Part two of my Bioshock ramble. Sit tight kids, today we will talk about the Fucking Minigames™ and parallels between Bioshock and Super Mario.
That Fucking Minigame™
Quick question: who here likes mini games inside of their macro games? Ok, that’s a tricky question that most of you would probably answer “it depends”. It warrants a followup such as: what kind of mini games?
There are really two types I can think of: minigames which are interesting in and of themselves (like the card game in KoTOR games), and pointless, timed logical puzzles that are merely supposed to be obstacles or time wasters. There is also a third category: minigames that realistically depict given activity – and currently that category is occupied solely by the lock picking game from Fallout 3.
Just like every single game released in the last few years, Bioshock includes a pointless annoying minigame that is nothing more but a stupid, timed puzzle. It requires more luck than skill to play. I mean, look at it:
Firstly, how does this game of “connect the pipes” have anything to do with hacking? How do you “hack” a hydraulic device? They should have called it plumbing instead! You can yell at me and tell me to suspend my disbelief for a minute or two, but screw that. I liked the lock picking game in Fallout 3 because it actually resembled lock picking. The pipes game in Bioshock is just plain dumb.
The worst part that the biggest factor in this game is luck, not skill. If you get a good set of tiles, you will most likely win with plenty of time left. If you get sucky set, you will likely lose. And there are sets that just can’t be beaten unless you use one of the special plasmid powers that reduce the number of trap tiles in a set. We might as well just roll a dice, really. Why dress it up?
Sorry Mario, the princes is in another castle
You know what is my other pet peeve, besides mini games? When the game constantly dangles a carrot in front of you, and then takes it away at the last second, sending you on a fetch quest instead. Bioshock is notorious for this – it happens every single fucking time you approach and exit from the level, a quest goal or an important character. Something always happens – there are no exceptions.
Sometimes it’s trivial – for example, the roof fill collapse and the rubble will block your path. Other times it is a deus ex machina intervention – Andrew Rayan initiates some sort of a level wide lock down, sends a horde of angry splicers at you or somehow kills the character you were supposed to speak too.
I mean, first time you do it – it’s surprising. Second time, it’s unexpected. Third time, is predictable. By the sixth time I was actually drop some proxy-mines around me when approaching the goal just in case some enemies will spawn behind me. Once again, the game took something cool, and used it so often it became a routine.
The side effect of this is that you almost never actually meet anyone face to face. Other than the generic splicer mooks of course, but they don’t count. People love to talk to you via radio, closed doors on from TV screens. But when you are about to meet them they either hide behind some impassable barrier, get assassinated or turn hostile the instant they see you. Halfway through the game I actually started suspecting that the dev team was simply to lazy to create a convincing facial expressions and sync up the lip movements with the audio so they used every single trick in the book to prevent you from actually talking to anyone in person. Which isn’t true – all of the 3 characters you do meet in the game are fine.
To Bioshock’s credit, I must admit that there are some some scripted events that are executed flawlessly, and not overused at all. My favorite was the good old “lights out” routine. There are 3 or maybe 4 scripted events in the game where the light goes out completely. You are left in pitch black darkness, and the only thing you can hear are voices and footsteps of splicers all around you. The effect is striking.
First time this happened to me, I freaked out and started blindly spraying bullets all around me. Eventually I figured out that I can’t be hurt while I’m blind (that would be unfair) but by that time, the game already moved on to bigger and better things.
Bioshock also does a great job introducing new splicer types. For example, before you fight with Spider Splicers for the first time, you can hear them crawling in the ducts above you throughout the whole level. Similarly, first time you meed a Houdini Splicer you have to literally chase his shadow from room to room – and each time you think you almost have the little bastard, he vanishes. Oh, and I almost shat myself when the splicers in Hephaestus were pretending to be corpses and all jumped me when I tried to loot one of them. Good times!
The game has 3 endings: good, neutral and evil. The last two share the same exact animation, and almost identical voice over – only with a slightly altered tone which is just plain lazy. I do appreciate the fact that the game did not offer you the last second redemption choice like most games with morality systems do these days. Sadly, this means that you must make the decision regarding which ending you want to get some 20 minutes into the game. If you harvest any girl, you will be condemned to the evil ending, which makes you out to be an insane, megalomaniac psychopath that’s much worse than the main antagonist in the game.
In a way this does make some sense – after all, killing little girls a pretty nasty business. But I wish the “neutral” ending was somewhere in the middle between the two extremes. I mean, yeah – my character was a bit of a bastard, but I like to think that he only harvested the sisters when he had to (ie. when I was running out of ADAM, and needed to buy some upgrades pronto). So yeah, he was cold blooded killer, but not a total headcase.
I was disappointed with my ending, but after watching the “good one” on Youtube I concluded it is equally lame. The worst part, IMHO is that neither ending even bothers to mention what happens to the Rapture. I mean, you spent so many hours in that city, and then the game just never mentions what became of it.
In my last post I mentioned that the game does have some depth. I stand by that statement. After all, the action takes place at the bottom of the ocean – of course the game has depth!
Seriously, though – here is what I found interesting: Andrew Ryan. The man has built Rapture in order to create a society based on objectivist ideas. He wanted it to be a place where men can be free. But what does he do? He bans organized religion, and he prohibits communication with the outside world. He talks about market is not being constrained by government sanctions, tariffs or regulations, but he makes trade with other nations of the world illegal.
Rayan wanted to make Rapture a place where man’s property is his own, and cannot be taken away by a decree of a the government. But he nationalizes Fontaine industries when it starts to threaten him. He wanted artists to create without the fear of being censored but he cracks down hard on any art that criticizes his policies.
You could say the man is a hypocrite, and that he only gave lip service to objectivism in order to attract people to his city. What he really craved was power of the the absolute kind. The power over the life and death of the citizens of his personal underwater city. Which is a possibility.
Then again, you could say that he really believed in the objectivist ideals. But, being merely a human, he failed to live up to them. Instead of embracing the objectvist system of values fully, he took a page from Marksists and decided that his ideal society needs a transitory period during which these ideas are forced upon them, until they become a second nature. This is why he banned all communication with the outside world and tried to extinguish out any religion, or non-objectivist thought in the city.
If he created a truly open market, and allowed the information freely flow in and out of the city, Fontaine would probably never rise to power. Without the lucrative smuggling business he would not have the resources to challenge Rayan and he would remain just a petty crook.
Rayans fear of foreign powers and outside influence seemed a bit paranoid to me. Couldn’t Rapture function openly? Would the worlds nations even care about it? Wouldn’t Rayan use his considerable wealth and clout in politics to get the city acknowledged as a sovereign nation? He probably could, but he didn’t. He chose to do it all backwards, and the downfall of Rapture was the result of his hubris, and his paranoia.
Bioshock doesn’t really ask the question of whether or not an objectivist society would actually work. It asks a question whether any idealized system like that can be executed by men – imperfect creatures who are often short sighted, greedy, selfish and power hungry. Can you create an ideal society when neither the founder, nor his followers fully buy into the idea?
Rayan didn’t trust his people to live up to his ideals so he used censorship, propaganda and trade sanctions. Citizens of Rapture didn’t fully believe in Rayans ideas either, as they were more than happy to circumvent his laws and sanctions, creating a flourishing black market. One could say the whole thing was bound to implode one day – Fontaine was just a catalyst.
See, I told you – there is some thought provoking material in this game. Bioshock doesn’t seem to be a direct critique of objectivism – rather an exploration of the human condition using objectivism as a concept, and Rapture as it’s flawed, failed execution. It’s story, and Rayan’s evolution from capitalist and paragon of objectivist thought to a totalitarian dictator is worth pondering.
I have few more things to say about Andrew Rayan – but that will have to wait till the next post.