When people talk about weapons having ‘weight’ in video-games I always think of BioShock‘s wrench. From the minute Atlas said with his Irish laden lips “Pick up a crowbar or something.” I knew that there was something afoot. Not only was there a poke at Half-Life mythology (which we covered last week) but there was just something about it. Atlas never directs you to actually pick up the wrench and, in some sense, it’s one of the smallest chances of free choice that are offered by the game. I’m trying not to spoil it because it’s close to Infinite‘s release and I think a lot of people will be playing the beast for the first time.
The wrench works so well because it feels like a wrench. Swipes do take a degree of time, especially without the added gene tonic bonuses, and the thudding squash of flesh when the metal hits the Splicers always feels realistically satisfying. When you manage to thud a splicer’s head as he’s about to pounce on you, that’s when BioShock really excels in its construction of tension and atmosphere. The wrench adds this layer of rebellion to it, like you’re some laborer in Russia during the 1930s and you’re bashing Russia into a brighter future with the Communist rhetoric blaring above. Although that vision’s in stark contrast to the Randian rants of Andrew Ryan that spill out of the tannoys throughout Rapture.
The wrench does feel just completely fitting of the game. I was always disappointed with BioShock 2‘s melee weapon, the drill, because it (puntended) never had the right impact. It always felt the slightest bit ’empty’ in how you were able to spin it up a little and then smack people. You never tore through bodies, largely thanks to the limited capability of the engine and hardware stuffs, and it never had the same thud that the original wrench had. When you swiped a Splicer with your drill in BioShock 2 there was a degree of lethargy in it but also lacking of that special punch that the wrench gives. Like the jumping mechanics in Super Meat Boy, the timing of the swipes was nailed just perfectly with the wrench.
Around a year ago I completed BioShock on normal difficulty using only the Wrench and plasmids at hand. Now I want to complete it on Survivor difficulty, no Vita Chambers, no tonics, no plasmids and Wrench only. Adding this rule to the game, I feel, is a lot like going Permadeath in Far Cry 2. It really does bring out the best in the video-game and also shows exactly what kind of special feels that the power of interactivity has to offer when combined with degrees of player freedom. I would not do this if sequel’s drill was in the original BioShock, it just feels ‘repetitive’ to me.
The wrench seems fine-tuned to any combat situation. There’s tonics to make stealth attacks practically kill Splicers in one, there’s a tonic to freeze enemies upon hitting them and there’s even a tonic that drastically increases your damage output to make you a one man killing machine. In BioShock there’s no ‘Swiper no swiping!’, there’s a freedom to mix up the tonics, plasmids and weaponry per encounter to advance throughout the game in an exciting manner.
More important to the very ‘feel’ of the wrench, in my opinion, is the idle animations. When not swiped for long, Jack will turn it over in his hands. There’s even a metal ‘clunk’ when he does this. When you’ve got the winter wrench tonic attached then the frozen wrench still ‘clinks’ against his other palm. It gives an added sense of weight to the object and perhaps shows off that Jack is ready for action, ready to be the deliverer of pain.
In short, this tool of bludgeoning gives BioShock even more of its mechanical identity. The plasmids, Tommy Gun and steampunk-esque arsenal all give a sense of ‘weight’ and harsh grit to the world and the wrench embodies this similar sensation of solidness. The wrench, above any other weapon in the game, allows the player to touch the world… with an instrument… to the face. Bloodily.
Next week – Resistance’s Bullseye