Never judge a Big Daddy by its cover

Having been a proud Xbox 360 owner for only a couple months now, I’ve been trying to juggle the recent flood of great downloadable games (both on 360 and the PS3) while simultaneously trying to clear out that backlog. Luckily there’s a big lull for me in September before the big holiday games hit — except Rock Band 2, arguably the biggest release this year…but since all my Rock Band peripherals are PS3 I have another month to wait — so I decided to take the opportunity to tackle the game I’ve been wanting to play the most: BioShock.

[[image: ar_091708_bioshock_02.jpg::center:0]]
I still have quite a bit of the game left, but so far I’ve been most impressed with the game’s aesthetics and presentation. I deliberately avoided reading too much about the game before its release knowing I wouldn’t be able to play it for a long time; all I really knew was that it’s quite good regardless of whether or not you like first-person shooters, that it’s set in a city under the sea, and that there’s something involving huge robots that protect little girls. Imagine my surprise, then, to find that Rapture is a dystopia absolutely drenched in 1950’s art deco. Even more surprising is how creepy the game has been so far; I hadn’t expected BioShock to focus quite this much on, well, mood.

The short amount of time it took for Bioshock to wrap me completely around its finger has had me thinking a lot about how important the aesthetic of a game can be. It’s very, very rare for me to even give an FPS a chance these days, let alone become enthralled with it; yet BioShock’s art direction and insistence on creating an evocative atmosphere has me completely under its spell. Team Fortress 2’s character design is another great (though stylistically different) example of this. Meanwhile, Guitar Hero 3’s ugly character models helped push me into Rock Band’s camp, and I’m sure way back when I was a kid the graphics were at least partially responsible for me not liking Zelda II.

That isn’t to say it’s always necessary for a great game to have great looks. Gears of War is pretty much everything I hate about American design: big, burly men in space armor with oversized guns. Once I gave it a shot, though, the gameplay shone through and I was able to appreciate it in spite of itself. Heck, Metal Gear Solid is probably one of my favorite series ever, and it’s come dangerously close to that the line between “fun” and “army man” a few times. Outstanding gameplay can more than make up for a lacking in art style, but it’s often going to be a hard sell. (And I think it’s pretty telling, then, that I never learned to love Zelda II anyway.)

[[image: ar_091708_bioshock_01.jpg::center:0]]
Sometimes it’s an easy sell — Zack and Wiki, and the upcoming Valkyria Chronicles, are both channeling the same aesthetic Mega Man Legends offered (which, in turn, was borrowing liberally from Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky). Of course I’m going to buy into that. Similarly, LittleBigPlanet’s fantastic art design had me excited as soon as I saw it in motion; I hadn’t even learned what the game was about, and I was already ready to give it a shot. On the other hand, BioShock stands out for me and likely always will because it caught me off-guard. I’m sure I’ll always look back fondly on that first glimpse of Rapture and remember how surprised — and immediately intrigued — I was. Whether this is an argument for not hungrily digesting each and every big of information about a game and preserving the mystique, or simply for expanding what a genre can offer, I’m not sure. Probably both. Yeah, let’s go with both.

9 thoughts on “Never judge a Big Daddy by its cover

  1. It’s both. But kudos to you for not reading every little thing about Bioshock…I think coming in not knowing much about a game/movie/book is a greatly underestimated facet of enjoying something.

  2. Without ruining much and pointing out a detail nobody ever seems to be aware of, there’s a skinner box in the little sister rearing facility. The good/bad endings for Bioshock are based around the same concept and I guess it has to do with events that lead up to the very end and who’s really pulling the great chain or whatever Ryan keeps talking about.

  3. Couldn’t agree more about that point, Vlad. I can’t even justify buying Braid now because someone at spoiled the final level for me.

  4. I maintain that the biggest problem with Bioshock is how one-sided the harvesting issue is. On paper, I have to choose between having enough points to buy all these groovy powers, and not being a horrible monster of a person. In practice though, not only do I end up with almost the exact same number of points either way (which is more than enough to get everything), but the most entertaining (to me) plasmid in the game is an extra reward for not eating small children.

    The case can be made that it’s messed up for me to gripe about not being sufficiently rewarded for murdering small children, but if you’re doing the whole good path/evil path, and you’re making one harder to play through, the one that thus becomes the bragging rights ending should really be the good one.

  5. I definitely feel your sentiments. Bioshock succeeds for me, where other, samey shooters fail, because of its atmosphere and art design. It doesn’t hurt that it’s pretty fun to play, but I never would have given it a try if it didn’t present itself as something different.

  6. I remember one of the creators saying something about “Just how many little girls do you think it is acceptable to kill?” in regards to the endings. I agree, but throwing in a chance at redemption if you just gotta see what happens would of been a good touch.

Comments are closed.