By Video_Game_King 12 Comments
How many of you have eaten a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup? (A strange introduction fits a strange blog.) It's a combination of the great tastes of peanut butter and chocolate. Well, BioShock Infinite is just like that, only the exact opposite. In fact, I probably should have compared it to toothpaste and citrus. Both of them taste great on their own, but combine them, and you're left with this unpleasant taste in your mouth. This is assuming, of course, that you chug tubes of toothpaste as meals, pretending it's some future space food. I do.
I guess that makes me just like the people of Columbia, who, for whatever reason, are never without hot dog, cotton candy, or otherwise out-of-place food product. What's that? You've played BioShock Infinite and know what the story behind Colubmia is, but are pretending that you don't for the sake of this blog? Well, then, let me spin you a rather....mostly great yarn of idealism and zealotry gone horribly awry. But since you're pretending you haven't played the game, some context: guy named Comstock makes sky city, other guy named Booker DeWitt wants to rescue girl from sky city. That out of the way? Good. Now I can get into the real meat of the story: all the criticism of religion and patriotism and general idealism. It's impossible to avoid these topics, given how the game browbeats you with them the very moment you enter Columbia.
Fortunately, Infinite covers these topics very well, its main strength being just how much thought it puts behind every single aspect. You want something about how historical figures become mouthpieces for our own views? Got it. What about the Christian idea of inclusion and forgiveness eventually giving way to paranoia, exclusion, and all other sorts of nasties? Explored. In the mood for Colombian ideals and ways of life naturally giving way to violence? That's exactly what the gameplay's there for. I told you: everything about these topics is thought out. I'd say that this comes at the cost of being one-sided, but not entirely. There is one level that takes the opposite view and criticizes the hell out of that, showing that they're not terribly different, and while it's only one level, it's the thought that counts. Of which there is a lot.
But you know, there's more to this game's appeal than the themes. We also have Disney princess Elizabeth. No, seriously, she's a literal Disney princess. Hell, the girl even breaks out into song for no real reason and is probably disappointed that a little birdy didn't swing in and chirp along the melody. This being the type of game it is, her optimism is crushed into a fine powder as soon as she steps outside her precious little tower. And then crushing it into tiny little atoms afterward just to show you that it's not done. I hate to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the narrative, largely because it reveals that I am a petty, sadistic bastard. Instead, I'll just say that she also has the ability to warp reality to her liking whenever and wherever. Does that sound overpowered? Well, it isn't. At her worst, Elizabeth uses it to warp all about the map when you're not looking and summon precious ammunitions from the aether. Now does that sound like a clever integration of narrative elements and gameplay mechanics? Well, it isn't.
And here is where we come to my main problem with BioShock Infinite: the developers weren't aware that they were making a game. If they were, it doesn't show particularly well. For instance, the protagonist's feet are practically non-existent. They aren't there when I look down, and there's no momentum or give when you're moving forward; you just seem to float forward ever so smoothly, in an inhuman way. I know this seems petty to complain about, but it really does take me out of the moment when a human character behaves and feels so inhumanly for unexplained reasons, especially when I can see his body parts whenever the game decides I can (like the ending, for instance). Combine this with the lens flare and the slow motion and all the action-heavy moments at the expense of reason, and it becomes clear that you're not controlling a person, but a floating camera that can telekinetically control guns. Except that can't be the case, because Booker has a very strong presence as a character in the story. I have a clear image of who he is: a cynical man who's trying to wipe the slate clean by doing this one job. So I think you can understand my confusion when the game only acknowledges him when it's most convenient.
But the confusion goes deeper still. I'd say that it's a theme for the game, but choice is the more obvious answer. Or maybe the lack of choice. Again, I'm very confused. Over the course of Infinite, you're presented with quite a few choices to make, and by choices, I mean button prompts. You don't have a choice in these actions; you either do things the game's way or not at all. Now this may sound like it's building up to something, but it isn't, at least not like this, as the choices are so insignificant that I question why player input is even needed. Why, for instance, do I, the player, have to comfort Elizabeth with the push of the X button? If it's gonna happen anyway, why not let Booker just do it as part of a cutscene? It's not like my input really adds anything here; it was going to happen, anyway, the input doesn't match the output (IE not many people find button presses comforting), and it's not a major enough story event for that point to mean something. It's just there as a waste of time, a feature that only exists to remind the game that there's somebody playing it.
Granted, the game at least tries to reconcile this problem with some alternate reality shenanigans, but I don't buy that excuse, at least not fully. Alternate realities somewhat deny the idea of fate that's so necessary for what BioShock Infinite's going for (one choice goes to one reality, another to another, so I'm not really railroaded into anything). There are also some other, very minor discrepancies, like calling Robot-N-Word-Freeing-Devil-Lincoln a Patriot or the Tonic tutorials addressing the player instead of the characters or the pixelated display before pixels existed or this thing I just noticed, but I think I covered all the major ones.
And with that out of the way, let's return to parts of the game that I actually like. The graphics! It's really amazing how every little object has a palpable texture and lighting, and all that on top of the high saturation carto-And I just remembered what I'm actually supposed to be talking about: the gameplay. I'd say it hits all the right notes, but I just spent the last couple of paragraphs detailing some significant notes it doesn't hit, and I still have quite a bit to say about it. Namely, this game loves it some dumb scenarios. They're not necessarily contradictions like before, but they do stretch the bounds of plausibility. Magnets or something allow Booker to jump thirty feet straight up; a robotic George Washington shoots you the eff up; also, you fight a ghost three times late in the game. You know, stuff that makes no sense. But there's another trend running through these events: they're all really fun. I know that I just criticized them, but in the moment, they're so theatric and exciting and action packed that it's a lot easier not to think of the logic, at least during the event itself. Afterwards, yea, you'll notice all the dumb shit, but not while you're actually doing said dumb shit. Take that as you will.
Or read ahead, if you favor straightforward statements, like the mechanically refined shooting. I'd say it hits all the right notes, but this time, it actually does hit all the right notes. In fact, let's walk through a typical scenario and deconstruct what exactly makes it work. For the most part, you're immediately dropped into a large arena and aren't allowed to progress until you brutally murder every single living being in the near vicinity. Yea, it seems forceful, but who gives a shit? You're getting a ton of enemies to shoot up and a chaotic situation that forces you to react quickly to everything that's happening around you. Fun, yes, but only one half of the equation that makes Infinite's shooting enjoyable. The other half? Strategy, itself divided into two halves, because fractions are confusing. First up: the weapons. You have your standard pistols, shotguns, machine guns, sniper rifles, Super Mega Freud Fuckers, rocket launchers and....actually, I think that's about it. But really, do you need any more than that? All those weapons are certainly enough to cover whatever needs you encounter on the battlefield, and it's hard not to enjoy blasting a dude in the face with a shotgun and then shooting somebody from afar with your sniper rifle. What more do you want? How about Elizabeth's reality warping powers? Yep, they're in here, too, but only to summon certain pieces of architecture. I'm well aware that this sounds limiting, but honestly, it's just enough to work. You can only summon one thing at a time, so you have to put at least a little thought into whether that shiny freight hook is worth more than your destructo-turret that's currently firing on all cylinders.
There are also Vigors to use in all this, but for whatever reason, I never made heavy use of them. Trust me: I tried searching for that some reason, but was never quite able to find it. It's not that they're not useful, as the few times I did use them bought me enough time in battle to let me do other stuff, usually of the shooting variety. That's not even including the Vigor traps you can set all about the environments, largely because I know I never used those. Again, I don't know why. One Vigor allows me to shoot crows out of my hands like a vengeful Edgar Allan Poe, and another lets me become either Cthulhu or Katara, depending on your interpretation of things. Yet for whatever reason, I only used the one that lets you possess turrets and shit for a couple of seconds. Don't make the same mistake I did. Now is that a statement that extends to the game as a whole? I'm not entirely sure. I mean, there's still the issue of the game parts not contributing that well to the narrative, and you can't ignore the narrative. It's just far too big for that to be a feasible option. But considering all these aspects on their own, the game should be really good; it's only when you combine them that it's just average. You know what? Give this game a try if only because of its ability to defy the laws of mathematics.
- Shooting a robotic Washington with guns and magical crows? Amazing!
- A thought out, complex as fuck political treatise? Also amazing!
- Both of them combined? Not…terribly amazing.
One of the many alternate endings to BioShock Infinite.
It has been described as "a tale as old as time". Did I ever have a choice? Especially when there were so many opportunities to screenshot the fuck out of this? And as long as we're asking questions, how the hell do you turn a movie like this into a video game? Well, simply put, you don't. Instead, you put it all in a Genesis cartridge and ask that the player walk around until Red XIII up there loses all his fur. I'd say that it's as good as it sounds, but that would imply that the game is good.
Now in case you aren't familiar with the story of Beauty and the Beast, rest assured that in this installment, it's all about the Beauty. In this case, it's a girl with severe Asperger Syndrome. From the very beginning, she spends all her time reading (so much, in fact, that it seems she can't live without it), the first gameplay mechanic centers around avoiding any and all social interaction whatsoever, and I can't imagine her being in this game if she didn't find some comfort in repetitive tasks (more on that later). This in mind, the story then becomes about her leaving her house for once and all the horrible things that happen because of it. Now normally, this would be the part where I laugh like a sociopath, but oddly enough, that's not the main appeal behind the story. No, that belongs to a few of the characters and all their weird quirks. I've already mentioned Belle, but you also get alpha-asshole Gaston and....actually, that's about it. Turns out there isn't much reason for letting the story continue past the first ten minutes. That said, what story is there is at least presented sort of well. As faded as the colors in them can sometimes be, the cartoon stills are clear and detailed, offering a lot of expression to an otherwise dull story. And for as out of place as the electric beeps sound, their bubbly melodies do fit the general mood the game's going for. So let that stand as one of the game's few strengths: it's aesthetically OK.
Hey, that reminds me: this is a game. About what? Walking. Tons and tons of walking. Does that sound engaging? Of course it doesn't. You're just holding right and/or left, depending on your mood, and sometimes, you have to move left. That's really all there is. On a technical level, I guess it works. Pressing right makes you go right, and pressing other buttons will make Belle do other things you may need to do. Not that that matters much; there's a world of difference between "not glitched beyond belief" and "something I would want to play". I think the game is aware of this, though, because there are a few attempts to spice things up. Not good attempts, but attempts nonetheless. For instance, you know how in most Disney films, animals are jumping at the opportunity to sing with the most attractive woman on screen? Not in Belle's Quest. Every single animal is a dirty sexist to whom the idea of an intelligent woman is highly offensive and must be murdered immediately. Too bad for them that Belle's life of reading has trained her in animal avoidance, downgrading them from actual threat to simply annoying, a statement that applies equally well to the labyrinthine level design. Writing it out loud, these sound less like features that add enjoyment to a game, and more like delaying tactics to stretch out the length far more than it should be stretched. Gotta get the most out of that walking, don't you, Acclaim?
What's that? You want something other than simply walking around? Fortunately, Belle's Quest breaks up the monotony of walking around with some simple mini-games. Be lost in the pure joy of collecting falling objects, collecting falling objects, and (this one's my favorite) collecting falling objects. That's all there is to the game outside what would be considered the main gameplay. If you want variety, you're gonna have to pay extra. Oh, and if you want decent controls, you might as well go back to the game proper, because some of these mini-games control like crap. Catching books and plates that are falling work just well, but try catching rose petals, and suddenly, it feels like the game drank one too many. And don't get me started on the non-catching part of the game. If any of this sounds appealing to you, consult a doctor immediately. You are clearly suffering from some severe mental illness. Maybe some catastrophic synesthesia, since we've already firmly established that these words are somehow making noises.
- The colors are faded, but otherwise, this is a good looking visual novel.
- What's that? There's gameplay to this thing? Oh fuck.
- Also, something about psychic roses. I can't quite remember well.