The biggest issue that aggravated me about the game was death is cheap. Basically whenever you’d die, you would immediately respawn at the closest checkpoint doodad that you passed by with full health and mana. Since the game doesn’t stop the moment you die (except for the final boss fight) and enemies keep the damage you applied to them, I never felt the developer’s intention of making me fear for my life in this hostile environment they threw me in, so all of the Big Daddy encounters in Bioshock didn’t bear any significant meaning to me other than I needed to die a few more times than usual because they had more HP than the typical mooks and security systems that you wandered into.
Apparently the developers of Bioshock thought it was a really cool idea to implement a death system similar to how WoW worked. What they failed to realize is that the game they’re developing is not an MMO, and even then, WoW scared me more often than this game because I would be caught off guard by a sudden mob respawn or suddenly seeing one of them move into my aggro range and then get overwhelmed with dealing with more than one monster at a time.
Anyway, as a result of this simple development decision, the rest of the game falls apart because:
Items and skills are useless. Once you know you can zerg rush the enemy until they die forever, there’s really no point in trying to stay alive. Therefore, every other resource in this game that’s used to increase your life expectancy (exotic weapons and ammo, health items, armor) is completely worthless.
The mood of the game is ruined. The developers were hyping the game to be the most scary and disturbing experience ever. Well, most people are worried about their bodies becoming desecrated in some way or another. The worst thing that can happen to the human body is the multiple ways it can be killed. This game makes death trivial by allowing you to respawn with almost everything you had while the enemies keep all of the damage dealt by you. Therefore, the only times the game “scared” me was by being surprised at how much health a Big Daddy took in one swing at me. Then I got annoyed by the fact the near-death sound effect played for the nth time and Zerg Rushed him to death.
The decisions I made didn’t feel like they made much of an impact in the long run. One of the decisions the player can make is to increase their skills at hacking. Turns out this is one of the most useless skills in the game because hacking a machine makes you play a Pipe Dream minigame. Once you get the hang of how Pipe Dream works, then the only thing that more secure machines have is more junk in the way, which a higher hacking skill removes from the equation. You can also Zerg Rush hacking jobs since even though the machine will damage you for each failed attempt, it will never deal lethal damage, so you can keep trying until you successfully accomplish it anyway. Yes, even the “harder” ones.
I can keep going on and on about how this simple decision to make death trivial broke the rest of the experience for me, but instead I want to know from you if the System Shock games were a much better experience than Bioshock’s. Based on what I’ve seen from some of the videos, they sure look like they do.
I think a huge part is that Ken Levine doesn’t have any talent. It would explain why the internal fiction of System Shock 2 and Thief were so… not memorable.
From an interview about Bioshock, he writes:
My discomfort with extreme ideology tends to focus around [the fact] that often when the ideology meets reality, people don’t turn out as well as they might hope. And that tells you a lot about ideologies.
And it also tells us about Ken Levine’s game. I think it is really bad taste to try to mix political ideologies with video games. I suspect one of the reasons why the game was declared to be ‘best story ever in a video game’ was because of its dig at Objectivism… and its digs at religion. (And an Objectivist utopia wouldn’t be underwater but in skyscrapers or in a ravine. And Objectivists are all atheists so they certainly wouldn’t name their place Rapture.)
It seems like Ken Levine has a chip on his shoulder. And since games take years to make, is it really that Ken Levine spent years to make a dig at Objectivism? It’s sad. And it is also pretty funny. (BTW, isn’t that new Atlas Part 2 movie out today?)
I don’t think it is good for gaming that game writers start using the games to take potshots at real world ideologies or belief systems especially located within the country. It sets up a bad precedent. No one wants politics in video games. It certainly isn’t causing the game to age well.
I just shake my head with all this. It’s like these video game writers think they are so good, so smart, so above it all. Yet, I still haven’t seen them be able to create and sell a novel (of their own IP). I don’t think they do have the ability so they hide behind a video game (which people don’t buy for the story).