Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bioshock Infinite

While I fell in love with the original Bioshock soon after purchasing my Xbox 360 and ran through the sequel shortly afterward since I just couldn't get enough of it, I was originally hesitant to purchase Bioshock Infinite.  A large part of what I had loved was the creepy atmosphere of Rapture and how the game had combined the first person shooter genre with survival horror.  Infinite on the other hand was set on a floating city, and I didn't think that open world would excite me as much.  I was also nervous about the need to navigate the skyline, something that originally sounded a bit like 3D platforming, and various mentions I'd seen where they were trying to make the game more challenging by not giving you all your special powers to access at any given time.  Since I'm not that great a player, I wasn't sure if I would be able to make it through the game.

However it was many glowing reviews that primarily focused on how good the story was that inevitably drew me in and made me decide to give it a chance.  Since I'm writing this review, you can probably guess that I was in fact able to beat the game, and you are right.  Of course, I did play on easy difficulty, but that's pretty much a given for me when we're talking about games.

While it has been a while since I played the other two games, I feel confident in saying that they did up the difficulty this time around, at least for my own personal skills.  You're not really limited on your vigors (aka magic) as once you find a vigor you have the skill - it's just that you only can have two at the ready to switch between.  But you can easily jump into your inventory of them and select another one when you need it.  What you are truly limited on is your guns, as you can only hold two at a time.  You're able to store all kinds of ammo all over your person to the point that a real man wouldn't be able to move because his pockets would be so stuffed, but we need realism so no you can't hold a pistol, shotgun, and a machine gun.  Don't be silly.  This is a fairly minor complaint though, as at least on the easy setting, your enemies drop their guns and there were also tons of other guns just lying around waiting for me to pick them up.  It's difficult to do that in the middle of a fight, but not impossible.

Since I'm not a fan of shooters, the combat sections were definitely my least favorite part of the game.  I would find myself wishing to just continue the story instead of having to fight through yet another wave of enemies.  While it may just be the fact that this type of game play was a near constant struggle for me, I'd also say that the combat is not well integrated into the story.  Sure, the bad guy wants to stop us by sending his men after us, and there is also a revolution going on so there are bound to be fights that you're going to stumble into.  I just never felt like slaughtering all those men was really important to the main story of trying to help Elizabeth escape.  Or maybe it's just that the fights don't really change at all throughout the game, the only differences being that the men eventually have heavier armor on and have more brutal weapons.  I know that's largely the point of shooters, but I guess what I'm saying is this should have been something more like an adventure game where more focus could be put on using puzzles to unwrap the complexities of the story.

That disconnect meant that I probably didn't take full advantage of the vigor system like I should have.  I found myself being really impatient and just trying to shoot everyone.  It was quite frequent that I saw the message "Remember to use your vigors!" after a fight because the game was chiding me for not taking advantage of them.  So what I'm saying is I may have made this game harder on myself than it needed to be.

The story itself is worthy of the praise it's getting.  While definitely not Rapture, Columbia is a well built world that has its own atmosphere, relying more on shock this time around rather than creepiness.  Once again, they've put music to great effect to aid the atmosphere, using both old songs of the time period along with re-imaginings of modern songs done in the old style to go along with the fact that this is set in an alternate universe from our own.  Some of the songs are so different that I didn't recognize them at first, and I hope they are able to release a soundtrack at some point so I can have them all.  There is an "inspired by" soundtrack, but it doesn't have any of those great covers on it.

Then there is the journey of our protagonist Booker and your companion Elizabeth.  They went to great lengths when the game was being promoted to assure you that you would not have to protect her the entire time throughout the game, and that she was not just there to be a love interest.  They were not lying.  Elizabeth actually ends up being more like a game genie code almost, the way she will toss you ammo and first aid during battle and then coins while you are exploring areas.  She even points out where to find lock picks in case you are rushing through an area and miss them yourself.  She also does not have a health bar at all.  There were times when I had to laugh because she was supposedly taking cover from enemies but she was actually more in their way then I was.  Lucky for her the bullets just passed right through her.  Her help does have limits though, especially the further you get into the game.  There were times when she would shout to me "I'm still looking!" which I'm guessing is probably some time related bit of code where she wasn't  going to give me another freebie for a certain amount of time even though I was running low.  But she saved me more often than not, and at some points of the game I didn't see any point in purchasing ammo when I knew she would just give it to me once the fight started.

Despite my occasional frustrations, I mostly blame them on myself and my poor skills at playing these types of games.  People who are more comfortable with shooters would probably have a much easier time of it.  While the final battle is a sharp increase in difficulty compared to a lot of what you have been doing previously, it's not impossible.  And the fact that it is a battle rather than a specific boss makes for something a bit more interesting  than this type of game normally throws at you.  The story most definitely makes it all worthwhile, and it hits some great emotional notes while also having a bit of humor tossed in thanks to the Lutece twins.  If you follow me on twitter, you may remember Jak and I pretending to be them on my birthday this year.

The rest of the review under the cut will deal with spoilers for the end game.



Once the final battle is done, the game continues for quite a bit.  It's not just a cut scene explaining it but actually allows you to continue to control Booker, making you feel like you're more personally involved in what's happening while they dump exposition on you.  I'll also admit that I gasped out loud when we were suddenly in Rapture.  I loved that world so much, and a part of me was thinking that the game was going to somehow find a way to connect the threads between the two worlds, showing how Columbia could lead to Rapture.  Unfortunately, it didn't really do that.

I thought the slowly unfurling story of realizing that Elizabeth was actually Booker's daughter, and how he lost her so many years ago was really well done.  It was heartbreaking to experience that revelation with him and be able to do nothing.  The  game really took it's time in explaining it, and since quantum theory isn't exactly a simple concept, that was a very good idea.  That twist is great and it all makes sense and works really well.  But then in the last few moments the game decides that isn't enough and drops yet another bomb on you, of Booker and Comstock being the same man.  And instead of explaining it in any given way, it literally just fades to black.  It's clear they were going for a WTF moment, leaving you with that thought while you sit through the credits.   There's then a very quick scene after the credits that's basically just the Inception spinning top moment.

The problem I have with it is that the game seems to be suggesting that every man has in him the ability to be a racist overly religious dictator, a revolutionary who would fight completely against those ideas, and a man who doesn't care about any of that and just wants his daughter back.  I feel like that's taking too many leaps or at least not giving us anywhere enough of the big picture to understand how that could happen.  When it flat out suggests that the only thing that dictates him becoming evil is whether or not he is baptized, it's just plain wrong.  There's also the fact that the post credits scene, of Booker going into the room to look for baby Anna, happens later on the timeline than his baptism.  So if drowning him at his baptism means anything beyond that point in time is erased, than Anna was never born.  You can't use that moment to kill off the bad guy but also let the good guy live.  That's cheating.

Like any other shocking revelation ending, the further away I get from it, the less angry I am and more forgiving I feel about the whole thing (I finished the game months before this review was posted).  While I still don't entirely agree with the idea, I can appreciate it for what they were trying to do.  It's also a much better ending than either of the previous BioShock games got, and a lot stronger than nearly any other series I can think of, except for maybe Metal Gear Solid.

I do find myself wondering where the series can go from here though.  The appearance of Rapture was certainly a suggestion that the stories were linked in some fashion, and largely felt like an ending for all of it, not just this one story.

There's also the fact that from System Shock 2 to BioShock Infinite, they've only barely tweaked the formula.  Someone contacts you to meet up with them, and when you finally do they are not who you think they are, and the bad guy isn't entirely a bad guy like you thought they were.  The mechanics of game play are also repetitive, with vigors/plasmids/psionic abilities recurring in similar fashions throughout the series.  While there's an element of fun to being able to use them, I can't help but think they are starting to feel old hat at this point.  If they do come out with another game, I think they need to strongly reinvent the wheel in some fashion to try to make this series feel new and refreshing again.

That said, I can't deny that I will be purchasing Burial at Sea, the Rapture set DLC for the game.  I love Rapture, and I love the idea of getting to walk around the place before it all went to hell.  I just have a feeling I'm still going to be a bit annoyed with the game play.

3 comments:

  1. It isn't your skill or lack thereof, its your control scheme. Console controllers are, simply, the SINGLE worst control scheme for FPSs that exist. This is why console versions of FPSs have silent auto-aim and FAR larger hit boxes on all of the enemies, and why Xbox Live players will never be able to face off against PC players in the online arena, despite both playing the same game. All these facts are developers' ways of acknowledging that one will simply NEVER be able to achieve anywhere near the same speed and precision with a dualshock than that which can be provided with even the cheapest mouse/keyboard combination.

    And no, that some people get "good" with controllers doesn't argue this, because I have witnessed firsthand how a good controller player becomes far less so when using that controller on a copy of the game that doesn't contain the console aids.

    If you want to feel like an uncoordinated, mildly retarded noob, play an FPS on a controller.

    If you want to see a night and day difference, use a wireless mouse and keypad controller on the Xbox or PS3 (if actually using a PC just isn't possible).

    That said... I'm with you about the fights. I was good, borderline great at this game on medium difficulty, and found myself saying "aw, man... Another goddamned fight getting in the way of the plot."

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    1. I have a steam account, and like everyone else I've picked up a bunch of games during their ridiculously cheap sales, but I think I've literally played all of three of those games, and didn't finish any of them, even the turn based RPG. I find sitting in front of a computer with a keyboard and a mouse too uncomfortable for the long periods of time required to play games. The grip, portability, and ability to lay back on my couch that console controllers provide me, on the other hand, is perfect. And seeing as how Bioshock is the only FPS I play, and I only play it because the story is so good, I deal with it.

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    2. 1 word:

      Gyromouse.

      More words: This, amount almost *hundreds* of others, are hand-held, couch-friendly control schemes that aren't the dual-analog-stick nightmares.

      While I'm raving about this -- the myth about of having to sit at a desk to use a PC needs to die. *All* of those other control schemes, along with Xbox and Dualshock controllers, work on PC, and PC's can hook into pretty much every modern TV around. I'm even using one in the living room with all-wireless controllers, and I'm even pretty sure Steam and Windows Live can be wirelessly controlled as well (as UI's to launch games).

      And none of this even mentions things like a bean bag (as a low-cost solution to the whole Desk and Office Chair problem -- I did an quake marathon in one of those, wireless keyboard on my lap and laser mouse on the cushion itself. And believe me, I was laid back the entire time.)

      Ugh. Just... no. Batman and Assassin's Creed? Sure. Controller all the way -- I even used one on my PC for Arkham Asylum and TR 2013 due to how miserable using a KeyMouse combo was.

      But there's just no *reason* to do that to oneself for anything resembling an FPS. Not in this day and age. ;-)

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