BioShock Infinite is being lauded as one of the greatest stories ever told in a video game. Unfortunately, it is its commitment to being a traditional video game that might ultimately call to question statements like that.
By Tony Walter | Apr 2, 2013
BioShock Infinite is a first person shooter, and as such, it is going to be a violent experience. Remember my article about shirking blame? That applies to anything, not just sexism. Giving Infinite a free pass for being hyper violent just because it's a video game and that's what games do, is more than a little short-sighted.
To clarify, violence isn't necessarily unnecessary, in all cases. It's one of those 'a time and place' sorts of things. And yes, video games, as a rule of thumb, are going to be more violent than other mediums. Though I'd argue that's not necessary, I understand the decision as a design conceit. However, when the violence actively works against the greater narrative within the project, that is when it becomes a problem. Violence doesn't feel out of place in a science fiction shooter like Halo - the game doesn't attempt to emphasize the power of death, and story beats have impact for other reasons (i.e.: major character reveals, betrayals). More importantly however, the violence of war in Halo does not feel misplaced, but rather an integral part of that fiction.
|It would help if the combat were more fun.|
The dozen or so different guns in the game are about as varied as they are in any traditional FPS. You got your pistols, the machine guns, the shotguns, the sniper, and the launchers. There is only one variety of ammo, unlike the original BioShock, so the tactics with guns always comes down to: shoot this dude in the face as hard as you can. There are also the eerily out of place Vigors, re: BioShock's Plasmids, which do a slightly disappointing job of spicing up the combat. The Vigors are almost 1:1 with their BioShock counterparts. Remember the bees? Well, here are some crows. Like enraging enemies? Well, now you possess them. And they didn't even try changing up the electricity or fireball attacks. The powers were new and incredible in BioShock, now they feel familiar, and with only a flimsy justification within the narrative. Why am I one of the only people in this city with these powers? They were literally handing them out at the fairgrounds.
|The Skyrails are an attempt to vary combat, but are ultimately too disorienting to be useful.|
The combat in the original BioShock encouraged strategy. Some different ammo types were actually trap placements. You were able to hack turrets, health stations, and security cameras, essentially creating a tower-defense meta-game, in specific situations. That element is totally lost in Infinite. Traps are attached to the Vigors, but they are practically worthless as you're never really tasked with defending an area. You can just as easily target specific enemies with the same attack results, rather than hoping they happen upon one of your placements. When it comes down to it, you'll find a tactic in this game that works, and you'll likely find yourself playing it like that all the way through. I personally found electrocuting enemies followed up with a shotgun blast or spray of the machine gun, to be the most effective strategy.
|The first death in the game hits harder than the last one.|
After eleven hours of shooting people in the face, the murder of key characters washes over me like a light breeze. The game completely desensitizes its audience, and then expects them to care about death. Playing the game, you're witness to far more gruesome deaths than anything you'll witness during the key plot moments; drownings and bludgeonings pail in comparison to perpetual electrocutions, decapitations, neck snaps, suicides, and burnings.
|The melee executions ripped me from the fiction. |
I actively avoided hitting the melee button because these scenes were ruining my experience.
Us gamers are a jaded bunch though, maybe near-genocide is the type of thing it takes to get the point across. The constant killing in all of the first person shooters, and heck, any mainstream game, has us all numb to the impact of death. This disappointing truth is also one of the biggest barriers of entry for new fans. I can think back to several moments in the past where my friends would witness some horrible, violent act happening in [insert M-rated game here] and reacted with a gasp or an expletive - the act being nothing but mundane for me. This is a sad reality, but one we don't have to put up with.
The most disappointing realization I had about Infinite, is that I had thought this game could change that reality. The original BioShock took the idea I had about what a first person shooter could be and ran with it in some interesting ways, both in narrative and gameplay. Creating an amazing, in-depth, and meaningful fiction, but without the sacrifice of fun, intriguing, and strategic gameplay. Sure, that game may have dropped the ball in the final moments, but the experience is still one that is ingrained in my mind. Instead of again taking steps forward, BioShock Infinite feels a lot like retracing familiar territory, and not even doing it as well. Most irksome is that this is only because they didn't trust their reach enough to take steps forward without sacrificing the larger audience. The game is a traditional shooter because otherwise it wouldn't guarantee them a bestseller.
|Columbia is definitely a beautiful and interesting world. |
I just wish I could have experienced it in a more profound way.
There have been a lot of big words tossed around BioShock Infinite. Perhaps this hyperbole is to be expected when a good game comes out early in the year, as though fans are salivating for something to get excited about. I don't think BioShock Infinite is a bad game, by any means. There was a story there that I loved. There were characters there that were brilliant. There was a world that I would love to spend more time in. Unfortunately, all of these aspects are marred by the fact that I actually need to play it to experience them.