Too busy to devote 12+ hours a day to your gaming habit? Here's a review that's sensitive to your needs: Short and focused on just the things that a busy gamer like you really needs to know.
Busy Gamer Review-
Reviewed On: Xbox 360. Also available for PC.
In a Nutshell: This is a first-person shooter like no other, thanks to the inventive selection of weapons and special powers combined with unique enemies and the ability to flip security elements (cameras, bots and turrets) to your side. It's more like a sandbox game, really, where you can experiment with traps and thrilling attacks to take down the Big Daddies - your big opponents whose every footstep induces a shudder (enhanced by the vibration of the 360 controller if you play the console version). As in Pokemon Snap, Metroid Prime and Beyond Good & Evil, you photograph and analyze enemies to gain the advantage. There's even a hacking mini-game that gets harder as you go, but you can even the odds with the special powers you pick up or simply bypass if with cash and auto-hack gadgets it becomes too difficult or is just not your thing. Set in a fantastic art deco city under the ocean, the environment ping pongs between sci-fi and steampunk - with each level more amazing than the one before. The game even has a real story, told largely through flashbacks and audio diaries you pick up along the way. Or you can just shoot stuff.
Learning Curve: If you've played a first-person shooter before, just jump right in. You start with a wrench and soon pick up your first plasmid power and a standard issue pistol. The game introduces new elements every level pretty much right up until the end, so you're constantly learning new tricks and gaining or enhancing your capabilities - but in small, easy-to-absorb doses. An extensive in-game help system fills in most gaps in your knowledge, and a quick skim of the manual delivers the rest. The only thing that proved confusing were the plasmid and tonic slots, since the first Gene Bank (for reviewing and swapping these around freely) doesn't appear until the level after you first need it. Fortunately, you can backtrack to most places in the game - just not the "Welcome to Rapture" intro or a place known as "Control Room," so search those areas carefully before progressing the story.
The Save Game: Except in one or two spots, you can save the game anywhere. This makes it very convenient to quit at any time - assuming you can pry yourself away from the highly addictive gameplay. So even with the great save system, you'll probably want to find a few days (15-25 hours of play time) that you can devote largely uninterrupted to this worthy title. The game also resurrects you if you die, with all weapons and powers intact plus at least a little health, so you can recover quickly when your attacks fail. Note for 360 players: If you use a memory card with no hard drive attached, you might avoid some framerate stuttering suffered by some hard drive users in later levels (including me!), but be aware that autosave won't work properly when your storage is full - and it prompts you to quit the game to clear space! If this happens, simply back out and then overwrite an old save file yourself.
Family Factor: Keep the kids far away from this one. Seriously, they will have nightmares. There is graphic violence, language, adult themes and a big hulking monster in a diving suit who can run faster than you'd imagine possible with a drill for a hand that's aimed at your abdomen. Most adults will have nightmares, too, though it's nothing you can't handle. Probably.
Buy, Rent or Skip? Just buy it. You can beat this game in a rental period if you really want, but you will probably want to play through at least twice to get both endings (and the Hard achievement, if you wimped out and played Easy or Medium the first time through). Plus, you may want to revisit the lost city of Rapture from time to time. I myself imagined what it might have been like to live there in its heyday (in the before time, when everything was pretty and you might awaken in your apartment to a cheery underwater cityscape), and there's always the wonderland that is Fort Frolic (after the fall when everybody went a little Jack Nicholson-in-The Shining stir crazy). Also, taking down Big Daddies in new and inventive ways never gets old. Alas, there is no multiplayer, which would seal the deal for most. But I would gladly pay more for a multiplayer sequel or add-on, and I'm a hard sell when it comes to those types of games.
On a Personal Note: This is simply the best game I've ever played, thanks to a design that lets you choose your style of play and experiment with new attacks. At one point, I went into a sort of fugue state where all I could do for about 8 hours was play. I'd save and shutdown only to reboot 10 minutes later. Normally I'd try to savor a game of this caliber, like I have with the Elder Scrolls and Halo series. I found that impossible here. No matter how hard I tried, I just had to soldier on. I can see why Valve banned the game in the office.
At the end of the last level, I delayed the finale and went back to claim all of the available achievements. With some careful sleuthing on Gamefaqs.com, I found that I had only missed one tonic and six audio recordings! I picked them all up, and then the next morning I completed the game easily (perhaps a little too much so) and started a new one on Hard that I plan to complete differently to secure the alternate endiing and final 40 gamerscore points.
I've kept this review mostly spoiler free, but I did want to share one of my most exciting encounters with a Big Daddy (no major story spoilers, but I do talk about the Big Daddy/Little Sister dynamic and some of the weapons and powers).
In Fort Frolic, there is a cage in a store where expensive tobacco products are stored. I hacked into it and then, while I was scavenging in the claustrophobic back corner of the cage, a splicer set off an alarm that I had rigged. She also apparently hit a Big Daddy (Bouncer) who was wandering by outside. He promptly attacked her and made quick work of it. The Daddy had a Little Sister with him, and they wandered into the cage together. I had recently powered up my photography tonics, so I went in close for a shot of the duo to fill up my research meter. Too close! The Little Sister started screaming about me invading her personal space, and Big Daddy instantly went on the warpath.
Fortunately, I had just upgraded my grenade launcher so that I would not be damaged (there's some kind of technological energy shield that protects the shooter from his own shrapnel). I retreated to the back corner and started lobbing frag grenades. The Bouncer rushed me and had me close to death a few times, but I kept hitting the health packs and shooting grenades. Amazingly, I did not awaken at a Vita Chamber - instead, cleaning up on cash and Adam - and I lived to tell the tale!
Experiences like this are common, and I have a dozen of 'em. And if you play, so will you.