Posted by RagingLion (1368 posts) -

***These thoughts are light on the mainline story spoilers, though they may allude to some and also to the themes and some specific moments.***

Bioshock: Infinite ends up encouraging our minds to expand and take in a large and multiversal view of everything, so I don't know for definite whether Bioshock: Infinite can deservedly be called a great game when considering where the next decades of games will go; yet it gets close enough for it to earn a magnifying-glass-of-critique on the smaller things which are barely worthwhile examining in other games that never reach for something more or never achieve some slice of their vision. So, after enjoying Infinite, which felt like a meaty and satisfying experience both during and after the playing of it, I want to highlight a few thoughts in praise of it and others of how it could have been even better. But the ideas for betterment would never have been birthed if it hadn't been so great in the first place and offered a glimpse of what was possible even beyond itself. I'm not being comprehensive when selecting which aspects to highlight or even looking at the biggest issues, but these are a scatter of thoughts that came to my own mind while playing … many will be obvious and proclaimed by many but perhaps a few will be original.

In Search of Greater

Moment-to-moment gameplay is important. It lends the game a feel. What hook or drive is occupying the player in their mind as they travel through the game? It may not be the thing you remember games for once you've moved on from them, but it's what busies your low-level attention and I think it colours how you react to higher level narrative beats during it.

I say that because in my experience my primary activity when going through Columbia was that of scavenging. It informed how I most typically moved my line of sight … it would be from cabinet (click-click) to travel chest (click-click) to cash register (click-click) to dead body (click-click). And every now and then I would suddenly realise that I had no awareness of what my larger surrounds were, so focussed was I on refilling my ammo and salts, picking up money and looking for extra hidden items. I did spend a lot of time just being awe of the scenery and architecture and stunning use of lighting but once I take a step back and look at my actions I don't think that the mindless scavenging I was normally in the midst of was a very interesting thing to be doing with my time. There could be something better that involves you appreciating and approaching the world on a more considered level. The scavenging gives the player an ever-present activity so there's always something for you to busy yourself with, but I think I would have a better experience if I was left with a clear mind while journeying in order to be able to enjoy or consider the things I was doing, or figure how I was going to deal with a situation once I got to my next destination. Clearly there would need to be gameplay systems to tie into an alternative that would work - I don't know exactly what these possibilities would look like. I do want to state that I think it can be good to have a reason to take in and appreciate the small-scale detail of a level (and in both the original Bioshock and Infinite I appreciated being able to accentuate this by turning off the highlighting around objects) but I think there should be different motivation for doing so.

In Praise

I love that Infinite is another game in which you see the behind the scenes stuff of how the city works - things that you become so familiar with when just wandering around and that you interact with, like vending machines are subsequently seen being built in the Fink Industries levels. If you go into the large zeppelins which have been shooting at you, you see the bullets waiting there to be loaded into the guns; before witnessing the Vox Populi uprising you have already seen the segregation and oppression at work - you see how the world all connects together and this just makes it all the more believable and is especially interesting when the world contains many elements that aren't otherwise common to our own everyday existence. The original Bioshock and Portal 2 did this particularly on the level of the physical machines that make up the world and although I wouldn't want to see it in every game, it's a neat way to go about things.

In Praise

That opening. A glorious hour or so I spent of just exploration and soaking in the atmosphere, culture and workings of Columbia and entering into the story. There was all the intrigue provided by the posters; what different groups of passers-by were talking about; the technology on show; and seeing various monstrosities of man and machine for the first time. The fairground was a masterstroke in terms of providing an optional and fun tutorial. I kind of just wanted to stay in this zone for longer, and yes, that first dose of violence was a bit of a shock.

In Search of Greater

In contrast to the first Bioshock it was a delight to have ordinary citizens of this place still wondering around and going about their business for a fair bit of the game. Walking into Fink Industries and seeing prospective workers haggling by offering to give their services in performing particular tasks within a progressively lower time allotment or hearing snippets of dialogue as you passed by groups on the sun-drenched beach really added to things. It helped the place to feel alive. But obviously so much more could be done to add to this (and obviously it requires so much development time to achieve this). It doesn't help that the use of same repeated faces feels quite pronounced but these are largely cardboard cut-out people that stay static in their location and don't react as you might expect they would to your presence. I'd like to see how a greater sense of ordinary (or less ordinary) life taking place within a gameworld and greater AI agency for more characters could really add to an experience that a game can craft.

In Praise

Once I started to use the skylines for getting about in the larger combat scenarios such as in the Shanty Town it really was thrilling. I probably never fully managed the smoothness or tried out the inventiveness that this system of mobility offered but the small glimpses of I got were highly memorable and enjoyable.

In Search of Greater

The journey had a number of emotional peaks, often dark ones, throughout it and many of those brought you closer to Elizabeth and meant that you had shared these intense experiences together. So there was some jarring when Elizabeth repeated a chirpy line about being able to easily pick locks right after the denouement of one of these moments. There needed to be a change reflected within her demeanour at those points even if she was to occasionally return to that same chirpiness a bit after that. I heard a lot of praise for Spec Ops: The Line in this regard, with the characters responding differently to situations with their voiced lines the further into that game you got and I can only wonder how that greater believability from Elizabeth's reactions could have elevated her still further in terms of the impact of playing alongside her.

In Search of Greater

When, early on, I walked into a house where there were some sympathisers to the lower-class citizens and I was squarely told by the game that I should not always shoot first since this could effect the outcome of events and would not always be required, I was delighted. But I don't know that Infinite really fulfilled on this promise. If it was only to suggest that you didn't need to fire when patently harmless Coulmbians wandered around their lives before the full-blown uprising, then fine, and I am grateful for those moments as already stated. Yet, there were hardly any ambiguous situations which could just have easily spilled over into violence where it was also possible to choose other options. When the Vox Populi turn against after having fought alongside you, it would have been nice for that turn to not have been so immediately clear cut. There could have been some that still had not received word from Daisy that you should definitely be killed or for others to have still held you in so high regard for your apparent heroics for their cause that despite the fact you should be dead they would be conflicted about firing against you.

In Search of Greater

I thought the boss characters were a bit random. Maybe there's some voxophones I didn't collect, or some diagrams I didn't see that could have made some of them capture my heart and mind, but I could imagine a Columbia without them that felt a more complete and immersing world. I can see how some of their abilities were useful for creating gameplay challenges in very particular ways that were probably needed, but in terms of the fiction I didn't buy into them as much as I could have done. Hopefully I'm not just arguing for realism here, since clearly this is a world that is already somewhat distant from that. The Boys of Silence felt like they came pretty much out of nowhere without feeling properly established with a reason for being.

In Praise

The pacing of Infinite was masterful. The game felt a good length and the story drove along with intrigue, reveals and emotional resonance, and the natural heightening of all of these at the end felt just right.

In Praise

Rich themes. I don't think that these were just thrown in haphazardly. Some were dwelt on more than others and some came to light only at the very end of the game, even if they were touched upon without you realising for the whole duration. That is what I want if games try to have something to say and I would love there to be way more games that attempt it. It all made the world either just more interesting and richer to move around in or actively gave my brain things to chew on, particularly the themes of religion, the nature of certain types of relationships and human motivations. There was enough there that I had fun unravelling what was going on as the credits rolled and also now in the days following.