Here are some of the games of a sci-fi nature I’ve played lately, along with my thoughts.
Bioshock is, overall, THE best game I’ve played since I first bought my Xbox 360 back in December. It has received very positive reviews, and deservedly so; its strengths are apparent in every aspect of the game. This is a shooter with a philosophical storyline, set in an amazing environment, with a very user-friendly interface and an intriguing combat system with some interesting weapons and abilities.
You begin aboard an airliner that crashes in the ocean in 1960. The only survivor, you find an entrance to an incredible underground city called Rapture, built by a rich and eccentric industrialist who wanted to start his own society based more or less on Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. Well, that didn’t work out too well; by the time you arrive the city is in chaos and falling apart, leaving you with the task of trying to stay alive long enough to make it out. But along the way you get to enjoy the soothing and mesmerizing underwater scenery and the beautiful art-deco architecture of the city itself. The engineering problems of an underwater city are swept under the rug; it is assumed that it’s just a matter of applying enough money. The real sci-fi element comes in the realm of biology. Some kind of deep-water organism is discovered which has very special genetic properties that can be applied to humans, resulting in what you might call “superpowers” — the ability to emit electric shocks, for example, or throw fire. As you progress in the game you gain these abilities, and they sure do come in handy (as well as being pretty fun!).
But it isn’t all shooting and killing. As you go on, you slowly uncover the story of what happened to this city. And you are presented with different moral paths in the way you wish to pursue your goals. It’s not going to change your worldview or make you a wiser person, but it’s nice to see a game every now and then that makes you think at least a little bit.
Mass Effect is a role-playing team-combat game in a similar vein to the Knights of the Old Republic games, and no wonder since it comes from the same creators. I liked this one, but I’m also critical of it in some ways. It’s a strange mixture of admirable strengths and annoying flaws.
Let me cover the flaws first. The biggest one is probably the repetitiveness. While the scale of the game is epic and you can visit dozens of star systems and explore numerous planets, you quickly realize the each planet is nearly a carbon copy of the others — the same terrain with a different color or texture. So that gets a bit boring. Also, the combat system is somewhat on the annoying side, not nearly as intuitive or easy to use as it could have been. Furthermore, as in Bioshock, you have certain superpower-like abilities, (although the basis for these is some sort of implants embedded in the brain which allow you to control electromagnetism); the problem is, the abilities are of limited variety and not really very interesting.
The real strength of this game is the sci-fi storyline, a very decent space opera that draws inspiration from numerous SF movies and tv shows. Also in the plus column, the characters are strong and interesting to interact with. Overall, it was a good experience.
Not so with Time Shift; it was just sort of “there.” This was a game that took a fascinating and well-known SF concept — time travel — and completely wasted it.
Plot summary: the government has a time travel program; lead scientist goes back to a previous century and recreates modern technology to create his own empire (a Nazi-like totalitarian state); someone is sent back to take him out, fighting through his armies along the way.
The basic idea had potential, but no use was made of it. In the end it was just a generic shooter, with the addition of some minor time-manipulation powers (which were also rather generic, the same powers you can find in the Prince of Persia games). The combat was average, the story was poor, and the whole experience left a lot to be desired (I played on the Elite difficulty level, and it still wasn’t very challenging). Not recommended.