Bioshock: Big Daddies

Now, last time I talked about how Little Sisters were done poorly -narratively, I specified.

Paired with Big Daddies, though... this is Bioshock's strongest piece, its most iconic and well-executed piece, and let's be completely, brutally honest, the thing that any sequel should have built upon. (ie Bioshock 2 was correct, Bioshock Infinite was not)

Big Daddies are great. As a pure gameplay piece, the concept is strong: a powerful enemy, non-hostile by default, which can sometimes be leveraged against other enemies, and which confrontation is generally set up as a fairly big risk for a fairly big reward. If Bioshock had littered Big Daddies and Little Sisters throughout the game with no deeper narrative tie, leaving it down to just a question of whether it's worth fighting a Big Daddy to get at the Adam in the Little Sister it's guarding, this would be an excellent design right there.

But they go deeper and get the little things right, too. Not all of them -as far as I'm aware, you'll never see a Big Daddy perform anything resembling maintenance work even though that's ostensibly their primary purpose, not counting Infinite's DLC- but a lot of them, and the right little things.

For example, if you point your gun at a Big Daddy, it won't react. It doesn't care. It's fine. Which, wait, isn't that... normal for video game non-hostiles? Why am I praising it?

Well, if you point your gun at a Little Sister... her attending Big Daddy will whirl around, weapons at the ready and aimed at you. The message is clear: he's ready to defend her. He won't start this fight, but he will end it if you harm a hair on her head.

That's an amazing, adorable little detail packed with character and meaning even though it has barely any gameplay relevance. (It means a Big Daddy is very slightly quicker to get to you if you inexplicably choose to start a fight by shooting a Little Sister, which... why would you?)

Same for their blinding, brutal speed when coming to the defense of a Little Sister. They're a plodding, patient sort when they're just wandering around, presumably doing maintenance, no evidence they can even manage a jog, but when it counts they can eat ground at an insane rate. (A little bit too insane, actually; while I feel Bioshock 2 loses something by how much it slows down their charge speed, it's nice not being forced to basically cheese fights with Big Daddies to avoid being smashed with the charge) Think you've got a Little Sister isolated, far away from her protector? Not far enough. It's too bad you can't try to grab Little Sisters prior to killing their Big Daddy -having one come rushing forward to interrupt a Harvest/Rescue attempt would be an amazing experience.

Tying Adam to improving your magic powers and purchasing passive abilities is also a very effective decision: the core gameplay is designed so that those elements are strictly optional, bonuses to make things easier. You can get by on good gunplay and the basic Plasmids. Thus, gating Adam behind fighting Big Daddies makes it okay to just... not fight them. (Well, aside when you're forced to, but this is rare) You find them too hard, too intimidating, too effective at protecting the Little Sisters? Just push your core skills farther and harder and you can handle things. That's pretty much perfect for the situation.

And then of course there's all the little bits with sound design and physics and animation, how they move with heft and can be heard tromping about from even quite far away and make eerie, deep sounds that help cement their not-quite-human status while also serving the important gameplay purpose of forewarning you to watch your fire, there's a Big Daddy in the area and you don't want to accidentally provoke it. Not to mention their distinctive helmets, which manage the right balance of 'strange' and 'plausibly usefully purposeful, even if the why is unclear'.

Similarly, Little Sisters hit the exact right intersection of adorable and creepy with their dialogue. I especially enjoy how they exhort 'Mr. Bubbles' to kill/unzip/X their eyes whatever enemy has provoked the Big Daddy. It's the perfect example of them being more or less innocent girls and yet rather out of place to be hearing from an otherwise-innocent child regardless.

There's a ton of fanart out there of Big Daddies and Little Sisters, and it's fully justified.


Next time, I, talk about an aspect of how Bioshock handles its general enemies.

See you then..


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