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The Moment BioShock Stopped Being a Horror Game | FiendZone

The Moment BioShock Stopped Being a Horror Game | FiendZone

Spider splicers. Genetic mutations. Body
harvesting. Everything about Dr. Steinman. “This one — too symmetrical!” BioShock has some of the most memorable creeps in videogame history. So why isn’t it considered a horror game? BioShock uses creepiness start to finish, from the shadowy corridors of Rapture to the mask-wearing jazz fiends to the doctors gone wrong. But the game’s scariest and most
iconic threat is the Big Daddy. The first encounter with the Big Daddy is set up
to demonstrate how powerful and deadly these enemies are, to teach the player
how dangerous they are to battle. So the next time the player runs into them, they
know to watch out. Choosing to battle a Big Daddy can quickly drain a player’s
ammo and health, which is scarce in early gameplay. BioShock is an exceptional
feat of atmospheric storytelling which still — after all these years — manages to
terrify players…up until the moment it stops terrifying them. That moment varies
a little depending on the player and their style, but there’s a specific game
mechanic that de-escalates the threat. The Hypnotize Big Daddy plasmid
transforms the horrifying powerful monsters into just another obstacle. It
alters the gameplay so much that instead of making the player cautious when one
appears, it now becomes an opportunity to save some ammo by conscripting a
bodyguard. And two Big Daddies? even better! Make them fight it out! You only get the Hypnotize Big Daddy plasmid if you save three little sisters. It’s possible to
harvest the little sisters and acquire immediate rewards, which also make
progress easier because you have access to more resources. Either way, the early
game burden of limited resources is lightened and the game, as a result,
becomes much less scary. Prey has a similar mechanical linchpin. The mimic’s ability to transform into any item makes exploration a tense, frightening
experience. You have to be on constant alert for jump scares. Then about halfway through the game, you uncover the Psychoscope, which allows you to scan a room
and see what items are shapeshifted mimics. Suddenly it’s much less stressful to explore. The game still has scary moments and frightening creatures,
but the moment-to-moment experience is no longer terrifying. The survival part of survival horror is key to understanding this tonal shift. The
cornerstone of horror games is a constant low-level feeling of
powerlessness. The main way games invoke that feeling is to limit resources, whether that’s ammo, health, battery life or electricity.
This keeps players in a constant defensive state by forcing them to
actively think about whether it’s worthwhile to fight, to run or to hide. This simple gameplay limitation is the root of terror for most survival horror
games. But it’s the main thing that separates, for example, zombie survival
horror games from zombie shooter games. If you gave Joel enough ammo to mow down waves of zombies in The Last of Us, would it still be a horror game? Regardless of
which path you choose, BioShock will eventually morph into a regular action
game, thanks to an increased access to healing items, ammo stockpiles, and
getting the ability to shoot bees. Because once you can shoot bees from
your hands at any time, it’s hard to be afraid of like a gassed-up flapper wielding hooks. It also becomes less scary because you, the player, become
better at predicting the actions of the enemies in the game. You learn the sounds of, say, the Houdini splicer — “Hello, beautiful!” their movements, their weaknesses. Both BioShock
and Prey incorporate this meta-understanding of enemies-as-mechanic
with the camera and the Psychoscope, respectively. Both items give passive
bonuses once the player has photograph or scanned the enemy. Instead of
punishing contact with enemies, it encourages players to get up close, de-incentivizing running or hiding. Knowledge is power! It’s not a bad thing that players become immune to frights. It’s difficult for any
game to maintain a tense atmosphere over an extended period of time. Most beloved
horror games are surprisingly short, around the eight hour mark. But BioShock clocks in at 12 hours, and Prey at 15. If you have a lot of story to tell, it makes
sense to transition mechanics to be closer to an
action game, to keep them from becoming too rote. This also means, to a certain
extent, that the skill and knowledge of the player is a factor in how long a
survival horror game remains scary. A veteran player who can pick out the
algorithmic movements of a monster, or who can confidently line up shots and
not waste ammo, won’t be as afraid for as long. But where’s the fun in that? Both
BioShock and Prey are better games for flirting with terror, even if neither
game commits to it for the full tenure. If you enjoyed this video, please like
and subscribe to Polygon! There’s a bunch of other episodes of FiendZone, so if
you like this one there’s one on creepypasta and about zombie games and all sorts of other things, so check them out. If there’s something you’d like to
see covered on FiendZone, leave a comment and if there’s something
interesting or worth saying about it we’ll do an episode on it.

100 thoughts on “The Moment BioShock Stopped Being a Horror Game | FiendZone”

  1. Ages ago, when Half Life 2 had just come out, I read an interview with the Valve level designers in which they talked about the importance of ammo cache/medkit spacing for building tension. This is really noticeable in HL2, particularly in Ravenholm- just when you're down to your crowbar, there's maybe 10 shotgun shells and a handful of revolver ammo for you. Just enough to hold you over to the next tiny stockpile.

    Which is a huge tonal contrast to the big action scenes in the same game, where you're flush on ammo because you're having large scale firefights.

    Really, it seems like resource management is THE driving force that defines the mood throughout that game.

  2. Wait it was supposed to be a horror game?? Huh I usually don’t play horror games because of the creepy ass jumpscares but i managed to make this my all time favorite?

  3. Not what I expected this video to be not gonna lie it disappointed me I was hoping for how people grow and it becomes less scary as the times get on not just an item

  4. Nnnnah, I don't think so. Bioshock stops being a horror game much sooner – shortly after the first level, I think. The Hypnotize Big Daddy plasmid is more of an extent of what was, likely, an early design decision than a big shift by itself.

    Great analysis, though. It's just a bit more than a five minute video can chew, methinks.

  5. The scariest thing about this video is that you're using anti-personel rounds against a Big Daddy. You should be using either armor-piercing or regular ammo. Such a waste.

  6. Why are they using Anti-Personnel Rounds on a Big Daddy? That's the least effective! Use Armor-Piercing!

  7. Surprised there was no mention of Fort Frolic or Apollo Square, the two levels where BioShock switches back to focus on horror. In Fort Frolic the enemies are extremely disorienting as you only hear Spider Splicers crawling in the shadows and encounter the Plastered Splicer. Apollo Square takes power away from the player with Lot 192, making them lose control of their plasmids. It also provides a super creepy, dark atmosphere once again.

  8. It was never a “horror game”, if that was the case then BioShock Infinite would have followed with those horror elements which it only touched. Having horror elements in a game or movie doesn’t put it into the horror genre, it simply adds depth to the story and environment.

  9. …you know there's more to horror than tough enemies, right? i guess if you're only looking at bioshock as gameplay, then the horror passes pretty quickly. that was never the real horror for me.

  10. I felt powerful in bio shock. Survival horror makes you feel week. But bioshock makes you a badass eventually.

  11. the scariest horror survival game, to me, is alien isolation. you are completely helpless. all you can do is hide, and pray the alien doesn’t find you. the evil within does a pretty good job at this genre of horror. with such limited resources you feel helpless

  12. Bioshock is a horror game because it paints an exaggerated, but still realistic image of the horror country known as America.
    "Jeebus loves me this i know
    For da bible tells me so"

  13. It is considered a survival horror game. However the other games are not. Also Prey 2017 is almost an exact clone of BioShock. It’s a really good game. The psycho scope literally does the exact same thing the camera does.

  14. the only reason it stops being a horror game because you said so. a major part of many horror stories is the moment when the protaganist gets the leg up on the big bad and learns "the rules" and their survivability goes up. a game doesn't need to be constantly terrifying to be a horror game, there can be peaks and valleys in the terror, and a lot of what makes bioshock a horror game is the atmosphere of rapture and the story of human depravity and decay it tells through the environment, and a player getting better at aiming doesn't negate that. i was killing splicers left and right by the time i got to fort frolic and i still remember being horrified at what the citizens were willing to do for a bit more adam. by your metric, portal is less of a puzzle game once you learn how to aim portals, and that's stupid.

  15. I still find some places like Fort Frolic scary just cause of the atmosphere and those god damned plaster splicers who don't make a fucking sound but yeah the second you just start getting stupidly overpowered it loses a lot of the tension if you explore enough and splice the right shit even on hard more you can max out like every kind of ammo you have and just wander around auto-hacking shit and killing people with one anti personnel round to the head and then just inventing more

  16. Honestly the big daddies are pretty harmless if you don't attack them and give them a wide berth. I ironically began to feel comforted by their presence after a while of playing the game, because they're the only enemy that won't immediately attack you on sight. I'd see one walking around with out a little sister and just go on my merry way (though be careful using attacks that target more than one enemy at once, I died often from an unexpected big daddy attack that way).

  17. The Last of Us isn't an horror game though. It doesn't have the 'horror' part of 'survival horror'-it has a lot of emotions, yes-but clickers aside… it's not really scary.

  18. Amazing analysis! I played Bioshock when I was new to horror games and shooter mechanics, and I did find that the scare-factor was there for me for longer than some of my friends, though it certainly did wear off near the end of the game! I'd be interested in playing the sequels now (as I am familiar with the first one I dont' think it would have the same effect as re-playing) and seeing if it becomes less scary for me sooner, as I have more experience with this type of game under my belt.

  19. Written by someone who's never played it. You don't need to fight a Big Daddy until you're ready to. Most importantly, it's NOT a horror game. Yes it's bloody creepy but it's not horror.

  20. Sander Cohen's big entrance while throwing confetti down the stairs makes all the homicidal rage of Bioshock worth it

  21. Wtf is that retarded haircut? And Bioshock was never a horror game. There is nothing scary about the game. The story isn't right for a horror game, the enemies, or anything really. It's just a gritty shooter with some dark elements like TimeSplitters 2

  22. the only thing that let the first game down for me was the pipe dream sections on the haking system but apart from that it is a good gamr

  23. To me, it was vice versa. I thought it was an action game first so when I got into rapture entrance I was like uh okay. I kept continue until I got into the deep sea my brother opened his bedroom door (I play games on his comp) and I asked him why the game was dark. Reminded me of scary thriller game and he said I heard people said this game is spooky so yeah. I did get scare playing bioshock 😂. The environment! Especially listening to the records of dead people on what happened to them. Omg
    (Of course bioshock infinite didnt scare me due to how bright the game is)

  24. I have to agree. I still love BioShock though and now I'm thinking I may have to check out Prey. Bioshock still had one of the best twists ever

  25. great video. short and to the point – so over cleanprince and downward thrust talking the same shit for 20-30 mins

  26. I can't handle horror at all, I've never been able to. The anxiety and fear is just too much for me. I hate when I feel it in real life, and it's just as bad when it's artificial. I bought the Bioshock Collection knowing Bioshock Infinite was great. I looked through the tags on Bioshock 1 and 2 and "horror" wasn't there. I started up Bioshock 1 remastered and instantly regretted everything. Then I played for about 20 minutes and realized "no wait this is actually not that scary" and went on playing it.

  27. I kinda disagree i never used that plasmid but it stopped being scary because I knew I could defeat them. In games like outlast you are the prey

  28. To be fair, Irrational games has stated that it wasn't supposed to be a horror game. The setting wasn't supposed to be scary, it just happened to work out that way.

  29. Are we all just going to ignore the fact that at 0:45 seconds in the player was fighting off a Big Daddy with ANTIPERSONNEL rounds…

  30. Legit. Played Bioshock Infinite before the other games (people said it didn’t really matter and it attracted me the most) loved it. I always had Elizabeth by my side so it wasn’t scary just fun. Started the first game and stopped and am going back to it but haven’t yet, was more like a horror game lmao, I liked the colourful infinite, but the trilogy is amazing and I’m still working thru the first bioshock rn

  31. 10 years later, finally I see someone using the same strategy as I always did: Hypnotizes a Big Daddy; Insect Swarm; Security Bullseye; Natural Camouflage… I was practically a God walking in a park.

  32. For crying out loud, we need LONGER Fiendzones. Like, hours long. Semesters long. Gimme gimme. Also, a compare and contrast of horror remakes and what works and doesn't (and of course, "why", if it's even possible to pinpoint) when filmmakers have re-worked classic cinema (think Psycho and the Gus Van Sant remake — which holds up better than I gave it credit for back in the day — vs Suspiria and whatever brilliance is coming later this year with its remake cuz oh man does it look REALLY different and yet still REALLY good, or Dawn of the Dead being Snyder's only film to not be like every other turd of his — for which I'd probably thank Sarah Polley).

  33. can you expand on gender in horror games? or maybe people being afraid of physical bodily change in horror? (i always connect this to abelism or transphobia) and also how mechanics about getting more powerful and how that changes/doesnt change your appearance?

  34. Tbh the big daddy is never really scary because they are completely neutral toward you until you attack first. That means you never have to fight them if you’re not ready for it. To me that takes away some of the scare factor because they’ll never surprise you or sneak up on you. You can decide where how and when you want to take them on.

  35. I disagree, Target Dummy is what reduces it from a horror game. It can be used against all enemies in every situation. With it, you need only a wrench. It makes Big brass balls a breeze.

  36. at 0:45 shes talking about how a big daddy drains hp and ammo, however the gameplay shows someone shooting the big daddy with anti-personnel ammo

  37. And how about action games that turn into a horror games (for a moment)? I still remember the fright of crossing ravenholm in half-life 2

  38. I always considered Bioshock to not be scary once I'm way too armed. A shotgun, machine gun and the iconic wrench seemed like a good place to stop, but they kept on with a rocket launcher, grenade launcher, and a flamethrower that doubles as a freezer.

  39. for real tho, once you have bees, you're the only man with bees.

    How could they betray the bees in 4? Crows are not bees. they'll never be bees. I'm certaiin if you gave the crows a chance they wouldn't bee the bees that the bees where.

    what I'm saying is

    the bees are the bees that can be bees when they need to bee bees.

    YOu are the real monster when you have bees, so where is the horreees without the bees in eeeebeeething?

  40. seriously, she looks like her name should be Janice in HR but got attacked by a rouge lawnmower….it's distracting….maybe just narrate in future.

  41. It stops being horror as soon as you get one or two plasmids : with electricity, the water around you becomes an advantage, and you can stun any splicers with fire. Suddently, you're aware that your environement is an advantage. I think the closest moment Bioshock came to a horror game, was when you have to protect little sisters. You're still overpowered ( even moreso if you hack security ), but the little sister is fragile, and her health is limited.

  42. For me It stopped being scary once I unlocked invisibility. At that point I could just wait and melee all enemies because I was never ambushed.

  43. I love Prey even though I hate horror games but I did play it on mute so it wasn't scary at all so I'm very torn about whether or not I should play BioShock as I cannot stand scary games but I love Prey

  44. I hate the whole 'not having bullets' means something is scary. Atmosphere is totally different from difficulty.

  45. Bioshock is not a horror game… It has horror elements sure, but it's not a fully fledged horror game. Also prey didn't give the ability to scan for mimics until you found the chipset.

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