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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von M√ľnchhausen

Zero Punctuation and Bioshock

Author's Note: I wrote this a little while back and never posted it. So this is me writing about a month ago...

Let me start by saying that I can't believe that I haven't mentioned Zero Punctuation yet on my blog. Yahtzee is my friggin hero and he has redefined the game review as we know it. If you're just hearing about it from me, go, watch all of his reviews and then come back and finish reading this post. Okay, just watch the Bioshock review. He manages to take the piss out of one of the best games in years and has you laughing the whole time.

Which brings me to the actual topic of tonight's post, said best-game-in-years, the game I just finished, Bioshock. Seeing that you're not allowed to call yourself a gamer unless you've beaten this game and talked about it ad nauseam, I decided it was time to bite the bullet, upgrade my machine, and actually play the damn game.

There will be no major spoilers in this review.

I had read a lengthy preview of Bioshock some time back and came away excited that Ken Levine was trying to do something ambitious on a few different levels – he was mixing shooter and RPG, and proposed a complex storyline based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead is one of my favorite books). But it was a first-person shooter, and I don't play those. So I figured I'd pass it by.

Then the game came out, and it gets a ridiculous 96 Metacritic score. One reviewer called it "One of the very cleanest, best-executed shooters ever made." Alright, I thought, if there was ever a reason to go play an FPS, this was the time. So I had two choices: upgrade my computer or buy an XBox 360. I had already decided some time ago that I was glad that I'd sit out this round of the console wars and I needed a new machine anyway (my old one, including lots of code for a new game went up in smoke). So I bought a kick-ass new system with an NVidia GeForce 8800 GTX and bought Bioshock for the PC. Normally, I play every game on the hardest difficulty, but I have a particularly hard time with games played from the first-person perspective. I was playing it for the experience, not the challenge, anyway (for a change). I played it off and on for a few weeks and just finished tonight (I beat it in probably 6 to 8 major sittings).

I'll start off the way this review has to start off by saying that the sound and visuals are nothing short of stunning. The environments are all obviously handcrafted and every detail of the setting is damn near perfect, creating a mood that's downright gripping — transparent tubes with heavy metal rivets surrounded by bubbling oceans, the mournful whale-call of the Big Daddies, the creepy little girls with hypodermic needles screaming for Mr. Bubbles to "unzip" me, the tumbled remnants of a 1959 New Year's party where the attendants are now homicidal mutants, the protest signs that bespoke a terrible social upheaval, the mad shrieks of the splicers acting out scenes from their demented pasts, and Doctor Steinman surrounded by the mutilated bodies he tried to free from symmetrical ugliness.

The voice acting is all superb, the lighting fantastic, and it's certainly the scariest game I've played since Resident Evil: Nemesis. Each of the Big Daddies is just like Nemesis, actually. My heart beat faster whenever one would show up, just like it would when Nemesis did in that other game. It's a shame that such a masterfully-crafted game ended up with an ending that was a little lame and abrupt. I am currently going back through to beat it the other way (month-later author: not so much, with the holidays).

In short — the art direction on Bioshock deserves new awards to be invented for it. It is bar-none the most beautiful game of its kind that I have seen. It's tense and atmospheric in a way most games only dream of being, and also delivers heaps of fun that you've had before. In the end, Bioshock is nothing new – the game plays pretty much like every other FPS out there – but it carries it off with unparallelled panache that makes it all feel so good to do it all again. I think Bioshock is well-deserving of the accolades the other writers have given it. It's one of my favorite games of the past several years.

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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.