Wednesday, February 24, 2010
My review of BioShock 2 is up now at thephoenix.com. Games like this are fun to write about because they're really about something, and you can engage them thematically in a way that everybody will understand. Tom's point about emphasizing the "game-ness" of games hits home, but in the case of something like BioShock 2, story is such a huge part of it that I don't think you're doing readers a disservice by focusing on it.
Especially in the lead-up to Heavy Rain, it's been interesting to me to see how many people instinctively resist a game that emphasize story over play. Saying games have to be one thing or another seems to me to ignore the best thing about video games, which is how broadly they can be defined. You could write a review of BioShock 2 talking only about the story. You could write a review of it talking only about the gameplay. Either one could be honest and illuminating, because the game strikes a nice balance between the two, and even uses one to strengthen the other (though not to the extent of the original).
But BioShock 2 is the rare case that succeeds equally well on both counts. Most games land on one side of the divide. I think that's okay. The spectrum of games that has pure play on one end, and pure story on the other, is a long one indeed, and I don't think we should be trying to shorten it. A game with a great story may not need incredible game-ness, and history is full of examples of games with crappy stories that are still a blast to play. We can have it all!
Yet it is true that for all that I thought this game succeeded as a story, I still spent an inordinate amount of time trying to shoot people in the face with rocket spears. That doesn't really come through in the review.