So, like a few other people, I've been complaining about the gameplay of Bioshock. I compare it to System Shock 2 and wonder whether they did any playtesting at all.
But, on the surface, it's almost identical to SS2. Vita chambers and quantum entanglement units are basically the same thing - they resurrect you when you die. Similarly, both games are about door-to-door mayhem with guns and hacking and psychic powers. Actually, if anything, Bioshock should be better because the psychic powers don't suck.
I won't claim that SS2 got the gameplay right on purpose. After all, they didn't get anything else right on purpose. But they got a whole lot right on accident - from level design to storytelling and over to enemy design. Presumably, they accidentally made the gameplay fun, too. Amusingly, these are all the things that Bioshock did not achieve. Even working from SS2's blueprints, they were unable to duplicate SS2's high points, although they did have high points of their own that System Shock did not achieve.
The two games can't be directly compared without taking into account the fact that SS2 is a butt-ugly game with a UI that shows its age. It is almost ten years old, after all. BUT, if we were to imagine SS2 bumped up to Bioshock level graphics, I would not have a hard time choosing a favorite.
The reason the SS2 is so much more fun for me is simple: it's scary. Really scary.
But Bioshock is about as scary as peeling paint.
They have the same gameplay! Why is one scary, the other not?
As you might have guessed, I'm claiming it's because of attrition.
There is an issue commonly called "the Quicksave Dilemma". Basically, PC games are expected to have a quicksave-quickload functionality. But this puts a hell of a lot of pressure on the game designers, because whenever the player does poorly, they simply load the game and go through the same situation with foreknowledge of everything. Rinse and repeat, and you have a player that basically goes through the game "cheating" past your challenges. This reduces the depth of the gameplay by "short circuiting" the parts of the gameplay that are about resource management. Who needs resources when you can re-load until you get through without losing any health?
This is a huge problem in surprise-based games. If a big part of the gameplay is stumbling into an unknown situation and then having to fight your way out, quicksave will destroy the game entirely. These days, surprise-based games largely leave the resource management section of the gameplay to atrophy, boosting the moment-to-moment adrenaline-inducing play to compensate. You see this in Doom III, for example, and in Bioshock.
The vita chambers - and the quantum entanglement units - are basically an automatic quicksave-quickload, with the added bonus that all your enemies stay injured. So it induces all the problems that quicksaving induces.
There are a couple of ways of reducing this quicksave problem, but my favorite (and the best for horror games) is by using attrition.
No given situation will kill you, unless you do something completely silly. No given enemy is likely to even hurt you much, unless they're a big nasty. And not only that, the enemies give themselves away: you know precisely where they are and what they are, because they jabber to themselves. "Babies need ressssst... babies need sleep!"
But as you go from room to room, you'll continually be hurt a little, and that really starts to add up. The same principle applies for ammo or any other resources: they slowly get used up.
This isn't really something you quicksave to beat. It's not a lot of damage, and you can't usually do all that much better by quickloading.
Instead, the game drags your resources down despite the fact that you can quicksave and quickload. This isn't perfect: some people are so addicted that they will quickload every time they are hit. Especially in this day and age, where quicksaving and quickloading are really quick - when I originally played SS2, the "quick"save took about seven seconds. But it is a fairly good solution, especially if your quicksaving has other restrictions.
It is what System Shock did. Virtually every enemy save the wrench zombies was likely to hit you in the amount of time it took you to kill them, and they would all use up precious precious bullets. It was why you always got nervous when you heard the monkeys... the damn monkeys!
Bioshock did the Doom III method. Instead of dragging on your resources, they give you a huge amount of resources and cap your maximum carry. After any given fight, you could go back and scrounge your way to full capacity pretty easily, especially in late game. This means that any given fight has to be a significant threat. Every enemy needs to at least have the capacity to kill you.
This means that every fight is worth quicksaving through. It means that you're going to die a lot, and it's not going to matter. In Bioshock, dying is quickloading.
In Bioshock, there is no attrition. In System Shock, there is.
System Shock is scary. Bioshock isn't.
Also, System Shock 2 didn't resort to numbering their spells. "Immolate 2"? "Immolate 3"? "Immolate-aga"? :(