Now Is The Best Time: A Critique Of BioShock Infinite

55
Now Is The Best Time: A Critique Of BioShock Infinite


I always found Metal Gear Solid 4 to be not a brilliant game, but a fascinating one. A mad ideologue glutted with tech retreads, again and again, the narrative he’s always dreamed of, and has never been able to get quite right.

The metanarrative eats itself, strains the game until through its seams you can see the soul of its creator: The way he feels like an ageing relic in an economic landscape colonized by Westernized war deserts. The way he longs to rest, but is called to the mission yet again, for the glory of his country, and for less definable personal things.

I don’t love the game, but the game made me love the man after a fashion, the way one loves from afar the kind of father that just can’t manage to parent right. I have never run out of things to say about it, and I thought I’d never see the like again, and yet. BioShock Infinite is a game like that. Exactly like that.

Everybody wants to rule the world. Spoilers.

Let me talk about the original BioShock, first. It was the first first-person game I would really love in my adult life, after I swore off the mean exercise of trundling through carefully-constructed corridors as a pair of disembodied hands, a hovering barrel, a voiceless narrator. It was a masterful exercise in the careful marriage of level design and environmental narrative — pulling me intuitively through its world, letting me absorb it as observer, interloper or aggressor as I chose — but it owned every beat, unspooled them to you slowly.

A splicer’s flickering ghost sobbing sepulchrally in a bathroom mirror over what she’s become. A madman, in his broken holiday mask, pounding insistently on a door as you lurk in the shadows to see who opens it. You are given to know the Big Daddies and Little Sisters long before you can ever approach them; whale-like sobs in the distance, lamplike eyes radiating from the dark. Those things are iconic for a reason. BioShock was a revolutionary and a singular performance. To try to repeat it is ambitious; to try to outdo it would probably tear a body in half.

I have a memory of visiting Disney World and its adjacent parks as a six year-old child. I have never been able to forget the Carousel of Progress, or at least some kind of idea of it: A collision of nostalgia and futurism, barbershop mannequins singing about how now is the best time. It intends, I think, to be a celebration of our technological advances, but to my child’s mind, as we proceeded through the looming concerto on-rails, I was struck by the mechanical singing automatons, their jaws clacking on hinges, their faces waxen and gleaming with artificial optimism.

Since then what I’ve remembered was how sad I felt at the dissonance — cheerful, lovingly-polished parrots of humanity, voices piping from unknowable places, blank-eyed, terminally optimistic. They were telling me that the World of Tomorrow, of high technology, was right here now, and yet I could see all their seams, the places their charming clothes creased unnaturally over their little robotic bodies. Sad. I still feel oddly sad for them when I think about them, when I think about the engineers that gave them life.

Infinite intends to reek of quaint Americana, the innocence of cotton candy, boardwalks, Independence Day relics. Yet its spark is absent. It’s pale, smudged at its edges, bright in the wrong places. Like a beloved automaton it feels half-alive, or like it’s alive under a veneer of wax. It is a theme park world, it’s Tomorrowland, rich in promising detail, capturing the imagination. Yet every exploration is stymied by a velvet rope, every promising corridor just leads to a restroom, a gift shop. The secret stink of money is all over everything. At every turn, a pile of trunks and crates that let you know a modern war lies ahead. It’s a place to kill and be killed in.

It’s not even that I wish it wasn’t a shooter, or that there was no combat. BioShock the first was a combat game, and even though I think killing is the laziest mechanic known to game creation, it had a weight, a necessary friction. A madwoman in a rotten gown, paralysed with shock, teeth rattling — the abruptly lethal punctuation of a heavy wrench, the silence that followed — elicited the appropriate disgust. I was part of the ecosystem, not the centre of it, not directly. I circled, I hunted. In a way we were all still dancing the New Year, delicate as a bloodied choreography. My fear for my person and my very agency to kill or spare were part of the story. There was a lot of griping in those days about how non-mechanical choices aren’t really choices. I disagreed.

It’s that Infinite’s is a sterile, mechanised system that could have been ripped from any other listless hyper-modern game like a bloody spine and grafted messily onto this vision, obscuring it. It doesn’t even do it well; I wouldn’t even say competently. Its inconvenient clutter obscures the vista, depersonalizes it, without even the grace of providing meaningful cover. Ever. The game’s grasp on level design seems limited to Superbowl Sunday arenas and a repeating paradigm of twin staircases looping to some higher platform.

Men yell at me from uncertain directions, sounding distant, and yet suddenly there’s someone behind me. I don’t know who he is or where he came from, but I open his skull like a reflex. Not more than two hours in I had seen the waxen inside of tens of anonymous skulls, without having had any reason to invest in them. I enter an area, the swarm begins. All sentiments but tension, tedium, dissipate in the onslaught. I am desperate for the sharp violin note that tells me it’s over. I will hear that note countless times, and feel nothing but mechanical, empty relief.

The game is in its own way. It is at cross-purposes. Of course it’s full of tears and flickering glitches. It’s tearing itself in pieces.

The guns are tuned beautifully. The vigors are so cool, bro. But they’re means to an end. If I’m going to entertain myself with weapons and vigors, I need coins, salt. The world glitters madly with them. They’re everywhere. It’s not long before I stop seeing Columbia, and start seeing only levels to be strip-mined, chasing the blink. My revolution is a mad jangle of coin-clutching and cake crunching. I no longer care to listen to the voxophones. I don’t hear what Elizabeth is saying to me. Kaching, crunch, hiss, the clunk of objectives and ill-timed interface intrusions. People yell things at me as they assault me but I haven’t got the time for it. I have never sprinted so much in a shooter as I sprinted in this one. I just want to keep it moving. If I stop, I’ll realise I don’t want to play anymore.

The original BioShock proposed a world that made us think about what we were doing to ourselves with every wincing injection. We saw what Plasmids did to others, thought about what they might do to us. It submerged us slowly. Infinite presumes it can strip the idea, reskin it, throw us at it thoughtlessly. It’s quite presumptuous. It unapologetically demands an immediate, overwhelming buy-in to the BioShock souvenir theme park, this monument to something you love that wants 60 dollars worth of your memories at the door.

We were promised an ecosystem, morals, a message, and given thin reasoning at every juncture. I enter the Founders Lodge, a seat of purist disease. I remember Rapture’s marketplace, the sumptuous decomposition of prosperity, and feeling a pang at a poster of pets for sale reading, naively, “BEST FRIENDS.” In Infinite‘s world here, the propaganda feels over-wrought, self-conscious (though the Twin Peaks Black Lodge carpeting was a cute touch, maybe slightly too cute). Maybe because there is never any reason to believe the world’s politics mean anything.

And then I come upon a lavish spread of rotting fruit, fine china. A raven is disturbed from the Dickensian tableside, spores and insects circulate in the silence. As I admire it, a man in a suit and a bowler hat enters. He’s not dressed like a policeman. Who is this person, and what does he do in this place? Oh. He pulls out his gun. I shoot first. It’s the end of a story that never even began.

Politics. This was supposed to be a game about the nuance of fundamentalism, exceptionalism, Occupy and some other slurry of ideals I can’t hear over the noise of my own bullet-addled grunting. We’re at the war museum. I cannot recall ever having lost my place in a narrative before, but I barely grasp my relationship to this man, Slade, or something. I’m so busy killing I can’t hear him talk to me, either.

Back to BioShock the first, because this is a game fundamentally about how bad we want to (ought to?) go back to BioShock the first — its lesser characters were monarchs of their own intricate domain. We felt inexorably drawn into their orbits, piecing through the dusty artifacts of who they used to be and what they’ve become, until the inevitable confrontation was striking, cinematic. Columbia, on the other hand, is a world where little-heard voices speak grandly at us from afar, and then send waves of uniformed clones to do their bidding. And then they send more. And then it’s over.

We confront Slade in some kind of racist museum tour; all of Infinite is a racist museum tour. I’m sure someone has said this before, although I’ve insulated myself from any games writing on Infinite until now so as not to bias myself, but it’s the Quentin Tarantino school of social issues — present a world full of prejudice so you can feel progressive, “adult,” for using racial slurs. This strikes me dull. I’m insulted. It’s opening a wound just so we can feel that it hurts, and then leaving it there.

We visit Fink’s machineworks. This man, the force behind all of the assembly lines that have yielded the building blocks of Columbia — it’s not him we really get to see, it’s yet another fucking litany of combat variables. I am supposed to feel for the Firemen, the Handymen, but they harry me so quickly I don’t have time. I just want to kill them. Like any confrontation in this game, it’s a wave of combatants sent by some figure at a literal and an emotional remove. There is no choreography, only the immediacy of brutality.

Contrast the end of the “Fink fight” — anemic rain of confetti, forgettable conversation — with the confrontation of Sander Cohen, haunted, spotlit, made up in decaying stage pancake, waving dramatically to ghostly applause and the glory of a lost career. I once found Cohen so piquant that a younger me once wrote an entire essay only about him. When he called me a moth, I was unsettled. Fink’s presumption of me as a bee is just a cynical cliche. One is a character, the other a caricature.

There is Elizabeth, a Disney princess who flicks coins at me, who glares glassily whenever I face her, the eye of my weapon always bisecting her face unflinchingly. That fucking gun is always hovering at her, whether I want it to or not. I hang the crosshair lazily over her eye while she’s speaking. I know I’m supposed to love her. I try. I’ll try until the game is finished and be left with, at best, a sort of absent pang for her parent. This game is really about the people that made her. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Keep reading. There’s only a few more waves ’til you get to the good part. The ending is the best part, I promise. Dig in, soldier on.

Elizabeth is asking me about my past as we leave the Wounded Knee memorial. Flickers of noise intrude, reminding me I can pull battle strategies through tears. I’m trying to tell her about myself. She interrupts. She wants to flick a coin at me. Later, alongside a shady little bridge, she wants to know about herself. She falls silent; shotgun and I trundle under the bridge, ready to fan the area for the next assault. You’re Comstock’s daughter, I reveal to her. Oops. I turn around to try and have the conversation to her face, but she isn’t looking at me.

I tell her her mother didn’t love her in an elevator where I presume she’s standing somewhere behind me. We will ride a lot of elevators together, as she glares stonily, maybe lost in thoughts about how I never stop rifling through discarded bags for salts when she’s talking. I am always chasing her attention just as I am always chasing her to the next bannered objective, through the places where we never manage to spend time. We’re in a prison that’s supposed to horrify me, but it’s just assets on top of assets. My Elizabeth jogs off into the dark gamely, having spotted a lockpick.

I’m in the land of the Vox. Some shantytown. A man stands on a crate, preaching about the misfortunes of the working class. I want to snap a picture of the juxtaposition between the way I always want to listen to him and the way I am always waving a gun in his face, and so I put the controller down and held my phone up to the screen. As I am picking the controller back up, my finger slips, and I shoot him by accident.

He screams, falls silently blooded. All around me the Shantytown residents continue to stand attendant on no-one, fixing me with waxen faces. I raid a crate. Take All, is the option offered me. Elizabeth stands waiting by a sign reading “Why Have You Forsaken Us?”

Later I see poor people huddled round a vending machine, trying to break it open. I wonder if I can help, so I take a shot at it. They swarm me so fast that I can’t even think much before I’ve beheaded them all. Wasn’t what I wanted. I raided their bodies, and they were loaded down with ammo. I didn’t want to savage this little land of barefoot poor, and yet I had to. Because that’s how games are. Because ‘that’s the way it is.’ Because it’s ‘still better than every other shooter’ — why, because I can murder whoever I want?

They are calling my name. I’m finally a hero of the revolution. Because magic. Because this reality wasn’t working, so we opened another one. I have a brief time to enjoy it before the Vox are waves of enemies to be killed, too. Daisy Fitzroy, who I had no time to admire before she became a caricature of an Angry Black Woman, tells me I “just complicate the narrative.”

Clearly, but to what end? When does a supposed essay on the purposelessness of conflict simply become purposeless? Racism, corpses, endless slaughter — all the things that are supposed to remind me of how horrible Columbia is only makes me think of how horrible games are. There are more dead bodies in this world than live people, and ever moreso as the game progresses. Their deaths don’t matter. This is a dead world.

Elizabeth enforces that we are responsible for this gruesome reality, but it’s just been impressed upon me that this is only a second reality? How am I responsible for this version?

Elizabeth’s response to killing someone for the first time is to change into a new dress and cut her hair so that she matches the promo art.

The spectre of Lady Comstock has loomed over us for this entire game, in legend and in portraiture, but we have no intimacy with her cartoonish corpse before we are literally chasing a spectre. This is not a game about American exceptionalism and the choice between obedient prison and chaotic freedom. This is a game where you have to chase a ghost among parallel realities. This is a game that lives in its own alternate universe, is in love with its own cleverness, instead of being genuinely clever. There are tears everywhere. And in the game.

The Levine-led Irrational team has birthed a universe, now, of games about a dominant idealogue enforcing a slavish devotion to fearful systems, even after those systems have become irrelevant. It gives us worlds plunged into the stress of compartmentalized factions where teams don’t communicate, where promises are grand and lovely, but terrible on execution.

I think to some extent every game must be a reflection of its creative environment, its studio culture. Infinite strains its framework so fiercely you can see through to the flickering reality behind it. I would love to do an interview: Not a grand portrait of Levine, but with his soldiers.

It’s the story about a man who sold his child. A man who wants to be a saviour, but cannot do so without also being the dread prophet who will doom us all. Which do you want, the game or the idea? The bird or the cage? This limited understanding of “gameplay” can’t support Infinite’s higher (admirably higher) aims. BioShock the first can end with the grown little sisters all reaching for your hand, accompanying you as you pass on into the quiet death of old age. Infinite ends with the grown-up ideas smothering their creator, because there’s no other way they can live. Because there’s no other way the man can have mercy from treading an ambition, retreading, retreading.

And yet you can see how many of us are indoctrinated to these systems. 94 Metacritic. It’s the same score as MGS4.

Because we believe in it too. We want to so badly that we can’t see it doesn’t work, that this idea of games is doom to games. I posted a picture on Twitter from my time in the Shantytown, when I’d scared its innocent residents by mistake. The screenshot was of a newsboy-capped child, cringing before my ever-waving gun. And almost all the responses I got assumed what I took issue with was that the child’s finger was clipping through his cap. They can’t even see that this discussion — that BioShock Infinite — should be about so much more than a clipped little finger.

It has something to say, certainly. It just says more about its own self than about the ideas it wanted to explore. The discussion about it is a turning point for the culture of games development. From the credits: “Born to crunch. Thanks to all my friends and family. To my wife, for the amazing support. For supporting me through this. Your infinite patience and irreplaceable love kept me sane. The love, support and patience. Wouldn’t have been able to do this without you. Tequila and coffee. Coffee. Would you kindly?”

Oh, yeah. Back to BioShock the first, again. Because the game quite literally takes us there in the end. The only thing I loved about Infinite, The Songbird, drowns in front of me, and then we’re back to Rapture. I suspect that’s where this team wanted to go all along. I was so glad, and so sad simultaneously to see it again. I think that’s the strongest emotional response I felt in this game.

“This is where we have to go,” Elizabeth says, running past the Gatherer’s Garden. She talks to me about constants and variables. All this talk about systems, lately, the rightness of systems. The systems failed this vision. There is so much more to be concerned with in the making of a world than constants and variables.

We can do anything, now. We were promised everything. Why didn’t we mind “ludonarrative dissonance” so much before? Because that was before and this is now. What happens without the cage? Are you as obedient as ever? That question underlies everything the game’s done with the resources it’s been given, and answers itself. This can’t be the way forward, at least.

Phew. OK. That was the violin-note. My last thought is to emphasise that I think a thorough critique is the highest compliment I can pay to any work. This vision deserves it. And I’d rather have a hundred imperfect games aching with the hollow voices of their strained creators than the loveliest cover shooter ever made. This is a crucial moment in our canon, and I honour it.


This post was republished with permission.

Comments

  • Can’t disagree with it.

    I really like the game, but the journo raises many excellent points. Why can’t I actually help anyone? I can’t even put the gun down. All I can do is kill people, and loot things.

    I like the game but I approach it like an old school FPS with a big story tacked on. If you look for more than that… you’ll be disappointed. At least, I would have been.

    • you can help people….instead of shooting the vending machine your meant to have elizabeth “tear in” a crate of fruit

      honestly this article to me is nothing but pretious words

      • It’s a little pretentious, but they make some good points.

        I remember that now, tearing in the crate. But… I wanted more. Why can’t I flick people coins? Why can I loot crates that are full of food, but I can’t give the food to the starving woman and kids that are a few metre’s away?

        I know all of this would require programming, but… it would’ve been nice. Again, if you approach it as a straight FPS, it’s cool, but in 2013, it gets a bit old just gunning everything down.

        • It’s about narrative as much as anything. Booker isn’t a Fallout character, he’s got a set personality. And it’s not a terribly likable one either: he’s a pragmatist and a detached killer. He shies away from most moral choices because of his past and his insecurities. I liked it like that. It adds more weight to the story

          • But I’M booker. At least I am whilst I’m playing. So I should have more choice.

            At least, I’d like more choice. I think it’s a limitation of the game that they give you such a great story and environment, and you just go through it shotgun at the ready, killing hundreds of people.

          • It depends. There is still a place for games where you are just a vessel for the game, not the other way around. As in, you’re just playing the game to make events unfold through Booker’s eyes. I get that you didn’t want the violence (I didn’t either, it didn’t feel like Booker would even do this stuff) but that was the structure of the narrative. Columbia’s a violent place and everyone in it is paranoid, so it’s an action game. You can’t sneak through a warzone (unless you’re Snake), so the stealth is downplayed to essentially nonexistant.

            This doesn’t mean the DLC won’t give us more peaceful exploration (and skyline travel, that was such a waste of a great exploration tool). With all the characters that were introduced and not expanded on, I’m sure at least some’ll be in a more peaceful Columbia. But don’t count on getting much more choice. I don’t think Ken Levine’s a huge fan of it in his games, other than a few on the surface.

          • I won’t be counting on it. I was playing today, on the roof, sneaking around, I hear all these voices say “THERE HE IS!” and run to get into position.

            I was about 10m from the edge of the roof. The only thing’s that could’ve seen me were the birds. There’s no stealth in this game.

            I think levine is against choice. The lack of choice is a big feature in the story of all of his games that I’ve played, going back to system shock 2.

    • I felt as though the fact that you can make what appear to be choices (kill/spare Slate, the bird or the cage pendant) but ultimately, the outcomes were predetermined. The choices felt arbitrary because you were not making a choice, you were only following the pattern of destiny that every other incarnation of Booker before you had followed. For me, the game was about the illusion of choice in a predetermined world. People who feel anger towards not being able to choose certain things, or that the decisions the game asked you to make were arbitrary confuse me – that is the point of the game!

      • I will agree that the combat felt clunky and did somewhat detract from the storyline. I love Elizabeth and her interaction with you and with the environment though 🙂

      • I’m not angry, I just liked it so much, that I would like more.

        The game is about illusion of choice, but so was bioshock. We’ve seen that already.

        I mean, I just want to feed the starving kids. Y’know?

        • That’s fair enough, i only played through half of the first game before getting distracted by something else so perhaps I just have experienced less “Bioshock fatigue” 😛 hashtagterriblevideogamefan

          The starving kids didn’t bother me and now I don’t know why. It made me feel sad but it never crossed my mind to consider trying to help them – I was too caught up in progressing and getting more of the story. Maybe I am just a heartless monster! (or my maternal instincts have yet to kick in, haha)

          • Hahaha. I think I’ve been affected by Mass Effect. You can step in at these points and help people out/rip out their hearts.

          • Maybe a little bit of an aside, but still relevant. In Mass Effect, and most games (Bioshock’s harvest or save little sisters choice for example) my choices are already made. I’m a good guy, and I will always pick the ‘good’ choice. Hence, it isn’t really a choice to begin with. I only enjoy choice mechanics in games if they’re not black and white, good or bad. They have to be grey, then I actually have to think about or engage with my decision, it actually becomes a choice

          • That’s a good point. In so many bioware games I wanted to be evil, but the evil choices were just so over the top I couldn’t pick them.

            Like give kid candy, or firebomb village of orphans. That’s not a choice. Not really. But games are getting better at doing this.

      • I’m certainly not angry. Just disappointed. I basically could have just watched The Matrix Reloaded again, and then played a couple levels of Doom 2. The issues raised were not exactly new or thought provoking as they were in Bioshock 1. I mean I’m sure it’s great if you’ve never had that kind of narrative before, just like lots of people liked Inception, even though I felt it was a tired retread of past concepts.

  • Later I see poor people huddled round a vending machine, trying to break it open. I wonder if I can help, so I take a shot at it. They swarm me so fast that I can’t even think much before I’ve beheaded them all. Wasn’t what I wanted. I raided their bodies, and they were loaded down with ammo. I didn’t want to savage this little land of barefoot poor, and yet I had to. Because that’s how games are. Because ‘that’s the way it is.’ Because it’s ‘still better than every other shooter’ — why, because I can murder whoever I want?

    Perhaps you shouldn’t have shot near them if you didn’t want them to attack you. Fairly silly article. Just another example of people expecting too much from a piece of entertainment.

  • Great article. I too was disappointed with Infinite in many of the ways you mentioned. Infinite just never felt like a properly realised world or alive like the original Bioshock did. The world of rapture seemed to feel real and like it’s existence would be possible. It’s existence and it’s eventual self destruction all made sense in terms of the world that had been created for it.
    Infinite just seems like someone thought it was a great idea to make a shooter in the clouds with similar plasmid powers to Bioshock. At least in the first game even the existence of plasmids made sense, their very existence, (which was plausable within the lore), shaped Rapture and it’s demise. In Infinite the vigors feel tacked on because there had to be some explanation for Booker having super powers in the game, even though no one else took advantage of them.
    Plus I thought the end of Infinite was a cop out. I mean really, hasn’t that realisation Booker has at the end been done to death in games and movies?

    I’m off to play Bioshock 1 and 2 again.

    End rant. 🙂

  • I enjoyed every second. I loved the set peices, those moments like landing next to the fake beach. I though elizabeth really shined during the last half hour in particular. When I played I didnt follow the “where to go” prompts, and I only shot when I needed to, and never felt like I was entering every single room (at least during the first half) as just a target.

    I think a lot of reviewers and commentators need to step back sometimes. When you do nothing but play games all day long, of course it will get to be “routine” and boring. But as with any other genre, like books or movies, there are different categories, and as far as a first person shooter, this game shone through with a more developed plot and more interesting characters than any other I have played for about three years.

    If you want to play something else… play something else.

  • “This is a game that lives in its own alternate universe, is in love with its own cleverness, instead of being genuinely clever.”

    Disagree. This is a game that is a little bit clever, and people who are a little bit clver are lording their smugness over other people who aren’t as impressed on the assumption that they just don’t “get it”.

    People are projecting that smugness onto BSI, and that’s wrong.

    The game is good bordering on great, and generally nice to play. You can critique it, but what Leigh has written there is like blaming a mirror for your bad hair day.

    Other issues are pretty valid. This would have been a good game to explore the option of not shooting things. There were maybe two moments when shooting is not necessarily the best option, and you still wind up doing shooting anyway.

    Maybe next time.

    • Totally. There’s an excess of douchebaggery about this game at the moment. I think people writing articles are trying to impress other people writing articles.

  • An excellent critique, even if you find you don’t agree with it. It’s the sort of writing that games need, and Bioshock Infinite is a game that deserves this kind of analysis. Really excellent.

    • Don’t you find the tone a little bit too…. english professory? If you know what I mean?

      It is a good write up though, but I would have enjoyed it more with a few edits and about 20% less words.

      • No, that’s what I like about it. If games want to become art (and let’s leave that whole enchilada alone here) then I think the criticism of them needs to step up accordingly rather than ‘look at all the graphics’ which is about as critical as games analysis gets for the most part. Binfinite has the ambitions to be something more than a rote shooter (and, like Leigh says, thank god for those ambitions) and I think it’s worthy of a serious discussion. I don’t know if you played Spec Ops but there’s a really great piece about it, slightly less professorial but still asking big questions, by Tom Bissell here: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/8157257/line-explores-reasons-why-play-shooter-games

        • Cool. I personally hate the ‘high culture’ style of reviews.

          There’s just something about it that sticks in my craw. Not saying a like low brow reviews. I just like simple, clear language. Once I start suspecting that the reviewer is wearing a monocle, i lose interest.

      • Ironically, I find your comment to be the “uppity exclusionist” type if I had to choose between your comment and the article. Is an English professor not allowed to have an opinion about a game? I’m fairly sure the author nowhere states that you’re not allowed your own thoughts on the game. Unless I’m reading too much into what you’re saying.

        • I guess it is a bit exclusionist. I make short films, so I deal with a lot of movie people. And to be honest, a lot are total wankers. So I gravitate towards simple, clear language. If people are using 3 and 4 + syllable words just because they can, and not because they need to, I get turned right off.

          It says more about me than the author I guess. Well played sir! Well played.

          I still dislike wankers though. If something is ‘reminiscent of the 20s style vaudevillian influence’ then I’m sorry, you’re a wanker for noting in those terms.

  • There’s a difference between being complicated and being clever. Closest analogy i could think of would be inception (film.

    I liked the game, a solid 7/10, but for me it failed to move the series forward in any real way.

    • Yep I thought of inception too. Similar level of over rated reception, similar level of depth. Although that being said I enjoyed Bioshock Inifinite a lot more than I enjoyed Inception (if you can compare a game and a movie 😉

  • I had similar thoughts while playing through the game
    – Do I really need to shoot these guys? Can’t we just talk about this, they seem reasonable kinda guys.
    – All I seem to be doing is looting dead bodies and cupboards?
    – Why is nobody else using these vigours? Why are they everywhere then?
    – This world is amazingly realised, but it just doesn’t resonate like Rapture did;
    – Why haven’t I seen more poignant scenes like in Bioshock?
    – None of these big guys are as imposing as Big Daddies, which were events unto themselves
    – A ghost, sure, why not
    – I would have thought that a dimension shift would change more of the world in noticeable ways?
    – etc.

    It seems that a lot of this was due to it just not being able to meet the massive expectations set by the beautifully realised world of Bioshock. And as a result, I found myself focussing far more on the mechanisms of what I was playing.

    BUT in spite of all this, I still loved every minute of it. The dimension shifts were still awesome. The free-flying combat was mostly fun. The twists and turns of the plot were neat and the end took genuinely took me by surprise. I was convinced that Booker had been taken from another dimension to incorporate into Songbird, two versions of the same guy trying to protect the same woman from each other.

    When it was over, I was sad that it was gone. I wanted to go back and start on 1999 mode. But after a couple of days break, there are mixed feelings about its success and failure, and now I’m not sure that I will. In hindsight though, I can say that I would definitely have missed out if I didn’t play it all the way through.

    So paraphrasing what Leigh said – it deserves praise, but it also deserves criticism. And you should play it if you haven’t yet.

    • But what do I know? I didn’t like Walking Dead. I played all the way through it and felt it was nowhere near as good as everybody else says that it is. The gameplay was weak, the plot wasn’t much better, and I unintentionally fixated on the underlying mechanics to the point where I somehow lost all empathy for the characters and simply saw them as decision trees.

      However, I feel that is another game worthy of both praise and criticism – yet I have not read much criticism of it. I do recognise that it was a fantastic achievement, and look forward to how it influences future games by Telltale and others.

  • See articles like this is why we should be waiting like a month before games are reviewed.
    Like Skyrim. Skyrim was fun, sure, but ultimately was it 10/10 worthy? Hint: no.

    • oh please…just get the firggen game and decide for yourself

      because no game is a perfect 100% but if enough people like it and you have an idea of what its all about then theres a better chance you may enjoy it

      same goes the other way around, everyone loved skyrim but for me personally its not my kind of game

      if you turn your nose up at everything just because somone criticises it then really you wont have any games to play

      • Maybe. Surely the actual point of reviews is to inform you whether a game is worth buying the first place? If you just buy it anyway then what is the point in reading the reviews at all?

        And why assign scores if they are arbitrary and probably “incorrect” on future reflection? For that matter, why bother with reviews at all if nobody is reading them to inform purchases?

        Shutupshutup!

        I mean reviews are an awesome and important part of the gaming ecosystem. Carry on, IGN et al!

        EDIT: To clarify, I do think that reviews do serve a useful purpose, to help you see through some of the hype to a degree. Friends and social media helps too. But ultimately, if you’re willing to wait out the initial few months of (marketing generated) excitement for a new game, the best indicator of whether it’s worth your time is whether friends, journalists and social network contacts still have favourable opinions after they’ve had time to reflect on it.

        • What’s tough is when the reviews are part of the hype. That’s happening more and more now. You mentioned walking dead. I mention braid. Everyone loved it. I thought it was really, really average. Last time I bought a game on the strength of reviews alone.

          • Most definitely – that’s why I said “to a degree”. All they really do is help identify indisputable stinkers. Overhyped but still competent is harder to discern at the point of release.

        • But ultimately, if you’re willing to wait out the initial few months of (marketing generated) excitement for a new game

          I’m not sure about that approach. I can think of plenty of games that I’ve enjoyed purely because of the hype and I don’t think that’s necessarily a terrible thing. I don’t like GTAIV. It’s a fine technical achievement but it’s a badly designed game. I brought it day one, loved it, played it all the way through and totally got my money’s worth. I returned a bit before the DLC dropped to mop up achievements and just couldn’t play it. I’d played Saints Row 2 and it highlighted every negative trait in GTAIV. SWTOR is another example (actually, lots of MMOs). I wouldn’t have enjoyed the game if I hadn’t been excited to about it’s release.
          The hype had let me gloss over all the negative aspects. There are two ways to look at that, I was tricked into enjoying a bad game or I simply enjoyed a game. The first is a bad way to build/market a game, but I think there needs to be a healthy dose of it because perfection in gaming is so rare that we’d be buying a half dozen games a year if we waited for it. In a lot of cases it’s been the nudge that’s allowed me to get my money’s worth out of a game.
          I think I’d rather waste my money from time to time buying a game that couldn’t be supported by it’s hype than wait until the hype has worn off.

          [A bit of a tangent there, but interesting to think about.]

    • I haven’t played that much of Skyrim, only about 40hrs, but compared to most of the games that get 10s, yes I reckon it deserved a 10. At least a 9.

      That’s with mods mind you.

      • Personally, I don’t think you can rate a game based on the mods that other people built for it. That’s like giving Minecraft a 10/10 because somebody built Westeros in it.

        • I respectfully disagree. You buy Skyrim, you can use the mods, the mods make the game amazing.

          So if you say “skyrim with mods, 10/10” it’s valid, because you’re telling ppl exactly how to replicate your experience.

          • Actually that’s fair enough, I guess I was objecting to “that’s with mods” being added as almost a footnote as opposed to being a framing device for your initial score.
            So in summary:
            Skyrim with mods 10/10 – fine
            Skyrim 10/10 (that’s with mods btw) – misleading

    • who gave Skyrim a 10/10?

      Most game reviewers have early access to games before they are released aren’t they? Surely they can fit 1 month of a normal gamer’s playtime into a week and then be able write a proper un-biased review. In an ideal world that is, but yeh not always the case. The IGN review for BSI just reeks of somebody on the hype train.

  • Great article, I don’t personally agree (I take it as a mixture of rose-tinted glasses and sequel-fatigue, it is a sequel afterall and we did spend a vast majority of Bioshock kicking ass and taking names – don’t deceive yourself into thinking it was all about a higher purpose, it was first and foremost an FPS) but the points you raise are intelligent and you explore them completely.

    Honestly one of the best piece of gaming journalism I’ve read in a long time.

  • Excellent critique and excellent read.

    I, too, find it perplexing that Bioshock Infinite have been getting such high review scores. I agree the story is smart and interesting to think and discuss but ultimately I feel it’s just the carrot dangling on a very linear and violent combat system. Then again I know both the game play and the story thematic aren’t about choice; Booker is what he is and how he gets to what he wants isn’t exactly pleasant. I just think it’s taking the easy way out to solve anything by simply killing. Maybe they should have made the ‘1999 Mode’ to have no weapons at all.

    There were also some other things that kinda bother me, like:
    – Elizabeth sure knows her way around Columbia, even though she’s been stuck & imprisoned since she was little baby; guess she spent a lot of time on Bioshock’s version of Google Maps…
    – When Booker first kills in front of Elizabeth, she is disgusted but then straighter after that she’s like helping Booker by giving him everything from bullets to coins to get more weapons…
    – Wait, how did that woman recognize Elizabeth as “Ann” when they first escaped in Columbia…
    – Wouldn’t it have been interesting if Booker saw Elizabeth as a love interest at one point in the story or should I not have gone there?

    • One point is actually easily explained: The woman calls Elizabeth “Annabelle”, but she responds and says “Oh no, my name is Elizabeth”. This confirms her identity, and then they set an ambush a minute or so later in the train station.

      I think the “Annabelle” thing is meant to be a coincidence, while also a sly nod once you’ve finished the game.

      • Yeah, I get the ambush and then confirming her identity theory, but why did the woman choose the name “Annabelle” of all names? Why not Caroline or Angelina or any other name?

        Also, why didn’t Booker react at all when that name was said. These things seemed too convenient in my opinion…

    • Not to be deliberately combative but there are some “easy” explanations to your points:

      1. I think she just likes running around since shes been in a tower all her life. She doesn’t always head in the right direction, she just moves around a lot. It kind of fits with how she first reacts in Battleship bay.
      2. Actually I don’t have much for this one. After you kill slate she does have a little spiel about getting used to killing people, which could kind of explain it a bit as its a necessity and thats around the time she starts giving you ammo – although she throws you a sniper way before that so I have nothing for that (heat of the moment i guess?).
      3. Is explained above, set up for ambush.
      4. I think this was kind of a play on the gamer. We automatically assume when its a man and woman thrust together its a sort of fate-romance thing, and even without building on it you sort of get that idea in your head just because its so established. When it turns out she isn’t a love interest, its surprising and refreshing – both of which are good things to experience.

      • It wasn’t after Slate, as soon as you kill someone (after the ambush, I think) she straight-up says she’ll patch him up and help any way she can so that he can get her out, and there’s not much difference between healing and giving ammo when you know the conclusion you want is the same. She just adapted. The Annabelle thing could’ve been from Comstock. He said to Booker: I know what you did to Anna (or something), the first time you see him. He probably just wanted to rattle Booker And I totally thought they were going to pair them. I agree it was good they didn’t but.

  • One other thing, the ending still have me thinking it was just taking the easy way out to finish the narrative. I loved a lot of the reveals and explanations but not the ending ending and although the post credit scene was ambiguous and open to interpretation, I felt it was a bit unnecessary.

    ENDING. The whole drowning of Booker so that he’s never will be reborn as Cornstock and create Columbia or kidnap his own daughter from another reality so he can imprison her as Elizabeth is a very easy and convenient way out. Also it makes no sense that they chose this particular point in time since the baptism is simply a ceremony. Booker still had bad experience from Wounded Knee, still lost his wife and still would have probably gone into alcoholism and gambling before transforming into Cornstock. All this means is that in an alternate reality, Booker just might become something else! And following the same themes, that choice is only an illusion, Booker will still eventually end up giving his daughter away, etc. etc.

    POST CREDITS ENDING. Ok, so it’s meant to be a kind of happy ending for Booker. The date on his desk is the earliest date in all the flashbacks, so he’s supposedly at the most earliest date before everything will or can happen. Fine. But if it’s meant to be a happy ending where he gets reunite with his baby daughter Annabelle. We don’t get to see it nor do we even hear the baby cry. We just get a black screen and then the Bioshock Infinite title. Even if Booker does reunite with his beloved baby daughter, I’m not so sure he’s fit to be a father. Look at where he lives and the nursery. And in some potential realities, he gave her away just to wipe a gambling debt? Come on, he could have offer his kidney or vital organs first don’t you think?!

    End rant.

    • Easy way out? I don’t see it that way. I wouldn’t have thought to end the story that way in a million years, not to mention it isn’t a deus ex machina, its tied into the very fabric of the game, beginning to end. Its clever.

      I didn’t think the post-credits scene was unnecessary. If the last scene was Booker drowning and Elizabeth’s disappearing, it would have rang fairly hollow. I think that slight addition of hope was beneficial to include. Also the way he spoke her name suggested (to me at least) that he retained the memories somehow. If he did have the memories, I’m sure he would be the best Dad she could ever have.

  • Only read halfway before I got bored, but everything I read I figured out from the trailers. You should have known. I never bothered to purchase Bioshock Infinite in the first place.

    • Well enjoy missing out on one of the most intelligent games of the year…

      Just because it might not live up to one of the best games ever made doesn’t mean it isn’t head and shoulders above most of the generic shooter-trash this industry produces.

Log in to comment on this story!