I've just taken a breather from what is a small marathon session I'm having at this show, going from one hotel to another. Without much ado, I will try to relay my impressions of an early show favorite, which is 2K Games' upcoming horror-themed shooter, Bioshock, coming to the PC and 360 on August 21 (and August 24 in Europe).
SHOT:1:A familiar scenery. I think I dated an octopus here.
SHOT:2:What do you plan to do with that pointy thingy?
Ken Levine of Irrational Games was on the spot to give us a rundown on one of the levels, as well as to show us the game's in-engine intro.
Now, what's important to note right off the bat is that the amount of content that was shown at the previous E3 and the GC in Leipzig is nowhere near the extent of the game that was shown to me today.
One of my primary concerns in regards to Bioshock was whether the Art Deco style of the environment, coupled with the tough moral choices presented in the game and a more refined storyline would be simply too sophisticated to appeal to the average gamer. However, after actually seeing Bioshock in action, for the first time, I'm absolutely convinced this one will be a sure shot hit with the hardcore gamer crowds.
Simply put, the action shown in the demo blew me away with its intensity. The idea of the enemy AI interacting between each other and having behavioral patterns proves vital to creating an extremely immersive and intense interactive environment. Not only that, but the bio-modified powers of the main character that act almost as castable spells in first-person realize the full potential of what might have been hinted in games like Dark Messiah of Might & Magic.
As the Irrational guy was leading our character through a level filled with horribly disfigured mutants, a variety of elemental "spells" came into play. He would light his opponents on fire and the fire would spread and act in an amazingly realistic fashion. Using telekinesis, our main hero could pick up a body and literally roast it on the fire, and then even use it as a weapon (Yummy. - Vader).
On top of the many choices offered in each action scene (in terms of how you want to go about handling a situation), the very effective non-linear AI and the beautiful use of physics and various natural effects in the engine (like the cyclone spell that would propel monsters to the ceiling, shattering their bodies) made Bioshock appear as intense and playable as the best shooters out there. Pound for pound, this game will bring a lot more to the table than what was initially expected from seeing the early builds (That's a relief. I was sort of worried how this game might come across. - Vader).
As Ken Levine explained, "System Shock 2 was a great game, but not necessarily a great shooter," and from what I've seen of Bioshock, it appears to be both. Given the deep and immersive storyline in place, this fusion of elements, a layered approach to design, if you will should, help Bioshock become an honest-to-goodness hit with the gamer crowds.
The intro movie, which was completely interactive and in-engine (of course), showed off what seemed like a more dramatic version of the train ride in Half-Life. Our hero is taken through the absolutely stunning looking scenery of the underwater utopian city of Rapture, with a blue whale gliding past the submerged buildings - an actual metropolis underwater that has to simply be seen on a wide screen to be truly appreciated.
I asked Levine about the approximate hours of gameplay that we should expect from the single-player and I got a very encouraging answer of over 20 hours of gaming - to the extent of 25 hours, depending on whether or not you'd like to spend some extra time exploring. As Ken said, "Bioshock will give plenty of bang for your buck, much more so than your standard shooters of today."
The engine used for Bioshock is a heavily modified version of the Unreal engine that also has elements of Unreal Engine 3 in it. So far, and not just counting the water effects, this has got to be the most beautiful game I've seen in quite some time.
Bottom line is, those of you who were skeptical about whether or not Bioshock can deliver in the sense of gripping action, all I can say is that Irrational has obviously been saving the best stuff for last. People should be thrilled with this one once it hits the stores.
Also, before I forget, the really good news for us diehard PC fans is that Ken said, "an entirely different team at the studio was working on customizing the game properly for the PC, starting with a completely intuitive mouse and keyboard interface and even some subtle changes in the game's difficulty." Very good news indeed. (I second that. - Vader).