As the title suggests, I've been able to spend some time with Bioshock over the past 24 hours and I'm quite impressed.
First of all, I'd like to thank Joystiq as I was lucky enough to win a copy of Bioshock from them. I had planned on buying it anyways, and in fact, I did buy the Limited Edition, however winning the game from them allowed me to turn the Limited Edition around on eBay for a nice profit. For the record, I won a copy that was purchased last week when Toys R Us broke the street date. This is a first for me in two ways as a) I never win contests and b) I never have an item I'm able to sell quickly and capitalize on the popularity of. So, yay for me. Twice. If Bioshock gamers are willing to pay an extra 30 bucks for the Limited Edition, I'm hoping that Halo 3 gamers will be willing to spend even more for the Legendary Edition of Halo 3. All I need is for the Legendary Edition to sell out before the Halo 3 release date and I'll be all set.
Ok, so Bioshock. In a nutshell, this game kicks ass. Not since Crackdown have I sat down at a game and didn't realize that over an hour had passed. It's just that immersive. Everything looks and sounds amazing and the AI is some of the best you'll ever come across. The weapons are nicely balanced and there's a good selection of Plasmids (active powers) and Gene Tonics (passive powers) to play with.
On that subject, the game does allow you to "play" with powers to a certain extent, however switching up your layout requires you to backtrack to the nearest gene bank thingy and then go find a bunch of baddies to fuck with. Sure, there's always one or two Splicers (think crazed drug addicts) roaming the halls but you don't get a feel for what your powers can do until you go up against a room of baddies.
When you do have the opportunity to play though, it's tons of fun. For example, I came across a Big Daddy that was just roaming around and knowing that I was going to have to go into a new area, no doubt filled with new baddies, I hit him with the hypnotize power and had him tag along. We get to a room, and sure enough, some Splicers meant to do me some home, so I let Rosie take care of 'em. Once the smoke cleared, Rosie was still in my thrall, so I was going to let the hypnosis just wear off, but lo and behold, here came the last Little Sister of the level, complete with her Big Daddy guardian. I'm not one to let a perfectly hypnotized Big Daddy go to waste, so I tagged Rosie with another hypnosis sphere thing, peeked out from behind some crates, and took a shot at the other Big Daddy. He goes ballistic gunning for me, and Rosie rushed to my aid. Me, I continued to hid and then threw in some grenades to finish the job that Rosie couldn't. No muss, no fuss.
Even with these kinds of interactions at my fingertips, I still find myself equipping the same combination of Plasmids. Part of that is because, as I mentioned before, it's not always convenient to switch up your layout, but part of that is because I found a combination that works, and once I do that in a game, I'll stick with it until the cows come home. The game limits how often you can expand the number of Plasmids and Gene Tonics you can have equipped at a time so it forces you to experiment with different combinations. That being said, this game is just screaming for a cheat mode similar to Crackdown's "Keys to the City" mode that allowed you to turn on whatever abilities and weapons you wanted and go to town against the city's gangs. It'd be great if you could switch out Plasmids and Gene Tonics on the fly and mess around with the baddies.
I know that some people were complaining about not being able to die in the game, and yes, it is a bit of a crutch, but it makes the game so much more fun to play and is part of what makes the game so streamlined. Personally, I think it's great and helps reduce the frustration level. You still don't want to die, as you always have to do some backtracking and sometimes you come back in a tank that's in an unexplored area, one teeming with baddies at that. Basically, all it does, is allow you to keep your progress when you're not so quick on the draw. Nothing bad about that.
As much as I gushed over the voice work in The Darkness, this game blows it out of the water. Every performance is amazing and really does a lot to flesh out the game world. Special effects are similarly well done and help to draw the player in. The story comes in little pieces, through audio diaries you find along the way, and while having this kind of story telling mode carries with it the risk that some players won't get the full story, in my case, it makes me want to explore every nook and cranny so that I don't miss anything.
My only grudge with the game is that managing weapon ammo can be a bit of a pain. You can have various types of ammo for each weapon, picked via the d-pad when your weapon is equipped. The problem is that when you run out of a particular type of ammo, it doesn't cut over to the next available type. Combat in this game is very hectic and when switching between using Plasmids and using weapons, it's all too easy to forget that you don't have any ammo and end up getting punched in the face by a Big Daddy. Guess I shouldn't complain too much. They made the game so that I can't die. The least I could do is keep an eye on how many anti-personnel rounds I have.
With this game, one of the most expensive and "game of the year" candidate filled holiday seasons kicks off, and if the subsequent big releases from all three companies come even close to the level of quality in Bioshock, this will be a holiday gaming season for the ages. If the other games don't come close, then just having Bioshock be this good will be enough.