Thursday, August 30, 2007

It's Rapture without Deborah Harry


I feel like I've been blathering on about this game for months. I've been drooling in anticipation for its release, and I can assure you that standing near or in my drool pool was suffered not in vain.

This is the best game of the decade. I'm just going to come right out there and say it. The design, mechanics, gameplay, AI, and strategy blow the typical shooter-RPG game model away. This is a thinking person's shooter.

Picture a Citizen Kane like character (named Andrew Ryan) replete with Ayn Randian motivation (I'm looking at you Howard Roarke) who constructs a secret underwater city in the 1950s so people can explore their dreams and desires without fear of impunity. The city exists so people are unfettered by politics, religion, or morals. The city was supposed to be a mecca, a utopia for brilliant artists, scientists, and thinkers.

Of course, it sounds too good to be true, and the city decays upon itself after most of the population becomes hideously transformed from self-inflicted genetic manipulation and plastic surgery. In-fighting among internal enclaves further accelerated the decimation of the lofty city, called Rapture.

The game's character finds the city, and essentially follows the guidance of a man, Atlas, who takes him through the city for reasons not yet clear. It's not yet clear to me if Atlas is being 100% honest with the protagonist, named Jack, but it doesn't seem clear whether the Atlas is to be taken at face value.

That's the story in a nutshell.

The gameplay involves you being able to employ 'plasmids', or genetic modifications that allow you to expel fire, ice, or electricity from your hand, employ telekinetic actions, hypnotize enemy combatants, employ kinetic traps, while other 'tonics' allow you to better emit electricity when attacked, bulking up to improve your skills in handling melee weapons, hacking turrets, cameras, vending machines, and other devices and so on.

The city of Rapture apparently depends on a substance called Adam which makes all these actions possible, and Adam is extracted from dead Rapture citizens by 'little girls' who look like 7 year olds, and have a symbiotic relationship with another organism which allows them to transmute the substance from blood. These 'sisters' are protected by huge hulking genetically twisted 'Big Daddies', which look like deep-sea diver ghost from Scooby-Doo and speak in deep whale-speak baritones. You need Adam, which only comes from little sisters, and you can only get to the little sister by going throw the Big Daddy. Yes, they are difficult to defeat.

I'm simplifying greatly, but that's the gist of it. The protagonist must search through the underwater city and find out what the deal is with Atlas, Ryan, and the fate of Rapture.

I could go on and on about the elements of the game, but what sets it aside for me is the ability to approach situations employing different tactics. If you engage an enemy in a room full of water, you can shoot electricity into standing water, thus incapacitating your opponent for a melee attack or from some rounds from your pistol, shotgun, or tommy gun. If you blast them with fire, they'll run to standing water to put out the flames, but if they come into contact with anyone, the other person will catch fire. If you freeze them, you can shatter them. You can catch grenades in mid-air with your telekinesis and hurl them back at a foe. Pick up a discarded teddy bear, move it into a nearby source of fire, ignite it, and toss it at someone. Level design is loose and relatively non-linear, so there's plenty of room for exploration. Put simply, the environment is an active player in the game.

Graphics are unparalleled. The development team (Irrational Games, now 2K Boston/2K Australia) make use of textures and physics that mimic realworld behavior. The city is constantly assaulted by the pressures of the sea, and water is everywhere. Irrational apparently employed someone to focus solely on water effects and phenomena, and the attention to detail shows. I've come across some bugs here and there. I hypnotized a Bid Daddy and got wedged in a corner and had to wait for the "spell" to wear off before I could move again. It was like getting stuck at a bar with the bouncer crowding you into a corner. Let's hope they push some patches out soon.

It's only on PC and Xbox360 right now. PS3...not in development at present.

Get this game.

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