Written by: Nick Farinola // Published by: Joe Ahart Previously on Loochie’s Backtrack, we explored just what made Gears of War: Judgement such an awesome entry in the franchise. The short answer was that developer People Can Fly successfully crafted a fast-paced, wholly entertaining Gears prequel story that checked all the right boxes of a great Gears of War […]
Written by: Nick Farinola // Published by: Joe Ahart
Previously on Loochie’s Backtrack, we explored just what made Gears of War: Judgement such an awesome entry in the franchise. The short answer was that developer People Can Fly successfully crafted a fast-paced, wholly entertaining Gears prequel story that checked all the right boxes of a great Gears of War game.
For anyone that isn’t living under a rock, the looming threat of the Wuhan Coronavirus continues to make headlines with the worldwide death toll exponentially increasing. This virus is playing out similarly to that Matt Damon epidemic movie Contagion (2011), ya know, the one where the bats carried this deadly virus. In recent reports, with everything but scientific confirmation, it seems the virus has sprung from bats. Coincidence? I think not!
With the overwhelming threat of the zombie apocalypse, I wanted to look back at two of my favorite horror-centric first-person shooters that both received a fresh coat of paint with current-gen remaster packages. Those franchises are Bioshock and Metro. Oddly enough, Playstation had just announced their line-up for PS-Plus free games of the month, which just so happens to include Bioshock: The Collection. For those of you unaware of this 2016 remastered collection, it includes all three Bioshock games (Bioshock, Bioshock 2, and Bioshock Infinite).
Without going any further, I would be committing an injustice if I did not commend the System Shock series. These two games, more specifically System Shock 2, heavily inspired the two games I will be discussing further. If you haven’t had the chance to play System Shock, I implore you to do so. For those of you that find them to be a bit dated, you’re in luck! Developer Night Dive Studios has fully Kickstarted a remaster of the first game, available for pre-order here.
Without further ado, I’m Loochie and THIS is “Loochie’s Backtrack!”
Okay, how the hell do I even introduce Bioshock? It’s one of the most shocking, violent, and extraordinary games to have ever been released. Its lore is, at base level, simplistic. But if you’re a gamer who likes to explore every nook and cranny, searching for that last diary entry, then you will be fully rewarded with one of gaming’s most profound and haunting universes ever created. The final twist delivers one of the most mind-blowing “Oh, shit!” moments without it seeming forced or confusing in respect to the established lore.
The most compelling aspect of Bioshock, aside from its narrative, is the atmosphere. Your adventure takes place in Rapture – well, it actually starts on a doomed flight over the mid-Atlantic. You are Jack, the sole survivor of this crash. The year is 1960, and you seemingly stumble upon the underwater, dystopian city of Rapture…one year or so after riots tore the place limb from limb. Want to know more about this fictional city? Check out the wiki page, or even read the book “Bioshock: Rapture” by John Shirley to understand how it came to be and how it came to fall. Bioshock is a great example of the almost perfect culmination of narrative, gameplay, atmosphere and sound. Rapture was a nightmare to explore, but I never wanted to leave – and that’s the best compliment I could give to the game.
I’m the type of gamer who completely appreciates fantastic art direction. I could easily condone mediocre gameplay if the world I’m placed into forces me to believe in its existence. Rapture feels alive, yet ironically, also feels dreadfully void. The player could imagine the beauty that once was, but what they’re seeing is destruction and death. Something terrible happened here, but what makes it worse is the fact that we’re hundreds of miles deep in the ocean. It’s claustrophobic and uncomfortably tense. You could experience Jack’s story all while uncovering the mystery of Rapture through hidden video logs spread throughout the city. Think of them as pieces of personal narratives that reveal a greater puzzle. Believe me, take the time to listen to each and every one.
What separates the Bioshock series from other first-person shooters are the plasmids (Bioshock and Bioshock 2) and vigors (Bioshock Infinite). These ingestible, supernatural powers give you the ability to electrocute and set aflame (to name a few) your enemies. This adds a strategic element to the gameplay loop. See a group of slicers looting a dead corpse in a puddle? Why not electrocute the water, killing everyone immediately? If you light one of them on fire, the AI is programmed to actually run to the nearest source of water. Bioshock Infinite further expands on the series’ unique gameplay by implicating a hook-and-ride system that could be utilized both offensively and defensively, as well as a time loop mechanic through Elizabeth. It quickens the pace of combat to exhilarating heights. Interestingly enough, a YouTube video details an alpha version of Bioshock Infinite, revealing a game that was far different from the already innovative one that was released. I can’t begin to fathom the difficulty that comes with creating a video game, but what was shown off in that video versus the final product is pretty staggering.
The Bioshock series greatly impacted the industry and further blurred the line between cinema and video games. With the recent formation of Cloud Chamber (a division of 2K Games), a new Bioshock could, and most likely is on the way!
The Metro series is one that hasn’t seen as much publicity as Bioshock but has recently received much-deserved praise with the release of its third installment Exodus. Keep in mind that atmosphere is the most important aspect of a successful video game. The year is 2033, twenty years after nuclear war had wiped out most of Earth’s population, reducing the few remaining to survive among the mutated rats in the metro system. Similar to current politics, these people are divided, some known as the Reds, others as the Hansas, and the rest as a reborn Neo-Nazi division coined “The Fourth Reich.” The surface is a dangerous, inhospitable wasteland with enough radiation to boil water. Humanity is hanging by a thread…and then came the Dark Ones. These extraterrestrial beings threaten the already dwindled human population, and it is up to Artyom to put an end to them. Without crossing the much-maligned spoiler territory, let’s just say the Dark Ones had something else in mind.
Similar to Bioshock, narrative and atmosphere are priority. If you’re looking for a run-and-gun first-person shooter, this is not your destination, my friend. The Metro series, depending on your choice of difficulty, forces you to think before attacking. Resources are limited – bullets are the main form of currency for crying out loud. Most of the time, you are dropped in a rather large environment riddled with enemy AI with only one exit point. You are encouraged to take the stealth route, but by all means, play as you want. It’s incredibly rewarding to stealth your way through an area, clearing the guards of their resources and killing the ones that stand in your way with a perfectly timed knife to the throat. Other times, the game throws you in scenarios where brute force is a necessity for survival. Mutants are usually handled with a shotgun blast to the face. The library in Metro 2033…I’ll leave it at that.
Creature design is masterful. Mutants are varied and equally disgusting. One of my favorite creatures in all of video games and movies is the spider-scorpion hybrid. Near the beginning of the sequel Metro: Last Light, Artyom and his new acquaintance Pavel traverse a hive in an attempt to escape the Fourth Reich. This gives way to one of the most tense and frightening interactive experiences ever. Spider webs and Ridley Scott Alien-esque egg pods litter the floors and walls. Artyom must reach a generator to unlock a door leading to the surface. Sounds of arachnid footsteps break the silence, and your only defense is a flashlight and a perfectly timed knife strike to the stomach. These six-legged insectoids sneak up on you, but quickly burn and screech when placed in light. With no hole to escape into, these creatures flip over as the light scorches their protective shell, revealing a soft and vulnerable abdomen. This is the exact moment to strike.
Weapons are the standard light and heavy arsenal seen in other first-person shooters, but it has its own post-apocalyptic flare. If you have enough bullets to spend, you could buy muzzle breakers, silencers and scope attachments. Be warned though, you’re going to need to regularly charge your manual flashlight and some of your weapons with an attachable battery. Oh, and when you’re on the surface, make sure you have a mask and a few oxygen filters. Try not to get hit either…your mask could get cracked. Exodus actually introduced this neat mechanic that allows you to tape the cracked area of the mask.
It’s moments like these where the player feels extremely uncomfortable that make Metro such a phenomenal and unforgettable piece of horror entertainment. You even have the choice to play the game completely in Russian with English subtitles, further immersing the player in the world. It’s an unpredictable and violent landscape; it’s up to you to decide how to handle it. Best piece of advice – conserve and observe.
If you were to get anything out of these Backtracks, I implore you to play these games if you have the spine for it. They fluently mix action and horror elements into several refined and impressive experiences. Not to mention you could pick up the remastered/redux versions for less than modern retail prices.
Bioshock: The Collection is available for PS-Plus subscribers this February!
Play Metro Redux (Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light) AND Metro Exodus on Xbox Game Pass now!