Of course I'm gonna try to justify this but a little prefacing first so readers can understand where I'm coming from and alternatively see if you agree with any of my thoughts. Ultimately I hope we can get a good well thought out discussion on critiquing this game and on how this perfect game could be improved. So some short preamble:
Do I think a game, even a flawed one, can get a perfect score? Most definitely yes, though the 3 point scale (good games get 8,9 or 10 only) of modern journalism is incredibly irritating and I think one of the biggest issues in the press today. Having recently beat VLR/999 (thanks @patrickklepek) along with Dark Souls and with fresh memories of TWD and Planescape:Torment it really baffles me how this story is being called the Citizen Kane of video games and this generation's greatest narrative. Can a game not have a competent story or are they so rare that we over value one when it does come along? Does giving it a complicated mindfuck aspect suddenly elevate it to untouchable heights? No I don't think so. But maybe I'm in the minority of those experiencing great narrative in games, everyone knows we've been starved of it recently. Are you a fan or just hating what people like? I'm definitely a fan, I've played every 'Shock game since System Shock 2. Difficulty? Hard. Personal GOTYAY? Dark Souls probably...
Surely I can’t be the only one that thinks that 14 years after System Shock 2, these ‘Shock games can, should and have been much better.
I played on hard and not once felt the tension prevalent in SS2 and even the earlier Bioshocks (loss of atmosphere is a whole ‘nother aspect though). Handyman may have come somewhat close but compared to setting up traps and finding good tactical positions to fight Big Daddies after learning their patrols, the Handyman fights devolved into Cat and Mouse games, where you’d empty your gun and wait for Elizabeth to throw you more ammo or run to a tear for a new gun. The heavily armoured enemies become negligible with a possession (if this was meant to be the way to deal with them then ok, pretty cool but that has its own pros and cons)
Quickly on the topic of atmosphere…where is it? They create a fantastic floating city (with perhaps a bit too much “bloom”) but the tension and atmosphere from Rapture and the Von Braun are gone. If you look at Fallout 3 and Bioshock you can see how well music can set the mood of the game but aside from the guitar moment and the one time I heard Tainted Love effective music seems notably absent. Now I may be being overly cynical here but while I thought the Beach Boys moment was great, having it so early and then nothing like that in the rest of the game makes me think it was done for showcase purposes, it would be memorably to reviewers and early enough to show off pre-release but maybe that’s reaching. I can see and agree with the argument that Columbia is not the same as those places and there isn’t a need for such an atmosphere. I miss the screams of The Many and the shattered windows and dripping walls of Rapture, and the environment that replaces it although polished, is not as interesting.
Which brings me to environmental story-telling. Damn I love when a game does this right, and honestly Dark Souls opened my eyes to how great it can be. One of my favourite and most memorable moments/devices in DS is the missing statue in Ornstein & Slough’s room and its implications ( finding Iron Tarkus’ body, Ciaran’s ring on Artorias’s grave, and the new Sif scene at the start of his fight all rank up there as well). However I think B:I can be very hit and miss here, though when it hits it is some of the most well done aspects of the game in my opinion. Interestingly this is the first ‘Shock game where I began to question the purpose and specifically the placement of audio logs. The propaganda as a means of environmental story telling I found a little heavy handed and graffiti is just codex on the wall and a bit lazy at that. However the bar where there’s only dead bodies of Vox Populi and security forces was a great piece in the game and the perfect spot for a Vox log( unlike say 80% of the other places they show up). While I compare graffiti to the tediousness of a codex (in a story-telling aspect, codexes can definitely add to a game) I’m not against text telling a story in the world. In fact one of the things that made me actually uncomfortable (being Irish myself) were the dilapidated, disgusting separate bathrooms for the “Colored and Irish” and that piece will stick with me longer than most of the rest of the game.
Honestly I don’t think its a bad game, but it is one of the most disappointing products of the 3 point scale that is so prevalent in game journalism. Normally I wouldn’t critique a game this hard, games are meant to be enjoyable past times, but when someone says to me; this is the best game in its genre, its the best it’s gonna get and those flaw you see playing through it or in hind sight are not worth even dropping the score by a point it really irks me reinforces my disillusionment with the ability and the objectivity of the press and overall people's willingness to eat shit.
I don’t know why someone would review, this game in particular with all its supposedly well-deserved perfect scores and not try to think objectively about it. I enjoyed my playthrough but at one point I also enjoyed Sonic Heroes, League of Legends and Pokemon (not trying to be edgy here, just games that at one point I enjoyed but looking back critically can see a myriad of flaws).
For a perfect score game the AI is aggressively middling, its not walking into walls stupid, but its so boring its almost as bad. Traps become an essentially useless mechanic as they don’t bother flanking you, and rather than putting them down in front of you for the one or two melee enemies that walk right at you, you can spend that time just shooting them as you’ll have to do that anyway. It also bugged out in some pots, I only beat the Siren in the bank because I was just headshotting her while she stood there doing nothing (what a really shit enemy she was too). Jeff's also mentioned the weirdness of Elizabeth's invisibility to enemies.
Regenerating shields is shitty game mechanic. Ya I said it. There’s no reason not to max shields first on hard. They take away any tension from a fight, promote less tactical play, and overall evokes memories of CoD’s weakest gameplay aspects. Crouching behind cover until a bar is filled is not fun, rewarding or tactical gameplay. In fact aside from being boring it’s actually pretty immersion breaking waiting until a bar is filled unlike in say Dark Souls where its about careful management and a skilled player won’t get hit or expend more stamina than was necessary. Johnathan Blow tweeted some good thoughts on the poorer aspects of regenerating shields today too which are worth checking out (https://twitter.com/Jonathan_Blow).
2 GUN LIMIT. WHY. WHO FINDS THIS FUN?
Guns were pretty underwhelming, not horribly so and I think the actual ADS snap was pretty well done (personal pet peeve) but I would sacrifice all of the later guns (repeater,hail fire, burst gun etc) to make the earlier ones like the volley gun (personal favourite) have much more interesting and substantial upgrades. The encounters reminded me of CoD and not in a good way. Reach, kill X guys, crouch behind rock to regen health, kill X more guys, proceed.
Upgrades were pretty shit, you could argue that they are realistic but if you start using the term realistic for any argument in a game (that isnt a Sim) then you probably hate fun or something. Upgrades boiling down to for the most part: increase this number (ammo, damage, splash radius) is pretty lazy, and not using Vigors to augment guns is a lost opportunity. Vigors themselves are a step backing from BS2, no dual wielding or combination traps. I honestly didn't use anything besides Possession and lightning but I've heard Bronco could be pretty broken. Uprades here were actually a bit better but Vigors themselves were underwhelming and only being able to cycle through two of them quickly was limiting their scope.
Skylines had a lot of potential and worked well in some areas and in others were just used to escape to gather ammo and wait for shields to recharge. Nice addition that suffered from not being fleshed out. Could a stealth aspect and vigor worked here? Maybe…
As for the actual story, liking it is probably subjective, I think it was alright but there could be plot holes that I didn’t see after my playthrough and if there isn’t well, a game really shouldn’t be lauded for not fucking up its story regardless if it is a bit convoluted. I do think that a story that does encourage and foster such debate is definitely praise worthy for that aspect. I will say that coming off 999/VLR (games I think did the reality hopping much better) recently that a very early Vox spoiled the game a bit for me (the thinly veiled reference to Schrodinger’s cat) and that a lot of the reality related revelations at the end than came as no surprise. The meaning behind AD still threw me for a loop though which I liked.
Gear was a cool addition but from what I've seen their balance is skewed, the extra capacity one Jeff mentioned in the QL seemed miles better than any I've found. This could have been used to encourage different playstyles but there seems to be shit gear and good gear, thus bringing it back to numbers and min maxing. Admittedly I did like the utility some of them had such as full life on revival.
I found the reality hopping aspect to be very inferior to 999/VLR, especially given how this story and game mechanic becomes a part of the narrative in much more interesting and fleshed out fashion. The lost opportunities of having to solve puzzles by hopping through tears really stood out to me. Honestly there's probably been games out there that do reality hopping better (I've heard people saying Ghost Trick, Corpse Party and Radiant Historia do it better) but I just haven't played them (chances are they're japanese)
Linearity is a topic that has come up in discussion but this is more of personal preference I think. The game does hand holding a little too much, things like being able to jump off "cliffs" with zero reaction from anybody and no consequance is weird and having to wait for Elizabeth to throw you ammo in the longer fights isn't great.
Overall I’m not inherently set against perfect scores, I don't want to go and attack a game everyone else loves, nor do I think a flawed game cant get that score(games that would these scores for me would be the likes of SM64, LoZ:LttP, RE4, OoT and Portal and while Dark Souls is probably the best game of the generation I can easily justify not giving it a perfect score). I don’t think 10/10 means that a game is “perfect” but it does demand that all aspects of the game are nailed from the core aspect of the gameplay itself (here it's poor combat), to the visuals holding up across the board (have you seen the 2d fruit and bushes? god damn how big a budget do you need to have things not look like shit? Immersion fucking shattering. 3D fruit though? Eat that shit right up. Crysis managed this 6 years ago, come on…) and having a compelling story and narrative, or at least one that suits the game completely (no one thinks the Zelda's stories are the Citizen Kanes of video games but they do suit the game itself).
I saw a great post on /v/ that really resonated with me:
You’re not angry that Bioshock Infinite is a bad game; you know that it isn’t. You’re angry that the bar has fallen so far that a competent game with a competent story is hailed as perfection.
You’re angry that what to you is clearly a step back from Bioshock and further from System Shock is being hailed as a masterpiece of a generation.”
There’s a lot of merit to this quote I think.
(play 999 and VLR for cool reality bending shit, play Dark Souls to see how well a story can be told in and through the medium of video games)