Thursday, May 2, 2013

I Finished Bioshock Infinite.

I like almost everything about Bioshock Infinite. The weapons feel good, Elizabeth is a surprisingly helpful AI partner, and the story, while shaky at the end, left me intrigued from start to almost-finish.

I say almost-finish because I was disappointed that the "gotta have a twist" storytelling of the Bioshock franchise made the ending so predictable. It would have been far more surprising to me if Booker Dewitt turned out to be just a simple gambler gone wrong instead of the chasing-its-own-tail ending that Ken Levine and Co. cooked up.

It actually felt a lot like M. Night Shyamalan, it had to have a twist because it's supposed to have a twist. The issue is that the twist is very similar to twists used in previous Bioshock titles. Meaning it isn't even original to the franchise, it's just a rehashing of a twist used previously. That hurt the game a lot in my opinion, but hey, almost everything up until that point was awesome.

The first thing that grabbed my notice in Bioshock Infinite was just how full of life Columbia is. Unlike Rapture, which was dead and empty, Columbia is alive and thriving with parades, children at play, and crowds of people. The dark and dank atmosphere of Rapture is replaced with a bright blue sky and cotton white clouds. One could argue that Bioshock Infinite simply takes Bioshock out of the water and puts it in the sky, but it's more than that. It's a complete reversal of what might have been the first Bioshock's strongest selling point.

It's one thing to just make another Bioshock that's dark and gritty, it's another to do a complete one-eighty on the environment and atmosphere. Later in the game, it did feel like Irrational fell back into their safety nets with Columbia becoming more burned up and destroyed as the story progresses, but that they even took the risk in the first place impressed me. They took a franchise known for putting you in a claustrophobic city under water, completely alone surrounded by maniacs, and they redressed it as a game that takes place in the open sky, with a constant AI companion, and innocent bystanders just trying to escape the destruction.

Speaking of the constant AI companion, Elizabeth is not only an integral part of the story, she's an integral part of the gameplay. Throughout the game, Elizabeth will find money, weapons, and health to assist Booker throughout the game. Later on she can open "tears" that allow access to turrets, robot soldiers, health crates, weapons, and numerous other objects. She also never takes damage, so you don't have to concern yourself with protecting or babysitting her. She's all plus and no minus.

The combat in Bioshock Infinite feels very similar to, well, every other FPS game of this generation. It has Iron Sights, it has regenerating shields, it has an AI partner, it's a Seventh Generation First Person Shooter. I found that to be a bit disappointing at first, because I don't need every game to play exactly the same way as Call of Duty and Halo, but after a few hours, I stopped dwelling on it.

The shield does make the game feel way too easy on Normal mode. Up until you've got the shield, you at least have to hunt for food (and there's plenty) to restore your health. Once you have the shield, and have boosted it up to its maximum, you'll almost never need to worry about your health bar. On top of that, you can get items that will turn you invincible whenever you use food or health packs, making your healthbar even more irrelevant.

I honestly didn't die once from the moment I got the shield until the final battle, that's how easy the game becomes once you can just take cover and regenerate. I don't think it actually made the game different or better in any way. Irrational didn't remove all the foods and health packs from around the world, I just no longer had any use for them.

The final battle was also a point of frustration for me. Instead of some gruelling final showdown between Booker and Comstock, it's a tower defense mini-game. You're on a ship, being attacked by Vox Poli, and you have to defend the ship. That's it. That's really it. There's nothing else to the final battle. It's incredibly disappointing.

Another thing I found disappointing is the way they handled bonus content. I purchased the Season Pass after playing the game for a few days because I wanted to, you know, decide that I liked the game before agreeing to purchase all the DLC for it. After I decided that I did want more Bioshock and got the Season Pass, I discovered that the bonus content that you receive immediately is locked up in the Blue Ribbon, towards the beginning of the game. Guess what, there's no way to get back to the Blue Ribbon and recover that bonus content. This means that if you want the extra equipment and health tonics, you have to restart the game.

Now why on this Earth or any other would you lock bonus content, that you want people to pay for, at the beginning of the game? That's just punishing players who didn't want to purchase the Season Pass sight unseen. There are vending machine throughout the game that supply players with weapon upgrades, ammunition, healing items, etc. There's no reason that the bonus content couldn't be added to the vending machines, and as such remained available to players no matter where they were in the game when they purchased the Season Pass.

Finally, what moral choices there were, about three total, were incredibly arbitrary. You either stoned the interracial couple or you didn't, you either shot the old man in the face or you didn't. It also did very little to change the way the game played. If you choose to stone the couple, they grab your arm before you can throw, if you choose to stone the announcer, they grab your arm before you can throw. It did seem like the interracial couple gave me some bonus money later in the game because I didn't stone them (cause I'm not a racist, surprise surprise!) but it still seemed incredibly pointless and irrelevant to the overall game.

All in all, I really liked Bioshock Infinite. It was everything I needed it to be, but not much more. I wish the ending was less shocking and more fulfilling, but I guess that's just how Bioshock games have to end.