Category Archives: First Person Shooter

#91: BioShock and BioShock 2

Format: Xbox 360 Genre: First Person Shooter Released: 2007/2010 Developer: 2K Games

OK, so I’m sort of breaking the rules a bit here by doing two games in one post, but seeing as I made up the rules in the first place, I think I’m allowed to break them every now and then. The truth is, I just couldn’t choose between these two games: on the one hand, the story of BioShock 1 was fantastic, with an excellent twist in the tale, but on the other hand, BioShock 2 was a much better game, with some excellent tweaks that made the whole thing much more enjoyable to play than its predecessor. So they’re both in. So there.


But why are they so good? In one word: Rapture. The decaying underwater city is so brilliantly realised that you feel almost compelled to explore it, if only to uncover the stories behind the magnificent – now crumbling – art deco skyscrapers so incongruously rooted to the Atlantic seabed. Of course, entering the world of Rapture requires you to leave your disbelief suspended at the door, and anyone who foolishly asks their hosts how they managed to build an entire secret underwater city using 1940s technology will be politely but firmly asked to leave; however, if you can manage to turn off your scepticism, Rapture is a wonderful place to lose a few hours in.

By far the best thing about the first game was the city’s founder and leader, Andrew Ryan. One of the first things you see after entering Rapture (following one of the best opening scenes of any game, ever) is an enormous statue of Ryan clutching a banner that reads: “No Gods or Kings. Only Man.” It’s a philosophy that runs through the entire game, with the idea that Rapture was founded by Ryan as a sort of cult of egotism, wherein the finest minds from all over the world could excel in an environment that’s free of interference from state or religion.

What about 'Woman'?

Interestingly, it was only when researching this post that I discovered that Ryan’s philosophy is actually based on that of the Russian-American novelist Ayn Rand, who developed a philosophical system called Objectivism. In the novel Atlas Shrugged (the name of which might ring some bells for anyone who’s played BioShock), she lays out “the role of the mind in man’s existence—and, as a corollary, the demonstration of a new moral philosophy: the morality of rational self-interest.” The novel itself describes how “the most creative industrialists, scientists and artists … retreat to a mountainous hideaway where they build an independent free economy”; substitute mountains for ocean and you’ve got Rapture in a nutshell. Ryan’s philosophy also has shades of John Stuart Mill, who believed that social liberty could only be achieved if the people were freed from “the tyranny of political rulers”.

Intriguingly, the antagonist of BioShock 2 is a philosopher at the other end of the scale – rather than self-interest, Sofia Lamb leads a cult based around altruism. Sadly though, Lamb isn’t a patch on the character of Andrew Ryan, and it’s telling that one of the best bits in BioShock 2 occurs when you come across an animatronic ‘Pirates of the Carribbean’-style Ryan as part of a propaganda fairground ride called ‘Journey To The Surface’. I couldn’t help wishing that Ryan was in the second game a bit more as I listened to his robot alter-ego warning of the tyranny of the state, which he claims will tax you to death and steal your children for the armed forces (all illustrated with some wonderful dioramas featuring the giant hand of government hovering over hardworking American families).

One of the major hazards in Rapture is the static-forming nylon carpet that covers every surface.

As you can tell, the story of the BioShock games is certainly a cut above your average first person shooter, but it’s all too easy to get carried away with the philosophy of it all when in actual fact most of the game is based around brutally killing wave after wave of horribly mutated madmen. The introduction to the IGN review of BioShock 2 sums it up nicely:

One of my flat mates, not a gamer but drawn to the sound and fury, sits down to watch me play. “Is this Quake?” “No, it’s called BioShock 2.” “Uh-huh. But it’s like Quake, right?” “Um, not really – it’s about the nature of man” – BLAM! Aaargh! – “and the effects of trying to create Utopia “BIFF! Aieeeeeeeeeee! “in an art-deco city populated by artists and scientists” CHUDDA-CHUDDA-CHUDDDA-YeaaaaaaaaAAAAAAaaaaAAA-SPLAT” and inspired by the philosophical theories of Ayn Rand and John Stuart Mill.” I messily ram my giant drill-arm into the face of a screaming, swearing mutant in a party dress, and then we both fall silent as we watch the blood fade from the screen. He looks at me, brow furrowed. I relent: “Yeah, it’s kinda like Quake.”

And yes, this is as sinister as it looks.

Thankfully, the fighty shooty bits are just as engaging as the thinky story bits, particularly in the second game, in which you play a rogue Big Daddy (that chap in the diving suit on the front cover). At certain points during each level you can acquire a Little Sister, who can be set down to gather ADAM from handy nearby corpses (which is exactly as gruesome and weird as it sounds). However, ADAM-gathering attracts wave after wave of Splicers, and probably the most enjoyable part of the game for me was peppering the room with meticulously placed traps before starting the gathering process, then watching in satisfaction as my hapless enemies were variously speared, electrified, incinerated or catapulted into walls.

Proximity mines, $386. Trap rivets, $267. Mini turret, $483. The sense of satisfaction when a horde of Splicers is scythed down by your devious traps? Priceless.

However, the one criticism I have of the BioShock games is that the RPG elements and action elements don’t always gel together quite as well as they should. I love all the background story – in particular the many audio diaries scattered all over the city, which flesh out the ideas and motives of the main characters – but all this careful characterisation doesn’t quite sit comfortably with the reality of the central gameplay, which involves hordes of mutant humans doing their best to kill you as soon as you walk into a room. I mean, surely there should be a few more ‘normal’ humans dotted about? Or even some slightly less homicidal ones? It would be nice if – just once – you walked into a room, and instead of the room’s inhabitants attempting to burn you alive as soon as they catch sight of you, they just turn around and say, “Hello, you must be new here! Fancy a biscuit?”

I’m afraid that just saying that everyone in Rapture has gone ‘mad’ – hence why they’re all trying to murder you – just doesn’t really cut it. Being ‘mad’ doesn’t automatically turn you into a ruthless killer – perhaps the developers could have added in a few Splicers who just like to sit on park benches surrounded by carrier bags full of ‘treasures’ collected from public bins, or maybe there could be a few Splicers who, rather than gunning down any strangers who walk into view, instead just feel compelled to turn the lights on and off five times before leaving a room.

"Would you like to see my collection of treasur... AIIIEEEE!!!! It burns!!!"

Still, despite this, the story remains excellent, and the first game has an excellent twist at the end, which you can read all about on the spoiler-tastic Wikipedia page (obviously don’t look if you plan to play the game). Sadly though, my enjoyment of BioShock 1 was rather tarnished by the way I played the game – most of my BioShock sessions took place late at night after my girlfriend had gone to bed, so I had to play with the sound turned right down to avoid waking her. Subsequently, I missed quite a few of the key plot details, some of which I only just found out about after reading the Wikipedia page a few moments ago, and which, had I picked up on them at the time, might have made my BioShock experience even better than it was.

[Thankfully, I now have some headphones.]

"Er, sorry, would you mind moving out of the way please? I'd like to use the health station for a sec, so if you could just... Erm, why are you staring at me like that? Your what? 'Treasures'?"

The story of BioShock 2 is still head and shoulders above most games, but unfortunately it doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor (even though the ending is a lot better in my opinion). The Minerva’s Den DLC, on the other hand, has an absolutely brilliant story that I think surpasses both of the main games – the ending was one of the few occasions where I’ve genuinely been moved by a computer game. It’s just a shame that Minerva’s Den is likely to be the last time we’ll be able to explore Rapture… Although the rather exciting trailer for BioShock Infinite has both Ian and me far more excited than grown men really should be at the prospect of a new video game about floaty islands and robot horses.

Finally, I couldn’t end this post without mentioning the rich vein of black humour that runs throughout both games, in particular the brilliant little cartoon clips you receive whenever you purchase a plasmid upgrade. Anyone familiar with Vault Boy from the Fallout games will recognise the twisted humour of these irrepressibly cheery 1950s-style advertising shorts: the video below is a compilation of each and every one of them (make sure you have the sound turned up to catch the fantastic voiceover).

Oh, and I also came across the pic below during my travels along the information superhighway, and I just had to include it – it’s a BioShock bento box. Brilliant.

You can see more weird and wonderful bento boxes here – who knew the humble bento box could be such an inspirational art form?

Lewis

(Box shot from nerdles.com, screenshots from ign.com)

2 Comments

Filed under 2007, 2010, 2K Games, First Person Shooter, Xbox 360

#63: XIII

Format: Playstation 2 Genre: First Person Shooter Released: 2003 Developer: Ubisoft

OK, let’s get this out of the way first: I’m not saying that XIII is one of the greatest games of all time – in fact, it’s not even one of the greatest first person shooters of all time – but I enjoyed playing it immensely. The reason? The utterly sublime soundtrack.

Music and sound effects aren’t often what people single out when they praise a game, but a really good soundtrack can elevate any game beyond the ordinary – one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy Perfect Dark as much as  GoldenEye was that it lacked the aural finery of its spiritual predecessor (although as GoldenEye had a licensed soundtrack, perhaps that’s not the best example of musical creativity). The basic gameplay of XIII is fairly uninspired FPS fare, but the original score really draws you into the action.

Weapon noises are helpfully spelled out for the hard of hearing.

The music is obviously inspired by classic seventies action films such as Bullitt and The French Connection (listen to ‘The Big Chase’ here to see what I mean), and it reacts dynamically to what you’re doing on screen – open a door to a roomful of baddies and suddenly the bass kicks in and the hammond organ steps up a notch as the bullets go flying. One reviewer described the soundtrack as ‘jazzaphonic electronic tripped out funkuphoria‘ (try finding that section in HMV), and he’s certainly on the right track, if perhaps the victim of the NME disease of making up random meaningless but slightly cool-sounding words.

Headshots were accompanied by the appearance of three comic frames in the top-right corner of the screen, giving a snapshot of the immediate aftermath of your actions. A nice, but gruesome, touch.

The other major plus point was the plot – not something you often hear said about first person shooters. The game is based on a French graphic novel of the same name, and it’s a little like 24 in the sense that it revolves around a conspiracy to kill the president – the major difference being that the president’s already been assassinated before the game starts, so it’s more of a race to unravel the nefarious plans of those involved. Initially it borrows heavily from The Bourne Conspiracy (the novel of which was released a couple of years before the XIII graphic novel), with your character waking up on a beach with no memory of his past but with the key to a bank vault in his pocket. You’re rescued by a blonde female lifeguard in the classic Baywatch get-up, but almost as soon as she introduces herself she’s gunned down in cold blood by your unknown pursuers. I actually found this bit surprisingly affecting – there’s no shortage of shootings in most video games, but usually the characters on the receiving end are evil assassins/criminals/robots/ninjas…  it’s not often you witness the heartless killing of an innocent whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Like in the Bourne films, any weapon is deadly in your hands. Although in this case, a gun would definitely be preferred.

Other parts of the game are less successful – some of the level design is uninspired and the bosses in particular are badly thought out. For example, why does some random military general take several minutes longer than an average grunt to keel over under gunfire? Do they get some sort of armored undersuit on promotion? Also, I seem to remember the cel-shaded graphics didn’t go down too well on the game’s release – I think a lot of people were put off by the cartoony look at a time when most ‘serious’ first person shooters were moving towards realism. I admit that the cel-shading does seem an odd decision at first – and it really dates the game to that time in the early 2000s when cel-shading was all the rage – but I think it suits the overall feel quite well once you get used to it.

"Quick, get his wallet."

Still, despite XIII‘s shortcomings, the plot was good enough to keep me hooked to the end – and even made me buy another copy of the game. Frustratingly, a scratch developed on my first copy which meant it crashed about two-thirds of the way through, and I ended up scouring eBay for a working version just so I could find out what happened in the end. In fact, I enjoyed the story so much I’ve even got the original graphic novel on order…

But in the end, whenever I think about XIII, it’s not the intricate plot that pops into my head – it’s that ‘jazzaphonic’ seventies action film soundtrack. Have a listen for yourself:

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.armchairempire.com/)

4 Comments

Filed under 2003, First Person Shooter, Playstation 2, Ubisoft

#60: Half-Life 2

Format: Xbox Genre: First Person Shooter Released: 2005 Developer: Valve

You know a game is good when you just can’t stop thinking about it. Half-Life 2 was pretty much the only topic on my mind for the whole time I was playing it, and it preoccupied my thoughts for months and months afterwards. There’s just one word to describe it – amazing.

amazing: (adjective) causing great surprise or wonder; astonishing.

Half-Life 2 was amazing because it showed people that games could reach heights of entertainment, interaction and storytelling that just wouldn’t be possible in any other medium. The story has the slickness and polish of the best action films, but with the added benefit that you – as the voiceless Gordon Freeman – are the one who’s controlling it (or at least the game makes you feel as if you’re controlling it). Not only that, Half-Life 2 did a fantastic job of letting the environment do the storytelling, rather than relying on lengthy, potentially dull cut scenes. As you emerge into the devastated City 17, your first glimpse at the alien, impossibly tall monolith that towers above it gives you all the information you need to know in one glance.

The first appearance of the alien monolith. I think most of the screenshots here are from the PC version, but the Xbox version is much the same (although a little less pretty).

In my opinion, the game’s greatest triumph was its characters. The acting is some of the best I’ve ever seen in a video game, and the characters – particularly Alex – draw you into their story in a way that I’ve yet to see bettered. Half-Life 2 very deliberately avoids the use of cut scenes – you’re in control the whole time – and it’s a testament to the power of the story that I hung on every word the non-player characters uttered, rather than blithely ignoring them.

Shock horror! A computer game in which you actually care about the characters! So if Valve can do it, why can’t everyone else?

"Evenin'."

Then of course there’s the real-time physics. Who’d have thought physics would suddenly become so interesting? For years after Half-Life 2 was released, developers clamoured to stick new and improved physics engines in their games, all because some bright spark at Valve invented  something called the Gravity Gun.

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as grabbing a nearby bin with the trusty old GG, carefully lining it up at a row of oncoming soldiers, then unleashing it with the force of a 1,000 Geoff Capes, knocking your enemies down like skittles. Finally, a worthy successor to the BFG as gaming’s Most Satisfying Weapon.

The walkers were deadly, but brilliant. Anyone remember The Tripods?

And I haven’t even mentioned the sound yet… The inhuman electronic gurgle of the enemy soldiers can be heard long before they’re seen, and it instantly puts you into a state of high awareness as you edge around corners. It’s a brilliant sound effect, carried over and improved from the original game, and whenever I think of Half-Life 2 it always pops into the back of my head. Even if I don’t want it to. Brr.

I think you might need a bigger gun...

I could go on all day about how amazing this game is, but I think I’ll end by saying that Half-Life 2 was way ahead of its time – it showed that engaging storytelling and intense action don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive concepts, and it set a benchmark of gaming excellence that, frankly, has yet to be reached by most of the games on the market today.

Now witness the genius of the Gravity Gun:

Lewis

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Filed under 2005, First Person Shooter, Valve, Xbox

Podcast 6: Quake III Arena (#57)

Format: Dreamcast Genre: First Person Shooter Released: 2000 Developer: id

Quake III Arena. Bane of Degrees. Annoyer of Female Housemates. Enemy of Social Life. King of multiplayer FPS games on the Dreamcast circa 2000.

Yes Lewis and Ian step into the time machine that is their collective memory and travel back to the Space Year 2000 where they wasted so many hours playing Quake III Arena. Hear the journey on this, our 6th podcast. You’d think by now we would actually be good at them.

But wait! There’s more. For the first time ever in 101 Video Game Podcast history we welcome a special guest star, our friend Paul. Stupid Paul (his full name) lived with us at university and wasted his time playing Quake III as well. In many ways he is the ‘5th 101 Video Gamer’. If there were four rather than two of us. Luckily he escaped a life of blogging about old and obscure video games by getting married and having children.

And the ‘firsts’ don’t stop there. Listen out for the first ever 101 Video Games Podcast edit. Yes, Ian finally made a joke so distasteful that it was decided to overdub the offending section. We even got a mystery guest (not a special one) to do the overdub. See if you can spot it! Here’s a clue to find it – you’ll notice around the twelve-minute mark Ian suddenly makes even less sense than normal…

If we’re brutally honest this isn’t one of our best efforts, but it does have a certain charm. Hope you enjoy it.

Click above to listen directly through this site or click below to listen/download in your media player of choice:

Podcast 6 Quake III Arena

Ian & Lewis

(Screenshots from http://uk.gamespot.com)

1 Comment

Filed under 2000, Dreamcast, First Person Shooter, id, Podcast

#33: Doom

Format: Playstation Genre: First Person Shooter Released: 1995 Developer: id

Ah, good old Doom. I remember when it originally came out in 1993 – suddenly it became cool to own a PC, which up until that point had been the sole preserve of flight sim enthusiasts and Civilisation fans. As an Amiga owner I could only seethe in jealousy as my PC-owning mates regaled me with tales of besting Cyberdemons, while I made do with Alien Breed 3D and Gloom. After a long wait, I finally got my chance to engage the hordes of hell in 1995, with the release of Doom on Playstation.

Doom playstation box

Looking back at this game, it’s just amazing how simple it is – things that we take for granted in modern FPSs (like the ability to look up and down) just didn’t exist in 1995. Then again, if the protagonist of Doom managed to defeat the army of Hades without looking up once, perhaps the ability to swivel your viewpoint vertically is overrated. Yes, looking up is definitely for wimps.

Doom playstation screenshot 1

Of course, the best bit about Doom was the multiplayer. I clubbed together with my mate round the corner to buy a link cable, and seemingly every day in the holidays he would schlep round to mine with his Playstation for a bit of a Doom sesh. In the current climate of massively multiplayer FPSs, two player link-up Doom seems almost quaint, but for most of 1995 it sucked up my spare time like a supermassive black hole.

The single-player mode was pretty addictive too. The need to find all of the hidden rooms in the game held an extremely seductive allure, and I remember spending most of the game rubbing up against walls while fumbling with the ‘open’ button. I seem to recall there was a hidden disco room, but I can’t find any screenshots of it – can anyone help?

Doom playstation screenshot 2

Then there were the enemies – considering they were just pixellated 2D sprites pasted onto a pseudo-3D background, they did a pretty damn good job of being scrotum-tighteningly scary – there’s nothing more likely to give you a coronary than rounding a corner and running slap bang into a Cyberdemon.

However, my favourite baddies were the fantastically named Cacodemons – which were sort of like massive red floating Madballs that spat fire instead of water. Fun and scary.

Doom playstation cyperdemon

I’ve just had a thought – were there any other Playstation games that used the link cable? The only one I can think of is Command & Conquer: Red Alert, but there must be others… It’s funny, that link cable cost us twenty quid, and the only game we ever used it for was Doom.

Still, it was worth every penny.

Lewis

3 Comments

Filed under 1995, First Person Shooter, id, Playstation

#19: Halo 2

Format: X-Box Genre: First-Person Shooter Released: 2004 Developer: Bungie

It was a tough call to choose which Halo to include here. I ruled out Halo 3 early on, simply because it didn’t have the same impact on me as the first two, even though it’s an excellent game. Halo 1 very nearly made it: I was blown away when I first played it at an X-Box launch event, and driving a jeep in co-op mode is right up there among gaming’s all time top moments. It’s sort of like taking a drive into the country with a friend, only the friend is in control of a gatling gun and keeps shouting at you for driving off cliffs.

halo-2-box-art

In the end though, Halo 2 was the clear winner, chiefly because of the enormous amount of fun I had playing it on local multiplayer. I don’t care what anyone says, playing games against people in your own living room will always be miles better than playing over the internet – the only downside being that you have to actually get the people there in the first place. Oh, and in the case of this game, a link cable, two massive TVs, two X-Boxes, two copies of Halo 2 and eight controllers.

halo 2 ghost

But, after weeks of careful planning, this was exactly what I managed to do in Japan back in June 2005, as documented on my blog An Englishman In Nyu-gun. It took some effort to get all the various bits together, especially in X-Box-starved Japan, but it was worth it – by the end of the evening my face hurt from grinning so much. Nothing really brings out the smiles quite like shooting your friend in the face with a rocket launcher.

Eight-player Halo 2, June 2005

Unfortunately, I’m unlikely to experience such a local eight-player gaming fest again. The sheer logistics involved in getting so many people and so much equipment together – not to mention the fact that most people I know don’t have the time they once did to dedicate their lives to the cause of video games – means that this event was probably a one-off. But gosh darn, what a night it was. 

halo 2 split screen tank

Special mention must go to the Zanzibar map with its alien ferris wheel (at least I presume that’s what it is), but my favourite map will always be Coagulation, which is based on the Blood Gulch map from the original Halo. The fact that it has two Banshees opens up the possibility for airborne chicken runs (first one to pull up loses), and its combination of wide open spaces, rocket launchers and sniper rifles makes for some highly entertaining skirmishes.

halo 2 jeep

The only downside of this map is the lack of energy sword – officially the most cheaty and frustrating (if you’re on the wrong end of it) yet hugely entertaining weapon in the whole game. Our gaming session that night was frequently punctuated by howls of frustration as some cheeky young cub went round dispatching all and sundry with said sword, only for the rest of us to unite in an almighty virtual bundle against the miscreant. He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword, etc. etc.. Although he’s just as likely to die by plasma rifle in this instance.

Damn, all this reminiscing has made me want to play it again. Anyone got a couple of X-Boxes and a bit of spare time?

(And a link cable, two massive TVs, two copies of Halo 2, eight controllers, an understanding wife, a babysitter, etc. etc.)

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.ign.com)

4 Comments

Filed under 2004, Bungie, First Person Shooter, Xbox

#16: GoldenEye 007

Format: Nintendo 64 Genre: First Person Shooter Released: 1997 Developer: Rare

Facility level + Licence to Kill mode + Pistols only = Best multiplayer game ever? Discuss. 

goldeneye_box

The thing that most impressed about GoldenEye was just how far ahead of its time it was in terms of gameplay features, such as the huge weapon set, the cleverly designed levels and the sheer range of multiplayer options. When you compare it to the other first person shooters (FPSs) that came out on the N64 in 1997 – Doom 64, Hexen, Duke Nukem 64, Turok – it’s clear that GoldenEye was just leaps and bounds ahead of the opposition. It’s all the more astonishing, therefore, to learn that the multiplayer mode was added as ‘a complete afterthought’.

goldeneye-cave

I think the most staggering achievement of this game is that it’s actually impossible to get bored of it. OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I dread to think just how many nights of my teenage years were consumed by marathon GoldenEye sessions. If GoldenEye were to appear on Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) tomorrow (which is unlikely to happen for various reasons), I’m sure that it would garner just as many online players as some of the more recent FPS efforts, like Call of Duty. Actually, I really hope that GoldenEye doesn’t appear on XBLA – I spend enough time playing video games as it is, and XBLA GoldenEye might just send me over the edge into game zombie oblivion.

goldeneye-map-room

The more I write about this game, the more I want to play it again. There are just so many stand-out moments: such as lacing the toilets in the Facility level with mines, then gleefully detonating them when your hapless opponent walks in. Or fighting over who gets to play Oddjob in multiplayer (he’s so short, it’s almost impossible to hit him). Or playing with rocket launchers only on the miniscule Archives level. Or shooting an enemy agent in the balls and watching him crumple to the ground clutching his groin (puerile admittedly, but fun nonetheless). Or cathartically executing Natalya after she gets lost for the umpteenth time (it means a Game Over screen, but it’s worth it). Or annoying the hell out of your best friend by consistently defeating him with a karate chop to the back of the head (in the game that is, not in real life).

goldenye_four_player

I could go on, but I think it’s better if you just watch the video below and relive the memories yourself.

Facility level.

Licence to Kill mode.

Pistols only.

It doesn’t get any better than this.

Lewis

 

PS. I couldn’t end  this post without mentioning the brilliant ‘GoldenApple’ spoof that was filmed by the GamesMaster and NGamer magazines – watch it for yourself below:

And if you liked that, the ‘GoldenEye Facility Remix’ is also worth a look:

7 Comments

Filed under 1997, First Person Shooter, Nintendo 64, Rare