My final and maybe biggest problem with the game is another call back to the older titles: the player character is a white man looking for something and/or trying to escape a terrible past. This issue wouldn’t be really new when so many other games chose a straight, white man, between the age of 26 and 33 for their game anyway. It’s mostly a problem here because Elizabeth is by far the most compelling, interesting and authentically animated character in years. But instead of being allowed to play as her, we are stuck with Booker who, save some important plot points where Elizabeth is around, is like a plank of murderous wood.  As much as I want to play as the clearly better character, I now see it could never be because of all the Bioshock in the game. We wouldn’t see any of Elizabeth’s amazing facial expressions and reactions because Bioshocks need to be in first person. She would be a completely different character with a gun and there HAS to be gunplay because Bioshock.

I could never say I didn’t like parts Bioshock Infinite, but I most definitely cannot sing its praises like most of the press I’ve seen. By making this game a sequel in Bioshock franchise, Ken Levine and the rest of Irrational Games already decided on major aspects of the gameplay and unfortunately for me I found that these choices having already been made really hindered my enjoyment and understanding of the story.

 

 

About 24 hours ago I sat through the ending and some of the credits of Bioshock Infinite. I exhaled deeply and let the anger and anxiety from the final onslaught of almost endless enemies that was the mini-horde mode of a last battle escape me. I let the total mind-fuck of an ending wash over me as I strained to understand it. After I came to my own conclusion on what the ending might mean I asked myself a question I don’t normally have to get to the end of a game to know the answer to:

“Did I like that game?”

Image (pic source: Irrational Games)

As a preface, I feel I need to admit a few things. First, I never completed the first Bioshock. It was one of the first games I bought for my 360 a few years ago, but I was expecting a completely different experience. I thought I was in for an action shoot ‘em up with magic powers, not an FPS/ survival horror hybrid.  Second, before getting Infinite, I had no real intention of playing it. The years of hype and previews did nothing for me. It wasn’t until all the glittering reviews of the game came in that I began to feel interest. Even then, I managed to stay spoiler-free the entire time.

Now that I’ve said that, after hours of meditation, the answer I came to for myself was no, I didn’t enjoy this game. Bioshock Infinite eventually develops a great story and has a wonderful but severely underused protagonist in Elizabeth, but both these aspects were muddled and hidden by the BIOSHOCK branding covering everything else.

Pretty much all of the reviews I read and watched, including all sources from Joystiq to Destructoid to personal Youtube channels, all championed the story of Infinite. Many said it was the greatest story of the generation, already awarding it game of the year accolades. However, just as unanimously none of these reviewers really exulted the gameplay. In fact many people straight out said they dreaded walking into an area when a battle would likely happen (very clearly telegraphed with chest-high walls, sky rails and ammo crates) because of how uncomfortable the controls were. Or how they gritted their teeth and bared it just to make it to the next segment of the story.

My feelings towards the gameplay are a little more severe: I hated every aspect of the gameplay that I was in control of. The fighting was a little sloppy and derivative, but everything else from the exploration to story development was sabotaged by the controls. Infinite begins looking like a deep story about a city-state literally falling into destruction before our eyes, and then the actual and much more compelling plot about the complex relationship between the player character Booker, the trapped Elizabeth, the mad despot Comstock and two time traveling siblings comes to light. But most of the story is hidden away of Voxophones (aka audio diaries). Why? Because that’s how it was done in the other Bioshocks. In the older games that idea fit into the world because almost everyone is a frenzied murder or possessed by a parasitic creature so there isn’t a lot of chance to interact with other people. But Infinite is filled with NPCs who talk and gossip and sing and are available to give. This is completely insulting to the best aspect of the game.  This decision affected me directly because I missed about half of the diaries and missed HUGE pieces of the plot specifically about the Lutece siblings

The world and gameplay never seem to connect. The floating city of Columbia exists above and succeeded from America after the American Indian Wars. The Christian, Anglo-Saxon majority oppresses and segregates the small population of black people, called Vox, and the Irish who aren’t brought up in the story much. You find yourself in the middle of a revolution…but still in a video game. One early plot point has the player trying to collect guns for the revolution because guns are how you win a war, right? But in the very city that these live in there are vending machines that dispense soda that can give you super powers. There is nothing special about Booker. He uses coins he finds in the garbage to buy Vigors and with a bit of planning, is able to murder hundreds of faceless soldiers with lightning and fire, or demonic crows and he can repel bullets. Why didn’t the Vox just steal some of these? Or buy some of those since they do live and work in areas where Vigors are sold? Or even mention them?

Another gameplay feature I feel took away from the story was the fact that game was in first-person POV. An integral part of gameplay is that Elizabeth will point out important objects, horrific sights or destinations as she travels with you. However, she is also pretty much always behind you and off screen when she does this. There were many moments when Elizabeth would call my attention to something while I was about 10ft ahead of her, I would turn and her AI programming would tell her to run to catch up to me and I would have no idea what she was pointing out. If I was lucky I could walk back and she would repeat her statement, but 80% of the time she would just interact with a different part of the stage and I would never see what she first thing she pointed out. This problem could easily have been addressed with a Gears of War style “Press X to look at the important thing” feature. The idea is actually used a few times to show the player an really huge image like a castle, but not used enough when there’s so often multiple things happening.

Image

My final and maybe biggest problem with the game is another call back to the older titles: the player character is a white man looking for something, or trying to escape a terrible past. This issue wouldn’t be terribly noticeable (so many other games chose a straight, white man, between the age of 26 and 33 for their game anyway). It’s mostly a problem here because Elizabeth is by far the most compelling, interesting and authentically animated character in years. But instead of being allowed to play as her, we are stuck with Booker who, save some important plot points where Elizabeth is around, is like a plank of murderous wood.  As much as I wanted to play as the clearly better character, I now see it could never be because of all the Bioshock in the game. We wouldn’t see any of Elizabeth’s amazing facial expressions and reactions because Bioshocks need to be in first person. She would be a completely different character with a gun and there HAS to be gunplay because Bioshock.

I could never say I didn’t like parts Bioshock Infinite, but  I most definitely cannot sing its praises like most of the press I’ve seen. By making this game a sequel in Bioshock franchise, Ken Levine and the rest of Irrational Games already decided on major aspects of the gameplay and unfortunately for me I found that these choices having already been made really hindered my enjoyment and understanding of the story.

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