Bioshock: Infinite – An Opinionated Analysis
So Bioshock: Infinite happened, and it’s been discussed to all hell and back. There’s really not much left for me to do but offer my own view of the game, and probably just say again what has been said elsewhere.
I had fun with Bioshock: Infinite. I’m not ashamed to admit that. It did a lot of things right. It kept me in my chair. I left it feeling like it was time well spent. However, it is certainly not a perfect game. It has issues. No doubt about that. Still, it deserves to be lauded for its good parts, as much as it should be critiqued for the bad ones. And I’m sure what is good and what is bad about it will never really be agreed upon.
Warning: Some spoilers ahead.
Let me start with the obvious one. This game is gorgeous. The vistas on display often left me just standing there and staring, hitting the screenshot button on my mouse from lots of different angles. So expect a fair bit of scenery porn as we move on. This mostly happened in the beginning. As the game progressed I started getting more acclimatised, and also the ugliness underneath the pristine shell started getting revealed.
In fact, “the ugliness underneath” is a bit of a theme throughout the entire game; sometimes subtle, sometimes very overt. This is especially true of the protagonist: Booker DeWitt.
The game has gotten some flak for its excessive violence, and the term “ludonarrative dissonance” has been thrown about. While I will agree that perhaps the sheer number of people you fight is rather ridiculous, I largely agree with Jim Sterling that the violence itself is not out of place. Booker DeWitt is a person with a violent past, and who will resort to violence to dispel his problems. He has made an attempt to put his past behind him with the help of alcohol, but the suppression is very shallow. As soon as he’s put in danger, he resorts to excessive violence to get out of it. He was one of the most zealous wrong-doers at Wounded Knee, after all, simply because he was accused of having native blood in his family, and that just wouldn’t stand.
The one weird thing is how there are so many people you have to fight. That gets a bit excessive. I do like how unaffected Booker is by having to kill so many, as it enforces his character. He already believes himself to be beyond redemption, so what difference does a thousand more deaths do? I do think the point could have still been made with only half, or even a third of the enemies though. Largely for one very simple reason:
The combat is just dull. You will occasionally get to do interesting things, and it does spice up slightly once you get Elizabeth with you, but on the whole it wears you down. It feels like the mechanics have gotten an improvement, as actually aiming, moving and shooting feels better and more responsive than I remember Bioshock 1 or 2 being. But there are too many dudes, and too little variety in your box of tricks.
Perhaps it’s partially my own fault for not experimenting much, but it didn’t feel like the weapons or vigors really inspired experimentation anyway. The Skyjack was pretty fun to begin with, especially since I had the gear upgrade that made me set people on fire by smacking them. No clue how that works, but it was fun. Then came the pistol, which was alright. And the machinegun, which was dull. And a shotgun, which worked well. I did like the shotgun, since I took it along for the entire rest of the game. It knocked people over, often killed them in a single shot, and was very effective at being a shotgun.
I then got the carbine, which was alright, and used that until I found myself a sniper rifle. From then on it was sniper/shotgun combo for 99% of the rest of the game. I tried a volley launcher once, and picked up a rocket launcher at some point because I ran out of ammo, but I ditched it as soon as I got more ammo for my chosen weapon.
It seems like most of the weapons were designed to be situational, and then they just let you have two of them at any one time, even though that wasn’t in previous Bioshock games. Not having a two-weapon limit probably would have improved the game, since that would have encouraged more experimentation and variation, and not just using one weapon, then switching to the other one if Elizabeth is on her restock cooldown. Removing different ammo types wasn’t exactly a boon either.
As for the vigors… ugh. The lightning one was good against the Patriots, because it let me get behind them and shotgun their gears, and the fire-grenade one was good against clusters of enemies. It also seemed to be the only one which affected Handymen as well, however minutely. But they felt so uninteresting that after I got the crow one I just stopped trying out new ones I got. Maybe they got more interesting later? I wouldn’t bet on it, though apparently the water one was alright. I also feel like they should have dealt more damage.
And why did they have to make some of the enemies so bullet-spongy? Like the armoured dudes with the rocket launchers, they were just bleh. I did learn how to take them down with two sniper shots eventually; one to take off the helmet, and another to take off their head; but they took too many shots if my aim was off even in the slightest. The Patriots were alright, in that they felt fairly tactical to fight against, though how exactly did the revolutionaries manage to build their own? Not to mention get their own Handymen? Speaking of, why the Handymen? They’re too fast for slow Booker to reliably dodge, so you will get hit. Their health bars are enormous, and even though the game claims that hitting their “hearts” will do extra damage, it never really seemed to be a noticeable difference. And they shrug off most vigors you throw at them, so they can’t be stunned or reliably slowed down.
It all combines to make the combat a slog to get through, and not an interesting facet you have fun dealing with. I played on Normal, and if I’m ever to replay the game, I will put it on Easy. In fact, if you put it on Hard or above, I think you’re crazy.
After this tirade you might be forgiven for thinking that I hated the game, but I really didn’t. This is one of those games where the characters, story, writing in general, and presentation outweigh the gameplay. I kept playing to see what would happen next, to see the next conversation, to find the next voxophone, to explore the next environment, and see the next silent film clip.
Take Elizabeth. I love Elizabeth. She is currently my favourite NPC sidekick in videogaming. Okay, it’s a little eerie how she teleports around as soon as you turn your back, but watching her experience the world was a joy, and talking to her was intriguing. She was a character. This was helped by the fact that she wasn’t in the way during combat. In fact, you could use her to gain battlefield advantages, either through re-supply, or opening tears to help you out. And she grows and changes throughout the game, until she too gains some of the ‘ugliness underneath’.
The Luteces are another bright spot. A fascinating pair of not quite brother and sister who show up and speak in riddles with the most charming voices and witty banter. I honestly thought they were a couple, which made the discovery of how they’re related just a tad iffy. They’re great from beginning to end.
Songbird was also a fascinating creature, though I felt it was highly under-utilised. I also would have liked a few more answers, like just who it was. Voxophone logs and such seemed to say that Songbird was once a human being, somehow changed into that… thing, that it now is. I speculate it’s another alternate Booker, though my friend Mumbles thinks it’s an alternate Elizabeth.
So it’s a shame that Comstock himself is so comparably bland. He’s definitely no Andrew Ryan. There are no grand ideas on display with Comstock, no fervent belief (ironic as that may sound). He’s just a racist dude with a god complex. And his end was very un-epic, possibly as some sort of callback to how you met Andrew Ryan, but severely lacking the same gravitas.
My favourite parts of the game was when I just got to walk around and explore. When the place was lively and things were happening in it that wasn’t murder. Just seeing life as it was in Columbia. There was a lot to see. It was a nice break from the combat, and helped establish some character for the world I was in.
To sum it up: I loved the environments and most of the characters; I enjoyed the story; I thought the violence was appropriate, though combat could have been more interesting; and as a final note, the voice work and soundtrack were great.
So would I recommend it? Yes, though probably not at full price. For 25% or more off, I’d consider it a must-buy for the story alone, but put it on Easy and save yourself a lot of headache.
Posted on April 27, 2013, in Games, Thoughts and tagged 2K Games, analysis, Bioshock, FPS, Infinite, Irrational Games, PC, PS3, SPOILERS, videogames, Xbox 360. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.