I've been wanting to write a blog entry for some time about Bioshock. I was quite late to the party with Bioshock Infinite, finishing it only a couple of weeks ago due to simply not having the time to complete the game closer to release. I was also incredibly late playing Bioshock 1 (and 2), finishing those games only a few months ago after picking them up in a Steam sale. Having finished all the Bioshock games now, I thought it a good time to share my thoughts on the games and the series as a whole. I've seen plenty of people criticise Bioshock Infinite, showing deep comparisons with Bioshock 1 and explaining why it is, in many ways, a worse game. I am therefore not going to talk about that, as for the most part I agree with these discussions and they can be easily found elsewhere. I am also not going to focus on the particular aspects of the story as again this has been done by plenty of other people, and their analysis will no doubt be much better than mine! - Analysing stories has never been a strong point, I tend to just go with it!
What I am aiming to do with this blog entry is to talk about the impact Bioshock 1 and Infinite had on me from the perspective of someone who first played them in 2013. This is as opposed to first playing Bioshock 1 in 2007 when it was released. In those years since Bioshock 1 was released, an awful lot has happened to the gaming industry. Standards of what is to be expected have radically changed. Ofcourse this is always the case for all forms of media over any time period, but I personally feel this past console generation has seen the most change for the video game industry (for better and worse), in more ways than ever before.
It is for this reason that I think the first Bioshock truly is impressive, as even today Bioshock is able to capture you much better than the majority of the games out there.
Before playing Bioshock, my entire knowledge of the game consisted of 3 things; an underwater city, big daddies and little sisters. What awaited me after I started playing was not only unexpected, but gripping from start to finish, and was one of those few games I completed in only a couple of sittings. Only one other "full-length" game have I ever ever completed without taking much in the way of a break, and that was Mass Effect 2. The world Ken Levine had created with Rapture was almost second to none, and in some ways was incredibly creepy. The feel of this underwater dystopia is what really drove me to the game's conclusion.
I've heard plenty of people complaining about the gun-play in Bioshock, but it is not something I personally noticed (perhaps because I was playing on keyboard and mouse rather than controller?). I really enjoyed mixing it up with plasmids, and I thought splicers offered enough a challenge so that you would have to vary your combat strategy on a reasonably regular basis. Ironically, the problem I have with Bioshock is something for which many people praise it. My main problem is with the way the game's story is delivered. By this I do not mean the story itself; Bioshock's "would you kindly" plot twist has stuck with me more than any other plot twist in any other game. That one reveal made me want to start the game again just to see if it was true, something I have never felt before when playing a video game. The problem I had was with how 90% of the story is delivered to the player; the audiologs.
Audiologs are a rather ingenius way to offer some substance to a world, and to expand understanding of what happened in Rapture before you were there. However, I personally felt that there was an over-reliance on their use to tell the story. I don't mean to imply that audiologs would be better left out of the game. That is simply not the case, but the story development would have benefited from there being another primary way to tell the story with audiologs acting as a secondary or subsidary method. Admittedly in such a deserted dystopia as Rapture, it would no doubt be difficult to keep the same sense of immersion if other story-telling methods were used.
In the case of Bioshock Infinite however, the game cries out for more story-telling methods. Relying on voxaphones only succeeds in making Columbia feel hollow and empty. It is entirely possible this was what Irrational was aiming for, but it entirely contradicts that Columbia is inhabited and far from the state of Rapture. Irrational did provide some additional story-telling methods with the Lutece twins and Elizabeth, and for the most part the interactions with these characters are fantastic. It is these character interactions, rather than the world, which made me want to finish the game and reach its almighty conclusion.
Likewise with the first Bioshock, I had very little complaints with the gun-play. I personally felt it much improved and actually really enjoyed using the vigours too. The RPG-like elements my have been a little uninspiring but this is simply a by-product of moving further and further away from the RPG roots seen in System Shock. The problem with the combat in this game was that it turned more into a shooting gallery, and was not really used to progress the game other than for the sake of it. Combat felt much more necessary in the first Bioshock, yet it could also be avoided altogether. This is much less the case in Infinite. For this reason, I believe that the modern state of gaming really hampered what Bioshock Infinite could have been.
Thanks to Call of Duty 4 back in 2007, released a few months after the original Bioshock, we have had game after game emulating the style of CoD's multiplayer and a massive paradigm shift in the percieved tastes of gamers. First Person Shooters are now comfortably the most popular game genre (perhaps with the exception of sports titles), and in order to make your game sell it needs to be an FPS. It needs to be marketed as having a visceral, awe-inspiring campaign with plenty of explosions. Whether you believe this to be a good or bad thing, you cannot deny the affect Call of Duty has had on game design. I believe this is why Bioshock Infinite became much more of a shooting gallery and less about exploration and discovery. In order to gain mass market appeal, Bioshock Infinite had to be a much more simple run and gun affair.
Unfortunately Bioshock Infinite suffers because of this, and is a shadow of what it could have been. By comparison, Bioshock 1 (being released a few months before CoD 4) achieves all it sets out to do, and I think this is why it still stands out even today. I therefore fear that Bioshock Infinite will not be remembered as a classic in the same way Bioshock 1 is. Infinite is much more generic, succumbing to current gaming tastes, which by their very nature are changeable with time. It almost seems like there was a change in Infinite's ethos part way through the design process, which is easily seen by the half-hearted stealth elements and the minimal RPG-elements.
Whilst Bioshock Infinite's outstanding story will make it a memorable experience for years to come, I do not think this alone will allow it to reach "classic" status. I doubt very much that in 6 years time Bioshock Infinite will be remembered in the same way that Bioshock 1 is today. This truly is a shame, as Bioshock Infinite could have been of this status, it could well have been one of the best games ever created. These two games surely showcase the damaging affect going after mass-market appeal can have. Bioshock 1 is a true classic, appealing to people playing it for the first time today; whereas Bioshock Infinite is merely an excellent game, but is unlikely to have the same lasting appeal.