I’ve reached the final battle in BioShock Infinite, playing on hard mode. And after a few attempts, it wasn’t a rage quit that led me to give up. I just lost interest.
This is a strange game. I was very excited by it at first. I played through, thought it was amazing and read loads of interpretations online, deep wise people going on and on about this metaphor and that. But… it’s trying to hard to be deep. As Steph said, it thinks it’s more clever than it actually is. Playing it through a second time started to reveal the problems.
For a start, commitment to hard mode, for me, seemed to reveal more flaws than easy mode, when all but the final battle felt immediately doable. It’s easy to be carried along by the wave of excitement.
But it’s not BioShock. It doesn’t get a place in my top five.
In BioShock, everything hung together beautifully. The crazy, all-sides-at-once combat worked because the Splicers mostly only had wrenches to hit you with and were driven quite literally insane by their use of plasmids and tonics. Plasmids and tonics were the core of the world, a world that followed a specific philosophy to its hideous conclusion.
For this game, they took the bones of BioShock, put them in a new city with a new story and a new corrupt philosophy and… it really doesn’t work.
As somebody else has already pointed out, why are vigors there? Fink, their creator, believes in a white supremacist view of the world with a strict hierarchy established by birth and the colour of your skin. Vigors, because they can be used by anybody (unless they can’t, I never saw anybody say you couldn’t take them if you were black for other than cultural reasons), would obviously make gods and sorcerers out of anybody. They belie the philosophy of a natural order set up at birth.
Vigors exist in Columbia because they were in BioShock. No other reason. Because they fit the basic mechanic of what is a “BioShock game”. Not because they match the philosophy and cultural set up of the world.
I’ve also seen some good criticisms of the combat, too. I’m not a fan of FPS by any means, and I’m not great at them. I’ll always prefer a good RPG. If you don’t read the linked article, the idea is that the arrival of the shield in FPS games necessitated a change in combat style. Designers went for all-sides-at-once, high powered enemies, to negate the god-like feel of the shield.
But that’s not why the crazy combat is there in BioShock Infinite. It’s there because it was there in BioShock. The enemies in Columbia are not the crazed Splicers of Rapture, but they behave exactly like them. Except that they’re all heavily armed. They do, admittedly, dodge for cover every now and again, but the rate they run at you, batons raised, even when you fire an RPG at them is a little freakish.
After playing on Hard Mode where, yes, I died all the time, I feel rather dazed. Booker is supposed to just run around the streets of Columbia shooting up the place. Really? Would you honestly get far with nothing but a pistol when these guys have rocket launchers? There really isn’t an explanation for respawning like there was in BioShock, unless you mean every time he dies he pops through a door into a new reality where he’s actually OK. I don’t entirely buy it, especially if Elizabeth isn’t around. (That wouldn’t work as an explanation either, because it costs money to respawn and as far as I know, that’s not how quantum physics works.)
I also feel a little disappointed. While there are the clever moments with the Lutece siblings and the Songbird, combat is this huge hole of “Shoot bullets at stuff!” that feels… well, like they didn’t bother to think about it all that much. It would have been really interesting, and more appropriate, to introduce elements of stealth into the game. Yes, my time with Far Cry 3 is starting to show. Shoot, shoot, shoot, could have been replaced by a degree of having to use a wider selection of skills.
I can understand why those people who said they found Hard Mode easy did so. It’s probably because they’re used to this stuff. They’re better at managing limited and ever dwindling resources. But they aren’t being challenged to find new and interesting ways to cope with an overwhelming situation.
When I came to do the Hand of the Prophet final moments again, I thought back to the ending of BioShock. Having to guide a Little Sister through darkened tunnels while Splicers shrieked on all sides. It had so much more subtlety and finesse, even if you could go and grab another Sister if one of them perished. There was a genuinely chilling feeling about those final moments.
I played BioShock Infinite again for the cheevos, but couldn’t be arsed with the final confrontation. That says a lot. Although I was moved (I cried) the first time around, it turns out it was because I got to relive, for a moment, the thrill of BioShock the original. Yay, Rapture! Actually, all the stuff at the end with the many doors and the lighthouses and all of that? Suddenly veered into the territory of Cryptic Bullshit (yes, I know it’s quantum mechanics, but my god do they over-egg the pudding).
I can’t explain why I’m not all that bothered that DeWitt had to give up his child, that he tried to save her, that he turned out to be Comstock. I think because without knowing all this – despite the hints, despite Comstock’s voice is DeWitt’s by the final few fights – I don’t feel that same emotional connection to the characters. I cried when I knew that it was ME who had given the Little Sisters that opportunity at life. It felt deeply personal, a choice I made that came with a certain cost for my character. I didn’t really have to make any such choice in BioShock Infinite. I made a lot of trifling ones. It’s the one big one that matters.
Don’t get me wrong, BioShock Infinite is a beautiful game, but it didn’t hold up to a second playthrough. I played BioShock 1 three times in the space of two weeks. It still has a pull, a desire to play it again. I regret getting the season pass. In the moment, it’s an amazing game, but… it missed something.
It could have been a game that entirely fitted Columbia’s ethics and morality. It probably would have played very differently. There might not be vigors, or they might only work for certain people. The combat would have been different, or perhaps used other, interesting strategies like stealth, diplomacy or insight (yes, I play those role-playing games with dice, so sue me) rather than felt like it was all happening in 18th century Bedlam. The only time the game felt truly interesting in terms of getting through a section was the asylum. Without resources, timing everything perfectly to avoid the deliciously weird Boys of Silence gave the game experience an edge it utterly lacked elsewhere.
Little things drove me nuts, even on the first playthrough. I must have hyper-sensitive ears. Elizabeth’s boots on the marble floors of various places made me want to nail her feet to the floor. Most of the time, she was bang on and a brilliant character. I was so worried that the whole game would be an extended escort mission, but she was a great companion. It did jar when in the middle of an emotional moment with her ghost of a mother she suddenly handed me some money, though. As I’ve seen remarked, you can forgive it in games like Skyrim, but BioShock games take this stuff so damn seriously. Slipping into helpful assistant mode during an emotional scene? Weird.
Finally, purdy as the game was, on the airship the frame rate collapsed. I played this on a 360, which might explain it. Everything felt jerky and wrong, on both playthroughs. It was partly responsible for my quitting the final battle.
Playing it again, while I think it was stunning and had some fascinating ideas, I don’t think it really took to task the big philosophical dilemmas it presented. It seemed to get lost in its own story, and there was too much there. I think they could have created a beautiful story about a man who gave up his daughter, and maybe given us a strong sense of that loss, without all the faffing about with quantum physics.
End note: I’m getting sick of stories that faff about with quantum physics. Can you tell?