Tag Archives: Reviews

Podcast 24: The Games That Didn’t Quite Make It… Part 2

In part 2 of our round up of the games that didn’t quite make it, Lewis questions why on earth he didn’t write anything about these frankly brilliant games:

Click below to listen to the podcast directly through this site:

Or download and listen on your MP3 player of choice:

Podcast 24 Games That Didn’t Quite Make It Part 2 – Lewis

OR subscribe to our podcasts through iTunes by clicking the link below:

Although seeing as this is the last podcast, if you’re only just subscribing now you’re a little bit late to the game. Ho hum.

There are a few games we talked about that deserve a bit of a special mention, as they came within a gnat’s hair of making it into the magic 101. Here’s a video of the stunning (for the time) Hunter in motion. Long before GTAIII, Amiga owners were stealing power boats and hijacking tanks in 3D:

Then, of course, there’s Rez: it came so close but in the end it didn’t quite make the list, mostly because Lewis couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to add to the mountains of fawning praise that have already been heaped at its door. However, if you’ve never played it, click the video below to see what all the fuss is about. And make sure you have the sound turned up.

Global Gladiators is probably one of the more obscure games on the list, and the cynical McDonald’s advertising that runs all the way through the game is a little hard to stomach at times, but it’s an undeniably brilliant platformer with some superb animation.

Finally, Point Blank was an absolutely wonderful light gun game that unfortunately Ian doesn’t seem to remember. Hopefully the video below will jog his memory:

And that’s that. The end of 101 Video Games That Made My Life Slightly Better. It’s a sad day in many ways, but we’ve really enjoyed writing the blog over the past couple of years, and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading it too. Thanks for listening to our ramblings and reading our musings, and special thanks to everyone who’s left a comment. (Unless it was a negative comment, in which case don’t bother next time.)

We’ll be back in the summer with a new (non-games-related) project, but right now it’s time to climb back into our big Morecombe & Wise-style comedy bed and turn the light off on 101 Video Games.

Goodnight all.

Lewis & Ian

1 Comment

Filed under Feature, Podcast

#101: Journey’s End

Format: Spectrum Genre: Adventure Released: 1985 Developer: Games Workshop

Nothing lasts forever. Here we are then, at game number 101. The last in our (not really) definitive list of games that made our lives slightly better. What game do you pick to adequately round off this 3 year journey? How can you represent 100 entries, thousands of words and several podcasts?

We’ve been through a lot on 101 Video Games That Made My Life Slightly Better. Doing this blog has been fun, has brought friends together and has given Lew and myself a great sense of achievement. At times it’s also been frustrating, has caused arguments, has been distinctly annoying and seemingly never-ending, and there have been long periods where nothing has really happened. Our final game was all those things for me, plus its name is perfect for the last post (natch). We have reached our Journey’s End.

My best friend for most of my childhood was a guy called Tony. Between the ages of 9 and 16 we saw each other pretty much every day. We lived on the same road, walked to school together and were in the same class at school. During the school holidays we would hang out together along with my younger brother. When you’re 10 years old, school holidays seem to last forever and we were often bored and struggled to think of things to do. Things got pretty desperate at times; one holiday I’m pretty sure we went to Woolworths every single day just to look at the videos and toys, never buying anything. Those were the days eh?

Tony had an old Spectrum (a hand me down from his older brother I think) and we used to dig that out and play on it, especially if it was pouring with rain outside. Even back then the Spectrum was pretty old fashioned, but we had no other options. I may be wrong but I think Tony didn’t own any two player games either. We were forced to play collectively, with one person controlling the game while the other two gave advice. This was surprisingly fun and kept us occupied for hours at a time. By far our favourite game to play this way was Journey’s End.

To the castle comrades! Just to warn you it's further away than it looks...

Journey’s End was a fantasy game, featuring the usual fantasy tropes – bands of warriors, spells, dragons, goblins (or was it orcs?) and so on. The game stood out by being split into four distinct parts which all played quite differently. It was also a long game. A very long game. So it was the perfect distraction to fill those long summer holidays.

Everything about the game took time. To begin with, of course, you had to load the game. It’s an obvious point to make but it did take aaaaages to play a Spectrum game. I remember we would sit there waiting 20 to 30 minutes for a game to load. Or should I say try to load? Often games would crash half-way through loading so you would have to start again. I’m sure Journey’s End often did that. It was quite possible to spend 45 minutes just trying to start a game. Looking back it absolutely amazes me that two 10 year olds and a 7 year old had that level of patience.

Here you can see all the gems, pots of gold and potions. But you can't see the stupid invisible traps.

The first part of Journey’s End was set in a maze. You would move around, exploring more of the maze until you found a key and a gate to escape. There were gold, gems and potions to find as well. Unfortunately there were also traps. Stupid, invisible, impossible-to-avoid traps. One of the most frustrating things about the maze was that you would only find the traps once you had set them off. The mazes were randomly generated and there was no logic behind where the traps were so it was sheer luck whether you ran into them. Not only that, occasionally you had strength points taken off because of a trap your character had fallen into during the bit between mazes, when you weren’t even controlling him. IT WAS INFURIATING. But we played it all the same.

ARRRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!

After a certain amount of mazes (again it seemed random the number you would have to tackle) you start the second part of Journey’s End: recruiting your band of warriors, wizards and warlocks (I know warlocks and wizards are kind of the same thing, I just wanted to use another ‘w’ word).

Using the treasure you found in the mazes you recruit a group of men to come on the quest with you. Not enough gold? Well make some on the rat races!

Just like my old Grandad used to say, always bet on the Green Rat.

Being 10 year old boys we particularly enjoyed renaming the mercenaries so they had stupid and/or rude names. As a 31 year old man I suspect I would still find that funny.

After advertising this is all I got. Rubbish!

Once you’ve got your gang together it’s time to go to the enchanted castle where the ‘Elixir of Hagar’ is being guarded by a giant dragon. How exciting! Oh, first you’ve got to get there.

Yes the third part of the game was you making your way to the castle. It’s actually quite similar to walking around the map in Final Fantasy 7, with the same random annoying fights. It’s this stage of the game that I really remember. The image of Tony, my brother and I, sitting on a large cushion transfixed in front of the TV, using the cursor keys to sloooowly move our group up the map while being watched by Tony’s haughty cat Claude is burned onto my mind’s eye. That stage was hard and often we wouldn’t reach the castle. The battles would pick off your men one by one, it was easy to get lost, and of course there was always the danger that the game would crash.

So here we go. Easy right. Nope.

Looking back, this stage of the game does successfully recreate the feel of the first Lord of the Rings book, which emphasises just how far the Fellowship of the Ring actually have to travel. The problem is, while a book can use that time to concentrate on character, and while a film can distract you with flashy CGI and battles, a 1985 Spectrum game can only recreate the feeling of travelling nowhere fast. Again, the patience we had was incredible.

Thrilling action from the map screen.

If you did manage to survive the random battles, find the bridge to take you over the river and then find the castle itself, you could move on to the fourth and final part of the game – the Dragon’s Castle.

Unfortunately I can’t tell you much about this stage as we rarely reached the castle. Even if we had got through the previous three stages without dying, by the time we got to the castle it was usually dinner time and my brother and I had to go home.

The couple of times we did get there though it seemed impossibly hard. I think we reached the Dragon once, but by then our party’s strength had been massively depleted, and we had used all our spells so there was little we could do.

Saw this screen a lot.

Despite all of this we loved the game, and I think there was more to this adoration than just being able to call one of your warriors Arsebum. The very fact the pace of the game was so slow allowed Tony, my brother and myself to play it together. We gave our characters personalities, argued over the way to go, shouted at the TV in unified anger when we had tripped over an invisible bit of stone in the maze losing 5 strength points, laughed at each other’s jokes during the dull slog looking for the Bridge across the river and cheered when we found the castle. We may have never actually reached the End but the Journey was fun in itself.

Speaking of endings, we’re at the end of this post and this blog. Well, we do have two more podcasts to come about games that didn’t quite make the magic 101, but our list of games is now complete. For those who have read/listened to all 101 posts I hope you enjoyed them and Lew and I would like to think that the blog has made your lives (very, very, very slightly) better. Or at the very least not worse.

Every ending is a new beginning though and our new project will be launched sometime in the summer. Hope you can join us on that journey too.

One last thing before I go: fancy playing Journey’s End? Then go here for this excellent repository of old Spectrum games. Isn’t the internet marvellous?

Ian

8 Comments

Filed under 1985, Adventure, Games Workshop, Spectrum

Name That Game

Throughout the history of this blog, we’ve regularly changed the header at the top of the page. Below you can see all of the many different headers in all their glory, but can you guess which games they’re from? Some are games that have already been featured on the blog, but most of them haven’t (and one isn’t even a game at all, but I’m guessing you’ll figure that out pretty quickly). There’s some fairly obscure games in here, so we’d be frankly astounded if anyone gets all of them. Click on the comment button at the bottom of the post to register your guesses, and good luck!

Oh, and anyone who does particularly well might even receive a highly coveted 101 Video Games pencil!*

Header 1:

Header 2:

Header 3:

Header 4:

Header 5:

Header 6:

Header 7:

Header 8:

Header 9:

Header 10:

Header 11:

Header 12:

Header 13:

Header 14:

Header 15:

Header 16:

Header 17:

Header 18:

Header 19:

Header 20:

Header 21:

Header 22:

Header 23:

Header 24:

Header 25:

Header 26:

Header 27:

Header 28:

Header 29:

Header 30:

Header 31:

Header 32:

Header 33:

*Despite originating as a joke on a post way back in September 2010, these do actually exist now (listen to the 2010 Christmas Special). Pencils will be awarded based on the whim and fancy of the authors.

The highly coveted 101 Video Games pencils. You know you want one.

Lewis and Ian

13 Comments

Filed under Feature

Podcast 22: Crazy Taxi (#100)

Format: Dreamcast Genre: Racing, Arcade, Sandbox Released: 1999 Developer: Hitmaker

Here at 101 Video Game Towers we often enjoy games that somehow turn mundane activities into fun adventures. Yes, you may have a good time being a space fighter pilot, or the heroic saviour of a post apocalyptic wasteland, or even a low-level gangster in the 1980s clubbing someone round the head with a baseball bat, but it can also be just as satisfying walking a dog, fishing or running a railway business.

Despite this fine pedigree there must have been some consternation when, during a meeting at Hitmaker HQ, the Big Boss pointed with his fat cigar at a lowly, nervous looking  programmer and demanded he make a game that recreates the thrills and spills of driving a taxi.

The advertising was very subtle.

Still, they don’t call Hitmaker ‘Hitmaker’ for nothing. They know how to make hits. In case you haven’t noticed it’s literally their name. Hitmaker… a maker of hits. If they didn’t know how to make hits their name would look stupid and boastful. Which it certainly isn’t. Though they did change it a couple of years ago to Sega AM3 which suggests they tired of putting so much pressure on themselves and instead became extremely early risers.

Anyway, all it took to turn mini-cabbing into a successful game was to add a bit of *pause* ‘Crazy’ (raise eyebrow when reading the word ‘Crazy’).

A taxi flying into the air? How crazy.

Welcome to the 22nd 101 Video Games Podcast! Listen as Ian and Lewis discuss Crazy Taxi on the Dreamcast, the disappearance of Tower Records, how pretty much anyone can’t help but like Offspring while playing this game even if they don’t usually, what a British version of the game would be like and once again reminisce about wasting time at university.

So, as someone with some kind of throat problem once said, ‘Hey, Hey, Hey its time for Crazy Taxi!’

Click below to listen directly through this site:

Or download and listen on your MP3 player of choice:

Podcast 22 Crazy Taxi

OR subscribe to our podcasts through iTunes by clicking the link below:

In many ways Gena is Ian's perfect woman - beautiful, cool and, most importantly, she can drive.

Ian & Lewis

3 Comments

Filed under 1999, Arcade, Dreamcast, Hitmaker, Podcast, Racing, Sandbox Game

Podcast 21: Fallout 3 (#99)

Format: Xbox 360 Genre: Action Role-Playing Released: 2008 Developer: Bethesda Game Studios

So, Fallout 3. It’s buggy. Occasionally awkward to control. The in-game characters sometimes know stuff they shouldn’t and/or the conversations get stuck in odd loops. It is also fantastic.

Fallout 3

Fallout 3

2008 was not a great year for Ian. All sorts of horrible things happened and his life took a very different direction to where he thought it was going. Come November he found himself single and living with his Mum. The best laid plans of mice and men eh? Ian’s personal misfortune coincided with a global misfortune, as the economy went belly-up. Basically to Ian circa November 2008 everything seemed f*****d.

So what did he do? Ian sulked for a bit, then went out and bought an Xbox 360 and Fallout 3.

Now let’s just stop a moment and think about this. Ian’s not happy. Banks are going under. The Russians are showing off in Georgia. Global Warming. The possibility, however slight, that McCain and Palin might actually win… The sense (and admittedly that sense is still kind of around today) that the world was falling apart, that we are, in best Daily Mail tradition, going to hell in a hand cart. And what does Ian buy? A game which depicts a horrific, post apocalyptic waste land. Where the inhabitants live hand to mouth, struggling with radiation, marauding gangs, mutants and monsters.

Take that mutant!

Take that mutant!

It was just the tonic! Ian plays the game as a virtual saint, becoming a hero to the people of the Wasteland.

Fast forward to Christmas 2010. Lewis receives Fallout 3 from the kindly old soak that Ian has become. Lewis is newly promoted, happily living with the love of his life in his own flat (bought that year) in a trendy-but-not-to-trendy-but-still-nice bit of London. Lewis is happy and comfortable. He plays the game as a ruthless evildoer, enslaving, murdering and looting as he goes.

There’s an important lesson there. Do write in if you work out what that lesson is.

Lewis's trusty companion Sergeant RL-3 - never leave home without one. His 'lively' phrases have a knack of sticking in the memory, such as: "Do that again and I'll put my boot so far up your ass you'll cough up boot polish!"

It’s the 21st 101 Video Games That Made My Life Slightly Better Podcast! In this one we discuss Fallout 3. For ages. Seriously, it’s about 45 minutes long. Sorry about that.

Click below to listen directly through this site:

Or download and listen on your MP3 player of choice:

Podcast 21 – Fallout 3 (Post #99)

OR subscribe to our podcasts through iTunes by clicking the link below:

We’ll leave you with something that goody-two-shoes Ian never got to see – the stirring sight of Megaton being annihilated…

Ian and Lewis

10 Comments

Filed under 2008, Bethesda Game Studios, Podcast, RPG, Xbox 360

#95: Defender

Format: Coin-Op/Amiga Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up Released: 1980/1994 Developer: Williams/Ratsoft

Sadly, I’ve never played the original Defender arcade machine, although with the current growth of the retro game scene, it’s surely only a matter of time before I come across it at some sort of retro-themed club night. However, I did play the Amiga shareware conversion a helluva lot, so that’s what I’m going to talk about here.

Good old Ratsoft. Whoever you are.

There may well have been more than one shareware version of Defender, but after scouring t’interweb, I’m fairly sure that the one I had was developed by Ratsoft (thanks lemonamiga.com). Having never played the arcade original, I’m not in a position to comment of the quality of the Amiga conversion, but as far as I’m concerned it’s bloody brilliant. Interestingly, according to Retro Gamer and Edge (via Wikipedia), “most official and unofficial ports [of Defender] failed to accurately emulate the arcade’s gameplay”. If that’s the case, I’m obviously in for a real treat when I finally play the original arcade machine, because to my mind the Amiga version was nigh-on perfect.

Ah lasers. Good old lasers.

Unlike many eighties arcade games, Defender has really stood the test of time. The lightning-fast gameplay is  incredibly frenetic and tense, and the controls are amazingly responsive (which is in stark contrast to the woolly controls of one of its contemporaries, Space Invaders). The scrolling and collision detection are both spot on, so  however difficult the gameplay gets (and it gets very difficult indeed), you can never blame the game for an unfair death.

The trick is to shoot the alien without hitting the human - harder than it looks.

Speaking of difficulty, this has to be one of the hardest but most rewarding games out there. It’s difficult because the secret to success is aiming and shooting at enemies on the main screen while simultaneously keeping one eye on the top radar screen – a very difficult task unless you happen to have eyes that swivel independently of each other. Still, keeping an eye (or at least part of an eye) on the radar is the only way you’ll have a chance of avoiding any aliens lurking off-screen once your ship gets up to full speed, unless you have Tron-like reflexes. Likewise, the radar screen helps you to find and rush to the aid of humans who are being abducted, and one of the most rewarding (and challenging) aspects of the game is shooting a fleeing alien out of mid-air (being careful to avoid hitting its human cargo), then deftly catching the falling human and returning him/her to terra firma.

Whoever's playing is in a spot of trouble here - if the screen fills up this much, it's almost a guaranteed Game Over.

More often than not, your little rescue mission ends with you missing the alien entirely and destroying the innocent human instead, or shooting the alien but failing to catch the human before they plummet to their death, which is why it’s so damn satisfying when you’re successful. It’s a brilliant mechanic that’s endlessly entertaining, and despite my general awfulness at this game, it was enough of a carrot to keep me playing and replaying for hours at a time.

The fantastic Guardian - shame so few people got to play it.

Lastly, I have to mention an excellent Defender spin-off called Guardian, which was one of the very few games that was exclusive to the Amiga 1200 and the ill-fated CD32. Guardian did an absolutely amazing job of replicating the mechanics of Defender in 3D, and it’s just a shame that it was released so late in the Amiga’s lifespan (it was rated as the third best game on the Amiga in the penultimate issue of Amiga Power in 1996). The makers, Acid Software, were also behind the fantastic Super Skidmarks, but as far as I can gather, they were sucked up by some kind of black hole that emanated from Commodore’s HQ at around the time the Amiga imploded, and no-one’s heard of them since. Shame.

Anyway, here’s a clip of Defender in action – this is from the coin-op, but it’s pretty much identical to the Amiga version (make sure to have the sound turned up to fully appreciate the bombastic SFX).

Lewis

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

1 Comment

Filed under 1980, 1994, Amiga, Coin-Op, Ratsoft, Shoot 'Em Up, Williams

#93: Super Star Wars

Format: Super NES Genre: Run and Gun Released: 1993 Developer: Sculptured Software/Lucasarts

Super Star Wars blew my tiny little adolescent mind when I first played it. Graphically it was superb, with crisp and colourful visuals that really captured the look of the film, and even today it still looks pretty damn good. In particular, I remember the Mode 7-generated battle above the Death Star was spectacular at the time, as was the climactic fight against Darth Vader’s TIE fighter at the end – although sadly I only saw this on a couple of occasions because the game was so f*****g hard. But more on that in a minute…

As well as looking fantastic, Super Star Wars sounded amazing. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it has possibly the best sound effects and music on the SNES – the 16-bit versions of the famous Star Wars tunes are absolutely spot on, and the sound effects are probably the meatiest on the console (apart, perhaps, from the OTT gun noises in Super Smash TV). Particular praise should go to the noise that the womp rats make when you shoot them – it sounds more like a train being shunted off a bridge than the demise of a fleshy sci-fi creature (listen to the video below to hear for yourself). But then again, the extravagant sound effects are in keeping with a run and gun game that has all the knobs turned up to 11 – I mean, practically everything explodes in a ball of flame when you shoot it, even the Jawas (who also fly comically off the screen with a satisfying ‘ooOOOtiiini’ noise lifted straight from the film).

Apparently Luke used to bullseye womp rats in his T-16 back home, although here it appears he couldn't hit a barn door with a banjo.

But for all its preening good looks and aural bombast, Super Star Wars was always a little rough around the edges when it came to the gameplay department. Sadly, the massive sprites and evocative music don’t quite cover up the shoddy collision detection, inept bosses and utterly infuriating level design…

…but at the time I could forgive it – the all-consuming desire to see the next gorgeously realised level had me hooked, and the showy visuals – not to mention the fact that it’s Star Wars goddammit – were enough to keep me plugging away until I finally, FINALLY, managed to finish it. Although looking back now with the benefit of hindsight, I’m amazed I had the patience…

The landspeeder had considerably more 'oomph' in the game than it did in the film.

Here at 101 Video Games, we generally write our reviews based on our personal memories of the games, rather than what they’re actually like to play now. The idea is to generate a record of the games that enriched our lives, rather than a list of ‘top’ games – hence the inclusion of games that taught us a valuable life lesson (Rise of the Robots) or that simply made us smile (Dog Walking). However, I got so nostalgic about Super Star Wars after watching videos of it while researching this post, I ended up downloading it from the Wii Virtual Console so I could play it again.

A fatal mistake.

What do you mean, "you don't remember this from the movie"?

It all started off pleasantly enough as I happily romped across the dunes of Tatooine, blasting the local fauna into oblivion with carefree abandon and generally having a whale of a time. But then I started noticing the cracks…

[Lewis sits playing through the first level of Super Star Wars. Gradually his brow begins to furrow and a slight frown plays across his mouth as he nears the end of the stage. We listen in to his internal monologue…] “Hold on, no matter what I do, I don’t seem to be able to avoid getting hit by these creatures – maybe my reflexes aren’t as good as they used to be? …Or is it because you actually CAN’T avoid them and the developers just decided to throw loads of health boosts at you to make up for it? Wait a minute, here’s the sarlacc pit boss… oh, you can’t avoid his attacks either. And now I’m dead and the restart point seems to be practically at the beginning of the level. That’s …erm… frustrating.”

Worst. Boss. Ever.

Yes, 17 years is a long time in the world of video games, and little things we now take for granted – like reasonably spaced restart points – were thin on the ground back in 1993. But there are some aspects of Super Star Wars that are frankly just the result of poor design, like the inability to avoid getting hit, or the all-too-common ‘leaps of faith’ where you can’t see the platform you’re meant to be jumping onto (which usually results in you landing in that all-too-common ‘insta-kill’ lava instead).

[We rejoin Lewis’s inner monologue as he starts level 3 outside the Jawa sandcrawler.] “Ah, I remember this bit! I love that noise the Jawas make when you shoot them! Right, just need to make my way to the top of the sandcrawler by navigating these moving, wafer-thin platforms… Oh. I’ve fallen right back to the beginning. Right let’s try again… Hmm, seems a little tricky to persuade Luke to do that spinny ‘super jump’ thing, I seem to end up doing a ‘normal’  jump half of the time… Oh. I’ve fallen again.]

"Stay on target. Stay on target. Stay on... oh, I'm dead."

[Fifteen minutes later…]

“Right, finally got to the top! Now I just need to jump insid… hold on, gun emplacements? WTF? Oh. Dead again.”

[Another fifteen minutes later…]

“OK, I think I’m getting near the bottom of the sandcrawler now, although those myriad boucing lasers and security flamethrowers were a tad annoying. Still, I’ve been playing for ages, so I can’t be too far away… Hold on, I’ve come to a dead end and I can’t see what’s at the bottom of this drop. Must be another platform I guess, I’ll just jump down… Oh. It’s ‘insta-kill’ lava. That’s a bit… erm… irritating. Oh, and I’ve been taken back to almost the very beginning of the level… Right, I think I need to stop playing and find somewhere I can hurl this controller in rage without damaging any expensive electronics equipment.”

In a nutshell, Super Star Wars is just a tiny bit infuriating. But my younger self just couldn’t get enough of it – perhaps in the pre-internet, pre-‘instant access’ era I had a little more patience. And let’s face it, games were just harder back then, not like these namby-pamby modern games.

So bearing that in mind, I’ve decided to embrace Super Star Wars for what it is and dismiss its faults as the foibles of a bygone age – welcome to our video game canon old friend. Although if it’s all right with you, I’d prefer to remember you as the esteemed game of my youth rather than the frustrating throwback I bought in a fit of nostalgia.

(Skip to the 2.30 mark to go straight to the gameplay.)

Lewis

(Cover art from www.mobygames.com, screenshots from www.gamefaqs.com)

Leave a comment

Filed under 1993, Lucasarts, Run and Gun, Sculptured Software, Super NES

#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