters were under her control. What if things weren’t under everybody’s control?’ And I think that’s the problem with utopias — we bring ourselves to it, you know? We think we’re leaving our problems behind but – I don’t mean this in a cynical way – we are the problem.

      Andrew Ryan built his ideal society, and other people messed it up by having different ideas and not doing what they were told. Which you could say about any political system, really.

      1. Coming Second says:

        He starts out okay, founding his society of great freedom and expression, but he damn well makes sure he’s at the top of it…and as soon as people start doing what he doesn’t think they should (importing Bibles) or his position is threatened (i.e Fontaine turns out to be a better businessman than him), he drops the pretence surprisingly quickly and becomes a despot.

        But that for me strikes at the heart of the pragmatic impossibilities of objectivism. From the outset the guy who set the ant-farm up has a much greater power differential than anyone else, and they get to dictate what freedom is and what it’s not to the rest. We can imagine a mythological Cincinnatus that freely abandons their control over it, and perhaps the story would work better if that had been the case… because even if that figure doesn’t exist in the outset, they would quickly arise in a system where inequality is actively encouraged. If Ryan had chosen not to administrate Rapture, Fontaine’s rise and then corruption of it would have simply happened a lot faster.

        I think it works fine as a self-contained parable. That it’s not particularly deep or interesting, particularly in light of the sequels and Levine’s own pronouncements on the subject, is also a perfectly reasonable position to take on it.

        1. Fizban says:

          Seems like objectivism has a root problem for holding up any sort of organization, in that by definition if you’re not the best, you shouldn’t be in charge. But not every person will be objectivist- indeed, most people who espouse the thought and join the club are going to actually be simply supporting something they think will put themselves at the top, and will turn the moment it looks like they’re going to lose power. The actual true objectivists who will step aside when defeated will be a fraction of the fraction who espouse it, and unless you’re extremely lucky, it is most likely that whoever actually rises to the top will not truly care about the ideaology at all. Which is why you can’t have a large organization without apparatus to influence and limit who can take control and what they can do with it.

          Even Feudalism begets rulers who must at least act trustworthy, lest their vassals abandon a “king” who provides no benefit to them- because ironically, the king is still limited by pre-modern communication in what they can personally command, and thus must rely on the trust of their vassals to control more than any one of them can. I dunno where the phrase “first among equals” comes from, but come to think of it, that actually sounds like what I’ve been reading about the workings behind feudalism lately, which just seems deeply ironic that the ancient inferior unequal feudal power structure actually produces, via the hard limits of technology at its time, a more “fair” splitting of power than any set of “laws” grounded in a hate for laws, particularly when coupled with the technology to remove limits on individual control.

          Ryan comes off to me as a solid believer who lacks the insight to realize when they’re crossing the line of their espoused beliefs (it would seem that even the basic conceit of of the secret utopia of “freedom” must do this inherently). But the chances of the one true objectivist leader who is good enough to take and retain power against all comers, including those willing to exploit the weaknesses of those ideals, without violating them, are very, very low. And said structure lasts only until the loss of that leader, when it must finally face reality.

          1. JH-M says:

            When I think of the game, I get the impression that Frank Fontaine was a better objectivist than Ryan, perhaps the only real objectivist in Rapture.
            My understanding is quite spotty, but I think that an objectivist has to be 2 things:
            1. They have to be and act rationally.
            2. The must take the option which enriches them the most, no matter what happens to anyone else.
            Both of these fits Fontaine and his plans quite well. He reads and manipulates everyone emotionally, keeping himself safe, and his long-term plans would have given him practically all the worth of everything that was made in Rapture in terms of technology and innovation, at the literal cost of Rapture and everyone in it.

            1. Syal says:

              So my Bioshock experience was entirely from the Spoiler Warning season, and my Objectivism knowledge is entirely from Atlas Shrugged which was loose about details, but the main principle I took away is that emotional manipulation is profoundly anti-Objectivist. Objectivism treats life as a footrace, and anything that helps or hinders anyone else’s ability to run the race is cheating at life. So politics in itself is anti-Objectivist, and especially political advantages.

              So, your 1 is right, your 2 is wrong. They’re supposed to take the actions that enrich them fairly, based on the objective worth of their output.

              1. Syal says:

                Expanding: Objectivism effectively lives on Full Metal Alchemist rules. There is an inherent, objective value to everything produced, all trade should adhere to that value as closely as possible, all deals are fulfilled at the time of exchange.

                1. JH-M says:

                  The way I fomulated 2 was/is how I interpretated “The Virtue of Selfishness”.

          2. Biggus Rickus says:

            First among equals probably originated from the Roman concept of the Princeps. Pretty much everything in the West was informed by Roman institutions and culture.

      2. beleester says:

        This reminds me of the “true Communism has never been tried” argument. I don’t think it’s a straw man to point out that some forms of government make it a lot easier for those in power to abuse their power than others. And a society that’s literally about letting the powerful do as they please with no oversight is probably near the top of the list.

        It’s like driving a car with no seatbelts – yes, you could say that the fatal crash was the fault of a bad driver, but it’s also the case that a better-designed car would make it harder for a bad driver to get themselves killed.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Well, it’s not like Communism didn’t give certain people ample opportunity to abuse their power and do terrible, selfish things…chances they took. The history of the USSR is a pretty bleak one and it’s a similar story in China.
          It’s the same premise – humanity is the flaw – in a different political system.

          This is interesting, since I don’t really like or believe in Objectivism*. But I contend had Rapture been a Communist utopia or some other ideal political system, someone like Fontaine would have still risen up, the existence of ADAM would have caused chaos, and it would have fallen apart..

          *In particular, why does it have its own name, when it seems to be so similar to so many other freedom-focussed right-wing beliefs like Libertarianism?

          1. Chad+Miller says:

            In particular, why does it have its own name, when it seems to be so similar to so many other freedom-focussed right-wing beliefs like Libertarianism?

            There are actually a number of libertarians, especially those of the left-libertarian bent, who are really annoyed at the degree to which Objectivist-style beliefs became so heavily associated with libertarianism in general. I think this may also be somewhat US-specific, though it’s been a long time since I paid much attention to that scene.

            If we restrict the discussion to the specific rightish market libertarianism sphere, then I think the biggest distinguishing feature is that Objectivism makes specific claims about reality or morality that aren’t required components of the libertarian political philosophy. A free-market right-libertarian would probably vote like an Objectivist but bring up questions of morality or epistemology and it’s possible that they won’t agree on very much at all.

            1. Fallonor says:

              It seems to me the Objectivist is an obligate extremist too, like they can’t ever say “and sometimes we just do it differently because of practical concerns”

              At least whatever variant of pseudo Libertarian I consider myself, I can say that the way we handle roads is frustrating but effective, I’d prefer a medical care system that avoided the perverse incentives our insurance system has. I’ve felt social pressure from the stronger Libertarians, particularly on the right, but nobody has convinced me that my philosophical view requires me to assert liberty over any other virtue.

          2. Daniil Adamov says:

            I have a petty and overused quibble: it wasn’t communism. As in: it officially wasn’t. Our Soviet government never claimed to have created a communist society (at most, it was “advanced socialism”), and neither do the Chinese today. Communist regimes were/are communist in an aspirational sense – communism is something that will result from their actions, eventually. Khruschev promised it will happen in the 1980s when that was around twenty years away. Mao, I think, said it’d take thousands of years. How real communism would work and if it is even possible is impossible to say with absolute certainty (though we might all have our suspicions on the matter). However, the totalitarian communist regimes of the 20th century never even pretended to be “communism” – we may as well give them some credit for that.

            Agreed otherwise. I suspect that Objectivism and Communism (as a realised ideal rather than an ideology of how to get there) are identical in this regard. They rely heavily on everyone or everyone who matters sharing those ideas, and seem to lack protection from those who would abuse them. How are you going to stop “parasites” and “abusers” of your utopian society if you have foresworn all violent coercion? Ask them nicely? Or start coercing violently again?

          3. Daniil Adamov says:

            Belated addendum: what you say about the situation being the same under Ideal or Realised Communism is completely true in my opinion.

            On the other hand, totalitarian Aspirational Communism might not have had that particular problem. Simply shooting Fontaine and successfully suppressing ADAM before it could spread seems like it would’ve been well within its capabilities in its heyday, even more so in a compact environment. Of course, this wonderful advantage has a hefty price tag of its own…

        2. BobtheRegisterredFool says:

          Should you classify ideologies in terms of theory, or in terms of practice?

          One of the theoretical problems with classifying by theory is that it can be shown* that no humanly comprehensible closed form theory can capture more than most of possible behavior within a society that matches the theory.

          Communist flavors of ideology have a further problem with classifying by theory in that the theory changes, and there is some consistency of behavior. In theory, the Trotskyites and Stalinists allege a theoretical difference between Trotskyism and Stalinism, and a theoretical difference of practical importance between Stalin and Trotsky. I do not see any practical difference between the two, it seems to be very much like the differences of opinion between Baptist congregations. Furthermore, modern communist theory is heavily influenced by Gramsci, and it is not clear to me that the difference in theory translates to a behavioral difference between pre and post Gramsci communists. Okay, American communists who were raised in American culture sixty or seventy years ago are behaviorally different from American communists raised among Americans in modern American culture. I’m pretty sure that is an artifact of culture differences, and differences in how they are influenced by the people they live among.

          Behaviorally, thinking like anthropologists would if they ignored the academic theory of anthropology, we would classify the ideology of communism as having roots in the state cult of the Soviet Union. A communism would be a Marxist flavor of socialism that additionally inherited behavioral features from the objective realities of the USSR. Behaviorally, real communisms have existed, because you define communism as the behaviors that Lenin, Stalin, and similar people like Mao demanded from their followers. The behavioral feature of Party Members constantly adjusting their actions and speech, never acknowledging that they did or said something else yesterday, is because they live in constant fear of being shown or seen to be out of step with the current Party Truth. Lenin and Stalin evoked that fear, because they never wanted someone to be secure enough to contradict anything that Lenin or Stalin wanted them to pretend to do. This is because, behaviorally, the ideology of communism was something that they created for the sake of pursuing their own personal appetites. All of the socialisms which have this feature of going along with the head honcho rewriting the Party Truth to fit the moment are communisms.

          Lenin, Stalin, and Mao were similar men in essentially being criminals. They were criminals in the sense that the ‘personal preference’, the ‘life style choice’, the way their minds were wired was to enjoy hurting others. (This theory communists have of crime being driven by societal injustice, functionally, is a way to conceal that some criminals simply enjoy hurting other people, and would never choose to live any other way.) This criminality drove them to excel at concentrating power. Someone who was only indifferent to human lives would never seek to imitate the French revolution, because the French revolution had some practical downsides for the people responsible. Lenin deliberately imitated the French revolution, because his flavor of crazy made hurting others significantly more important to him than minimizing being hurt himself. Lenin’s curation of the theory of Marxism-Leninism definitely was not motivated by any desire to help others.

          So, I get very irritated when people try to tell me that the hundred acre middle kingdom is not an implementation of communism, or that it is corporate fascism and that this is somehow necessarily distinct from communism. A normal person whose parents are murdered, and whose sister is raped, might conclude that murder and rape are bad. Growing up being beaten up, starved, and so forth seems to have instead motivated the honey loving bear to have others raped, murdered, beaten and starved. That isn’t a result of some abstract ‘social injustice’, he simply was the kind of person who would internalize the experiences that way. Lots of people have very bad experiences, which they internalize, and there are very many of them who do not grow up to be rapists and mass murderers. Pooh is simply a criminal, and bending the party truth to solely be in service to his own criminality is the very behavioral essence of communism. The folks who are ‘of the faith’ in the first world, who are cheerleading for him, talking up how enlightened, wealthy, peaceful and free his slaves are and territory is, are simply behaving exactly as prior cohorts did.

          Fundamentally, a bunch of people trying to set up an isolated society in accordance with theory they were passionate for is an experience that has had a significant influence on American history and culture.

          The New England Calvinists/Puritans were an example, and one that was extremely influential. There are a number of features of North American flavors of Protestant denomination that were inspired by things out of New England Calvinism. They can be argued as both a success, and as a failure. Success, because of the significant influence on others, and because they understood the first generation of their society as a success. A failure, because it did not go expected in subsequent generations, and their descendants to this day have a cultural distaste for things they recognize as religion, or at least as extremes of religion. Basically, their first generation were basically a bunch of handpicked fanatics, and formed their ideas of a working society based on that mixture of personalities. Their kids and grandkids obviously had a broader spectrum of personality types, and were not seen as being good enough at religion for the first generation’s preference. The first generation New England Calvinists had a theoretical model for the correct emotional experiences in the practice of their faith, and it could not cope with the reality of the later generations having a wider range of faith experiences. So, it imploded hard, going from Cotton Mather to Ben Franklin.

          Trying to set up a society according to theory, and having it work out or go very badly, is a sort of story that is very compatible with American culture. If the theory is very new, a first generation effort might be expected to go very badly. A theory that describes a society that has previously existed may be viable for such a project, because it may inherit a practical knowledge of the behavioral work arounds that the previous society used to function in reality, that were not captured by the theory. If you want to tell a story of a utopia going awry, Randian objectivism would have been a good choice, because people knew about it, there had not been a notable concentration of enough objectivists to actually try it before, and your audience would not have had a bunch of examples to compare it with, so you still had artistic choice as to failure modes. Picking the period to be when objectivism was really new lets you avoid the possibility of people figuring out how to make it work, and providing a counter example.

          It can be argued that America is itself an at least semi-successful version of such an attempt. You can definitely point to periods where many Americans were trying to live according to a theory of America, which had been formed based on the behavior of previous generations of Americans. The concept that America is a nation of ideas, not blood, is such a theory.

          *Proof goes as follows: Can a human mind contain a perfect model of that human mind? If we do not say that it can, then even if a smart human mind can contain a perfect model of a dumb human mind, you do not need a very large group of humans before no human mind is smart enough to contain a perfect model of the group’s ‘state space’. Theories of human group behavior that fit inside human minds are reduced order, and in some circumstances can only explain things that have already occurred. The qualities that let widget models hold across enough cases to be used for prediction are not true of human minds.

          1. stratigo says:

            There’s a lot of…. questionable methodology here.

            Like, we certainly have no basis to believe that Mao, Stalin, or Lenin were sadists who enjoyed inflicting pain. You don’t have to be neurodivergent to be monstrous. It’s really weird moralizing that demands that bad historic figures not just be bad, they MUST be mentally ill in some manner that is unacceptable. And, really, this isn’t the case. We can’t actually say anything about Stalin or lenin or mao’s states of mind except what they communicate to us through historic documents (and even that can be suspect). I do wonder who you fold under “american communist” though.

            Further the idea that crime is driven in any real measure by sadism is also… well… ridiculous. Very little, I mean a vanishing small statistic, of all crime is committed by individuals who do so because they primarily derive satisfaction from hurting people.

            And talking trotskyism and Stalinism as indistinguishable is a bit odd. First, trotskyism was never implemented. What it would look like is mostly constructed and imagined by trotskyites. Since trotsky lost the power struggle, this imagining and reality very possibly wouldn’t line up. But the imagined trotskyite state looks significantly different then the actual Stalinist state. Trotsky had different views on communism then stalin did. It is unlikely he would have pushed the socialism in one nation angle for example.

            1. Daniil Adamov says:

              I understand where you’re coming from, but I think that the differences between Trotskyist and Stalinist thought really are more strategic and relative than absolute, and stemmed largely from the fact that Stalin was in power and Trotsky wasn’t.

              Consider this – Stalin didn’t actually keep to one nation. He built it up, but continued to support communists abroad, and of course used WWII to expand his sphere of control further. How is that different from a “world revolution”? Just a slower one. Because that was what he thought they could get away with.

              Meanwhile, if Trotsky had taken over, would he have invaded in all directions without any preparation like a rabid dog? I find that somewhat unlikely. Then, he would probably have had to focus on developing one nation once reality set in.

              I don’t doubt there would have been differences, but what they have in common seems much more important, i.e. the idea that the end of a stateless, classless society justified the means, and that a dictatorship that relied on terror provided adequate means for that end. The rest are details and nuances of strategic thinking, but the fundamentals are the same.

              One other thing I noticed while reading various Trotskyists past and present is that many of them say something like this:
              1. Obviously, terror against reactionary classes is justified. A sad necessity, determined by objective historical laws.
              2. But terror against communists is wrong!
              3. Stalinist bureaucrats aren’t real communists. They are a reactionary class.

              I do not think it is too much of a leap to assume that people who believe that would not have behaved all that differently from Stalin if they were in power, at least as far as the use of mass terror goes. And to many, though certainly not all, people who are critical of communist regimes, that is the main sticking point.

      3. stratigo says:

        There really isn’t anything smarter to say about objectivism then what Bioshock said.

        To set the objective society in bioshock as anything else but one man’s totalitarian playground just misses the critique. You can’t have a system where a man can garner infinite wealth and power to himself AND one that allows for everyone to strive equally towards infinite wealth and power with no restraints obviously can’t exist. Someone gets the power and wealth and why would they share it?

        Andrew Ryan being a totalitarian mouthing off about individualism IS the critique of objectivism.

        1. Shamus says:

          “Andrew Ryan being a totalitarian mouthing off about individualism IS the critique of objectivism.”

          Which is why I stand by what I said: The game’s take on it is shallow and childish. The entire game is basically a really roundabout way of mounting a blunt ad hominem attack on Rand’s fanbase.

          A proper critique would take the form of, “This person means well, but the idea won’t work and here’s how it will fail.” It would show Rapture fall as Ryan keeps sticking to his ideals, no matter how badly things go.

          Instead Ryan is a massive hypocrite who does the opposite of what he claims to believe in, from the very beginning. Are we suggesting that EVERYONE espousing these ideas is a secret tyrant hypocrite? Isn’t it possible that some of these Ayn Rand fans are, in fact, true believers that actually desire freedom for themselves and others? (Regardless of how well that would or wouldn’t work out.)

          When a communist comes in and says they want to create a just and equal society, I take them at their word that this is really what they desire, and they’re not some secret monster that wants to create a Stalinist hellhole. No useful discussion can take place if you’re not at least willing to engage with what the other party has to say.

          You can find some good points in the game. The private ownership of AIR, the widespread abuse of supernatural drugs, and the fact that things fell into disrepair because there wasn’t a profit in taking care of them. If Levine had stuck to this sort of thing I think his case would have been much stronger. (And more interesting.) But these points are hopelessly muddled by the countless ways in which nobody involved seemed to UNDERSTAND Objectivism beyond a surface level.

          The BAN on Bibles in BioShock is particularly galling to me. I’ve known some Objectivists in my time, and I’ve never met ANYONE that thought a BAN on religion was a good idea. Like, the sense I get is that the idea of regulating reading material would be WAY more offensive to them than a Bible. The people who wanted Bibles weren’t Objectivists, because otherwise why did they want Bibles? RYAN wasn’t an objectivist, because otherwise what gave him the right to regulate the reading material of others? This isn’t an illustration of how Objectivisim failed, it’s an illustration of what would happen if a bunch of non-Objectivsts moved in together and tried to live according to ideals that none of them understood or believed in.

          If Ken Levine wanted to critique objectivism, he should have put objectivists in his world.

          EDIT: Disclaimer: Like pretty much everyone else in this thread, I’ve never read Rand’s work either.

          1. BlueHorus says:

            You can find some good points in the game. The private ownership of AIR, the widespread abuse of supernatural drugs, and the fact that things fell into disrepair because there wasn’t a profit in taking care of them. If Levine had stuck to this sort of thing I think his case would have been much stronger. (And more interesting.)

            There’s also Rapture’s underclass, languishing because they’re not the best and brightest of society, which allows Fontaine to manipulate and control them with laughable ease.
            Also Fontaine himself: He’s plain better that Ryan, in many ways: smarter, more devious, managing to play Rapture’s political system like a fiddle. His sucess is the main reason Ryan is thretened and becomes such a tyrant in the first place.

            But yeah, more emphasis on what Rapture did WELL, and a more in-depth examination on what life was like before it all fell apart would have been welcome.
            In theory there is some praise: the fact that Rapture is under the sea – a great feat of science and engineering – and the fact that ADAM exists at all. The unregulated pursuit of science attacted the best and brightest minds, who produced results not seen elsewhere.
            (Maybe. Both of those can be explained for non-story reasons though, those being ‘A Reference to Atlas Shrugged’ and ‘Computer game is more fun with weird science powers’.)

          2. PizzaRollExpert says:

            I think that the game argues that when having to choose between keeping our power and sticking to our principles, people are going to pick power.

            This doesn’t mean that Andrew Ryan never was a true believer in objectivism, but it does mean that power can corrupt. Maybe trying to build a society that only works if people stick to its ideals and never prioritize personal power over these ideals is a bad idea, especially a society founded on the virtues of self interest.

            Your point about the banning of bibles is fair and there are many points where the game is unfair to objectivists but I do think Andrew Ryan betraying objectivism holds up.

          3. Addie says:

            Having actually read ‘Atlus Shrugged’, where our brave heroine battles against the Evil Straw Men and anvils clang on every one of about ten thousand pages, I could not in good faith advise you to do the same. Under-written characterisation, beige prose, meandering plot, and ludicrous dialogue reported at great length are all present and correct; even the central conceit (that having liberty to act in your own interest is important) is undermined by just how foolish and repetitive the actions of the antagonists are.

            ‘This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.’ – Dorothy Parker

            1. Coming Second says:

              It’s such a rambling slog. If anything the bit at the end where she throws all the props away and has her ubermensch simply sermonize at length directly to the reader is a relief, because it at least feels honest.

            2. SkySC says:

              Yes, this. Atlas Shrugged is appallingly, painfully bad. I’ve read a lot of different kinds of books, including some very badly written ones, but none of them was as bad as Atlas Shrugged. Sophomoric and juvenile criticism is better than Rand deserves.

      4. Geebs says:

        You could argue that nobody in Rapture is a good Objectivist. If everybody was rationally following the objective evidence of their senses to the exclusive benefit of their own self-interest, then the average e.g. riveter should have pushed Ryan in the ocean and run off to the nearest scrap-metal merchant, and Rapture would never have been built.

  6. Grimwear says:

    Bioshock never really grabbed my attention. I think I’m right near the end (I vaguely remember running around being…poisoned? and my health bar is going down as I search for a way out) but never went back to finish. And honest;y until Prey I had a lot of trouble with these games with leveling systems. Deus Ex Human Revolution and Dishonored all had the problem where I didn’t want to be an ahole and kill innocents/plague the city so I had to constantly stealth. Which is fun in its own way but also makes it so that all the powers and builds at your disposal fall by the wayside. You don’t get to play with the fun explody powers. But with Prey finally I can make fun and powerful explosion builds with simultaneous hacking AND don’t have to cripple my playthrough because I’m fighting aliens.

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      I’ve tried and failed to get into Dishonored multiple times for this exact reason. It’s worse than Hitman and its “half of our unlocks are worthless if you’re actually trying to ace the game”

      (although I did actually start Prey with a Stealth build, that quickly turned into a Sneak Attack/Firearms build that could do things like 100-0 a Telepath with a pistol before it even figured out where I was)

      1. BlueHorus says:

        I’ve tried and failed to get into Dishonored multiple times for this exact reason. It’s worse than Hitman and its “half of our unlocks are worthless if you’re actually trying to ace the game”

        Oh man, me too. The thing I couldn’t get over was the way you just can’t unequip the damned sword. Whatever you’re trying, your left mouse button will be bound to a lethal weapon.
        Oh, you want to be nonlethal? Use more than one non-stab item or ability at a a time? Well, better learn those hotkeys, buddy!

        1. CloverMan-88 says:

          Emily, a new playable character in Dishonored 2, has an excellent set of cool abilities that can be used both violently and stealthly, which makes the sequel significantly better in my book.

          For example – you have a power called Domino, which links two characters and makes it so whatever happens to one of them happens to another one as well. You also get a Shadow Clone, which acts as a decoy and draws enemy attacks in combat. But you can also summon a clone somewhere safe, link it to a guard you want to take care of, and then choke your clone so they both fall unconcious.

          The game is full of such little tricks, which makes the stealth play through feel way more legitimate. They also added more non-human enemies so you can let loose from time to time, and a wonderful little gadget that let’s you hear the target’s deepest secret – and it turns out that the world of Dishonored is full of truly terrible people, which justifies some killing in you “good” (low chaos) play through, the game even acknowledges that getting rid of some people would actually make the world a better place, and doesn’t really punch you for their death

          1. CloverMan-88 says:

            But most important, the sequel is much better in establishing the intended tone – those are games about violent people in the mids of violent events, in a world where life is incredibly cheap. There’s a reason Corvo’s an ASSASSIN and not a spy/thief. The game expects you thematically to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, but not to shy away from it alltogether. Unfortunatelly some of the design goes hard against that theme – the first game gives you a bad ending if you kill too much, and after every mission there are meangless achievements for passing the level without killing and without being seen. The second game is much, MUCH more generous with the good ending (as in in my last good play through i killed almost 1/2 of all enemies) and point many, many times that Corvo sees violence as a viable, and often necessary option, one that often ends up with less people getting hurt in the long run. It requires some getting used to, as decades of stealth games made me see violence as a lose state, but getting in the right mindset makes those games much, much more enjoyable.

            1. Chad+Miller says:

              But most important, the sequel is much better in establishing the intended tone

              So, funny story: this conversation made me go back and play Dishonored over the last couple days and I think I’m near the end now (I just got back to the Hound Pits Pub after the Flooded District section) and yeah, while I understand the appeal now I still stand behind my original reaction to it. The problem goes something like:

              * It’s a first-person game that can be, but doesn’t have to be, a stealth game
              * The non-stealth version of the game is far more active, less tedious, and less punishing for not having the game memorized
              * The game guilts you for not playing the stealth game

              Metal Gear Solid avoided problems like this by making it so that only enemy combatants attack you, and ghosting a level was more of a “wow you’re so cool you didn’t even have to fight people” meant for repeat playthroughs and not “look how bad it is that you fought people.” Hitman gives you ways to blend in with the civilians and scout out levels rather than making almost everyone hostile all the time. Dishonored has a design that’s inherently hard to ghost, then actively guilts you for not ghosting it.

              The point about guilt is somewhat debatable because “it’s not actually a morality system” but I suspect at least some of the writers didn’t get the memo. It’s a common problem with games that try to break out of the good/evil mold; not everyone’s on the same page about what that means and you end up with stuff like Fallout 4 gaslighting you about whether the Institute is actually bad or not, or Mass Effect’s Renegade Shepard not being able to decide whether or not to hate aliens, or The Outer Worlds giving you the option to join The Board but also making them cartoonishly incompetent buffoons whose Plan A is “starve to death.”

              Dishonored’s Chaos rating wants to claim it’s too cool to be a morality system, but then makes it clear that high Chaos = bad stuff happens. So you have a situation where:

              (1) Chaos is decided purely by kill count, and high chaos is worse than low chaos
              (2) With some of the kills, there’s no justification as to why anyone should care that they were killed (weepers come to mind). The only possible justification is that the system doesn’t care whether people died, only that I personally killed them
              (3) Some of the nonlethal options are at least debatably just as bad or worse compared to lethal methods (most infamously the thing with Lady Boyle)

              These things all clash. (1) means that we can’t express this as “two sides of a coin” or whatever, which means it’s a Good/Evil meter regardless of whether you want to call it that. But then (2) and (3) make it likely that the people involved didn’t fully admit to themselves that they were making a morality system, so instead what they made was a morality system that can only be explained by a deontology where “Don’t kill people” is literally the only rule.

              Anyway I’m glad to hear that someone seems to have figured this all out, and will maybe try the sequels at some point.

              1. Coming Second says:

                I wouldn’t characterise The Board’s Plan A as ‘starve to death’, it’s more ‘starve everyone of surplus value to death while we try to figure something out’, which is perfectly in line with its hyper-capitalist logic.

                And there’s nothing wrong with the option to join The Board in light of them being incompetent: You might have convinced yourself you could turn it around, particularly after meeting Sanjar.

                1. Chad+Miller says:

                  With the disclaimer that I haven’t played TOW since like 2 months after release, the way I remember it was that The Board knew that they had nothing sustainable without future supply drops from Earth that would probably never come and were just trying to keep themselves in luxury on the way down.

                  1. Coming Second says:

                    With a similar sort of disclaimer, their plan was to retain a skeleton team of scientists working on the nutrition problem whilst returning everyone not dedicated to that to cryo or simply leave them to die. Dr Chartrand implies there is a potential chemical solution (and it seemed as if the Edgewater deserters also solved it by themselves? I don’t think it’s ever made clear if that was really viable or not) so it’s a question of how long it takes them to find it and whether or not they shoot themselves in the foot again disseminating it.

                    It may well be some of the Board had given up and were just planning on a Berlin ’45 style curtain closer once they’d packed everyone else away. Rockwell and Akande do give the impression they really believe in it, though.

                    1. Chad+Miller says:

                      it seemed as if the Edgewater deserters also solved it by themselves? I don’t think it’s ever made clear if that was really viable or not

                      It’s really difficult to find, but the secret to the deserters’ farm is that they’re using human remains as fertilizer. Funnily enough, this is treated as scandalous by the game but I’ve never met anyone, literally not one person, who was actually scandalized by it. It’s certainly better than the slow death Reed has them marching toward, but this doesn’t seem sustainable on its own without further elaboration.

                      I won’t continue to spout my half-remembered idea of the board leadership, except to note that the “advertisement” for their “extended time off” or whatever euphemism for freezing colonists was the point where I said, “Okay, these villains are clowns.”

    2. beleester says:

      Yeah, after the big betrayal where Fontaine triggers your killswitch, the game becomes a bit of a slog. I’m not sure why that is, but I just didn’t feel the same drive as I did when I was trying to get to Ryan. I think Fontaine is just not as interesting a villain.

      1. avwolf says:

        There’s a bit of the “curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal” to it, where the least possibly surprising thing happens (frankly, “Atlas betrays you” is not a twist to anyone the least bit genre savvy), and Fontaine is definitely not as interesting of a character as Ryan, but what’s worse is that the game gets a lot dumber too.

        I can’t speak for anybody else, but I’d collected a lot of plasmids by that time, and the vast majority of them are useless, or useful only in hyper-specific circumstances. I’d carefully curated my enormous collection of powers so I had a set that was effective and, much more importantly, fun. I never ceased to find amusement in shouting “BEEES!” at the screen when using Insect Swarm 2. So when the game decides to randomize your plasmid list, the chance that you’ll end up with non-fun garbage instead of an interesting challenge is…high, to put it mildly.

        The level designer ends up holding you in a lot of contempt at that point too. You do a lot of darting into a room with no other exits to push a button and then there’s a splicer that you didn’t kill laying in the corridor you left just twenty seconds before. Might as well put a neon sign with Admiral Ackbar’s picture blinking above it. So when you do the obvious thing and shoot them while they’re there on the ground, the game pops up the message “You’ve just damaged a machine that was friendly to you.” Ah, no, game designer, I did no such thing, but I appreciate that you think I’m a complete idiot.

        Then it culminates in a bog-standard fight against a big-bag-of-hitpoints-with-a-weak-spot final boss. Meh. The end of Act 2 with Andrew Ryan still ranks as one of the best, most powerful boss conflicts I’ve experienced in gaming, and the “would you kindly reveal” still to this day makes me physically ill to think about. But the third act was a ruinous trainwreck, setting everything they’d done on fire and merrily micturating on their own ashes.

        1. eldomtom2 says:

          There is also, of course, the fact that you continue to blindly follow orders after the big “Haha, you were mind controlled to blindly follow orders!” twist.

          1. Fizban says:

            I hear this sort of complaint a lot, but aside from the basic “are you here to play the game or not?” problem, this is the point in Bioshock where your character has reasons to do things demonstrated by the story which you’ve directly played. You’ve been betrayed, most people would want revenge. You’ve got X time to live, most people if given a chance to survive that would spend their time doing whatever is necessary to save themselves. It’s only at the end when you’ve saved yourself and turn yourself into a big daddy to go after Fontaine, that you’re really following orders for no reason other than. . . to repay someone who just helped you survive certain death. If there was one final fork in the game that let you just ditch out instead, would that make it a better game, or would people ignore it because it’s not interesting?

            Prey itself has an ending before the endgame where you just leave- does this make the game measurably better? Well, if you don’t want to fight Fontaine, pretend that once you’re cured you just walk away.

            As for the random plasmids, I found it annoying but also refreshing: all these plasmids I had very specifically not been buying, I got a chance to try out, and whatever broken weapon you might have been eschewing to avoid overpowering the game is suddenly a great friend again. In later playthroughs I found it completely inconsequential as efficient use and fueling of the chemical thrower, gained through experience, meant I barely even needed plasmids (Bioshock has the best chemical thrower).

            The random bogus ambushes give a change in overall combat tone, a use for the newer trap plasmid, fit with the theme of you being hunted, and eventually conclude with you having to point-defend the little sister.

            The post-Ryan game is still a slog, but I don’t think it’s those elements that make it one. The game simply spent nearly all of its secrets and emotional punch before then. Seeing the slums where the riots started, we already knew it was bad. Seeing the details of the sister and daddy production, cool but we already knew it was bad. And then an uninspired meat boss. It seems to me that the game was originally planned to end after the Ryan conflict, but calls for moar game and final boss meant they had to extrapolate more game and turn the hidden traitor into a final boss. Information you could have found hints of already if you cared is taken and spun into in your face gameplay, making the previous discoveries moot, and having no juicy new bits to uncover because they’re just based in things you already knew, and Fontaine is a bag of meat.

            1. Chad+Miller says:

              Prey itself has an ending before the endgame where you just leave- does this make the game measurably better?

              You’re asking rhetorically but for me this is an unironic “yes”. I could imagine the game ends by not playing it, or I could just lie in bed and tell myself stories. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate off-the-expected-path story endings where I can get them.

              1. Syal says:

                I’ll second this; early “bad” endings make games better. Put it after a narrative climax (like the confrontation and death of the main antagonist), and it’s a nice “mission success” jumping off point, with an easy jumping back on point when you feel like coming back to it. The Persona games have them, Breath of Fire 2 had one, Chrono Trigger, probably some others*. They’re good.

                *(Do the DrakenNier multiple endings count toward this? Probably.)

                1. Chad+Miller says:

                  The original Fallout lets you surrender to the villains early.

                  Planescape: Torment gives you a few ways to end the game despite your character being immortal (which keeps you from the “default fail state” of eventually going insane but doesn’t let you pass on to the afterlife like the good ending)

                  We Happy Few lets you take the blue pill early and roll credits and that’s about the only positive thing I have to say about it.

                  Far Cry 4 famously lets you enjoy the crab rangoon.

                  1. BlueHorus says:

                    Wasteland 2 lets you side with the bad guy. You spend a while doing obviously terrible things at his instruction, undermining yourself and your allies…all to be betrayed at the end, because you’re an idiot.
                    I think it improves the game greatly.

                    1. Coming Second says:

                      Disco Elysium has a few, including but not limited to shooting a little girl in front of your police partner, following through on your suicidal impulses, murdered by the union for being too dumb to live, and getting disappeared by the government for knowing too much.

            2. eldomtom2 says:

              Come on dude, that’s a copout. You can’t use story justifications to defend against thematic criticisms.

      2. BlueHorus says:

        after the big betrayal where Fontaine triggers your killswitch, the game becomes a bit of a slog. I’m not sure why that is

        YMMV, but for me that’s the point where the story falls apart and Bioshock becomes too ‘gamey’. The story, the characters, the entire world warp around the perceived needs of a computer game.
        Fontaine’s killswitch fails to kill you, because realising you were a dupe and then dying would have been anticlimatic*. Instead, it becomes a mild nuisance and you are sent after a series of MacGuffins to undo it.
        Fontaine completely changes, going from a pretty damn clever villain to…a monologuing idiot who deliberately injects himself with the same magical drugs that he’s seen tear Rapture apart and render people insane. And ho, he goes insane, what a shock!

        Like, why is he even still in Rapture at this point? He WON. Ryan’s dead, he’s got ADAM, the city is falling apart around him – just take your magic drugs and make a killing selling them to governments around the world. He’s set, whatever happens to the player character.
        Instead, he starts acting like…a computer game bad guy, so there can be a boss fight. Snore.
        The game just sort of keeps going for a bit, after it’s made its point.

        *Awesome, unique, and very brave in a way. But most people would have hated it.

  7. Freddo says:

    I really liked Prey, the enjoyment being diminished by the frequent crashes and the rather horrible load times on my admittedly not state-of-the-art PC. Until my save game got corrupted and for whatever shitty reason this also corrupted all other saves. There was a big stink in the gaming press about that too, not sure if that is covered by “Critics pissed all over the gameplay of Prey”. If developer and publisher care so little about my time & enjoyment they go on the do-not-buy list.

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      FWIW Shamus did also experience a save bug near release and called the game out for it at the time: https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=38640

  8. Chad+Miller says:

    One thing I found interesting about the Art Deco look is where it’s absent: Psychotronics (and I guess the GUTS, but that’s basically just one big maintenance tunnel). Psychotronics is the one area of the station where Typhon are being researched, and the only place where they’re intended to exist at all. It’s also the section with the least alteration from Talos’ Soviet iteration as the Kletka.

    Other departments, even research-focused ones like the Neuromod Division, don’t even know the Typhon exist at all. For those people, the bright art deco parts of the station are the station. For those in Psychotronics, the bleak industrial holdovers are where the important work happens while the more pleasant parts of the station are the public face Talos puts on for everyone else.

  9. Mark Ayen says:

    I legitimately do not remember the boss fight with Ryan at the end of Bioshock (from the video Shamus linked), even though I played through the game at least twice. Was it in the original release of the game on Xbox 360?

    1. Gautsu says:

      Boss fight should be Atlas, Ryan dies in the “Would you kindly?”, twist scene

    2. Rho says:

      I believe it was, but the fight wasn’t with Tyan, but the game’s other significant character: Fontaine. He’s just a complete one-note villain, and ultimately less interesting. The high point is meeting Ryan. But that’s 2/3 of the way through the game. The final chapter is not bad, but it’s less interesting and personal.

      I somewhat disagree with Shamys regarding Bioshock. There are some subtleties to the story. It’s a long digression though.

  10. Abnaxis says:

    Oooh, I’ve had a pent up rant about the thesis in this article, but I always seem to miss the discussion…

    It frustrates me very much when you say Bioshock is a “sloppy takedown of Randian Objectivism,” when it REALLY isn’t. The issue with Bioshock, is that it hides the actual criticism of Objectivism in audio-logs in the slowest, most drudgery part of the game that’s (IIRC) right after the the big scene with Ryan, and voiced by the cheesy, cartoonish anachronism that is Frank Fontaine.

    The REAL place where the game makes its argument against Objectivism is in Fontaine’s House for the Poor, where there are numerous audio logs detailing the way Fontaine found people left destitute by Ryan’s Objectivist utopia, who had no alternative but to indenture themselves to Fontaine until he had his own little feudalistic fiefdom. He accomplished all that without violating the laws on the books or even the actual principles of Objectivism that Rapture had followed prior to that point, but in a hammed up audio delivery described how down-on-their-luck people will gladly give up all the vaunted Objectivist-given freedom in return for food.

    Whenever you accuse the game of being “childish and sophomoric” you point at the first few areas of the game and say “See? This isn’t objectivism, it’s totalitarianism. This game is a cartoony takedown of an objectivist strawman where the creators don’t understand Objectivism and just want to look smart.” The problem with that is, you’re criticizing scenes depicting Rapture AFTER its Objectivist society collapsed, then criticizing it for not being Objectivist. Yes, Ryan turned authoritarian after Fontaine amassed enough power he threatened a coup. That’s not particularly unrealistic or contrary to the themes the game is portraying–ANY society will merrily turn to totalitarianism when shit starts hitting the fan, and the whole message of the game is that an Objectivist society will invariable reach that point quickly. Pointing at that and calling Bioshock contrived is unfair.

    To be fair to the criticism, the game doesn’t smack you in the head with its anti-objectivist message in the intro cinematic, waiting until the last quarter of the game to actually gets around to its argument. The creators seem like they VERY much wanted to bury the lede on that one, and did so thoroughly enough that you saw Objectivists saying they have no problem with the message. A deeper criticism of Objectivism is there though, and if nothing else the fact that you can’t see it makes an argument that the annoying games that shove their message in front of you constantly might have some justification for not wanting to under-do getting their themes across.

    I’ll grant you the delivery was rough, but there’s no straw-manning and there’s plenty of philosophy and discussion to be had in the game. The creators just didn’t have the stomach to actually give the philosophical debate more up-front screen time.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      Yes, Ryan turned authoritarian after Fontaine amassed enough power

      No he didn’t, Ryan was terrible from the very beginning. His “Great Chain” is the medieval idea that everyone has a tier in society which they belong at and that is antithetical to Objectivist individualism. Ayn Rand thought even the supergenius inventors should do grunt work, she would’ve hated everything about it. It’s as out of place as a communist praising free market wages, and it proves that either the writers had no clue what they were talking about, or that they never intended him to be anything more than a generic tyrant.

      1. Gethsemani says:

        The Great Chain is nothing of the sort. The Great Chain in BioShock is the idea of an economic chain created by free individuals exchanging goods and services purely through supply and demand. Thus they are all bound together in a great chain as every goods or service exchanged is part of a greater market chain (the fisherman sells his fish to a cannery who sells it to a store who sells it to someone who cooks and eats it, who in turn makes nets and sells to the fisherman etc. etc.). Ryan’s vision as espoused in the game is essentially the invisible hand of the market and Ryan is explicit about how the chain will guide society on it own and not the other way around.

      2. Abnaxis says:

        That is not even close to what’s depicted in the game, which is very clearly that the Great Chain is a metaphor for the Free Market.

        From the Fandom wiki:

        The Great Chain is an allegorical term coined by Andrew Ryan to describe the market and its evolution, especially within Rapture. According to his ideal, each worker and consumer influences the economy through his or her natural endeavors to produce, buy and sell. The combined actions of all participants in the economy create a relatively unified movement, thus every individual is a “link” in this Great Chain of industry, pulling it in a certain direction simply by acting in their own self-interest.

        According to Andrew Ryan’s vision, the Great Chain must be guided solely by individuals working for their own interest, which can only occur in a free market system. In an unrestricted economy, the Great Chain would obey only the laws of exchange: pricing and distribution, supply and demand. Because of this, Ryan despised government, since he saw no place for it in a society of open trade. Government, according to Ryan, was a hindrance to an economy’s freedom and served only to leech resources away from it while forcefully depriving its participants of the fruits of their labor. In Ryan’s early vision, no single individual or entity had the right to control the Great Chain: the freedom of the people rested on the freedom of the Chain, and to control it would equate to tyranny.

        As far as metaphors go it’s pretty terrible (unless someone else has experience with individual links of a chain somehow having self-determination on whether and where they are in the chain?) but the game was very much not vague about what the Great Chain was supposed to represent.

  11. Hal says:

    I only played Bioshock for the first time last year, when the collection (1, 2, and Infinite) were free PS Plus games.

    I basically share your assessment. I mean, I can see why people liked it, but it certainly wasn’t the best shooter/sim ever. At the very least, the morality component of it was so awfully ham-fisted. I usually joke about how in the early iterations of morality systems, the choices were usually, “Save Puppy/Eat Puppy,” but it was literally the case here.

    1. Henson says:

      My favorite part of Bioshock is using telekinesis to kill splicers by chucking all the dead bodies lying around. Now that’s a real innovation!

  12. Chris says:

    I think bioshock also worked well for a lot of people because it still had the same shooter core they were used to. You still had your pistol, and machine gun, and shotgun, the game even thought you were grown up enough to have them all at the same time! I think mass effect had the same appeal, it had the same cover shooter gameplay people knew and understood, but you suddenly could talk to your buddies and learn they had their own personality and ideas, instead of just watching cutscenes of bald marines yelling at eachother. At the same time, if you are used to older games it seems quaint. Games like half-life and UT did not only allow you to carry more guns, but they were more unique. Previous bioware games not only had people you could talk to, but you could also see what your character was going to say (in full).

    I feel the same with nintendo games. I find them rather simple, but nintendo fans say they are the best in class. Ive tried multiple games, but all of them feel so barebones I honestly cannot grasp why they are so beloved. The only thing I can think of is that nintendo fans only play on the nintendo consoles, and thus miss out on what is happening on the other consoles and PC.

    1. evilmrhenry says:

      “I feel the same with nintendo games. I find them rather simple, but nintendo fans say they are the best in class. Ive tried multiple games, but all of them feel so barebones I honestly cannot grasp why they are so beloved.”

      I feel that the 3D Mario games are definitely the best in class, but I haven’t done much past the Gamecube era. The reason I say that is the extent of the movement Mario is capable of; I’ve never seen a 3D platformer that comes close to the kinds of moves that are possible in Mario 64.

      There’s also the Metroid Prime series (played 1 and 2) which are some of the only 3D Metroidvania games in existance. The only competition in this space I could think of are Supraland and maybe the first Arkham game, before it switched to the open world genre.

      (Zelda? There’s competition there, even at the time. It’s a reasonable series, but I could point out other games that do Zelda better.)

      1. DeadlyDark says:

        “There’s also the Metroid Prime series (played 1 and 2) which are some of the only 3D Metroidvania games in existance. The only competition in this space I could think of are Supraland and maybe the first Arkham game, before it switched to the open world genre.”

        I’ll add first System Shock to the list

      2. Chris says:

        I appreciate nintendo for still putting out genres that others would not bother with. Like still making mario platformers instead of turning mario into a space marine after halo, a modern warfare soldier after COD4, and a MOBA character after league of legends.
        Mario is fine, but between mario 64 and his more modern games he has been losing some mobility (like sideflips not giving as much extra height as they used to). Still, Im glad they are still there, since I can barely think of other 3d platformers (little big planet is the most recent AAA title I can think of) .
        Metroid is probably my favorite nintendo series, but nintendo seems to hate making more games. And I think it is pretty sad that nintendo manages to win because everyone else forfeits.

    2. MelTorefas says:

      Previous bioware games not only had people you could talk to, but you could also see what your character was going to say (in full).

      As much as I am not a huge fan of Bioware games in general, I especially despise the Mass-Effect style dialogue wheel with every fiber of my being. There are few things that destroy my immersion in a story faster than having to play “pin-the-tail-on-the-conversation”. (In fact, the inclusion of the dialogue wheel in TOR is literally the reason I stopped playing that game and can’t ever go back.)

    3. John M says:

      For me, the gameplay is the most major draw. The systems in Nintendo games are very polished and often very intuitive (even if the skill ceiling in said titles may vary wildly). Story is just a nice bonus in my mind. I may have bought into the whole “game stories tend to be bad” thing, but I have enjoyed the story in games like Hades and Radiant Historia. I do see your point in that the games could be more fleshed out though. I have a friend who doesn’t engage with Nintendo games for that reason.

    4. Dreadjaws says:

      I feel the same with nintendo games. I find them rather simple, but nintendo fans say they are the best in class. Ive tried multiple games, but all of them feel so barebones I honestly cannot grasp why they are so beloved.

      This reeks of “Seinfeld is unfunny”. Nintendo games tend to be the ones that walk so that other games can run. Sure, Mario 64 might feel barebones compared to something like, say, A Hat in Time, but the former literally created the standard for control in 3D games. Sure, Hollow Knight might feel more deep than Super Metroid, but without the latter to redefine the genre, the former wouldn’t have existed. Maybe next time try some of their games when they’re brand new and see how they compare to other entries in the same genre.

  13. Gautsu says:

    I liked Bioshock, love Deus Ex, missed out on System Shock, was meh on Thief, but actively disliked Prey, and honestly I don’t think I can articulate why.

    Bioshock Infinite’s ending was the low point foe the genre, however

    1. Rho says:

      While I loved Thief, I agree with the others.

      Prey lacked something. A lot of things, actually. Apart that very well-designed into, the game is emotionally flat as a board. There’s a LOT of potentionally-tedious backtracking, but unlike most Metroidvanias you can’t unlock late-game speed boosts or shortcuts to make secret-hunting more fun. Finding things often requires a lot of fiddling with emails and checking & rechecking. The characters are actually pretty uninteresting, and the ending for me spoils it.

      1. Aitrus says:

        “unlike most Metroidvanias you can’t unlock late-game speed boosts”

        In the last third/quarter of Prey I was bouncing around the station with super speed and a jump that about tripled my height reach. Made the backtracking quite quick!

    2. BlueHorus says:

      Bioshock Infinite’s ending was the low point foe the genre, however

      Heh. For me, Bioshock Infinite is a great example of how time travel and parallel universes can completely destroy a story. Literally anything can happen, with little to no consequences – as a result my response to every single one of the game’s twists or set pieces was an uninterested ‘sure, why not’.

      Until the end, that is: I was legitimately annoyed by that final scene. Sorry, do you really expect me to care, here, game?

      1. Syal says:

        For me, Bioshock Infinite is a great example of how time travel and parallel universes can completely destroy a story.

        Other examples include: most time travel stories, and every story about parallel universes.

      2. Gautsu says:

        I mean as soon as one Elizabeth decides to kill all Bookers, that decision spawns:an Elizabeth who decides not to, an Elizabeth who kills only some, an Elizabeth who gets killed by a Booker, an Elizabeth who kills the other Elizabeth before she can kill Booker, and a infinite number of variations. Why story ideas like this or the Jet Li movie, The One, don’t work

        1. Rho says:

          To be fair, I think in The One there were a very finite number of parallel universes. Likewise in Marvel comics (maybe movies, now) there are many parallel universes but maybe not infinite numbers of stable ones, which is a distinctly small number of universes that happen to be popular ;) .

    3. Zekiel says:

      I would strongly argue that BInfinite is not in the same genre as Prey at all. It is basically just a linear shooter with an upgrade tree. There is basically nothing immsim about it at all.

  14. Ninety-Three says:

    The construction of Talos-1 shows an incredible attention to detail.

    Except, as you point out, launch costs. Launching stuff into space is one of the most expensive ideas humanity ever had and those wide open spaces cost someone an absolutely insane amount of money. Talos 1 should be the single most expensive thing humanity ever built and not in a Manhattan Project way, this thing is Space Dubai.

    It bothers me because if you take this seriously then TranStar is blowing an unfathomable amount of money on accommodations for a few hundred people, but it’s all sitting under a handwave of “Yeah, this is obviously a videogame, don’t think too hard about this being a space station” and that handwave casts a shadow over every evaluation of luxury in the game. Is this a fancy spacious office or a crappy one? I don’t know because the game threw ordinary costs out the window and didn’t replace them with anything. Is Talos 1 being literally a skyscraper in space supposed to be some kind of commentary on the massive supervillain-like ego of TranStar or is it just a cool thing that they did for free with their magic handwaved launch costs? One little instance of “don’t think about it” spreads and makes it impossible to think about other elements the designers probably did want to say something with.

    1. Radkatsu says:

      Both you and Shamus are missing an important detail: they have a space elevator on Earth. Concerns like launching payloads into space become less of a problem when you can just dump it onto an elevator and send it up.

      Yes, you still need to shuttle it over to the moon, but that’s the easy part compared to getting that stuff out of our atmosphere/gravity.

      Details here: https://prey.fandom.com/wiki/The_Space_Elevator

      1. Mye says:

        Furthermore they can just replicate things from raw materials and its perfectly possible for a lot of the object to be made partially hollow or have cheap filling. Also moon mining is a thing so a lot of material might be produce at the moon base, send to to talos as raw material and then replicated on station, making the whole thing very cheap, possibly cheaper than earth.

      2. Ninety-Three says:

        Damnit I read that lore entry and somehow it still slipped my mind (I blame the date, 2035 is way too early for a space elevator). I guess they have canonically handwaved launch costs then.

    2. Gethsemani says:

      There are books in the game about the Space Elevator and how it has caused the cost of transporting things into orbit to plummet and its political consequences. But yes, I think you are meant to look at Talos I and see just how powerful TranStar is. Just like how one of the loading screen messages tells you about TranStar’s shady board who keep their identities secret. Talos I isn’t just “the Neuromod research station”, it is TranStar’s monument to itself and as such meant to be absolutely opulent as a statement about how TranStar can do anything.

    3. Mr. Wolf says:

      Speaking of accommodations imagine this:

      You arrive on Talos I via shuttle. You walk into the lobby, a three-tiered open room with a ceiling so high it puts most cathedrals to shame. You head through orientation and wander about, observing the breathtaking views of the moon through what must be 50-meter tall window, and learning the history of the station at the local museum.

      You take the main lift up to the arboretum with it’s massive domed roof. You catch glimpses at the clear stars above through the boughs of this marvel of engineering and horticulture. You take a moment to appreciate the dedication of the gardeners to grow such large and healthy plants so far from their natural habitats.

      You move down into crew quarters and are met with a lavishly decorated two-level lobby that looks like it was taken from a five-star hotel. You wander up to crew quarters proper and discover your room: two cubic meters of sleeping pod.

      1. Smith says:

        Something, something, a bargain in New York.

  15. Trevor says:

    I would have loved the art deco aesthetic more if BioShock hadn’t done it first. Yes, I realize they are using the styles to different purposes, but the fact that there’s another game in the same genre using the same art style means that comparisons are always going to suggest themselves.

    But art deco does do a great job with bringing different materials and colors into the look of a place. There are black stone columns that pop with gold inlay. There is marble and that dark green stone. There are multiple kinds of wood. Control made brutalism look interesting despite a very limited color palette, but it just makes levels pop more when you have a bunch of different colors going on and I like that Prey does that.

    And you can have a chuckle imagining the rocket ships just loaded up with lumber, wood stain, and polish needed to make the wood paneling of the executive offices.

    1. tsi says:

      Yeah, hum about tht. The style and colour palette are closer to what Japan’s hi-tech of the 80’s looked like (which I just love). Not sure you can compare to art deco that much. That being said I also don’t think there is a name for that style so art deco is probably the closest you can get…

  16. bobbert says:

    I think most of the critical success of Bioshock come from choosing an unpopular target, in the form of Randism, rather than from having something insightful to say.

    “Wow! The game hates Ayn Rand; I hate Ayn Rand, too. Game of the Year 10/10.”

  17. Paul Spooner says:

    Typo: “If yu were one of these”
    I thought it was intentional initially, but it’s not capitalized and the grammar doesn’t work out.

    1. Daniil Adamov says:

      It gave me some pause too. May be a Freudian slip.

  18. RamblePak64 says:

    You keep getting me all navel-gazy introspectivy with these things, because I was definitely someone that really liked Bioshock when it first released. I don’t know if it’s because I thought of it as a “smart shooter”, though. Honestly, 2007 is further back than it feels like it ought to, so I cannot well recall all my reasons for the love of the game, though I also recall watching Zero Punctuation and thinking “He’s right, it’s not perfect!” I do recall having debates about the inventory, which I mentioned before in this series’ comments section. When it comes to the story, though? I dunno. I’m not familiar enough with Objectivism to say whether it is or isn’t a good criticism, just that it certainly illustrates the fallibility of man-made systems. “[i]Somebody[/i] has to clean the toilets!” is a line that has stuck with me and seems applicable to nearly every dream utopia any political ideal seems to try and come up with. Perhaps that BioShock feels like one of the smartest games in (Western) video games narratively says something more about the quality of games writing even today than it does BioShock itself, if only for moments that stick like that.

    I’d say the game’s downfall is in Ken Levine’s desire to do multiple things without successfully fusing them together in a tidy fashion. His setting is also a vehicle for meta-commentary regarding freedom of choice in games and how there ultimately is little-to-no freedom, but it falls flat through mechanics and narrative combined. Killing or sparing the little sisters yields in no difference aside from [i]immediate[/i] reward because, should you spare the sisters and sacrifice a greater boon to adam, you [i]still[/i] get a huge package of adam as a gift from the survivors and thus it is all balanced out. That’s like a developer giving you a cake covered in chocolate frosting and another cake covered in [i]white[/i] chocolate frosting (does that even exist?) but tells you it’s vanilla, but when you cut into them both they’re just chocolate cake through and through, and he laughs and says “See? There is no choice! You eat chocolate cake regardless!” Well, of course, because [i]you rigged the system[/i]. You could have easily made the other cake [i]at least[/i] have vanilla frosting.

    It got worse in Infinite, but that’s just one big disaster.

    Either way, I tried to return to Bioshock last year and found myself struggling to enjoy it. I love the look of the world and I love the [i]potential[/i] exploration, but in the end it made me wish Rapture was designed more like a Metroid Prime game. I have a feeling that, were they to reboot Bioshock, they’d take inspiration from Prey, but personally I’d rather it just be one giant environment with as few loading screens as possible and be a Metroidvania. But that’s where my preference is, right? Without my background in immersive sims, I instead look at Bioshock and think “Man, this just isn’t as good as Metroid Prime”, which was… 2002? I think? “First-person adventure” is what Retro/Nintendo insisted on calling it, and I can understand why since it isn’t a “shooter” in the same sense as even Bioshock ended up being.

    Regarding the critics, I’d be curious to see how many of the reviewers in 2007 were still in the industry or reviewing games when Prey released. The state of games journalism and writing has transformed greatly, and we now also have the realm of YouTube and Twitch with all of its variety of hot takes and opinions. There are so many variables in why Bioshock could have been received so positively and Prey not. It’s also possible the demo did it a disservice for folks that might have bought it but then bounced off the combat (such as I).

  19. eldomtom2 says:

    BioShock is the smartest shooter.
    BioShock is the dumbest Immersive Sim.

    I submit that immersive sim is a meaningless term for “shooter with rpg elements/rpg with shooter elements”.

    1. Thomas says:

      Part 1 of this series has a good discussion around the term immersive sim.

  20. Awetugiw says:

    Yes, the world of Prey has fallen. But it didn’t fall due to decadence and selfishness, it fell because an outside enemy overpowered everyone.

    I don’t think that’s true. Talos 1 falls because the TranStar corporation, in their hubris and greed, thought that they could contain the Typhon and keep feeding it humans. It is quite possible that the Typhon would eventually have reached the Earth anyway, but the immediate cause of the problem is definitely the evil of TranStar, and Alex in particular.

    1. aitrus says:

      I tentatively agree with this. Shamus might be being a bit generous towards TranStar.

    2. Daniil Adamov says:

      The station isn’t synonymous with TranStar and their business plan the way Rapture is with Ryan and his social vision, is it? (Says a person who never played either game…)

      1. Gethsemani says:

        It very much is. The game points out several times (mostly readable collectables) that Talos I is not just a research station but a manifestation of TranStar itself and TranStar’s endless ambition. Talos I is meant to wow any visitors because it is a monument to the Morgan family’s ambition and TranStar’s ability. There’s even a not so subtle metaphor in the way Talos I is constructed in that it is all shiny and extravagant in public areas but the real meat of Talos I’s purpose is hidden away in the much murkier Psychotronics just like how TranStar’s real business isn’t some fancy brain mapping but feeding prisoners to aliens to harvest alien organs.

        1. Daniil Adamov says:

          I thought the station was originally built by someone else, though? And could have conceivably been used for other purposes? Though I suppose Rapture was also since repurposed. But Ryan was its original creator.

          1. Coming Second says:

            It was built around Kletka, originally a Soviet-run space station, which then became a cooperatively run facility with the US after the discovery of the Typhon, and then finally bought out by the TranStar corporation in the 20s. You can still see bits of Kletka in Psychotronics.

      2. Chad+Miller says:

        I’m not sure it’s made clear in the game.

        In-game lore refers to a TranStar board of directors (which includes both of Morgan’s parents), and the corporation must have had the resources to buy/build onto the station in the first place which means that money must have come from somewhere. But then no board members outside of the Yus is mentioned in any capacity beyond “they exist”. Furthermore it seems that the Yus have a disproportionate influence either on the corporation in general or the space program in particular. William Yu appears to have the authority to just unilaterally order the destruction of Talos I and the death of everyone on it, a few TranStar employees grumble about nepotism leading to Alex as the station head and Morgan as the second in command, and according to DLC the TranStar moonbase is headed by Morgan and Alex’s cousin. TranStar may be a multinational corporation but I get the distinct impression that Talos is the Yus’ baby.

      3. Awetugiw says:

        Talos I is probably not quite as important to TranStar as Rapture is to Ryan. The station is an advertisement of TranStar’s wealth and power. Furthermore, while I don’t recall whether it is currently making a profit, the neuromod technology developed on Talos I is the kind of new technology that can make ridiculous amounts of money.

        But TranStar does exist outside of the station, and the company leadership is not on board. Which is why, as someone pointed out above, the board (or at least some members of it) eventually attempt to cut their losses by killing everyone on the station and destroying the evidence. Ryan, on the other hand, lived in Rapture and decided to “go down with the ship”.

        The difference seems pretty small to me, though. While not quite as integral to TranStar as Rapture is to Ryan, Talos I is still both symbolically and practically of huge importance to the company. Additionally, the station is also thematically a pretty good representation of the corporate dystopia of Prey’s setting. It combines, on the one hand, displays of ostentatious wealth with, on the other hand, poor treatment of staff and dangerous unethical business practices.

  21. Fluffy boy says:

    I find both Bioshock and Prey to be grossly overrated games: Bioshock for the reasons you mentioned and Prey because the central premise of the story makes no sense.

    Ending spoilers ahead: If the goal of the simulation is to test your capacity for empathy, why is it Yu don’t meet or meaningfully interact with any other human until around hour 10 of this 12-hour game? Ultimately, Talos I was so empty and devoid of life that I reached the end not caring one bit about the world or any of its people. Ironic for a game that is ostensibly about human empathy

    1. RFS-81 says:

      No, no, that’s actually secretly genius because TranStar researchers have low empathy so they would fail at devising a test for it /s

      1. BlueHorus says:

        This made me laugh.
        “Quick, we need to teach these incomprehensible aliens the value of human life! Oh wait, there aren’t enough of them in containment. Okay, send in another intern to be eaten alive.”

  22. RandomInternetCommenter says:

    There’s yet one more thing Prey has in spades above Bioshock: sound design.

    The moment a fight starts in Bioshock, your ears are assaulted with the garbled mess of every other fool jabbering endlessly from the other side of the map. It’s noisy, it’s unpleasant, it’s annoying and there’s just no way to attain the flow or zen you can find in many, many other games. Bioshock may be THE worst shooter *and* the worst immersive sim in that regard.

    Prey has much better sound design. Enemy noises vary significantly, gunplay sounds right, powers feel appreciably foreign. The dynamic music changes are well-suited to most situations. And we’re even allowed the sound of silence at times. It’s nothing mindblowing, but it works precisely because of that. The suitable background to your own space adventure.

    1. RichardW says:

      HELL NO. From top to bottom, BioShock has some of the most immersive and interesting sound design of any game series. There’s a bug sometimes where the audio volumes break so sometimes you can hear enemies in other rooms, but on the whole it’s an incredibly well made game from an audio standpoint, and BioShock 2 is even better. Only really in Infinite did it become painful, with enemies like the Firemen having voices so strident and distorted that I dread them showing up.

      PREY on the other hand… I absolutely HATE its audio. Everything from the menus, to the Typhon creature vocals that all sound the same, to that godawful cacophony of electric screeches that erupts everytime an enemy is alerted so you can’t hear anything else.. It made me absolutely hate the actual combat part of the game even more than the terrible clunkiness of the controls and weapons. Mick Gordon deserves a good talking to about the dross he phoned in for that project.

      BioShock had memorable and iconic elements like the Big Daddy with its tragic yet unsettling vocalizations, wonderful callbacks to 1950s scifi in its environs, and didn’t stab me in the ear every time I started a fight.

  23. kleenex says:

    I was expecting some grand revelation to justify the difficulty of hacking Alex’s computer. Somehow that email from his doctor was even better.

    For the rest of the game every time alex rang me up I giggled and imagined morgan teasing him about being fat.

    1. Grimwear says:

      There’s a lot of really heavy stuff in the game but honestly the thing that affected me the most is when we get to Alex’s office and he calls you up and talks about how when you were younger you erased his save games and he broke your arm over it. Like jeez man you’re children that’s some pretty deep trauma right there but it gets brought up like nothing and I’m sitting there going…no wonder you’re all messed up.

      1. Coming Second says:

        Similarly when you find out your own parents have signed off on both you and Alex’s death warrants the general vibe is “Oh yeah, of course that’s what they’d do.”

        Christmas must be a hell of a time at the Yu household.

      2. Mr. Wolf says:

        I had a similar reaction. All this sci-fi, corrupt corporation, mad scientist, alien invasion evil going on? Just part of the story. Getting into a fight with your sibling over a lousy prank? That’s relatable.

        How much older is Alex anyway? The way he speaks about it makes it sound like the arm-breaking was a deliberate choice, but that’s not easy to do to somebody unless they’re considerably weaker than you.

        1. Gethsemani says:

          Just guessing here: Alex looks to be in his late-30’s, early-40’s. Morgan is said to have been born in 2005, making them 30 years old at the most by the time the game takes place. So it is not unreasonable to assume Alex might have been in his late teens and Morgan around 10 when the arm breaking took place. In that case it is kind of plausible but would still take a degree of force more associated with psychopathy then with sibling fights.

          1. Coming Second says:

            Could’ve pushed them down the stairs. It’s not that implausible.

            1. Mr. Wolf says:

              I considered the same, and while it’s not impossible his exact phrasing and tone of voice in VO implies (to me at least) that he broke Morgan’s arm personally, deliberately and without a lot of effort. I feel that if Alex threw Morgan down the stairs, or they’d had an actual fight, or some other turn of events that broken arms could occur, he’d have mentioned that part, but it’s simply “I broke your arm when I found out”.

              1. Paul Spooner says:

                Two things come to mind. The first is that it’s not unreasonable to imagine that the Yu children had martial arts training, and breaking an arm isn’t that hard if you know what you’re doing.
                The second is that Alex may have implanted memories, so who knows what’s actually real?

  24. Mr. Wolf says:

    …anything as remotely as powerful as the final confrontation with Andrew Ryan.

    A lot of people see that as a commentary about the lack of choice in video games, but I thought it fell flat. Quite simply, did anybody who played this game have even the slightest objection to killing Andrew Ryan? It’s impossible to say I was denied agency when I never really felt the need make a decision.

    1. Zekiel says:

      I found it powerful. But killing Ryan was just a capstone that demonstrated the actual main point of the twist (spoilers for 14 year old game) which was that every meaningful action you’d taken up to this point had not been a result of your choice, but of mind control. I found that pretty impressive.

      Although it’s then massively undercut by the game “freeing” you from the mind control so you can go on to take orders from a different voice over the radio, with no meaningful difference at all…

  25. Damiac says:

    Bioshock was a junk food “Immersive Sim”. It hit the reward center and kept you playing, and acted like it had something to say, but it was shallow. Yeah, you had multiple ways to shock and kill slicers. You had some barebones semi rpg type mechanics. It was fun to play but didn’t leave an impression.

    The politics were junk food commentary as well. “Capitalism is bad, Ayn Rand is wrong, fuck you dad”. There’s plenty of material to debate there, but the game isn’t interested in that, and has nothing worthwhile to say, and even if the writers were good enough to say something interesting, the game didn’t support the themes anyway. How was the player character feeling the dichotomy? There’s no “objectivist” vs “collectivist” way to play bioshock, so the supposed theme doesn’t even apply to the gameplay. The choices were “Stupid evil with a bad ending” or “Obviously correct choice with better reward and good ending”. Will you save the little girls or kill them? That’s a dumb choice.

    In Prey, the open question seems to be “In the face of a powerful enemy is it better to hold onto your humanity, or drop ethics and get power any way you can to preserve your life at the cost of your humanity?” You play through the game and make those choices, although I would have liked it if using neuromods were presented as darker somehow, like how killing people in dishonored was obviously the dark way to play. The theme applies to the gameplay.

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      I would have liked it if using neuromods were presented as darker somehow, like how killing people in dishonored was obviously the dark way to play

      I don’t think that most people would be okay with needing to go “No Needles” for a good ending barring serious overhauls to the upgrade system (to the point of turning things like increased inventory space into fabricator plans instead of neuromod abilities). I do find it incongruous that Typhon powers are played up the way they are in the narrative, have other drawbacks like making the station’s defenses attack you, and then turn out to be not all that good in gameplay. It felt like they were explicitly going for a sort of “power with a price” thing and whiffed.

      1. Zekiel says:

        I disagree – I think the typhon powers include some that are very powerful. Psychoshock is amazing (since it disables an enemy as well as hurting them), as are the pair of powers that turn enemies to your side temporarily. And Mimic is great fun, and allows you to sequence break with the 3rd tier since you can turn into an Operator and fly.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          Yeah, to be clear, I’m not saying that the Typhon powers are bad, or even “not good”, just more like “not nearly as good as they’re played up to be in the narrative.” Even in terms of game balance, I have done both typhon-only and human-only playthroughs and while the typhon character often faced serious hindrances, the human character with levels in Firearms and Combat Focus wasn’t really missing anything (not even a good Psi power!)

          It’s not that you can’t pick and make use of the Typhon powers so much as that you’re really not making a serious sacrifice by skipping them, which in turn makes it weird that Alex and January (and a few others) make such a big deal of it.

      2. Damiac says:

        Totally agree, something would have to be changed, otherwise you end up with a similar problem to dishonored. “Look at all these cool ways to kill people you can have! Now don’t use any of them.”

        I’d also want the “bad” part made explicit, for example, make the player choose between using the typhon material obtained by feeding people to them to gain more power, or to somehow save some of the people, or something. Or require the player to feed people to the typhon to get the exotic matter to make the neuromods. You could even go halfway and make the quest to disable the neuromod DRM require some sketchy immoral behavior.

        I like a lot about prey, but the theme could have tied into the gameplay better. Still, i think it was handled better than Bioshock.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          I really liked that Death of the Outsider got rid of the “totally not good/evil chaos system”. I still played it non-lethaly but it was my choice. Also, if there was someone I decided just had to die I could do it and didn’t feel like the game chastised me about it.

  26. Kincajou says:

    Not having played prey, maybe someone can clear this up for me…
    If its called Talos I does that imply there is a talos II?

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      No, there is a moonbase in the DLC with Typhon research but it’s called Pytheas.

      1. kincajou says:

        whelp, so muche for that idea then!

        1. Geebs says:

          It’s just occurred to me that “Talos I” spelt backwards is “Isolat(e)”. I wonder if that’s intentional?

          1. Kincajou says:

            If nothing else, considering the themes and setting it’s serendipitous

  27. Smith says:

    Attention to detail: There’s a treadmill in Alex’s suite, with boxes piled on top of it. Elsewhere you can find an email from a doctor encouraging him to set a better example for the crew.

    Also, if you try to shoot him in the climax, he takes a lot of damage to put down. Because he’s the biggest person on the station, with a lot of bulk to absorb damage, and he can’t even manage “brisk jog” as he tries to run away.

  28. Jeff says:

    “If yu were one of these console-focused consumers in 2007”

    I can’t tell if that was an intentional pun or just a typo.

  29. Luka Dreyer says:

    I was born in ’95 and approached the Bioshock games as complex shooters rather than watered down immersive sims, finding a lot to love there. Having since tracked down the classic Looking Glass and Ion Storm immersive sims (now some of my favourite developers and genres), I there’s enough room to appreciate both. Comparison feels almost pointless because their creative goals are so different. As far as the comparison between Bioshock and Prey is concerned, though, I will say that I find Bioshock more original, where Prey, for all its brilliant design, still seems stuck in System Shock 2’s shadow at this point in my first playthrough.

  30. John V says:

    I’m pretty sure the third Thief game is the first cross-platform immersive sim, not Bioshock.

    1. Damiac says:

      Yeah, you’re right, it was on the original Xbox. It was a lot of fun, and it was a good quality port.

    2. Mr. Wolf says:

      Well, you’d be wrong, because Invisible War came out five months earlier. Also Deus Ex also had a PS2 port almost two years before that.

      1. John V says:

        Oh yeah I forgot about Invisible War. I’m not sure I would count the original Dues Ex, since it clearly wasn’t designed for a multi-platform release like Invisible War or Thief 3 was.

  31. Higher Peanut says:

    I think I had a similar sort of experience to Bioshock. I came in off shooters from the 90’s and things like unreal tournament so the gunplay felt stilted in comparison. I hadn’t played many story based or im sim titles at that point, but was devouring books like crazy when younger. This seemed to be the perfect set up for not really understanding the hype. It took two things I enjoyed and tried to blend the two, but what came out was a poor version of both in one place.

    I ended up equipping all the melee and speed boosters about half way through and life leeching my way through the game with the wrench so I could see the end of the story. It wasn’t a terrible game, just distinctly average.

  32. MadTinkerer says:

    I know a lot of people are going to balk at the charge of BioShock being “childish and sophomoric”.

    Not me. Which may surprise you considering I was the original fanboy who demanded that you actually play Bioshock all those years ago. At the time, I was looking at it purely in terms of it being a videogame with an internally consistent story and characters. My standard by which I was comparing the story and characters was basically pulp novels and comics, 1950s and 60s science fiction. And by that standard it’s still pretty adequate.

    But after I’ve played the rest of the series, I 100% agree with that statement. I mean, I think you’re actually being nicer than the game deserves by saying that, but otherwise I agree. If Bioshock actually was critical of actual Objectivism, then things would be very different. But it’s not. Bioshock 2 actually is critical of collectivism, because the Bioshock 2 writers didn’t understand that they were only supposed to pretend to be critical. Infinite constantly demonizes a straw man that it never actually names while pretending it isn’t just three (at least) very inconsistent games mashed together that don’t actually have any connection to the first game.

    It’s all a complete mess. Even worse than Mass Effect. That’s right: I just said the Bioshock franchise was a bigger mess, as a story, than even Mass Effect. Because Mass Effect 3 didn’t pretend Mass Effect 2 never happened. Because Mass Effect never tries to throw philosophical stones in all directions in it’s glass house. Because even though the writer can’t decide what kind of science fiction Mass Effect is, they at least understand that making one decent sci fi game at a time is more important than ranting incoherently to their customers.

    P.S. I’m the guy who recommended DumbBots, in case you were still curious about that.

    1. MadTinkerer says:

      I admit that I’m trading in broad stereotypes here. I’m not saying that the only people who liked BioShock were 90s kids who never played an immersive sim before. And I’m not saying that BioShock critics like me are all Gen-X PC gamers.

      For the record, I’m a Gen Xer who was looking at Bioshock as a combination of most of the best parts of corridor shooters and some of the best parts of immersive sims. I loved Ultima VII, Underworld 2 (missed UW1 the first time around though I have it on GoG), Doom, and Quake. I liked System Shock 1 though I never really got into 2. I also meant to get into Deus Ex but never got very far. I tried Half Life but rage-quit so hard on one level I never finished it until after I got the Orange Box. I played Bioshock after I played through the Orange Box games and Half Life Source.

      Even now, I actually do still like most parts of Bioshock. It really is a fantastic shooter with mild ImSim parts. But the philosophy angle is ridiculously weak and cringe-inducing and it hurts the entire rest of the series.

      But it is true that BioShock is the first cross-platform immersive sim, and the gaming landscape of 2007 was very different from the one that existed when System Shock was on store shelves.

      It’s worse than that though. Because the actual first cross-platform immersive sim was Deus Ex: Invisible War. So the only exposure console kids had to the genre was the worst ImSim made at that time.

      1. Damiac says:

        It was the Deux Ex: IW port that killed the genre! It all makes sense now.

      2. Steve C says:

        BioShock was one of those seminal games that had a profound influence on me. Namely it was one that pushed me out of the AAA space and out of my hobby of video games.

        I liked video games. Then game ascetics went counter to my own in the N64/PS1 era. Specifically I thought 3D graphics were ugly. Unplayably so. The polygons got better, but the AAA space became dominated by the color brown. Not a fan. It wasn’t until the end of the PS2 era that I thought visuals had climbed out of its dirt colored hole. The PS3 and related AAA games required internet bandwidth I did not have. I could not consider it an option. Even if I wanted to. (Which I didn’t.) So those were out too.

        BioShock was *the* game for PC that wowed me on visuals. That trailer was amazing! It got me excited for games again. I remember it distinctly. Finally a single player AAA game that didn’t require an always on connection, and one that looked great! Yay! In my imagination it was going to be like Prey. Then the game came out. A corridor shooter. It was now the gameplay and story I had no interest in.

        BioShock was the game that made the crossover from console. Everything I did not like about consoles, now mainstream on PC and pushing out everything else I did like from the AAA PC space…. Yay. It was a major turning point for me. I stopped even considering AAA games.

        BioShock was a capstone on the disconnect between what I want to play and what is offered.

  33. Sven says:

    Typolice: at one point you wrote “BioSock” instead of “BioShock.”

    I think that’s just a sock made of organic cotton. Or maybe it’s what happens if you don’t wash a sock for too long. Either way, probably not what you intended.

  34. TotallyNotStirner says:

    Imagine for a second a blogger writing a critique of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance in 2021, complaining about how the character of Senator Armstrong is a childish and sophomoric jab at republicans: that’s how ridiculous your beef with Bioshock is.
    Ryan could be of any political ideology ever known to mankind, he’d still be an hyper-controlling narcissist with psychopath tendencies and thus the least suitable person to be trusted with a position of power: and that’s before considering his rival, a cold-blooded criminal mastermind with far superior skills and absolutely zero concerns for collateral damage, and the enormous social implications of plasmids, because superpowers + madness is the last thing you want in your peaceful community.
    And let’s not forget, the entire second half of Bioshock is about how Ryan still was the lesser evil and how some of his ideas weren’t bad at all: the game’s ending changes based on your choices, after all.

    1. Steve C says:

      ??? What?
      Shamus’s point was that Bioshock and its treatment of philosophy/politics was cartoonish and backwards. Devoid of anything other than a paper thin coat of paint of passing references. Nothing like they purport to be.
      Your criticism of Shamus is strange. Did you even read the article?

      1. TotallyNotStirner says:

        Did YOU read the article?
        Shamus completely fails to understand the themes of Bioshock, even when they’re anything but subtle, and thus his criticism is nonsensical if we’re being generous (or politically motivated if we’re not).

        I’m going to quote from the caption Shamus wrote right under the pic of Ryan’s bust: “I honestly can’t tell if this contradiction is an intentional criticism, or if the designer was just trying to make cool-looking scenery.”
        The man sees obvious in-your-face imagery depicting one of the main themes of the story (Ryan’s hypocrisy and lust for power), and he wonders if it’s intentional or just supposed to look cool.

        Let’s look at a quote from right below too: “If they really wanted to explore the ideas of Objectivism then they ought to have messed around with the classic conflict between individual liberty and the common good.”
        But the game explores that: just to mention two obvious examples, Ryan strong-arms other citizens of Rapture (such as Julie Langford) into doing what he believes is best instead of letting them do as they wish, and eventually resorts to mind-controlling his citizens via backdoored plasmids “for the greater good” of winning against Fontaine (in Ryan’s own words, desperate times call for desperate measures).
        Shamus appears to have completely missed any and all of the in-game audiologs, apparently was asleep during quite a few unskippable cutscenes too, and then complained because the game didn’t include the things he missed/didn’t pay attention to.

        So, why are you defending such a poorly researched piece?

        1. The Big Brzezinski says:

          In fairness, Bioshock came out in 2007, and the complete Let’s Play Shamus participated in was in 2013. It’s been a while and several pop-cultural generations since then. Hindsight is an oddly hued lens. You never know which memories will stick with you and which will lay dormant until some advertisement invokes their nostalgia value.

          I remember people hailing Bioshock as some great thing, but I never bothered with it. I was way too into The Burning Crusade to care.

          1. TotallyNotStirner says:

            I can understand someone’s memory being hazy, but Shamus wrote half of those criticisms right after he played the game in 2013.
            I’m used to a certain degree of quality from this blog, which is why I bother pointing the issue out: if the same opinions came from reddit or /v/ it wouldn’t be a surprise, but hearing them from an otherwise insightful blogger is jarring.

            1. Gautsu says:

              Maybe it’s partially hyperbole to show how much he loves Prey. I mean he has been spending the last 4 years or so talking about how it’s one of his favorite games

        2. Shamus says:

          I addressed all of your points elsewhere in this thread.

          When I expressed doubt about the statue, I was giving BioShock the benefit of the doubt. If it really is deliberate, then its criticism is as I said elsewhere in the thread: Sloppy. It undercuts its own attempt at criticism by not even bothering to aim at the target. It’s going to criticize Objectivism by focusing on a man who is, very obviously, not an Objectivist.

          Here, I’ll quote the other comment so you don’t have to hunt for it:
          —————————-

          Which is why I stand by what I said: The game’s take on it is shallow and childish. The entire game is basically a really roundabout way of mounting a blunt ad hominem attack on Rand’s fanbase.

          A proper critique would take the form of, “This person means well, but the idea won’t work and here’s how it will fail.” It would show Rapture fall as Ryan keeps sticking to his ideals, no matter how badly things go.

          Instead Ryan is a massive hypocrite who does the opposite of what he claims to believe in, from the very beginning. Are we suggesting that EVERYONE espousing these ideas is a secret tyrant hypocrite? Isn’t it possible that some of these Ayn Rand fans are, in fact, true believers that actually desire freedom for themselves and others? (Regardless of how well that would or wouldn’t work out.)

          When a communist comes in and says they want to create a just and equal society, I take them at their word that this is really what they desire, and they’re not some secret monster that wants to create a Stalinist hellhole. No useful discussion can take place if you’re not at least willing to engage with what the other party has to say.

          You can find some good points in the game. The private ownership of AIR, the widespread abuse of supernatural drugs, and the fact that things fell into disrepair because there wasn’t a profit in taking care of them. If Levine had stuck to this sort of thing I think his case would have been much stronger. (And more interesting.) But these points are hopelessly muddled by the countless ways in which nobody involved seemed to UNDERSTAND Objectivism beyond a surface level.

          The BAN on Bibles in BioShock is particularly galling to me. I’ve known some Objectivists in my time, and I’ve never met ANYONE that thought a BAN on religion was a good idea. Like, the sense I get is that the idea of regulating reading material would be WAY more offensive to them than a Bible. The people who wanted Bibles weren’t Objectivists, because otherwise why did they want Bibles? RYAN wasn’t an objectivist, because otherwise what gave him the right to regulate the reading material of others? This isn’t an illustration of how Objectivisim failed, it’s an illustration of what would happen if a bunch of non-Objectivsts moved in together and tried to live according to ideals that none of them understood or believed in.

          If Ken Levine wanted to critique objectivism, he should have put objectivists in his world.

          1. Shirdal says:

            While I agree that Ryan is not an Objectivist, I don’t agree that he can’t be used to critique Objectivism. Ryan’s failure as an Objectivist can be interpreted as a failure of Objectivism itself within the context of the story.

            Ryan’s idealistic utopia failed to account for a man who thrived under those ideals while seeking to undermine and eventually destroy them. Where Ayn Rand’s novels can be criticized for creating these seemingly perfect god-men who only have to confront idiotic and useless straw-men, Andrew Ryan has to confront someone who is brilliant and cunning enough to ruin everything.

            Andrew Ryan has to either sacrifice his ideals to defeat the enemy, or fall on his sword in the name of his ideals and let Fontaine take over. Either way, Rapture would fail. We were told one version of that failure, one which I don’t think is any less valid, and I think Andrew Ryan is a more interesting character for it.

            Bioshock is far from perfect. It’s still a shooter and is more concerned with being a shooter than it is with making some grand thesis about Objectivism, but I don’t think its criticisms are invalid because they are not perfectly comprehensive and thorough, nor because Ryan is not a perfect Objectivist.

            I also disagree with the idea that Bioshock is so entirely about Objectivism as so many people make it out to be. It doesn’t need to be about Objectivism at all for its story and characters to work as much as they do or don’t.

            1. Coming Second says:

              Head on nail.

            2. Boris says:

              Spot on.
              As usual, the discussion of this game is tainted by dishonest individuals utilizing it as an excuse to soapbox about politics.

            3. Syal says:

              Andrew Ryan has to either sacrifice his ideals to defeat the enemy,

              But that’s not what happens in the story; Andrew Ryan instead abandons his ideals at random. He nationalizes Fontaine’s company after Fontaine dies, and the threat has been eliminated. This post-victory abandonment of Objectivist ideals directly aids Atlas in growing his power base. Rapture’s fall isn’t shown to be the inevitable result of following Objectivism, it’s shown to be unforced error.

              It doesn’t need to be about Objectivism at all for its story and characters to work as much as they do or don’t.

              It doesn’t, but it is. Andrew Ryan’s history is lifted wholesale from Ayn Rand’s real life. Both of the villains are clear references to Atlas Shrugged. Both villains have direct comparisons to John Galt. This isn’t a generic Senator Armstrong preaching about the value of Strong Arms,: this is clearly, repeatedly Randian Objectivism. And it whiffs on it.

              There’s a speech in East of Eden about Cain and Abel; it talks about how all of humanity is descended from Cain because Abel had no children, and that means Cain found redemption. And it doesn’t work, because the author seems to not know about the third brother Seth. You can’t trust their take on the meaning of the thing because they tripped on the basics.

              1. Shirdal says:

                Ryan does repeatedly betray his own philosophy and ideals, though I wouldn’t call it random. It’s an essential part of his character and story. He is a control freak, obsessed with his ownership over his creations, and driven to dangerous paranoia over Fontaine’s actions. Does this undermine his identity as an ideal Objectivist? Absolutely. Does it invalidate the story as a criticism of Objectivism? I don’t think it does.

                All of Ryan’s failures can be considered failures of Objectivism. I don’t think he needs to be the perfect and ideal Objectivist – and fail because of that – for him to stand as a critique of Objectivism. In fact, I think he needs not to be. People are imperfect. Sometimes they make bad decisions, even when they believe they act in their best interest, and often to the detriment of not only their best interest but that of those around them.

                And while I am aware that Bioshock is heavily based on Ayn Rand’s works and philosophy, it doesn’t have to be solely about that philosophy. My opinion on the game was much improved when I started thinking of it as the tragic story of Andrew Ryan and his failed utopia, and less as a pure critique of Objectivism. The last act of the game doesn’t count of course.

          2. TotallyNotStirner says:

            You’ve adressed none of my points, it looks like you didn’t even skim my comments to be quite frank.
            Let’s write it in bold this time: BIOSHOCK IS A STORY ABOUT TWO HORRIBLE MEN AND HOW POWER CORRUPTS, NOT A POLITICAL HIT PIECE AGAINST OBJECTIVISM.
            You have Ryan, who uses objectivism as a tool to obtain absolute power, and you have Fontaine, who uses anti-objectivism and charity as tools to obtain absolute power: if the game was truly written with the intention to mock objectivism, why is Fontaine the most dangerous villain of the two?

            I’ll try another example to show how unhinged your complaints are: you saw how Fontaine had all those charity projects to help people left behind by Rapture and drive them to his cause, right?
            Do you see all of that and say: “What the hell, Bioshock is telling me charities are EVIL!!11!!!!!1!!”?
            No, because you’d be missing the point.

            You say “Ryan is a massive hypocrite who does the opposite of what he claims to believe in”, you say “RYAN wasn’t an objectivist, because otherwise what gave him the right to regulate the reading material of others?”, you are 99% of the way to grasping the central theme of the game (once again, in bold: POWER CORRUPTS), but for some not-so-mysterious reason you fall back to the conclusion that Ryan is actually supposed to be a true objectivist at heart, and of course under that lens the game makes no sense.

            Let’s get to the not-so-mysterious reason behind this baffling critique: politics.
            Your complaints aren’t original: they are the exact same that were spammed on release by self-proclaimed objectivists, and got them laughed out of multiple forums.
            And “exact same” is not hyperbole, there’s even the good old bit where the ban on the bible is seen as a gotcha against the game and not as yet more unsubtle imagery indicating that Ryan is up to no good.
            It reminds me of the kind of discussion Disco Elysium caused, with hundreds of internet idiots screeching because some dialogue option didn’t immediately and openly validate their political views: there were people complaining about Measurehead being a “basically flawless ubermensch” and an endosement of IRL black supremacy, I kid you not!

            Finally, to prevent any objection about “power corrupts” not being the central theme of Bioshock, let’s not forget that this is the game where you are given the option to kill children to acquire more ADAM: it’s not exactly subtle imagery, once again.

            TL DR: BIOSHOCK IS ABOUT HOW POWER CORRUPTS, RYAN BEING AN HYPOCRITE IS THE POINT, OBJECTIVISM IS NOT MOCKED.

            1. Tomas says:

              If you’re this angry at someone for not sharing your views on the themes of a video game, then I have to assume that you’re always angry at something. That’s not healthy.

              And if you really care that much about how Bioshock is interpreted, use a less rude and hostile voice, because that post won’t win anyone over to your side.

            2. Shamus says:

              Okay, I don’t mind you disagreeing with me. But you can fuck right off with calling me “unhinged” and then (with no hint of self-awareness) shouting at me in all caps because I have a different read on the thematic aims of the piece. I’m not chasing your moving goalposts. If you don’t know how to make your case without acting like a crazy person, then this site isn’t for you. Go shout at strangers on Reddit or Facebook or whatever.

              I’m not interested in debating you anymore. Get lost.

            3. Damiac says:

              What is it with people who push their weird political hangup into literally everything and get mad when others don’t go along?

              It’s like those people on twitter who stalk certain politicians or even political concepts, and you see they commented on every single other comment and retweet of all 500 people who responded, with a similar but unique diatribe.

              I get spammers, it’s annoying, but I get it. These people invest actual effort into writing diatribes and picking apart other people’s comments, but for whatever reason can’t be bothered to invest a little time into learning how to be persuasive. It doesn’t seem to be trolling, but it might as well be for how effective it is.

              I guess shouting into the void is cathartic for some…

              1. Coming Second says:

                It’s not about persuasion, it’s about targeted harassment. If you have a hundred people all doing what you just described to one person, it is almost invariably going to impact on that person’s mental health and willingness to keep speaking up. There are certain internet cultures both political and non-political that have become masters of this kind of bullying, and I’ve known people that have had serious mental breaks as a result of it.

                I’m not attributing this to the poster above btw.

            4. Dreadjaws says:

              Is your post a joke? Are you trolling right now? I know very little about the work of Ayn Rand, yet I still can tell with no doubt that BioShock is as transparent as criticism of her views can get. It’s as if I made an Xbox game titled “Sony Fucking Sucks and its Exclusives are Shit” and you tried to make the point that it wasn’t a criticism against the Playstation. I honestly don’t know if you’re this delusional or this is just a sad attempt at amusing yourself.

  35. Clareo Nex says:

    Bioshock reviews better because its art is more inspired, even though less technically impressive, and Prey is realistic enough to make journalists feel jealous.

    Did someone spend a year of their life on each plasmid hand animation? (At the expense of polishing the story?) The gun upgrades are also incredibly snazzy. By contrast Prey sometimes fumbles the execution of what it’s trying to portray.

    Nobody is jealous of PSI powers or plasmids or typhon mods, because they’re magic. Many are jealous of Looking Glass, because it seems almost real. A bunch of journalists were reminded of their cruddy apartment with, maybe, an Oculus. That will tank your review. Nobody is jealous of any apartment in Rapture. The place is a dump. Indeed it helps make them feel more sophisticated – they don’t need a sugary Kinkade painting to enjoy a thing.

    Game journalists are basically dragged around by graphics. I wouldn’t be surprised if 80% of review scores are based solely on graphics, regardless of what they’re allegedly about.

  36. Dreadjaws says:

    I liked BioShock fine the first time I played it precisely because it was a power fantasy. And sure, the twist was cute and all that, but otherwise the story went right past me. I didn’t care about any of the characters and I didn’t even remember their names most of the time. I don’t know enough about Ayn Rand to understand what point the game was trying to make and I certainly don’t care. But I can tell you that even though I liked the game just fine I had a bunch of problems with it from the start.

    Like, the stupid false choice they give you with the Little Sisters. You can either get a ridiculous amount of power if you save them or an equally ridiculous amount of power if you don’t. I know people complain about Dishonored because it penalizes you for using what they consider the most interesting powers (I disagree on that, but that’s another topic), but at least that game provides you with an actual choice and proper correlation between your actions and the ending. The game’s world actually changes gradually according to your actions. Meanwhile, in Bioshock there’s a binary choice that affects absolutely nothing but the ending cutscene (and perhaps a few lines of dialogue here and there) and you don’t even get a notable gameplay difference from picking either.

    I tried to play the game a few more times before and after the remastered edition came out, and at some point I always got bored and forgot it. I managed to get a full playthrough a few months ago, but only because it was on the Switch, which I always take with me, so I tended to pick up the game more often. Still, I often felt like I was in autopilot. I don’t think I’ll ever play it again.

  37. Dreadjaws says:

    Also, I feel the need to point out, yet again, that the way you feel against BioShock is more or less how I feel against Insomniac’s Spider-Man game. Rave reviews, beloved by everyone (including yourself), and at every moment while playing it all I could think was “Has none of these people ever played a Spider-Man game before? Why is everyone acting as if this game invented all the stuff it’s just blatantly aping from previous games?”

    I mean, make no mistake, it’s not a bad game by any means, but it’s certainly not the innovative powerhouse everyone makes it up to be. The only real advantage it has over other games about the wall crawler are the graphics. Everything else has been done already, and in many cases better. Even Silver Sable was a properly effective foil for the hero in one of them.

    Now Insomniac is making a Wolverine game, and everyone is super excited because “They know how to do it”. Except that there aren’t that many Wolverine games to copy this time, and from the handful that there are only one of them is genuinely good. I just… I can’t get excited for it.

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