After crashing into the ocean, Jack, the playable protagonist in BioShock, descends in a bathysphere to the underwater ‘utopia’ of Rapture. In that opening scene, not a single bullet flies. Instead of highlighting the fact that this is another shoot-now, ask-questions-never affair, Bioshock carefully introduces its nuanced world and intricate philosophy through a simple slideshow presented by Andrew Ryan. It’s as a giant squid zooms past the bathysphere window and the undersea city is revealed that you settle into your groove in the couch and realize that this really is something else. This game is something different, something unique. This may be a first-person shooter, but it’s not going to stick to its guns.
The amount of literature and critique on BioShock does the game more justice than I ever could. It also demonstrates incredible narrative depth, the subtleties of the plot and the power that good video game design has to quite literally change the way we think about the world. BioShock acts more like a first-person storybook than a video game – each region of Rapture conveniently acting as chapters – and it uses the gameplay choices (or the illusion of choice, depending on what theory you prescribe to) to further enhance its narrative as opposed to it simply being there to get from A to B. The success of BioShock guaranteed a sequel would be made, though some of the creative powerhouses behind the first instalment had moved on.
Did this hurt the second BioShock? On the narrative front, slightly – it moves away from the incredibly interesting take on Randian Objectivism that the first developed and focuses on the “life” of a Big Daddy. It harnessed the feel of Rapture and even, at times, felt a lot more harrowing than the first (which is saying something – the first is bloody scary). I think the BioShock series can define itself as one of the first shooters that really examined the player interaction with the environment and even though it is deeply rooted in philosophical ideals, it is never overbearing. It knows the player isn’t stupid and this helps to really connect you with the story. You feel tethered to the world as opposed to a mindless drone, detached and merciless. Regardless of how the story plays out, Bioshock gives you power outside of murder.
Killzone is all about murder.
The very first Killzone opens like so many wartime shooters before it. Muzzle flashes; soldiers falling on their backs… the characteristic ticking of machine guns. It is immediately recognizable to any something-teen year old gamer as a FPS, a game where the goal is to slaughter as many ‘enemies’ as possible. In Killzone’s case, its intro video is reminiscent of Nazi-controlled Germany with a shadowed dictator’s booming words backed by logos emblazoned on flowing black, red and white flags. People are ripped from their homes and mercilessly slaughtered, innocents are plastered with bullets and immediately battle-lines are drawn. That opening cinematic is one moustache short of a Full Hitler. You can tell that this is going to be a shoot-now, ask-questions-never affair.
It was touted as a Halo Killer before its release and it clearly focused on the gameplay aspects of shoot and kill. It’s called Killzone, for Christ sake. I mean, it doesn’t really get any more obvious about the intention of the game. It’s there to appeal to a large portion of the gaming community, it’s designed purely to sell. Everything else suffers for it.
The series, from 1 through 3, has changed locale, has progressed the standard war story and has added more firepower. Technically, Killzone has been at the forefront of the industry upon release, but finds itself constantly eclipsed by the much larger, more successful standard FPS games on the market. The Killzone series does what it does well, but it is hollow. It’s gameplay and narrative don’t hold a candle to the masterful writing in BioShock.
To borrow a line from BioShock: “In the end, what separates a man from a slave? Money? Power? No… A man chooses, a slave obeys.” It is this single line that almost encapsulates what it is to play these two games. BioShock offers you a choice, constantly – how you deal with enemies and indeed who the enemies really are, harvest or kill little sisters, power or mercy, death or life. It lets you be a man (or woman) as you creep through the halls and hotel suites of Rapture.
Killzone gives you a gun and shouts at you to run and shoot. It tells you who the enemy is immediately without asking who is right or wrong. It casts the villain in the role of Hitler. Killzone is set in the time of colour monitors and futuristic airships, but its message has no grey areas, no room for interpretation. It is black and white. Kill or die. Bioshock, in its pre-colour TV time period, is bursting with all levels of grey, with moral ambiguity, with ethical dilemmas. In the BioShock series you’re a human, but in Killzone, you’re below that, you’re treated as a slave.
And the winner is …
To let Killzone upset BioShock is to say we want the FPS to remain where it is, to never progress past kill-or-be-killed and to stick to its guns for eternity. A win for BioShock is a win for the future and BioShock is clearly the winner here.
So BioShock takes round 1 in the FPS division of our Video Game Face Off Tournament! What are your thoughts on the decision? Chime in below and let us know!
Also be sure to follow the bracket for the latest in the tournament.