I'll start off this month saying that I have finished Bioshock and it was an excellent game. The story is a very big part of the game's appeal so I wont spoil it for you. The story is fairly well written despite a few holes in the plot and awkward twists taken by the author. In terms of game play it is a fairly straight forward shooter with some character development options borrowed from the RPG genre. As you play you will acquire the usual weapon upgrades and be busy scouting for ammunition and supplies such as first aid kits. In addition you will also be able to find two types of permanent power ups for your character. One group is called plasmids. Plasmids give your character the ability to do things such as throw lightning bolts from his finger tips, set things on fire with a snap, or grab objects out of the air and throw them at enemies. The other enhancements are called tonics. These grant passive abilities such as an electric field that shocks any enemy that hits you or makes hacking into machines and security devices easier. There are also several point in the game where you will have the chance to make improvements to one of your weapons by adding extra magazine capacity or increasing its damage.
The game has 9 or 10 gorgeously detailed levels. The setting is that of a post-WW2 era utopia that was constructed beneath the ocean. Everywhere you look you will see architecture and scenery that reflects the very best of that era. Even the small details have not been overlooked. In each level you will be working towards an objective that will lead you to the next area when it is completed. Sometimes there will be surprises along the way that will have you dealing with other issues before moving on. The enemies are all very similar in appearance (except for the 'Big Daddies') and it can be very difficult to tell them apart. Despite the limited variety each enemy does have unique behaviors that set it apart from others. Throughout the game you will be given opportunities to enhance your character in different ways. Unlike a typical RPG there is really only one path for development: You acquire as many upgrades as you can without focusing on any one type and switch between them as needed.
Before closing I will offer one small warning about the game. The content deliberately raises some moral issues and exposes the player to acts of cruel depravity that may well disturb even an adult. This game is definitely not for children. If you are a hardy soul unconcerned by such issues then you should have no difficulty enjoying Bioshock. I explored the game as thoroughly as I possibly could and I believe it took me only 40 hours or so to complete it. If you were to focus just on achieving the goals for each level I suspect you could finish it in half the time. For me the medium level of difficulty was perfect but there are also easy and hard modes if you prefer the game to be more or less challenging.
The other watchlist game released in August was 'Two Worlds'. Two Worlds is an open world RPG ala Oblivion or Gothic. Like those games there are many options for character development and you may travel freely throughout the world. Two Worlds isn't as carefully manicured as Gothic nor does it have the well crafted storylines of Oblivion. Instead I think it quite comfortably bridges both games giving the player a very attractive world to explore and interesting ways to interact with it.
Among the more unique aspects of the game a few things stand out. First is the way in which items can be upgraded. Any time you find two items with the same name you can drop one onto the other to combine them into an improved version. With weapons this means more damage and for armor more protection. Spells come in the form of cards which are placed in your spellbook. Three spells can be active on your hotkey bar at a time and like weapons if you have more than once card for the same spell you can stack them in your casting bar to obtain greater effect. Unlike weapons the cards remain in a stack and you can separate them out or add them together again any time you like. In addition to the spell cards themselves there are modifier cards. Three modifiers can be applied to each spell slot. These further enhance the properties of the spell by increasing its damage, level, duration etc.
One of the most unique features of the game is the ability to ride a mount. There are several types of horses as well as more exotic mounts in the game. Mounts have saddlebags that you can use to store additional items and it is possible to fight from horseback and to run over enemies while mounted. Controlling the mount is much different in Two Worlds than in any other game and much more accurately reflects how it is to ride a horse in the real world. When you climb into the saddle you do not drive the mount around like a car as you do your character. Instead you push the forward key to get it going and it will continue to go until you dismount or pull back on the reins to stop it. You turn the mount by pressing the left or right keys and when you do the mount will turn its head to the side and begin to change direction. Don't expect to be able to pull off hairpin turns however. The animals have a set turning rate which feels very natural and takes some getting used to. The faster you are going the wider the turn you will make. The animals are not without some sense either. If you try to ride them into a wall or off a cliff they will turn aside and avoid the obstacle. They also tend to slow down when navigating steep terrain and speed up when going downhill. While they avoid things such as trees or large boulders they jump over other obstacles such as short fences. Different mounts have subtly different characteristics. Some turn more easily than others, some are faster or slower, others have greater or lesser capacity in their saddlebags and I swear some are just plain more stubborn than others and resist your attempts to get them to stop or turn or shy away from obstacles more readily.
So far I have played quite a bit of the game without paying much attention to the central story. I have been having fun wandering the wilderness and seeing what sorts of things I can find. This game feels like it will take a considerable length of time to complete and that I will be able to enjoy it for quite a while. Bioshock was a great game but i think if you had to choose just one Two Worlds might be the better choice as you will almost certainly get many, many more hours of enjoyment out of it.
There isn't anything coming out in September that I have any interest in. The next big releases are The Witcher and Hellgate London in October. Game retail sites are showing an October release for Tabula Rasa but my experience in the beta so far makes that seem extremely unlikely. The open beta of the game will most likely start in 4-6 weeks or so. As soon as it starts and the NDA is lifted I will give you the inside scoop on the good and bad features of the game.
I also was just recently accepted into the Warhammer Online beta and have been tinkering with the Mythos beta for a few weeks now.
I am adding a couple new games to the watchlist this month. The first is Gods and Heroes. Gods and Heroes is an MMO set in ancient Greece. Players assume the role of a hero and, in accordance with Greek tradition, must curry favor with the various gods. One interesting twist with this game is that you have the option of controlling several henchmen as well as your main character even when grouped with other players. The game claims to have dynamic zones that scale themselves to fit the party that enters them. This reminds me of CoH missions and how the number of enemies would scale up or down with the size of the group. When I first heard about the game I thought Gods and Heroes was an RTS or Squad Combat game. It wasn't until recently that someone pointed out to me that it was an MMO. I have signed up for the beta but doubt my chances of getting in since I was so late in taking an interest in the game. I'll have more info posted on my site for the game as soon as I have had a chance to read through more of the material available on it.
The second game I am adding is another MMO. This one is called Aion. Aion is a Korean MMO being developed by NCSoft. The graphics for the game are remarkable but I don't know too much about the gameplay yet. What I do know is that characters will be somewhat angelic in nature and able to fly. The game has three factions. Two are player controlled and the third is run by AI. They intend to introduce a new type of PvP they are calling PvPvE where players must fight each other and the AI at the same time. There is also talk of the game world changing in response to player activity and not only is divergence possible from one server to another but it is inevitable and an i9nstrinsic feature of the game.
Because this is a Korean MMO I am somewhat hesitant to add it to the list. Korean games follow a somewhat alien set of design guidelines to what I usually find enjoyable. They often contain enormous levels of repetition and grind with very little provided in terms of story or content. Still, some of the features they list have enormous potential. I think this game could be well worth keeping an eye on to see how it develops.