On to 2007. There’s a lot of choice material on the Stack for this year: Mass Effect, Aquaria, STALKER, Space Giraffe. Was this an unusually good year for games? Maybe, but then, this is also where we catch up to the start of this blog, and therefore the point at which I stopped playing new games so much. Still, this wasn’t a hard choice. Apart from the contents of the Orange Box, which are all off the Stack already, the one game here that’s had the largest impact on gamer culture, or at least on the sort of blogs I read, is definitely Bioshock. I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers on this game for the last three years, but it’s simply been in the air, used as an example of moral choice in games here, as a basis for humorous photoshops there.

Humility is the morality of the slave.So, I know a certain amount going in, but not everything. I knew to expect triumphalism gone awry, a wondrous and phantasmagorical underwater city laid waste by the deadly combination of genetic engineering and rampant Objectivism. I knew about the Little Sisters and the Big Daddies, and the choice they represent. And I knew to expect architecture and statuary in a sort of exaggerated art deco style, things like less-human versions of the famous statue of Atlas at Rockerfeller Center. (One of the first things you see in the entrance to Rapture is a huge bronze bust of Andrew Ryan, the city’s spooneristic founder, with unfortunate underlighting that makes him look like he’s sneering at you.) But I wasn’t expecting the contents of these halls to be quite so lurid. It’s like an EC horror comic in here, full of comical grotesquery: the enemies that ramble insanely about their lying bitch girlfriends as they swing lead pipes at you, the way your hand swells up like a balloon when you inject yourself with your first plasmid, the mad-scientist ravings and injury-to-the-eye-motif diagrams of a plastic surgeon who considers himself above conventional morality. All juxtaposed with soaring monuments drenched with seawater, while somewhere in the background a radio plays a gentle swing number, or maybe an inspirational recording of Andrew Ryan making a nasty and self-congratulatory little speech. It’s a glorious mess of potent imagery.

Other first impressions: It reminds me a lot of the Half-Life games. Not in content, in presentation. Like Half-Life, this is a game that keeps you in the FPS even when it wants to do a cutscene, putting staged events in places you’re likely to look. I recall some talk about how certain elements in System Shock 2, such as the “ghost” visions, were attempts at imitating Half-Life‘s techniques. They’re imitated much better here, and also more blatantly. The initial views of Rapture from the window of a bathysphere remind me a lot of the initial tram ride to Black Mesa, and the title of the first level, “Welcome to Rapture”, reminds me a lot of Half-Life 2‘s “Welcome to City 17”. Even that bust of Ryan puts me in mind of the large monitor showing Dr. Breen at the train station, a personal introduction to a remote adversary.

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