The nature of plot twists.

So I’m super-enjoying Bioshock. I like how the game has an easy mode that is actually easy, as in “any reasonable person could play this game and not die.” Last time I played a shooter on easy was Halo 3, where easy meant “if you’ve already mastered Halos 1 & 2, you might find this setting to be easy.”

I’m having trouble thinking of a game that can top Bioshock in sheer atmosphere. The second level in the game is a delapidated hospital run by an insane surgeon who sculpts human beings. You search through dental offices, a funeral home and crematorium, and eventually the blood-spattere surgical wing, all the while being assaulted by the chittering screams of an advancing zombie horde. (The game calls them “splicers” but we all know they’re really zombies.) When you’re standing in the back room of a half-flooded morge with a decaying corpse on the table and a surgeon/sculptor’s signature scrawled in blood on the wall while the light is flicking on and off and somewhere close by you can hear a zombie maniacally yammering to itself in a faux-cockey accent… man, I just got the jeeblies all over again just typing that out.

There’s one thing about the storytelling I’m not sure I like: the tendency to turn the game into a theme park attraction. You are occasionally funneled into a room with an unbreakable glass window or an  out-of-reach balcony, and you get to watch as the plot happens at arm’s reach. The doors to the room lock down until the scene you’re supposed to watch is done, and then control is relinquished. They do it, of course, so they can show you their cool stunts without the risk of you running in and ruining them (say, by shooting one of the NPCs). I just don’t see the functional difference between a forced cutscene that you just watch and a cutscene that you’re supposed to watch but you know whatever you can turn around and look at the wall or waste all your ammo making smiley faces on the floor with damage decals that’s cool too.

The one forced cutscene that I have seen so far worked absolutely brilliantly, even going so far as including an explanation on why, exactly, you can’t move or look around during it.

I have one niggle with the story as well: I saw the plot twist coming. It wasn’t that the twist was bad or out of place. It’s just, when it was sprung on me my reaction was “Oh,” and not “Oh, snap!”

I don’t feel particularly smart for catching the twist. It’s not like the game dropped a bunch of subtle hints and I just happened to put them together. The logic train was more like “Wow, this story is really straightforward. I bet it twists somewhere around the 60% mark,” and then spending the next two or three levels thinking about what kinds of twists would fit.

I still have a ways to go, so maybe things will shift again, or shift back. And it’s not like a predictable story is unsatisfying. Especially one told this well. In fact, I’m going to call this blog post here and get back to it.

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