I just played the Bioshock demo on an Xbox 360 hooked up to a kick-ass surround sound system (thanks Chris!). What can I say? I really liked it. Each single element has been seen in other games before, but they're put together expertly to create a really intense and interesting experience. The visual design, the sound, the writing, the technology, the gameplay, the level flow: it all works really well together. No wonder Bioshock has been getting such crazy scores so far.
What most impresses me is how the team at Irrational Games managed to combine an unusual setting, a deep background, lots of interesting choices, and kick-ass moment-to-moment gameplay. As Ken Levine said in this great interview over at Gamers With Jobs:
The point of BioShock, the raison d'etre, is really the story, and the messages and intellectual content that Levine tries to deliver as a payload. "Look at Lord of the Rings," he challenges. "Why is Lord of the Rings more interesting than random RPG story number 507? They're exactly the same thing. They have orcs and goblins and demons and trolls. But Lord of the Rings is a meditation on power. And it's really interesting because of that. It's what gives it it's heart." And with undenied hubris, Levine's trying to do the same thing with BioShock, while still delivering a game 16-year-old cheese eating high school students will want to play. "We have these philosophical notions, but you've got to deliver. You gotta bring home the monsters. You gotta bring home the superpowers." In short, he's become a commercial realist.
Very inspiring to see someone do pull of something ambitious and, probably, commercially successful, deep inside the games industry. Man... I'm a big fan of the Looking Glass school of design. If Irrational Games hadn't been bought by Take 2, I so would have applied for a job there last year. But I just couldn't do it.
Now I have to wait for Microsoft to repair my inert Xbox 360... sigh. Ah well, I still haven't even opened Twilight Princess. And World of Warcraft is singing it's siren call again.