Friday, April 12, 2013

Bioshock: Infinite review

    Bioshock: Infinite is a fine game. It's just not a great game. I completed it, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. I had fun playing it throughout, which is rare enough to earn its own praise. But is it great? I dunno. I have a lot of problems with it. Even the ending, which has received nearly universal acclaim, is deeply troubling to me on several levels.

    The premise of Bioshock: Infinite is that Booker Dewitt, disgraced Pinkerton Detective, is assigned to retrieve a girl from the flying city of Columbia. His employers, a mysterious pair of twins with an odd manner of speaking, claim that he will be able to wipe away his ample gambling debts should he successfully do this. Stuff happens. You spend the rest of the game traveling with Elizabeth in hopes of escaping with her to Paris (where she wants to go) or New York (where Booker wants to).

Elizabeth is one of my favorite characters in video games. So it has that going for it.
     Now, honestly, the plot is a lot more complex than this description. There's quantum mechanics, alternate realities, references to Rosencratz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and expansive critique of American exceptionalism. There's also something of a critique of populist/revolutionary rhetoric vs. oppressive systems. All of this is window dressing. Very elaborate, upscale, window dressing. With curtains.

    The real heart of Bioshock: Infinite is the relationship between Booker Dewitt, Elizabeth, and the city's deranged founder Comstock. It is a personal multi-faceted story with multiple twists, turns, and a surprise finale I actually enjoyed for a change. Admittedly, though, I figured it out halfway through but it was nice to have my suspicions confirmed.

    The game plays more or less identical to Bioshock and Bioshock 2. You have plasmids (called Vigors), guns, and a melee weapon. There are a variety of enemies in the game ranging from police officers to weird fire-spewing psychopaths. The enemy variety is much better in Bioshock: Infinite than in its predecessors but still feels a bit repetitive after a certain point.

The action is fun and has a few twists as compared to Bioshock 1 and 2.
    My biggest problem with the game, ironically, is that the critiques it makes of everything from quantum physics to classicism are fundamentally shallow. The game observes that turn-of-the-20th century America was racist, that revolutions against oppressive governments are often violent, and the multiple worlds theory makes free will essentially nonexistent (i.e. if you do everything you possibly could in any given situation it doesn't matter what you do).

     In short, the game doesn't really offer any answers but simply presents a number of high concept ideas. I would have much preferred a game which dissects one of the many ideas it presents thoroughly versus simply showing a dozen intriguing ideas. If the game doesn't have any real opinion other than "racism and classicism is bad" it's not really making full use of the writer's ability.

    Just my .02.

Rosencratz and Guildenstern are Dead homage aside, the game could use less linearity.
     Still, I can't complain too hard. Booker Dewitt is one of the best antiheroes in gaming since Max Payne while Elizabeth is an excellent deconstruction of the Disney Princess archetype. They play off each other exceptionally well and the game really hits his stride when the two meet after Act I. Comstock, unfortunately, doesn't really work as a villain. He's about as in-depth as the Red Skull and only has a few moments to really shine, unlike Andrew Ryan (who was a many shaded monster).

     I was disappointed with the character of Daisy Fitzroy as well. As one of the few black female characters of note in video games (outside of Half-Life), Daisy's role is a Straw Political who does not contribute anything to the plot other than to serve as a temporary threat to lengthen the game. Given the game's use of racism and American exceptionalism, I would have preferred a larger role for her.

A completely unnecessary character.
     Bioshock: Infinite is a beautiful game, the city of Columbia being one of the best-designed locations I've had the privilege of gaming. It's gorgeous to look at with wonderful attention to every detail. I mean, what can you say about a game which has a steampipe version of "Girls Just Want To Have Fun"? I'd be happy to do another game in the setting, even if it didn't work out too well in Bioshock 2. Gameplay is so-so, adequate but not serviceable. The plot is wonderfully engaging but skin-deep, when you try and think about it too hard it falls apart.

     My recommendation? An absolute rental but I wouldn't say much for its replay value.



  1. My biggest problem with the game is that, for the most part, it drops the survival horror elements from Bioshock 1. Some early trailers show that Columbia could have been just as creepy as Rapture.

    I dislike some of the gameplay elements, particularly the removal of a dedicated hacking system in favor of Elizabeth's Tear Powers-which has much less depth. In B1, I would always play a hacker-type character-I don't have that option in BI.

    You're absolutely right about Comstock. Bioshock claims its message to be "extremism is wrong", that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Ryan had good intentions, but ultimately went to far and became a monster.

    Where as Rapture was a failed Utopia, Columbia is more along the lines of a succesful Dystopia. A racist isn't a well-intentioned extremist. Unlike individualism, racism isn't good even in moderation.

    1. It's interesting also to note the game is something by a guy who is a self-professed atheist and accidentally stumbled on some Christian themes by accident while missing others. For example, Comstock's major issue is that he's baptized and becomes a religious fanatic as a result--believing that his sins have been washed away but then touting his murderous actions as heroic. That's a really-really wrongheaded version of religion at the best of times. However, the ending of the game has Booker voluntarily allow himself to die to wash away the sins of Comstock and save the world--which is a very-very appropriate Jesus analogy. Funny how that works. Maybe the game is indicating true repentance is something which cannot be easy but requires tremendous personal commitment.

    2. There's a video that explains most of the problems I have with the plot pretty well:

      It's possible that the drowning baptism ending was something one of Levine's co-workers insisted on. At one point, one of the members of Irrational very nearly resigned because he was offended by the game's portrayal of religion. Levine (who, apparently, didn't realize how incorrect his portrayal was) spoke with him and offered to change the game's story in exchange for him staying on (according to Levine, the concept of divine forgiveness was something he wasn't very knowledgeable about and hadn't even considered until this conversation)

  2. I think Bioshock infinite is a great case of how too much time in development can weaken a game, as it's clear that Ken and his team kept changing their mind on what their plot was to be, which characters got focus. Along with executive medding causing problems again on both ends.

    I only played the game once it was ps plus free, since it got delayed so many times that I lost any interest in it once out.

    Yes I could see what the game was trying to do in it's themes and characters. but it just didn't spend enough time fleshing them out to be impactful as Bioshcok 1 was, nor were the characters impactful as Ryan, Atlas and Cohen were.

    Still Booker was a great character and a brilliant example of a comically serious character, Troy Baker nailed his lines for the character spot, a highlight is when he keeps telling Elizabeth to stop dancing, and it goes on until you go up to her, the logner it went on the funnier it got for me.

    that and being able to eat most food you find was quite hilarious in itself.

    sot he game was worth it for being quite funny, and for Elizabeth and Brook stuff being entertaining in general.

    You know the relationship between the two can be quite similar to Joel and ellie in the last of us. Mostly due to being Joel and Booker being voiced by Troy Baker. Though I think the former is done better overall, that and the last of us being too movie like and being very generic in gameplay for me to feel the praise it got was warranted.

    but agree overall on your review of this game Charles.

    1. I genuinely think Booker and Elizabeth are two of my favorite characters in video games. It's why I refuse to review or replay Burial at Sea because it would just be one long string of profanity and anger at the way they treated Elizabeth. I really came to care for that fictional character in the end.

      Bioshock: Infinite is a very entertaining game, truly, but I do note that I felt somewhat talked to with the "extremism" is bad message. The Vox Populai are not remotely unrealistic but the causal dismissal of their greviances with, "Yeah, and they're a bunch of bomb throwing murderers" in a racist hellhole like Columbia is a bit hard to swallow. Then again, I wasn't too fond of the Dark Knight Rises for the same dismissal of class warfare rhetoric.

      I also felt the game had a lot of leftover material from Bioshock they struggled to include like the Handymen, plasmids, and so on. I would have appreciated if they'd taken a bigger effort to incorporate them into the setting's mythology.