_ Well, it took me about a month elapsed to finish it, barring a few days away, and I guess all told it’s been approaching 20 hours play time. Some people have said they found it too short, and that they finished it in 10 hours or something, but personally I think that means they were rushing about too much - me, I took my time. There are lots of things hidden away if you take the time to look, and when the environments are this pretty, and peppered with little side-stories if you look, who wouldn’t want to? I’m not a particular fan of 50-hour epics anyway, I don’t really have that sort of time. Give me 10 great hours over 50 hours of grinding any day.
Fast opinion: I enjoyed it a lot. Sure, it’s an FPS at the end of the day, albeit an FPS with a few twists, but the story is very good (up to a certain point, more on that later), the environment is beautifully crafted and feels very authentic, the sound scape fits everything perfectly, and the game does encourage you to try playing different ways. Personally, I found the most effective play style was sneaking about with camoflage on, nailing people with a crossbow (which you can collect the bolts back from), or even better, using telekinesis to throw heavy objects at people. Forget guns, a barrel in the face takes most enemies out much faster. I made a sport of killing people with the bodies of their own comrades at times, or after destroying a turret, wander around the level flinging the debris of that same turret at most of the enemies - rather effective and resolves the ammo issue rather nicely. Forget all the flashy elemental ‘Plasmids’ (aka spells or psionics), telekinesis is easily the most versatile and powerful one in the game.
Some people have said they didn’t like that the story was played out with tape recordings. It’s funny, because I like that aspect. System Shock 2 did it too, and piecing together the various story strands from the last recordings of tortured, disturbed or simply trapped people is quite a good dramatic vehicle I think. I hate excessive use of cutscenes (e.g. Metal Gear Solid) with a passion though, whilst some people don’t mind them, so it’s obviously a personal thing.
**Warning: Spoilers Ahead! Skip to the next heading if you don’t want to read them…
** It’s not perfect though. Firstly, the story is really good up to the point where the writers reveal their hand and let out the ‘big twist’ about ¾ of the way into the game. It’s a good-un, but I get the feeling that after that point, the writers had played their biggest trump card and subsequently ran out of creative steam. It’s also around the same time that you’ve pretty much seen everything new there is to see when it comes to weapons, powers and enemies, and the environments after still look beautiful, but aren’t populated by signature enemies with their own stories any more so feel rather more soulless that those that had come before. What spice there is, like turning yourself into a Big Daddy and making you protect a little sister for a while, feels forced and not adequately explained at all, it seems like a vehicle they never really managed to write in properly; something to keep you interested until the end. It was from this point onwards that the ‘Hey, I’m a game! Watch me jump through hoops!’ feeling surfaced, which was disappointing. Sure, it was there to some degree before too but it was always adequately masked by convincing purpose in the story and interesting distractions - in this last section there was an absence of both.
Forget role-playing elements too. The fact that you can switch out your augmentations (plasmids, gene tonics) whenever you find a Gene Bank, and that you eventually find enough Adam to buy almost everything, means that choosing those upgrades isn’t shaping your experience at all, because you can switch to being anything else practically whenever you like. It’s convenient for sure, but it does undermine the character customisation element, such that it is. The plasmids become like weapons you can only carry a certain number of at once, and the tonics are like skills you can change at pinch points. Thus you are all characters and none at the same time. The result is that the replay value that you could get out of, say, System Shock 2 by playing as a different style (where choice of skill upgrades was both exclusive and immutable) is simply not there.
The final showdown was disappointing too, standard end-game stuff where you fight the super-baddie through different stages of his powers. System Shock 2 made this same mistake, the final showdown with Shodan was a huge anticlimax. Bioshock’s isn’t an anticlimax as such, just an obvious game device which doesn’t live up to consistency and believability of majority of the game - it just feels like a game boss battle, which cheapens it. They appear to have been trapped by convention here - in a game you have to have a big showdown at the end, right? Otherwise it just ends with a quiet ‘farp’, surely? Well no, I think they could have done better than this, but as I say, they’d already played their plot trump and seemed too tired for anything else.
The very end sequence is a cutscene so earns my ire anyway, but it’s awful. You get one of two endings depending on how you treated the Little Sisters - now, because I was curious, I initially did a mixture of ‘harvesting’ and ‘rescuing’ them, but on balance I reckon I rescued 80% of them. I harvested perhaps 3 near the start (what can I say, I was young and I needed the Adam) but after realising that you could make up the Adam you lost by rescuing 3 of them anyway, I rescued all of them from then on. Even so, the game decided that overall I’d harvested more than a good person could, and gave me the ‘evil’ ending, which felt way too simplistic. Much was made of the moral choice in the game (not that it’s what attracted me to it) but really it’s fairly irrelevant and bluntly implemented. If you want to see a real implementation of choice and consequence, play Deus Ex, Planescape: Torment or even the original Fallout, they all do it far better.
Conclusion (you’re safe from spoilers now)
Despite the drop-off at the end, this is still one of the best games you’re going to play in a while. Great atmosphere, great story (most of the time), great voice acting, great sound, great graphics, varied gameplay (for an FPS anyway). It is very much spawned from the same mind that gave birth to System Shock 2, and indeed makes some of the same mistakes that game made too. Despite that both of them will live on in my memory as high points; Bioshock perhaps has a tougher time because it’s following rather than leading, but all the same, you won’t have played a game quite like this in the last 10 years. One to be celebrated for sure, in all its imperfect glory. And no, I don’t do scores, they’re just silly 😉****