Apex Predator

Bioshock is an exhausting universe. By the end of the first game, I was actually disturbed the brutal ways I killed splicers. Their constant wailing and sobbing and ranting had driven me out of my mind before I was halfway through the game. I came to love listening to them scream as they burned alive, these mewling psychopaths with their self-pitying, incoherent monologues. Revulsion had hardened into hatred and and then turned into sadism, which only served to deepen my revulsion.

Then there is the decay that surrounds you: the mouldering books, the shattered edifices, and the fetid bilge that has overrun every floor. Every splicer is a disfigured parody of a human. The general oiliness of the game engine and lighting effects, combined with the lurid art deco colors, creates a cloying sense of over-ripeness.

Eventually, it all just wears me down. I start trying to avoid encounters because the splicers have gotten inside my head and I just want things to be quiet for a bit. Besides which, Bioshock never lets me feel like I’m particularly strong or well-equipped. The controls have a slipperiness to them that makes it hard to use cover effectively, and most weapons are too inaccurate to be much good at long ranges. So Bioshock, and especially its sequel, is a game of close-range slugging matches that leave me depleted of ammunition, health, and energy. This is completely antithetical to my preferred style of play in an FPS. In general, I’m a tactician. I like to control the engagement from start to finish, and be able to stand the enemy off at a distance. If there’s going to be close quarters battle, it’s going to be on my terms: room-to-room fighting, done with grenades and shotguns.

Bioshock games make me feel more like a walking dreadnought, going broadside for broadside with psychopaths who don’t have the brains to take shelter. The strain and unpredictability of those engagements means I avoid them more than I should.

In Siren Alley, avoidance graduated to full-on paralysis. I was too low on ammunition and money to fight effectively. Every battle left me teetering on the brink of death. I was rapidly approaching a point where progress would be impossible.

The problem is that I was still thinking defensively, and as out of touch with the creative cruelty that powered me through Bioshock. I’d been clinging to my machine gun because it was comforting. But now, as I took stock of my options and surroundings, I realized that I was finally ready to turn the tables.

I had two great advantages. The first was the speargun, which is the only weapon in the game that never really runs out of ammo. Spears can always be recovered and they’re a perfect sniper’s weapon. The second advantage was the Enrage plasmid, which caused splicers to start attacking everything in sight. Including Big Daddies and the musclebound brute splicers.

This is where I finally started to get into Bioshock 2. The game’s systems started interacting in interesting ways. Using an ammunition saving weapon, I was able to stalk through Siren Alley and start racking up splicer kills, which allowed me to acquire more ammo and cash from my victims. The research camera, which lets you film hostiles in action so that you can learn more about them and unlock upgrades and bonuses, went into action alongside the enrage plasmid.

I started arranging little gladiator duels and filmed the results. Then, as the victorious splicer stood over his fallen enemies, I would reward him with a spear through the neck. In the meantime, the camera was making the splicers ever easier to for me to take down.

Since I needed to get hold of the Little Sisters and their Adam, I always made sure to enrage splicers in the vicinity of Big Daddies, and watched as the Big Daddies annihilated them. After the Big Daddy had been weakened by enough combat, I would open fire with my heaviest weapons and bring him down.

Brute splicers were a huge problem for me, since they’re as powerful as a Big Daddy and just about as tough. With them, I’d get the camera rolling, shadowbox them a little bit, and then put a Big Daddy between me and them. When the Brute charged, and he always would, the Big Daddy would go berserk, and an epic brawl would commence. They would just go on on each other with fists, drills, auto-turrets, rockets, rubble… Oh, the joy of watching my two most hated enemies devastating each other!

Over the course of about an hour or so of hunting, filming, and Adam-harvesting, I completely changed Bioshock 2. By the time I finished Siren Alley, I was a superhero, even capable of getting splicers to fight alongside me when I wanted them to. I tagged Father Wales, a viciously strong spider splicer, with the hypnotize plasmid and got him to demolish his own followers in his makeshift church. Then, when he ran out of followers to kill, I executed him.

Was the game broken, its balance destroyed by my employment of all these tools? Not at all. If the first half of the game was about struggling to get my bearings and survive, the second half of the game was about revenge and salvation. After Siren Alley, I was on a mission to save a little girl, and I was going to kill everything that got between me and that child. There was to be no more hiding.

    • Patrick
    • November 2nd, 2010 8:07pm

    I had a similar experience with Bioshock 2. I also ran low on ammo in Siren Alley. However, instead of the hypnotize and enrage plasmids I fell back onto the drill attached to my right hand (I never did figure out how you fire a gun with that thing there). I switched out a bunch of plasmids for anything that would give me survivability and boost the damage of my drill. By the end I would just walk right up to the splicers, even the brutes, shove the drill in their face, count to 3 (5 for the brutes), loot and move on. It wasn’t the most subtle style of play but it was effective and oddly fun.

      • Flitcraft
      • November 2nd, 2010 10:04pm

      Apparently the drill is detachable. I’m pretty sure in the last cutscene, we see that Delta has two gloved hands rather than the built-on drill.

      Had I made some different decisions earlier with the weapon upgrade stations, I might have relied more on the drill. As it was, my fuel consumption was way too fast. If I’d improved the damage and reduced consumption before Siren Alley, it would have been a different story. It’s a great weapon: huge damage, and it seems to paralyze the victim as you open him up. I was definitely intrigued, later in the game, when I saw the “drill only” tonic available in the Gather’s Garden. Seems like that might be one of the most powerful ways to play.

      Interesting that Siren Alley seems to be a game-changing sequence. I wonder if it’s designed to be a bit of a bottleneck, forcing you to develop a play style before moving on. Because it’s definitely a hard zone before you’ve done a lot of research.

        • Red Jenny
        • January 3rd, 2012 12:42am

        I hate melee but I found myself very dependent on the drill, especially since you can do significant damage clunking mofos with it even after you’ve run out of gas.

  1. Everything I’ve heard and read about Bioshock and it’s sequel tell me that these should have been a games I loved. And yet…

    The only strong memories I have of the first game was constant frustration at dying. That, and being told “vita chambers take away the negative effects of dying”. Constant, unremitting failure, and the inability to learn from that failure. My biggest problem was simply not having the ability to aim my gun very well. Bioshock was, for the record, basically my first FPS since Doom.

    Bioshock 2 had a different set of problems for me. I was too busy setting traps and killing things to really get a sense of the larger world. When the fighting was over, and I could spare attention for the scenery, I was left too exhausted to care. I played the last couple of hours of the game out of a grim sense of duty, rather than any enjoyment.

    Interestingly, it sounds like we had a similar experience, but processed it in wildly different ways. I am strongly considering replaying these games, just to see what I missed the first time around…

      • Flitcraft
      • November 2nd, 2010 10:20pm

      I think the vita-chambers also relieved Irrational and then Marin from the negative effects of their design, and that’s why I ultimately dislike them. I really don’t care for the Bioshock games as shooters, I like them in spite of the mushy controls, the imprecise-feeling weapons, and the mediocre encounter spaces.

      Because you can’t lean, and most enemies just come charging straight at you anyway, there’s no ability to fight from cover for long. So it’s all shooting while running backwards, or circle strafing in an open area. And the enemies aren’t difficult, they just soak up bullets until they die or you run out. And since that reduces your freedom to employ tactics and skill, the vita-chamber becomes an end-run around the gameplay. You can just grind your way through encounters, because ultimately they’re all about attrition anyway.

      So I can easily understand why you didn’t care for it, especially if this isn’t one of your main genres.

      I will say that there are ways to mitigate this. As I mention above, doing research and using plasmids to manipulate the battlefield ends up making a lot of that grindy combat unnecessary. So does ADAM harvesting, since you can upgrade your health and armor. Ultimately you have to decide how you want to play Bioshock and develop a game plan around it. I think there are ways to mitigate your issues.

    • Spades
    • November 3rd, 2010 12:12am

    My main problem with combat in the Bioshock games is the clunkiness of the combat. If you look down the sights and try to move around its like your wading trhough molasses. Also because of the overwhelming amount of enemies I often had to retreat or “plasmid spam” (which means I would constantly switch my plasmids just to kill off the enemy) and that wasn’t fun at all. The enemy (as the game progressed) would just soak up a million bullets and somehow became more powerful. Due to the sluggish combat and excessive amounts of enemies things just started to get boring.

    The final levels of the first Bioshock were bullshit. Just straight up bullshit. It felt like I was cutting my way through the badly designed and quicksave ‘n’ quickload final levels of the game. It wasn’t fun at all and felt like a chore. The early levels of Bioshock were great because of the fewness of enemies and excellent atmosphere. The final levels had enemies at every corner and the 7th time I died while trying to look for the Big Daddy parts to make the suit (this was where the bullshit mainly flowed from since I spent hours trying to find these parts) I simply resigned myself to playing the game mindlessly (you know the trick i’m talking about).

    While the atmosphere and story are great the combat is lacking. It constantly felt like I had to grind through enemies especially in Bioshock 2 which is alot more combat heavy. I despise Brute splicers. Every time I see one I sigh with exasperation because I’ll have to waste ammo, health kits, and EVE trying to kill one. I think the whole point of their existence was to strike fear in the heart of the player but they were the bane of my experience in the game.

    The funny thing about the Vita Chambers though. I play with them turned off and only rely on saves because I remember one instance in Bioshock 1 when I was stuck with one health kit and one EVE hypo due to me dying because of an overly aggresive Big Daddy. I was in Arcadia. Nuff said.

    I just hope that Bioshock Infinite fixes the combat and the A.I. since those are the only real problems I have with these games.

    • Red Jenny
    • January 3rd, 2012 12:40am

    Awesome. I feel the same way about BioShock and BS2, like I’m never really in control of the combat. At first I found this fantastically frustrating and then I realized that it’s supposed to be a magical world gone wrong and the protagonist (Jack, then Delta) is supposed to be swimming in murky seas, improvising from minute-to-minute while fighting off panic and despair.

    Thanks for posting the Daddy’s Home pic, that cracked me up when I got there. Eleanor, tell your mother we need to talk.

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