By Sunjammer 9 Comments
First of all, I have to say that I'm possibly the worst guy to give a new Bioshock game to. I had so much ludicrously fevered anticipation for the first Bioshock that actually paid off, that even the beautifully made sequel and its Minerva's Den DLC couldn't even come close. Infinite perhaps had impossible things to live up to for me.
I couldn't stop myself playing it. I literally sat down for a single sitting, 10 hours, one big beautiful generous session. When I stopped (actually the game bluescreened on me after the credits, which made me laugh), the sun was back up and the prospect of a workday was patently insane. I spent the rest of the day thinking about the game, its conclusion, and I got the gnawing sensation that while I'd certainly been dazzled, something was amiss.
I think Bioshock Infinite is an absolutely fantastic game. But it doesn't come close to the first Bioshock for me. The following post is going to be
for both Bioshock and Infinite, though I'll try to keep the latter in vague terms. You've been warned.
The puzzle story (SPOILERS)
I'm not a fan of the puzzle film, or the puzzle book. The puzzle narrative. The one where all the way through, the elements are there for you to either piece together and get that burst of cathartic solution at the end, or the elements are there as traps for the narrator to spring on you; Ah-hah! Didn't see that coming did you! Bioshock Infinite is a narrative puzzle in a way that I found irritating. Not just at the very end, where they flip the table on the world and all the odd bits from the very beginning to the very end are set into system, but during the experience itself. The game simply will not stop screwing with you, and as a result, nothing in it feels consequential, or remotely real or immersive. It was Inception all over again. Eff that movie.
Bioshock was much subtler. Its twist paid off twofold. I'm not one of those that hated the latter third of the game, or felt it lost steam. For me Bioshock was a game about betrayal and family and belonging and I found the final revenge and ascent thoroughly satisfying. Infinite feels like Ken Levine is being smart. With every piece of immaculately crafted art, architecture, music, from the opening text to the conclusion, the game is clearly out to get you. As a result, I felt Columbia became utterly pointless. A museum of art to walk through and shoot dudes. The people in it? Could not care less. Infinite is one of the few games in which I never felt bad about accidentally killing civilians.
The game makes seriously shocking moves early on, confronting you with the hate and callousness that Columbia has (apparently) been built upon, especially when dealing with questions of bigotry and race, yet none of those topics wind up mattering a jot by the end of the game. It's "being political" because of the aesthetics of bringing up those politics, not because it really has anything to say about them. It's a real bummer
From about halfway in, I was regularly groaning at the story's willingness to not give a shit about itself. Characters come and go, are developed then discarded. Nothing felt connected, nothing felt real, and when the end came they might as well have cut to Booker waking up in bed. Which they sort of did anyway.
It's extra irritating to think of, when I remember the times when I was playing that I truly did care, and I truly did get chills, or feel a lump in my throat, and then at the very end all of those things seemed to just be "effects" in a story that would wind up erasing itself. I was left with the feeling that Infinite could have been a truly beautiful, evocative thing, had it only been less concerned with being so god damn smart.
I just don't think the payoff is worth the elaborate machinery that goes into preparing you for it. I would have taken a fantastic-yet-believable Columbia with a simpler story over this one, any day. It just never managed to get inside my head, or let me in. I was playing a video game from beginning to end.
The bland weaponry
So, taken as a pure video game, Infinite is a game about shooting men and women in the face. Besides the fantastic melee combat, none of the guns on offer felt much fun to use besides the carbine. I wound up playing the entire game using practically nothing but the carbine. I didn't upgrade any of the other weapons, because I didn't want to use them. The mid-to-long range nature of the majority of the shooting made the carbine the absolute obvious choice for me, scoring headshots from across the map, and, again like the previous games in the series, utterly useless iron sights are on offer. I never had a reason to use them, and I don't understand why the game has them.
It doesn't help that the vigors, the plasmid powers in Infinite, are just as obvious. There were several plasmids I saw little use for whatsoever, amounting to a cool effect that looked great the first time and then never had a reason to be there. Next to the Carbine, I spent the majority of the game using possession to deal with turrets and undertow to blow everyone else off ledges or yank them up close to casually shoot them in the head.
Perhaps I made a mistake, playing the game on medium difficulty? Could be. But the combat felt undercooked. Except for the few cases where skylines were involved.
Too few skylines
The single most fun mechanic in the game, for me, has to be the skylines. They are exhilarating to ride, satisfying to jump to and from, and it seemed like there were maybe 5 times during the game they were a real part of combat. They were always fun when they were around, but there were nowhere near enough of those times.
This is a city of skyscrapers and rollercoasters in the sky, yet the world is so cloudy and close you practically never get a sense of actual height or vertigo. You get to look UP at a lot of grand things but almost never down along them. It's a huge mistake. While Bioshock banked on the inherent oppression of the deep ocean, Infinite should have reveled in the precarious lethality of the high heavens. Instead it uses its scale to make even bigger golden statues and that's sort of it.
I don't think it's a good idea, when your game is an almost entirely linear corridor, to have "side quests" that task you with backtracking most of the area you just went through. When you enter an area and find a locked chest, and then find the key for it just as you're about to leave, someone's asleep at their job.
Elizabeth not knowing when to shut up
This is a tiny thing, but it really happened way too often. I loved the dialog between Elizabeth and Booker. But I also loved finding the audio logs. So often I'd pick one up, hit the key to listen to it, and Elizabeth would immediately drone on over it about something. It made me miss both what Elizabeth said and what the log said, and I wound up simply not caring that much about the logs after a while. I really wish the script could afford itself to pause when my ears were clearly elsewhere.
I think Infinite is the kind of game that is almost too good for its own.. good. Everything it does well it does so exceedingly well, so friction free, that when moments of friction do show up they are disproportionately jarring. Contrasting with Bioshock, I'm left with the impression that Bioshock took me to a place, while Infinite wants to discuss what place is, and it just didn't tickle the same fancy. It didn't go far enough, yet it went too far. It wasn't "for me" so much.
But hell. 10 hours of engrossing shooting of heads from across the most lavishly beautiful horizons I've seen in a first person shooter for years is still about as good a deal as you're going to find. Anyone would be a fool not to play it.