Bioshock Remastered, Promise, and Emotional Torture

We’re all huge fans of the BioShock franchise here on The Slowdown, but we’ve also had our fair share of the game series. We awaited each game, lathering ourselves with collector’s editions (remember the original Big Daddy statue that would crack in half?), with nightly chats about lore and story, and even with articles written on the game here in the archives. They are some really good games. Some guy named John Lanchester once said somewhere that Bioshock “was the first game he played that had the ambitions of a novel” and I find that very damn agreeable.

It’s just that no-one in particular was looking forward to The Bioshock Collection in the traditional sense. We’re not console gamers, so they just weren’t in the view, or on the horizon. The games are bygones for Ken Levine, too, who had claimed the games took such a toll on him that he thought sequels would make him “[…] lose my mind, and my marriage.”1

We too were arguably done with these anomalously nihilistic, brutal, and taxing video games, perhaps even with additional future games in the series, the idea of which has soured somewhat with Levine’s surprise dissolution of Irrational Games as it were in 2014. With the joint release of the remastered versions of BioShock 1 and 2 on the PC, however, I have been made a fool.

I’ve been roped to care for something that was supposed to be both free and carefree.


  1. []

Read More

Video Game Criticism and the Question of S#%t

The Binding of Isaac

I had (erroneously) assumed that I would never, ever be writing about s#$t in video games, but after recently posting my conceptual/generic analysis of The Binding of Isaac, questions of merit, value/quality and meaning, as well as the overall relevance of video game criticism, emerged – chiefly at Rock, Paper Shotgun, as usual, the Mecca of Video Games that it so happens to be (props to the poster Hexagonalbolts for the tip).

A swift return to the wonderful, wonderful world of Isaac is thusly in order. Obviously, being the hotbed for argument that it inherently is thanks to its religious leanings, The Binding of Isaac has been more or less at the centre of critical attention ever since its release.

Still, the mere idea of taking Isaac, well, seriously, seemed to produce in some commenters a more intensified response yet, and indeed, many questions were asked, more arguments had, with many an opinion ranging from the honest to the ironic. The question seemed to be, isn’t it simply too much to write about Isaac like this? Here are a series of strawmen of some of the aforementioned:

  • Are video games worthy of or suitable for analysis?
  • Is The Binding of Isaac worthy of such a critique?
  • Shouldn’t video game criticism be just about play and/or quality?
  • Are any of these meanings intended? Why look for them if they aren’t?
  • Why bother?

I’m not so sure that I can come even close to answering these questions in just one article, but on the whole, the question of “Why bother?” seems to encompass the rest of them. We’ll stick to that, for the most part. The reason I’m quick to jump into the fray with an in-depth response is that I find this particular discussion, of meaning, to be relevant for video game criticism on the one hand, and separate from the “games as art(?)” discourse on the other, even if this doesn’t appear to be the case first-hand.

The one chief aim of this article, then, is to answer the question of “Why bother?” especially as it pertains to the semantic/narrative functions of video games, as well as to discuss our understanding of video game criticism (its aims, objects, uses). As mentioned, I will rather try work my way around the question of “art”, only ever dipping my toes in its waters with the intention of otherwise staying firmly ashore. (more…)

Read More

There Is Something In The Sky

E3 2011 is in just over a week, which is just enough time for me to catch us up on some games that I am very much looking forward to. We’re just about halfway through the year and there have been some great titles already, but some of my most anticipated releases are yet to come. We’ll start with one that has recently had a fresh round of press coverage ahead of its E3 showing.

The last time we looked at Irrational Games’ BioShock Infinite, Martyn walked us through the newly unveiled teaser trailer and some of the early details about the game. Not much to go on in this all-too-brief CG video, a finely crafted reveal of the world of Columbia, but the details paint a grim picture. Posters touting the city’s motto describe an ultra-nationalist, xenophobic society, clearly the core philosophical theme to be explored by the game in true BioShock fashion.

Infinite takes place in 1912 on the massive floating city of Columbia. You take on the role of Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt, on a mission to seek and assist in the escape of a young woman by the name of Elizabeth. It seems that she is no run-of-the-mill damsel in distress, however: your NPC companion has a mind and will of her own, and a host of supernatural abilities to boot. She will aid you in combat with her various powers, and you can choose to exploit these abilities at a cost not yet fully defined.


Read More

What Was Icarus? BioShock Infinite

The over-speculated and hotly anticipated Irrational Games project that was to be revealed today?

BioShock Infinite.

The announcement of the latest game in the BioShock franchise, slated to launch on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC in 2012, seems to belong to the category of “expect the expected:” As we all turned to the unexpected (Freedom Force, SWAT, X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter, Kingdom Hearts or Yar’s Revenge), I don’t think many of us really did see the new BioShock game coming – not one by Irrational, at the very least. How unpredictably predictable!

First and foremost, let’s concentrate on the much-hyped teaser trailer, now housed at instead of After the jump, we’ve used screen captures from the video to illustrate the post, and you can also find the trailer embedded below.


Read More

The Goggles, They Do Everything

I’m sure it’s happened to you: you’re playing a game and you come across a weapon, or ability, or game mechanic that you just love, and you wish you could use it all the time. Only you can’t, because the developer has placed restrictions on it in the name of balance. It’s understandable that you can only use the Super Gravity Gun at the end of Half-Life 2, it being the most powerful weapon in the game. Valve know that restricting its usage makes it more fun to unleash on the Combine.

Where does the designer’s responsibility for making a game fun end, and the player’s begin? Should the player be given full reigns over the available tools or should the designer limit them? Greg Miller at IGN raises this question using a recent example, the detective vision mode in Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum. The mode enhances Batman’s vision, allowing him to use his detective skills and analyse his surroundings. At the touch of a button, a blue visor covers the screen and renders the environment in flat shapes in order to help highlight important details like vent covers and enemies. The mode can be activated at any time and for however long as the player wishes; moreover, it lets the player see through walls and points out key information like whether enemies are armed, if a wall is destructible, and so on. Sounds like a win button, doesn’t it?


Read More