I think some of it is nostalgia. Some of it is the nature of games to build on what came before. Some of it is certainly the hit driven nature of games, that forces repetition. Too many games I’ve been playing this year echo an older game that I find I’d rather be playing.
Dragon Age has me wanting to play Oblivion, which makes me want Morrowind. I played Prototype, and more than anything, the moving around Manhattan made me want to play Spider-Man 2 so much, we tracked down a copy (thankfully backwardly compatible on the 360), and I played, and spending much time just web-slinging around the city.
BioShock has been doing this to me lately, although in a different way. It feels almost tinny to me, as though it’s an echo and reflection of something and the fidelity isn’t quite right. I’m having difficulty finding the wonderfulness that the net has assured me is there. I was replaying it recently as I’d gotten the disk from Girl, partly because of the immanent arrival of BioShock 2, and also because the VGC played it. I missed their playthrough (and want to hear their podcast), when I read Michael Abbot’s recent piece on the game.
I’m not good at shooters, especially on the console. I have BioShock for the PC, my key is missing, and well, it’s designed for the 360 anyway. I wanted to get through it, and experience this environment that is so lauded. Perhaps my expectations are too high now, and it’s certain that my playthrough is jaded, as I know the secret of the Crying Game.
My initial impressions of BioShock? First, the plane crash, and fall to the water. Why are there droplets of water on my screen? This was my reaction the first time I played this, close to when the game came out, and again, every time I play it. It jars me out.
When you enter the tower or building that is the top of rapture, I get two vibes, one is a powerful Fallout vibe, from the first moment I played that game. There’s a similarity in color and style and music (although we haven’t heard the Ink Spots yet, they are playing in one of the early areas of the game). Something about Ryan evokes Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus trilogy to me, too. And, unfortunately for the writers of BioShock, bathyspheres are inextricably linked to Psychonauts in my mind.
Even before I knew the big reveal, I didn’t trust Atlas. Or Ryan. Why? SHODAN. She taught me that ambient voices telling me what to do can’t ever be trusted. In fact, many games I’ve played this year have had betrayals in them. Revenge is an easy motivation/emotion to try for, even if it often fails. With each layer of things: audio logs, hacking, pep bars and alcohol it feels like this game is a shadow, a poor reflection of an older game.
There are zombie-like monsters, creations of the environment. There are glass panels I stare mutely through, unable to stop the violence. Inexplicably, there are ghosts. It all echoes of course, and I’m wishing for System Shock. Neither Ryan nor Atlas can never be Rapture the way SHODAN was the environment you were in. You could push her out, damage her vision and her control, but you were still there, inside her.
I just want to leave Rapture. It seems the smartest choice at this point. Why did I save the damn trees? We’re leaving this junk town, right? I’m saving the Little Sisters, but let’s face it: they’re all gonna drown, but I’m going to be on a bathysphere to LA as soon as I can. I get Atlas has some control over me, I know there’s that reveal — and that the control he has is empowered by my own willingness to play the game, to see more of and explore the world.
But I can’t really see Rapture for all the echoes, hiding it from my view.