Friday, April 12, 2013

BioShock Infinite

     The game release I had been waiting for since last year has come and gone, and I'm left a bit disappointed. Not that BioShock Infinite was in itself a disappointment. The game was fantastic. It wasn't exactly what I though it would be, but it was a great entry in an already impressive series.

There was just a lot more promised in the many months leading up to the release that were not fulfilled.

BioShock Infinite is hardly the first game to make promises and fail to follow through (I'm looking at you every Peter Molyneux project ever), but this one was more personal.

The original BioShock is a masterpiece of gaming. The gameplay, the environment, the story, everything. It is unfair to put the original and Infinite side-by-side because they are two very different games.

Just to get it out of the way now, yeah, there will be some ***SPOILERS*** in this discussion. Deal with it.

So the bold move to take the series out of the water and into the sky was impossible to do without hitting a few snags along the way. The entire tone of the game changes.

You are no longer under the sea, in claustrophobic settings, constantly threatened by the things that go bump in the night, as well as the looming threat that maybe, just maybe, the city under the sea may just give out and come tumbling down around you.

And the gameplay is no longer organic, nor are the enemies you encounter.

In Rapture, you enter a Utopia that has essentially collapsed because the best and brightest got a little to best and bright and started messing with genetics, and people got hooked and the idea sort of fell to shit.

The Splicers symbolize a fall of ideals, and were genuinely connected with the world.

In Columbia, there is nothing particularly organic or natural about the world or the people.

The shift in environment and tone was supposed to allow for a new experience. With the original, the player was coming into a world that had already torn itself apart, and the story of how was pieced together through audio logs. The only people you interact with are Atlas and the sploicers for the most part, and the latter is just bludgeoning, shooting, roasting, freezing, etc.

Columbia is a city at its height, for half of the game at least.

Still, there are people celebrating their prophet and the lamb and everything! And yet, they pay such little regard to Booker DeWitt, even though he's traipsing around with a gun at all times. You get the occasional friendly remark, or insult, or something, but there is no genuine interaction with the people.

The only time you get a reaction is when you attack them or steal something, and even then they flee and the law takes over.

Instead, it feels like you're merely an observer of the world rather than an active participant in it.

With Rapture, the powers were a part of the actual world. People got carried away with modifying their genetics, so the player had to adapt to survive just as the splicers had.

In Columbia, the vigors don't serve a real purpose other than to be a showoff. They seem very extraneous to the universe, which takes away from the value of the concept of the powers.

Then there's the walking power: Elizabeth.

I wanted to like Elizabeth, I truly did. She was advertised as a true sidekick as opposed to a damsel in distress burden. She had powers, so she could handle herself, and help Booker along the way.

When the shooting starts, she hides. Only when there are tears to activate does she serve a purpose, and even then, they are just ammo and health caches, or a freight hook to get to higher ground.

Nowhere was the scene where Elizabeth comes across a dying horse and uses a tear to revive it. Nowhere was Elizabeth opening a tear into the world with the Star Wars marquee.

I expected her powers, which are shown at one point to be immense, to be more than just conduits for health and guns and ammo for Booker. I wanted to be able to open a tear to create a door around an obstacle, or to escape a battle. Or pull a train out of time to collide with enemies and turn the tide of battle.

I expected Elizabeth to be the vehicle to an open world the way Columbia could have been. She

The skyhook mechanic does a nice job of making the world feel bigger than it is, but the prospect of doing battle while riding falls flat because you have to bait enemies to follow, and the whole air to ground idea doesn't work because the skyline system is too long to allow for sustained attacks on a single group of enemies.

Even with turning around, it becomes a matter of taking a pot shot, turning around to make another pass, followed by another pot shot.

Add in the more powerful destructive vigors, like Devil's Kiss that can clear a room with ease, and battles that could be taken to the skyhook are ended in an instant.

A good deal of this is nitpicky, which shouldn't take away from BioShock Infinite as a triumph in gaming. It can be considered a masterpiece itself, if for very different reasons than its predecessor.

Not BioShock 2, mind you....

I loved the game. Do I think it is the greatest game ever? No. Do I prefer the original? Yes. Maybe it is because I played the first with fresh eyes and no real expectations, while I went into BioShock Infinite expecting to be wowed and awed.

Lesson learned. Don't get your hopes up.

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