Developer: Irrational Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (reviewed), OS X, Linux
Available on: Steam
Well that got confusing fast. I’m not sure I followed absolutely everything that the game presents to the player because based on the very nature of the narrative it’s kind of a brain twister.
But first things first, the gameplay. I don’t get how people can claim that Bioshock 2 has the best gameplay out of the series, because I enjoyed Infinite’s take on it way more. It still retains the dual-wielding of Vigors and guns from the previous one but I feel that the sky-hook system vastly expands the possibilities of the gameplay and the reality manipulations give the battles a tactical element that was absent from before. What I did dislike however was that the player is limited to two guns at any given time, which I’m never a fan of in games. It just meant that I had tons of ammo for guns I never wanted to use, because the machine gun/RPG combo is basically unbeatable, save for the crank gun that the Patriots drop for hairier moments.
Speaking of the Patriots, the enemy variety is kinda odd. For the majority of the game, you end up fighting regular humans with the odd one out that’s a bit more shielded. And usually these guys are fairly easy to neutralize. But every so often they drop in one of the aforementioned Patriots, Handymen or Crows and those take an eternity to fight. The enemy threat level is all over the place and there’s no discernable increase in difficulty overall over the course of the game. It just throws more enemies at you, but the basic tactics stay the same at all times. This is especially apparent during the final level, which is basically a tower defense section that I really didn’t enjoy, because it goes on forever. The same is true for the stealth level. I get that they had an interesting enemy design with the Boys of Silence and how they basically act as security cameras, but the way the level is designed with a purposeful scarcity of ammunition and health items means that letting them spot you and initiate a fight with the insane clown posse is a risk not worth taking. So you end up having to sneak past them. But the way you do is by observing their cone of vision, which clashes with their visual design of being purposefully blinded to favor their hearing. And since I already hate forced stealth levels anyway, this level is akin to the one in the original Bioshock where you had to protect a little sister, because I equally hate escort missions.
I really enjoyed the visual presentation. Columbia is an aesthetically beautiful place. But while the scenery and skyboxes are absolutely gorgeous to behold, there is something kinda off about the character designs. Elizabeth is by far the best looking character (as in: most human looking), and everybody else feels like a mannequin. The way they are posed and how they are animated just feels off. This also translated into how the game presents Columbia’s inhabitants. It’s just weird, walking around all these people while they’re just looking at each other or at things but there’s no reaction to you being there. I thought it was really weird how nobody notices you wandering around the white segregated community with your weapons drawn. I mean, I’ll not even indulge the arguments brought forth by others that Infinite contained too much violence, because that’s just a bullshit argument. A nationalist society with strict classism between whites and non-whites will always harbor some sort of violence beneath the shiny exterior society wants to present. But running around with weapons drawn is just that little bit that breaks the immersion.
What I will say is that I would’ve loved to explore the world of Columbia some more beyond all the violence. Because while Bioshock and Bioshock 2 had themes at their center which informed the majorities of their respective games, Infinite touches on a multitude of topics that all get less screen-time as a result. Next to the white-nationalism, the game is also about religion. But not just religion as a means to control the masses, it’s more about recontextualizing scientific advancements as religion with regards to the reality manipulation and the resulting metaphysical insights. And that part can get really confusing at certain points. Because you end up crossing over to different realities at several points in the game but somehow the game doesn’t end up fully acknowledging it.
As an example: You’re tasked to procure weapons for a revolutionary group within Columbia to end the segregation there. On your way to the weapon-smith you end up realizing that he got killed before you reach him. So you swap over to another dimension where he’s still alive and go after him there. The problem here is the fact that in this dimension, why even is there a need to go after the weapon-smith? What exactly stipulates that the agreement you had with that one person back in your original dimension is still something that happened at all? It’s this sort of stuff that makes trans-dimensional narratives such a headache to work with, because you can end up going down that rabbit hole infinitely deeply.
What I did find kinda weird however is actually the way Elizabeth is able to open up tears between realities. The original tears are based on an actual machine that would let you travel between dimensions, but it’s not an innate power that a person possesses. Elizabeth is only able to do so because as a baby, the tip of her pinky got cut off by a tear between realities that ended up with her being present in two different realities at once. And that’s the explanation given for why she’s able to see everything. Which in turn would also mean that if she were to ever return to her original dimension where that finger got left back, she would cease to have these powers, right?
Now before I go off on too much of a tangent, I think I’ll end this by saying that I really enjoyed the ending of the game even though the final twist is fairly easy to predict. But the revelation at the very end, the one that makes sense of the title of the game is executed brilliantly. And that’s saying something, because often times, narratives that delve deeply into metaphysical topics end up falling flat because the stuff the reader/listener/player of that narrative imagines in their head are usually more exciting that what the writer ends up delivering as their explanations. But I feel Bioshock Infinite truly managed to tie everything together to present a satisfying conclusion to a great game. That is at least until I’ve played the DLC, which is up next.