I should probably start this off by saying that although I’m probably more of a gamer than I think I am, I’m still not much of a gamer. Obvious contradictions aside, while I’ve always liked the idea of video/computer games of all sorts, I’ve never really had the chance to play anything other than Super Smash Brothers for more than twenty minutes, and consequently rather tend to suck. I like the stories in games, and I like watching them unfold, but rather than take up the controller myself and condemn myself to afternoons of endless dying, I tended to decide to take the much less humiliating route of watching my boyfriend play for me.
This is how I first met Bioshock, when it was new and shiny however-long ago it came out. I went over to my boyfriend’s place, sat down on his couch, looked over at the TV where he was playing some sort of game thing, and – “There are bees coming out of your hands!!” There was also a story, something about a sunken Libertarian distopia and rivaling urban-gangster boss figures, and creepy little girls who kept souped-up scuba-divers as pets, but for that first walkthrough my head pretty much stopped at ‘dude, you have superpowers, and they’re awesomely freaky!’.
So when time passed, and I found myself with both more spare time than I knew what to do with and a bit of spare change, I decided that I had to try playing the game for myself. I realise I’m late to the party on this one, and that everyone with an X-box has already gotten about all they can out of the game already, but hey – someone has to represent the stragglers, right?
The first thing that I noticed, because I quite cleverly have eyes, was that Bioshock belongs to that wonderful class of games, the First Person Shooter. This immediately gives me some problems.
As I”ve already mentioned, I was not one of those kids who grew up with a controller glued to their palms. My house didn’t have consoles, and computer use was frowned on because it got in the way of things like doing chores, taking in sunshine, and getting stung by bees. I had one system, and it was the Gameboy, and that gameboy had one game, which was Pokemon, so while I’m very very good at throwing orbs at strange Japanese creatures and telling them to Growl at each other, trying to navigate a complex environment when all I can see of myself is my hands is really bloody difficult. Watching other people play things, I sometimes feel like I’m the only person who finds the inability to see their feet, the floor, or anything other than the 90 degrees in front of them challenging. I stare in awe as they sprint around, leaping over things I can’t see much less figure out how to get past … meanwhile, I end up walking into a room to find myself dead, killed by the zombie who was standing right beside me, and who I am therefore utterly unable to perceive. Bioshock doesn’t have zombies, but it does have Splicers – druggies with superpowers and unreasonably aggressive stances towards strangers – and it has a lot of them, and when they come at you from more than one direction … well, I die. A lot.
To be fair, the audio generally warns you when a snarling crazy person is approaching from a direction you can’t see, and switching from Normal difficulty to Easy helped even more. Even so, even at the end of the game I still found myself disoriented, like someone put blinders on me and then asked me to run an obstacle course in under a minute.
Which, in a weird way, I guess they did?
My failing aside, my original interest in this game came in part from its story, and in part from its awesometastic abilities, and neither of them let me down, although neither worked quite the way I expected or might have wanted. The tale starts off with you, a reasonably fit young man with a very pretty tattoo on his wrists, who has the dubious misfortune of being in a plane that crashes right by the entrance to a mysterious underwater Libertarian utopia. Things for this guy (I mean, ‘me’?) very quickly develop the tendency to go to bad worse, a trend that continues throughout the game: as soon as you descend into the city – presumably because you think it’s better than being stranded alone in the middle of the ocean, but more because the game doesn’t really give you many other options – the elevator you took breaks, stranding you there. And before you start thinking that being stranded in the middle of a city has to be better than an ocean and flaming bits of plane, you quite quickly learn that pretty much everyone in the city is insane, and consequently wants to kill you.
Just in case, I suppose, I was under the impression that this gritty, creaking environment was actually a safe and nurturing place?
The voice of sanity quickly manifests itself as Atlas, a mysterious voice from the radio that happens to be in your little broken elevator. The entire world of Bioshock (Rapture) is dark and flickery and scary-sounding, and Atlas is bright and cheerful and Irish (aka handsome)and sounds like he wants to invite me to a picnic, and I immediately decide I like him and possibly want to have his babies, because he sound so damned normal. In spite of apparently being nowhere near me – at least I assume so, since he wants me to go do things that he would almost certainly be more qualified to do, were he around – he seems to know everything that I’m doing, which I decide is not creepy because he seems determined to use this omniscience to help me. He finds me a wrench, which somehow proved to be the best weapon I would ever touch, and gives me a series of quests, which I accept because I’m a pussy, and also because all of the doors that don’t go the way he wants me to go seem to be locked, blocked, or full of crazy people.
Some people might find this cheerful willingness to do insanely dangerous things just because a pleasant-voiced Irishman wants me to a bit odd, but honestly, I found his direct need to be refreshing, almost soothing. Anyway, my arbitrarily following his orders was no odder than him trusting the safety of his wife and child to the dubious competence of the guy he happened to find stranded in the lift.
For one thing, he gave me powers!
Or, more accurately, showed me how to use the previously-established system of genetic enhancements that allowed me, the average man, to set my enemies on fire, throw them across the room, freeze them in place, or cover them in bees! And to be honest, this is where my disbelief looked down and realised what a giant chasm it was actually suspended across. Telekinesis, I suppose I can accept, and fire and ice and lighting all make a certain amount of sense, but some of the plasmids available seem fundamentally incompatible with the peaceful, functioning society that Rapture was originally supposed to be. What useful role could there possibly be for a genetic modification that allows you to send an angry swarm of bees to attack everyone around you? Bees can’t be sent on errands, they can’t make honey in the amount of time you have to summon them, and the only trick they know isn’t exactly something you can bring out at parties. Creating a swirling cyclone that throws people at violent speeds also seems a bit problematic, as does the power of making people around you really pissed off at everything, or the one where you throw a little gel-blob that makes all the security devices nearby try to kill whatever it hits.
Of course, someone could easily use these as examples of why Rapture never really was the utopia it pretended to be, or suggest that these destructive options didn’t come around until after society started to crumble, but I don’t quite buy it. On the other hand, when five minutes after surviving a plane crash and arriving in crazyland someone gives you the ability to shoot lightning from your fingertips, I guess you really shouldn’t be asking too many questions.
If you are asking questions, though, and one of them happens to be ‘where exactly are you going with all of this’, I will simply reply: “wait until next week!” – by which time the rest of my thoughts on the game (of which I have many) may have been persuaded to come out from the rock they’ve been hiding behind.
I may even have figured out how to properly end a post!