With a couple days placed between this post and the release of the Bioshock demo, I feel far more comfortable discussing it. You know what I do, now: for example, you know that the Playable Intro as a storytelling mechanism has been refined to a ridiculous degree. You've felt the jolt of voyeurism, peering into human lives via found audio. And, perhaps most importantly, you know the dangers that plasmids pose to the young.
Having never played System Shock 2 - or, indeed, any game from Irrational, like other deprived console gamers - Gabriel had no idea what to expect. He wasn't prepared to to be confronted with emotional manipulation on the level that these people are capable of. I say "these people," as though they are some nebulous enemy force, but in some ways this is true. I expect to be wrung dry by these monsters and their devil priest, Ken Levine. One does not typically load up a shooter and, within the space of ten minutes, bear witness to a sobering meditation on loss.
One need not absorb that meditation, and indeed one may cut it short with violence, but most games don't even attempt to engage the player on this level. I'm not suggesting that we as gamers are affixed to a decrepit industry and that, through violent revolution, narrative power must become the only currency of the medium. But when it does happen, when a game tells a story so holistically, we should certainly recognize it.
In terms of raw Gameplay, it looks like a first person action game, but that term usually means something specific about how story is delivered. That is to say, it is not delivered. You can't really thresh out the genre in the classic way, because it has the eloquent world building we usually associate with Adventure Games, and depending on how stingy they are with resources could very easily be called Survival Horror. It doesn't seem to know - or care - what genre it is.
There's a lot of variety is implied by the demo, and then made more explicit in the video clip that follows immediately afterward. There is a kind of ecosystem in place, and you can modify it (or modify yourself) to take advantage of it. There is the ability to hack various machines - or even buy them out, as befits the game's aggressively capitalist milieu. There's crafting of some kind, but it's not expressed in the demo's subset - even the hacking presented is only part of the whole. The game starts out with an almost Myst quality, an odd inspiration, but a good one. From there, shit catches on fire and things begin to trend toward the horrifying.
There would have been a time where this game would have been a PC Exclusive, the sort of thing one could gesture at with pride. I think it does bother a certain segment of the gamer population that it isn't, similar to the upcoming Fallout, with the fear that their own experience has been diluted by its dual development. It's all valid, but it's more important to me that the output of a studio like Irrational be democratized so that more people can know it.
I'm aware that they aren't called Irrational anymore, that they most likely had to sell their company in order to get this game made. I'll catch up eventually.
I'm hearing multiple reports that Toys 'r' Us is selling the game earlier than its official street date on the 21st. Good news for me, because later this month I'm going to be a Goddamned basket case. I was hesitant, but perhaps that mental state would actually amplify the procedings - deepen their palette.
It is my intention to secure two copies of the game, entire - one Collectors' edition, and one exclusively to shove up Roger Ebert's ass. If Bioshock isn't "art," then art is the poorer for it.