I've been slogging through a lot of games lately and thought it was time to try to post some thoughts on them. Instead of posting about them individually, I thought I'd discuss them together, comparing and contrasting.
Off the top, Mass Effect and Assassin's Creed are third-person; you actually see the character running around a la Tomb Raider. This setup works well when the main character has a pre-defined personality or interacts a lot with other characters. Crysis tried to get around this by showing the character in third-person during cut scenes, but you also heard a disembodied voice from time to time. Bioshock simply didn't ever have the character speak, which was also pretty weird. Which one's better? It's hard to say. The pure first-person is probably best for that "I'm there" sensation, but you lose the ability to see what's immediately behind the character. It's also much harder to do platform-action like jumping around rooftops (Assassin's Creed). In any case, Crysis switched to 3rd-person for vehicles, which I suppose would simply be too hard to control in first-person (though that was an option). Okay, anyway, on to the games.
Crysis is the most standard shooter of the lot. If you've played Far Cry, you've already played this game. The only real differences are the greatly improved graphics, which are immensely detailed. Another gimmick is the nanosuit, which basically turns you into a superhero with one of three powers (speed, strength, or stealth). Unfortunately, even these powers are limited when you start taking fire, so they are really necessary. I greatly enjoyed this game, mostly because of all the outdoor settings (being in the woods is nice for a change), and playing with the suit was cool. The story and characters are limited, though there are some decent performances from Nomad's (your character's) comrades. The most interesting of these (Psycho) is now in his own game, so you might want to play that instead. Nomad reminded me a lot of Jack from Far Cry. I'd give Crysis 4/5 stars, with an emphasis on audiovisuals and gameplay. It's definitely worth checking out.
Bioshock is essentially a mix of Fallout and a game like Doom 3. Your character is trapped inside some giant underwater city called Rapture, which is swarming with mutants that highly resemble zombies. As you blast your way through the levels, your character gets all sorts of powers and abilities. The system is a bit complicated, but basically you can either focus on weaponry or what amounts to magical abilities (shooting fire from your hand, affecting gravity, etc.) The setting is very creepy and disturbing, and mostly dark, which I dislike because it never seems to show up well on my monitor. Still, there are lots of nice touches, and this game is really more about atmosphere than gameplay. It makes excellent use of music and sound effects to really create some disturbing moments--the kind where you're always jerking around to see if something is behind you. The storyline here is also pretty interesting, though you're usually so busy killing the mutants or flying security bots to worry much about it. Annoyingly, the mutants reappear even if you've cleared an area, so it's pretty much constant slogging. This greatly reduced the thrill for me, since you could never really just explore an area in peace. I also thought they got carried away with the gore; I mean, does every room have to be littered with decomposing bodies? I think someone got seriously carried away in that department. Bioshock isn't a bad game, but it's not something I'd ever care to play again, so I'm giving this one 2/5. However, raise that to 4/5 if you love Fallout *and* Doom 3.
Mass Effect is by far the best of the lot. What makes it the best is the great story and truly memorable characters. I liken it somewhat to Knights of the Old Republic, but this game feels fresher somehow. The shooting segments are probably the weakest; you don't get the tight control of something like Crysis, but it's still fun. I prefer shooting games with "real" guns versus pulse or laser rifles, but this game did a good job of making these fictional weapons seem realistic. What was really fun about this game was riding around in the ATV, exploring the solar systems, and, above all, interacting with the characters. Bioware did a great job making you feel that what you did in the game really had an impact; it wasn't just fighting to the next waypoint to watch a cutscene. I also liked that you could customize your character and even your party if you so desired, and it was fun playing through levels with the "wrong" characters just for the sake of variety. The only negatives about this game are the cumbersome inventory system and a bit of backtracking in some parts. Otherwise, though, it's the best bet for your money and a must-have. 5/5.
Assassin's Creed is a very interesting game, something of a cross between Tomb Raider and...Damn, I don't really know! The setting is the Middle East during the Crusades, and you play an Assassin who seems to be something of an atheist or agnostic. Most of the game consists of riding to a city on horseback (very cool), gathering evidence, assassinating a boss; lather, rinse, repeat. Indeed, this game does get repetitive, and I was definitely ready for it to end when it did. The biggest draw here is the amazing rooftop sequences; you can really run, jump, cling, and climb like no game I've ever seen before. The fighting scenes are also good and visually exciting, though there seems to be an issue sometimes with recognizing inputs; I frequently countered or dodged and got hit anyway, though for all I know it's bad timing on my part. There is a quasi-RPG element here in that the character (Altair) gets new weapons and abilities as the game progresses. The story here is very interesting as well, though sadly Altair is very dry, to say the least. The people Altair must assassinate are actually much more interesting, and it's a shame you couldn't interact with them more. I really liked the setup here and the graphics and controls are amazing, but the sheer level of repetition keeps this game from being a true winner. You will face the same scenarios and hear the same lines of dialog over, and over, and over again, even when it's supposedly a different character (and even a different voice actor!!) talking. It might have helped if there were more variation in the different cities, or at least different kinds of missions. Another quibble--for a supposed assassin, Altair is about as stupid as you can possibly be. Yeah, let me assassinate this guy by challenging him in front of all his guards. These encounters were mostly staged, so it was either do it the hard way or not at all. Hello, Altair--why not get a friggin' bow?? 3/5.
All in all, if I were going to ever replay any of these, it'd be Mass Effect followed by Crysis. I doubt I'd ever play the other two again, though I certainly don't regret playing them. Assassin's Creed is supposed to be the first of a trilogy, so I'm going to keep my eye on this series and see if the reviews indicate the next game will be less repetitive. If it is, forget it. As far as Bioshock goes, I would've liked it much better if the gore had been toned down and a little more variety introduced in the settings. I don't want to spend 6-8 hours trapped in a goreflick, no matter how clever.
I've ordered Fallout 3, which will probably arrive in the next few days. In the meantime, I've gone back to trying to finish up Age of Empires III and the War Chiefs expansion, so that ought to be keep me pretty busy.