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Review: Bioshock

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BioShock_boxBioshock was released all the way back in 2007  (which seems like quite a while in terms of game releases), near enough the same time as the launch of the Xbox 360.  Before I re-played this game for the Game Club, my last save on the 360 was dated August 2009. So would you kindly take a seat and read on, as we see if Rapture is still a city worth re visiting or if it should stay at the bottom of the ocean.

In Bioshock you play as Jack, a character who doesn’t really say much. After surviving a plane crash and swimming to a lighthouse, you find underwater transportation to the city of Rapture, a so-called underwater utopia created by a man named Andrew Ryan. You quickly learn that Rapture is not the magical gum drop land it was probably intended to be because most of the residents have totally lost their minds and want to murder you. People seem to be hooked on something called ADAM which changes your genetic code, giving the recipient special powers. The game does a great job of explaining the story through use of audio diaries, which give audio-based background to the game while you are still playing. The story is filled with regular twists and turns that will keep you interested right up to the end. Since there is so much depth to the plot, I found I understood more when going through the game multiple times (not to mention these are hidden items that you can drudge for when not on an initial playthrough).

Bioshock plays as a first person shooter with role playing elements. The game gives very clear goals and even a quest marker for where to go. Don’t worry completionists, you have plenty of opportunity to explore the world and discover secrets and additional information of Rapture. You also find plasmids which unlock super powers for your character such as shooting electricity or even bees out your hands if you choose it. Alternatively you can use plasmids for more passive results such as improving your melee damage, healing abilities, and several other traits.

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You can also hack devices like vending machines to receive discounts or hack automated cameras and turrets, which will attack enemies instead of you. When you hack you enter a mini game, which is Pipe Mania basically, connecting the pipe parts together so the fluid flows to the right target. Unfortunately if you fail to do this in the limited time you will receive damage and possibly trip an alarm. Hacking is fun to begin with but gets quite tedious quickly, so fortunately like with most things in this game you also have the option to pay for a hack or use a auto hack tool to bypass the mini game entirely. Of course there is always the option to not be so nerdy and just not hack at all.

bioshock_3If you haven’t figured it out already, Bioshock allows you to play the game as you want. You can stealth or go guns blazing (the latter is more tricky on harder difficulties). You have a lot of choice into how to advance in the game, and even better, you can switch out your abilities should you want to change your gameplay style. The only potential issue is Bioshock can come across as quite easy on any difficulty. Even on hard mode, if you die you just get resurrected instantly in a close by vitality chamber. There is practically no penalty for this and you just continue on in the game.  A hardcore mode was added in the first update for 360 and PC, so any of those that have online access and update – not to mention the port onto PS3 and iOS – will also have a Hardcore mode that will give you a game over with any death, but this is almost canceled by the game’s ability to let you save and load anywhere.

The graphics in this title are absolutely phenomenal.  Rapture is unlike anything else you will probably see in other video games and a lot of thought clearly went into the art direction, which is consistently  demonstrated when you pay attention to the consistent writing on the wall as well as items and bodies positioned in specific places. This can show you how far Rapture has probably fallen from grace. Bioshock is set in 1960 and the art style is inspired by Art Deco, but of course since Rapture isn’t like your typical city above the ocean things have been changed for this specific utopia. The water physics are also very impressive, water will flow down stairs and pour from the ceilings very much convincing you that you are in a underwater city. The game also makes excellent use of shadows; you will regularly encounter silhouettes of enemies projected on the wall making you kind of dread what could be round the next bend.

bioshock_2Character models and enemies are also very impressive.  The most common enemies are splicers, which are disfigured people, and their reaction to you and the world very much mirrors a society gone wrong. Much like yourself, some of the splicers also have powers, like teleportation.  The other most notable foe is the Big Daddy, giant creatures in a diving suit that protects a character called a little sister (but I’ll get to them shortly). These incredibly threatening creatures actually won’t harm you until you either attack the Big Daddy itself or get too close to the little sister. When that happens the brute goes feral and will attack you with full force. Consequently even to this day the Big Daddy is one of my most memorable characters in gaming.  Returning then to the little sisters, these are little girls which have a parasitic sea slug in their stomach, allowing them to collect ADAM. Once you have taken down the Big Daddy protector you’re faced with the moral choice of harvesting the girl for maximum ADAM – this kills the girl in the process (you don’t see any child mutilation, but you can clearly tell what’s about to happen) – alternatively you can rescue the girl and receive a small amount of ADAM. Surprisingly choosing either path only leads to a different ending and has little effect on your progress in the game, which will call this further into question due to how the story progresses.

Bioshock still holds up to this day. The game has aged well, the graphics still look great on whatever system you choose to play the game on, and the gameplay doesn’t feel too dated. Bioshock is also very much a game you need to take your time with and just enjoy exploring the world of Rapture.  Rushing through it will do little for your enjoyment and potentially hinder the experience. Each time you pick up the game you will probably play it differently and with the amount of  player choice and gameplay style, it is unlikely two playthroughs will be the same (although the plot does remain consistent save for which of the two endings you receive).  Bioshock was great in 2007, it is great today, and will likely stand the test of time for years to come. If you still have not visited the world of Rapture would you kindly do yourself a favour and play it.

Final Score: 5 out of 5  (review policy)

Want more Bioshock?  We featured the first 90 minutes in a quick look as well as did an entire game club podcast if you wish to check them out.

Bioshock was reviewed by a personal copy of the reviewer, no codes of any kind were provided.  This review is based on the Xbox 360 version but it is also available on PC, PS3, and iOS devices with little content difference.  

Written by jamalais

September 8, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Version: Doom

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I was gonna write a retrospective on this, but honestly in podcast form we’ve covered Doom not once, but twice!  From those episodes came a project that has taken six months and over six hours to put together in one near 15 minute video.  I compare the PC, 32x, Jaguar, SNES, PS1, 3DO, Saturn, and GBA versions of Doom so you don’t have to, complete with bad language and snarky remarks (sorry parents).  Check out this version of Versions for Doom, but fair warning: there is some adult language.

Written by spydersvenom

September 7, 2014 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Would You Kindly

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This week Fred and Jam tackle the Bioshock game club.  Irrational Games (as 2K Boston) follow up the System Shock series with a new underwater utopia gone wrong and plagued by warring factions.  With inspirations from popular culture and depression era architecture, Bioshock proves that the devil really is in the details.


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Written by spydersvenom

September 3, 2014 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Final Fantasy X, X-2, and…XII?

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ff_coll_postThis week we are an ensemble cast with Andy from 42 Level One and Agents of Shieldcast as well as Eli from Knuckleballer Radio joining to discuss the main PS2 iterations of the Final Fantasy Series: X, X-2, and XII.  As with all our FF eps, it’s a broad overview, but the discussion will help you understand what to expect from each iteration and what development changes were made.  With the recent HD remakes of the X titles, you may just be tempted to give these titles a second glance.


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Written by spydersvenom

August 13, 2014 at 11:00 am

Quick Look: Bioshock

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Bioshock

This month’s game club is none other than the 2K Boston (Irrational Games) 2007 release Bioshock.  Unlike many of the games in our game club, it’s not the first time we’ve touched this game so instead of the usual banter we focus on gameplay elements, historical development context, and of course the slew of minutia that makes this nearly 7 year old game seem timeless.  Click on the icon above to view the video (embedding bypassed to improve home page load times). Due to a microphone balancing issue, my commentary is sometimes drowned out by the game’s audio

Written by spydersvenom

August 10, 2014 at 11:23 am

Metal Gear Solid 4 Limited Edition Unboxing Video

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In a move that is sure to make collectors scream out, I found a sealed copy of Metal Gear Solid 4 Limited Edition dirt cheap and instead of keeping it on a shelf I actually opened it!  Click on the game below to view the video.

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Written by spydersvenom

May 3, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Review: Velocity (Ultra)

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velocity_boxVelocity is one of those games that I remember first trying on my PSP on long commutes between London to Cambridge and had I not played this game I probably would have gone insane with boredom.  It released for the Playstation Network as a mini back in 2012 and then later given the HD make over and released for the PS Vita as Velocity Ultra.

Velocity is a space ship game that impressively mixes shooting, puzzles and speed all into one.  Set in the year 2212 (which is rather clever as this game was released in 2012) the star Vilio has exploded causing a massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) field, cutting the power in nearby colonies. You pilot the Quarp Jet, a teleporting spacecraft, and your job is to rescue survivors while also shooting down the invading aliens. The story is presented in nice little graphic novel style panels which are short and to the point.  Velocity has fifty missions which are all pretty short – around five minutes, sometimes less – making this a perfect game for short bursts, but with its incredibly addictive nature it is very likely you will play much longer.

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Velocity is fairly colorful with simple 2D sprites; it won’t blow you away but everything looks clear and recognizable. The game really shines on the Vita with the updated HD graphics and use of the lovely OLED screen.  What starts as a simple vertical scrolling space shooter with the main hook being you can teleport your ship anywhere on the map. Not too long into the game you can also lay a warp point on the map what allows your ship to instantly recall to that point no matter how far you have progressed. You have three lives to complete each level should you need them and once you have finished a level you are awarded a medal and experience. You gain more experience by saving survivors, finishing the level quickly and getting a high score. The best part is you don’t have to do all three at once to get the highest amount of experience per level; you can take your time and save all the survivors for one playthrough, then replay the level and concentrate on finishing the level as quick as possible. It sounds like re-playing the levels again would get boring but it doesn’t because the levels are so short and fun you will no doubt welcome the challenge to do better on a second playthrough. Experience unlocks new levels and if you have the PS Vita version you can post your scores on the online leader boards.

vel_2The levels are mixed into three gameplay types.  Some levels are focused on puzzle elements that require you to break colored locks in a numbered sequence to release the same colored force fields. Hitting the locks in the wrong order will cause the process to reset and you have to try again from the first lock. There is usually more than one colored force field in each level so you need to keep track of what locks you have broken. Should you get stuck a handy mini map shows you your progress in the entire level so far. Other levels focus more on the shooting, where you take down alien space ships while they fire a barrage of bullets at you. You’ll find the shooting and puzzle elements tend to mix together quite a bit. Finally you have levels that require you to boost as fast as possible through them with a limited amount of time to complete the level.  All levels also focus on you rescuing survivors and you have to save a certain amount to complete each level. This mix of gameplay keeps things interesting without getting too repetitive or tedious.

vel_3Velocity is not a long game overall. I played it in short game bursts on the train and lunch breaks and it took around a week in total to see everything the game had to offer. Even after finishing the game I still found myself re playing levels to improve my score and get the highest rating possible on each level. This is an incredible space puzzle shooter that you will want revisit again and again. It leaves a memorable  impression and stands out when compared to other space shooters. Though it can be played on the PS3, I found it to be the perfect addition to any handheld (PSP or Vita) and a great game to play in short bursts. Hardcore bullet hell fans may find this game a lot slower paced, but that’s clearly not the genre developer FuturLab was aiming for.

Note: The PS Vita version of this game (Velocity Ultra) doesn’t add much in terms of gameplay save for allowing you to use the touch pad. The graphics have been reworked and look incredible on the PS Vita.

Final Score: 5 out of 5   (You can see our review policy and scoring details here.)

Written by jamalais

April 18, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Posted in PS3, PSP, Reviews, Vita

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Podcast: Shmup Game Club

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This week we are joined by listener Jason (@albirhiza) to discuss our Shmup Game Club: Giga Wing 2, Velocity (Ultra), Radiant Silvergun, Power-Up, and Sine Mora.  Campaigns, tactics, high scores, and more are covered as we dissect some of the more contemporary additions to the genre.


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Retro Review: Dead Space

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Dead_Space_Box_ArtWhen you first read or hear about Dead Space, it may not seem to peak your interest as much as it should. In truth, Dead Space is an experience from start to finish. This game is going to suck you into a world that will literally take over your living room if you let it. Aside from that, the universe is big as well. You can currently pick up the graphic novel, telling the early story, and as of yesterday the animated movie also released, which tells of the events leading directly into the game. Couple that with the announcement that Dead Space 2 is officially in development and there’s no reason to skip this game.

In order to appreciate Dead Space, you want to play it at night, with surround sound (as sound seems like a bigger factor than visuals), and pair these factors with being alone. A high-def screen helps, but is in no way as necessary as surround sound for this game. From the very beginning to the tense ending, you will treat this game much like being the leader in a haunted house: at the edge of your seat.

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The basic plot begins in the comics (you can download a fully read retelling of the graphic novel for free in either XBL or PSN) and tells the story of a monolith found in a mining colony. As you probably expect, strange things happen in the colony that lead to tragedy, but before they do, the monolith is uploaded to a mining vessel called the Ishimura. The animated film tells the tale of what happens when the monolith makes this move. The game takes place when a small team, including game protagonist Isaac Clarke, travel to the Ishimura in response to a distress beacon.

Things aren’t quite right the moment you enter the ship and you are immediately thrown into a world containing the most tense moments I’ve ever experienced in a game. You will get many jumpy moments, that in truth are just cheap scares, but the more stressful part will be responding to these moments. Unlike most games, the Necromorphs, enemies of this game, cannot be killed by traditional means. The term “strategic dismemberment” is used to signify “cut off their limbs”, forcing you to actually have accuracy and very limited ammo makes this twice as important. This is one of those games where you can run completely out of ammo and never be able to make it through the rest of the game, so save often and keep at least 2 saves rotating (you can do this in both versions).

dead_3This game is not really the scare fest that it was advertised at, but at the same time, like a bunch of college kids at a haunted house, journalists are a little too quick to claim this game isn’t scary. You will jump quite a few times early in, but once the freak out of the jumpy creatures is over you will be left with nothing more than tension. That tension, however, will keep your heart racing through the second half of the game. The scale can go from small (your size) to incredibly large (boss battles and several new enemies that introduce themselves). It’s freaky to say the least in this too-close-to-avoid atmosphere stolen right out of Event Horizon.

There are several aspects of this game you won’t find anywhere else, beginning with the lack of gravity. The first time you see gravity turned off it will wow you with how seemingly accurate it can be. Fighting creatures in zero gravity seems to give you an advantage that you don’t find in other areas of the game and help to further the idea that your environment can often be your strongest weapon.  Stasis, which allows you to freeze creatures and certain items in the world, is easily the most useful tool in the game, but just like ammo it is very limited. Telekinesis, the one tool Isaac has an unlimited supply of, will allow you to grab and throw items and limbs of your enemies (and surprisingly does this much easier than the similar “force grab” of the Force Unleashed). Just in case you were running out of things to keep track of, vacuum areas will keep you rushing to as you have a limited supply of air for which to overcome obstacles that at times can be incredibly tough.

The controls are smooth and responsive, however from time to time you will get turned around with the complex control scheme (especially in the Xbox version, in my opinion). Having played both games, I preferred the way the PS3 handled the controls and chose to complete the game on PS3, however the controls are quite similar on both consoles, so the choice is really preference. The virtual HUD is great for holographic cut scenes, however when you run out of ammo and need to add stasis or check ammo supply, the fact that you don’t leave the game just adds one more thing to keep track of. I died at least a couple of times while being chased trying to exit the supply screen. Graphically this game looks almost identical on both systems (saw a few graphical tears in the PS3 version I didn’t see in the 360 version, but I was looking very hard on a large screen). While the box of both claim 1080p, this game is actually in 720p on both consoles and only upscales to 1080p (and not that smoothly) with some forced adjustments, however the game looks almost the same in 720p and 1080p, so just enjoy! The Ishimura is flooded with plenty of blood-soaked sets that are disturbing to any onlooker, so no kids allowed (and my fiance was a little unsettled after watching for about 20 minutes, so I now play without her around).

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There are some additional flaws with the game, namely that you are so low on ammo in the second half of the game that it becomes much more frustrating than tense, especially during late boss battles. The “new game +” feature, which allows you to keep all your upgrades and start a new game, is great except that you can’t change difficulty. I also didn’t understand why you have to complete the game more than twice to fully upgrade everything, this just seems too limited. The difficulty is above average, but once you’ve completed the game at least once, is possible (but with a lot of time and frustration). The trophies/achievements sadly don’t offer much to do other than the linear storyline has to offer.

Final Score: 4 out of 5

This review was originally posted on December 1, 2008 at a previous site I was senior editor at, That Gaming Site, and was converted over with permission.  Additionally the review score was adapted from a 10-point scale that originally gave the game a 8.7 out of 10.

Written by spydersvenom

February 28, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Retro Review: DeathSpank

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deathspankDeathspank has been described as being like a myriad of popular games such as Diablo and Monkey Island, but while it does share similarities to these titles, Deathspank is its own game.  What’s most impressive about it is the multitude of things to do in a download title.  DeathSpank not only has a brilliant and hilarious script but the gameplay aspects offer enough variance that most gamers will be pleasantly pleased.

DeathSpank’s mission is simple: recover an ancient artifact that is appropriately named “The Artifact”.  Along his quest DeathSpank will meet with plenty of other adventurers, townsfolk, and enemies.  Like most action RPGs, the main quest is only a small part of the game that opens up the large world map, but there are plenty of side quests (115 quests in total) to explore.  While they vary from the mundane – you’ll create the ultimate psychedelic lair for a talking tree in a series of fetch quests – to the unique – beating the crap (literally) out of demons – the one constant is that the game always remains funny.  Designer Ron Gilbert is best known for his work with the Secret of Monkey Island and the recent Penny Arcade Adventures games and it definitely shows.

ds_01DeathSpank plays like a basic hack-and-slash title, the closest comparison I found was last generation’s Balder’s Gate series, complete with dungeon crawling (or rather cave crawling) and loot drops.  This is where I feel the Diablo comparisons are inappropriate given the fact that DeathSpank lacks the variance and multitude of loot that made Diablo so addictive.  While there’s plenty of goodies to be had, many of them are upgraded versions of weapons you found early on the game and by the end you can basically purchase an epic armor set from a street vendor.  Still, it is great when you come across a cool new weapon or piece of armor that is much stronger than what you’re wearing and as expected, many make your character look ridiculous.  I also like the fact that aside from questing or locked treasure chests, many of these items will be acquired from simply killing a random foe – don’t expect heavy loot drops from big enemies or bosses because you usually get nothing at all.  The basic leveling system serves only to limit what weapons and armor you can wear at the time and I had to do some grinding on top of all the quests to reach the max level 20.  You don’t need to be that high to beat any of the bosses, however, as none of them posed much of a challenge.

ds_02This is not to say DeathSpank isn’t without its flaws.  The map system is vague at best and often times you’re wondering around aimlessly to find some stupid gate or single item that’s right out in the open.  Each quest has a series of hints to guide you in the right direction, but they require you to open fortune cookies that you discover along the way.  The number of fortune cookies you discover is very small in comparison to unlockable hints and in some cases all of the hints still won’t get you to the right place.  Certain enemies possess powers that their levels don’t suggest and can kill you in one hit, even if you’re near the top level with impressive armor.  This would be annoying given that every time you die you drop some of your money except for the fact that I wasn’t able to spend even a third of the money I collected, even when being frivolous about my spending at the end of the game.  Thankfully DeathSpank has far too many positives for you to spend too long with the negatives and with 30 different outhouses on the map, which serve as both respawn points and fast travel locations, dying and getting around are rarely an issue.

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Graphically this title looks really good, especially when you consider it’s a download game.  While the style is somewhere between cell shading and a Paper Mario style – all the structures look like pop-ups in a play and have no depth – it works with the feel and writing for the game.  Audio spared no expense either with a playful background track and voice-overs for every character.  It would be easy to justify a text only game, but thankfully all of the actors, especially Deathspank’s similarity to cartoon hero The Tick, deliver the lines with perfect comedic timing.  Multiplayer was present in the game, but since there can be only one DeathSpank, additional players assume the role of mage sidekick Sparkles, who wass hardly as fun to play.  Another big flaw is that the multiplayer is confined to local only, which is one of my biggest gripes about somewhat similar action RPG Trine, and makes me wonder why it was even integrated at all.  Seriously, these days there’s no reason that online multiplayer isn’t possible, especially since I first played the demo for this game back at PAX ’09.

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DeathSpank takes what I love about so many other games and blends it together in its own comedy-filled mix.  In truth, its writing and gameplay are exactly what I hoped Brutal Legend was going to be and sadly was not.  Don’t be misled by the concept of multiplayer because DeathSpank is a game best reserved for single player.  This game was designed with a smaller dose arcade title in mind, complete with simplified loot systems and shorter quest times, which is definitely not a bad thing.  These days I’m annoyed and intimidated by starting 40+ hour RPGs and DeathSpank‘s short 6-8 hour experience was a breath of fresh air.  The summer of download titles has begun and it seems that at present, DeathSpank is leading the pack.

Final Score: 4 out of 5

This review was originally posted on July 20, 2010 at a previous site I was senior editor at, That Gaming Site, and was converted over with permission.  Additionally the review score was adapted from a 10-point scale that originally gave the game a 8.0 out of 10.

Written by spydersvenom

February 28, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Posted in PS3, Reviews, Xbox 360

Tagged with ,

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