BioShock, finis

The BioShock series, notable for the doomed libertarian dystopias into which the player is sent, took a startling turn in its latest outing, Bioshock Infinite. Taking place in a perversely patriotic theme-park echo of America, its spectacular world-building and storytelling generated critical acclaim, but its generic gameplay prompted second thoughts. Leigh Alexander puts it like so: "Infinite's is a sterile, mechanized system that could have been ripped from any other listless hyper-modern game like a bloody spine and grafted messily onto this vision, obscuring it. It doesn't even do it well; I wouldn't even say competently."


  1. That’s interesting. The comment kinda sums up how I felt about the first game. The storyline was great but the game play felt clunky and unsatisfying. It felt really unbalanced, killing the Big Bertha’s required using everything you had and respawning constantly and the powers were a pain to assign and use. I got through about a quarter of it and quit in frustration. Then I tried again and got 2/3 through and gave up. Yet all the reviews have endlessly lauded the game as a classic. I admit the storyline is great and *almost* enough to make me keep playing but it’s just painful to play. I’m sure most people disagree however, maybe I’m not enough of a hardcore player.

    1. No, it was clunky gameplay.  The real brilliance was the environment and character turns. “WYK” is still so brilliant of a reveal years later I still don’t feel like I can openly talk about it for fear of spoiling it for someone.  Like Rosebud in Citizen Kane.

      But, to be honest, a lot of gameplay from back then was kind of clunky.  And Big Daddies should require you to burn through your magazines and plasmids.  but I periodically like a challenge.  The Easy difficulty should have made things, well, easier for getting through the levels though, I certainly had no qualms about using it when I wanted to do more exploration.

    2. Just knock the difficulty down a notch.  The combat actually shines a bit when you are forced to use your tools to their utmost efficiency, but once you lose control of a situation at higher difficulties it turns into a cacophonic cluster-f*ck. It’s usually more fun to play around with the powers and weapons in a less stressful environment.

    3. My bigger problem with the first games was around all the acclaim it got. All the buzz was about how it was the best written and most compelling story to ever appear in gaming. There were plenty of games in the decade before it came out (including the System Shock games Bioshock was meant to follow) that were just as good and often better on the story telling and writing front. They gave it an interesting political/satirical context and I think legitimately  some more elegant character development. But for a lot of (particularly older and pc focused) players it seemed more like stasis. Looking back its pretty clear that what the game did was re-introduce and prove the viability of story focused games at a time when that was sorely needed. And particularly for the mainstream console audience of the time which may not have realized that was a possibility.

      Game play elements like Adam/plasmids, splicers, Big Brothers might not have been super compelling but they were pretty tightly tied in thematically with the story which helped to elevate them. This new one a lot of the game play elements aren’t. At the base you’ve got a pretty old school style shooter. Lots of circle strafing around enemies of widely varied difficulty, clear boss battles etc. But then there’s all this newer shit borrowed from the Halo and military shooters that doesn’t fit. Enemy waves, limited weapons, the shield  Even the unique stuff like tears and the sky hook dealy don’t really seem to graft too well onto the basic run and gun set up of most of the game. And with less tie in to the setting and story overall it just doesn’t quite fit. 

    4. It’s a rails shooter that, in some cases, shamelessly makes you go back through the same locations over and over.  As if that weren’t mind numbing enough, the lack of a fear of dying and the stupid animation of Elizabeth flipping me a coin were annoying to the point of nearly giving up on the game.  There was so much potential to spend on the relationship between Elizabeth and Booker.  Instead, the story rolled on like reading a book with periodic stops of mind numbing combat.     

      This story is SCREAMING for a sandbox style game.  The rails shooter concept just doesn’t work anymore.  It’s like watching another Shyamalan film.  We get it.  Move on.

  2. I think the game is gorgeous in design and thought-provoking in its “If the Tea Party had its way” ethos but it is true that (like so many games) it doesn’t reach the full promise of what it *could* have been (given unlimited time and resources and free reign for its writers and game designers.)

    1.  Nothing really reaches the full potential it would have if there was unlimited time, resources and money available. I’m sure there would exist a more perfect version of Guernica, Michelangelo’s David, the Taj Mahal, the Wire. None of the reach the theoretical full potential.

  3. About. Frigging. Time.  I’m getting very tired of the fanboy games journos looking at a single aspect of a game and giving it a 10.  No matter how compelling the backstory is, you can’t give a game a 10 in spite of insipid gameplay any more than you should give a novel a 10 because you really love the font.

      1. This.  When a bunch of 5’s and 6’s have been given a breathtaking 9.5 in order to ensure reviewers don’t get blocked out, what do you do for an actual 9.5?

    1. Considering the debate and discussion Infinite has inspired I think it is very deserving of the scores it has gotten.

      In fact, with Infinite it’s more like giving a novel a 10 because you like the story in spite of the type design.

    2. Yes you can and you do. It may not be the second coming of Shooting People in the Face, but it’s competent, and the story, setting and character by themselves justify the Metacritic score.

      1. Well, you shouldn’t.  I’m enjoying the heck out of the game so far (I’m slightly past the point where Fitzroy complains about me complicating her narrative), but Liana Kerzner’s “second opinion” seems spot-on to me.  If I were a game reviewer, I’d save my 10s for those games (if any) for which I can not imagine a single improvement.  Portal springs to mind.  The first Bioshock as well.  I can’t think of anything I would have changed about those games, had I the power to do so.  Now, I won’t punish a game for lack of multiplayer.  Neither of those two games I just mentioned had a multiplayer mode, though their sequels did.  But I very rarely play multiplayer anyway.  Some forms of entertainment are perfectly suited to the solitary player.  I’d have no patience for a multiplayer crossword, for example.

        But replayability is, I believe, a solid selling point these days.  Some of the more massive open-world sandbox games offer so much replayability, I’ll never find the time to wear them out.  I spent 100+ hours each on Fallout: New Vegas and Skyrim, and I never even got around to the DLC for Skyrim.  I have plenty more to do with those games, but I figure I’ve long since gotten my $60 worth out of them.  But Bioshock: Infinite is on some pretty tight rails.  As pretty as everything you see is, there’s precious little side-exploration going on.  And it gets pretty damned repetitive.

        I’d give the game an 8 so far.  And I recommend it to my friends.  But it’s not nearly as flawless a game as the first Bioshock, and its letter grade or Metacritic score should reflect that.

          1. Oh my, thats exactly my problem too. Lost my saves after a Windows reinstall. I loved Skyrim but got tired after playing 70+ hours. I wanted to return to the game and the DLC lately but can’t get myself to replay all the stuff I already did.

          2. Condolences.  I know I easily have 100+ hours in Fallout 3 and New Vegas, I just don’t ever want to see the exact number.  Just typing that out makes me think about how much stuff around the house didn’t get done…

          1. You said it.  In retrospect, I can’t remember it ever quite getting there.  But I always told myself, “maybe the next side-quest will actually materially affect the civil war.  Maybe the next dungeon will have a substantially different vibe/mechanic/cast of denizens to it.  Maybe the next NPC will say something different, or at least in a different voice, than the last 300 NPCs did.”

            Foolish Optimism, thy realm is Donald’s Xbox.

          2. I put some 450 hours into it, and loved each one. It’s hard to feel any sympathy for someone who plays a game they are not enjoying (that’s meant for Donald below, actually). I can almost picture it. “Oh, this game is shite. Just another hour. I’m so bored… I’ll play another hour. Oh, Bethesda are so incompetent, let’s play some more”. Jesus.

        1. No argument from me regarding replayability; my preferred game genre is the open-world RPG, and I’ve probably put more hours into Bethesda games than people do into the average MMO. Still, games work along many vectors, and the same way a movie with crap production values can be pulled through by virtue of a great script, a game with average gameplay can be made great by its story. I mean, it’s not like people remember Planescape: Torment for its fine combat balance, is it?

          1. Hey, the story is everything to me.  I mean, I appreciate stellar graphics and all that, but if I really cared about the cosmetics, I’d play on a PC rather than a console, right?  I had so much fun playing Fallout 3 that I couldn’t wait to get into New Vegas, though the bugginess of that game really frustrated me for a few months.  Eventually I was able to play through it, and all the stories therein (both the big main quest and all the little side quests) kept me happily occupied through all four DLC packs.  And though I’d gotten bogged down in Oblivion, I was really looking forward to Skyrim.  I waited until a couple of patches had been released before I started playing (since I’m not keen on paying $60 to be anyone’s release-day beta-tester ever again), and I dove in.

            But despite the game’s gorgeous looks, I kept running into disappointment after disappointment.  The sameness of the dungeon lock “puzzles.”  The small voice cast for the hundreds of minor NPCs one runs into over and over again, coupled with the paucity of lines recorded for them to say.  I mean, one doesn’t need to get the likes of Max von Sydow and Christopher Plummer for every single character, but when Michael Gough voices sixty-five unique named characters and you have each of the non-Nord races voiced by just two actors apiece, you’re going to get a lot of sameness in your dialogue.  And I was trying to really enjoy the game, but I just had an increasing feeling that Bethesda had invested too much time and effort making the clouds and flowers look realistic and not enough effort focusing on compelling gameplay.

            The story is what kept me going in Skyrim… or at least the promise of the story.  I kept playing to see if I was ever going to find compelling evidence that I should have joined the Stormcloaks over the Imperials… but I never did.  Each side of the civil war seemed equally non-compelling.  Too many things turned out to be needlessly repetitive or interchangeable.

            In short, my hours spent in those two Fallout games never seemed wasted.  My time in Skyrim was spent chasing a will-o’-the-wisp.  I thought the Bethesda guys could do no wrong (well, at least when it came to story, as opposed to game-breaking bugs and glitches) after Fallout 3, but I have since changed my mind.

      2. Justify the MetaCritic score? C’mon! It isn’t justified. Here are some of the games that it is supposedly better than:
        * Civilization II
        * Red Dead Redemption
        * every Zelda game
        * Grim Fandango
        * Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (what? what? what?!?)
        * Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
        * Rome: Total War
        * Planescape: Torment
        * every adventure game ever made
        * every game made by Bioware except Mass Effect 2 and Baldur’s Gate 2 (by a very narrow margin)
        * etc.

        So to summarize, is it overrated? Yeah!

  4. I also failed to make it all the way through the original BioShock.  I didn’t have too much of an issue with the gameplay itself: I loved the minigames, had fun with the powers, and was challenged by the bosses, but not frustrated by them.  And of course the story and art were top-notch.

    My primary beef was with the hype for the graphics: it was one of the first games where the graphics here hamstrung on the PC in order to translate to consoles.  The decision (as it is always made in these cases) was to keep the pixels and lose the space.  I felt like my apartment was larger than some of the levels, and the result is that you have a very linear experience where you simply lack the room to choose different paths or tactics.

    It was the babysitting mission that killed me.  I hate those anyway, but it was particularly galling to have individuals who had previously tormented you with invulnerability become fragile now that you had to look after them.

  5. One thing I think they did get right is the views and actually give you an opportunity to look at them.  Bioshock always had me nervous around corners, convinced a spider splicer was going to jump on my face.  Infinite lets me actually spend a minute at the parapet looking at this insane  vision.

    I do wish it was less combat and more puzzle solving.  More Myst, less Doom.  The skylines are innovative and fun, but eventually it all comes down to getting a bigger gun and using a better salt and then outlasting the bad guys.  Maybe it’s because I spent some time last week playing old Lucasarts games, but when twenty-year-old Full Throttle makes me spend more brainpower  and curiosity figuring out to get past an obstacle, you should reexamine what we can do with modern processing power.

    1. I’m with you on this point.  As much as I loved Bioshock, it was an awfully, bloodily violent game, and for a usually gentle soul like me, it could have been a bit much.  But since most of the enemies one encountered in that game were crazed splicers, debauched and deranged and generally with plenty of blood on their hands already, it kind of felt like killing mindless zombies anyway.  With the Little Sisters, we were given the option of brutally harvesting them, or mercifully saving them.  And everyone else we encountered in the game (save the Big Daddies) was capital-E Evil.

      Columbia is quite different.  Though plenty of the enemies one fights in the game (as well as many of the nonviolent NPCs) hold noxious viewpoints and prejudices, all too often we’re forced to fight more-or-less ordinary joes and janes, possibly with families waiting at home, and we’re never given any chance to figure out anything about them.  We can cautiously approach and see if they attack or not, and that’s about it.  After that, it’s kill or be killed, never mind the occasional loading-screen admonition to not kill everyone in sight.  The game would be far more interesting to me if there were ways to sneak past certain violent encounters, or to talk one’s way out of them.  Sure, then it wouldn’t really be Bioshock, but they kinda went out of their way to make the NPCs look and feel different from the maddened zombies from the first two games.  Between the two factions (Founders and Vox Populi), you’re led to believe that you can align yourself with one or the other.  But you actually have no agency at all.  First one gang clobbers you, then the other, and it doesn’t matter at all what choices you make.  It’s just not that kind of game, and I think it’s the poorer for it.

      1. I had high hopes for Infinite, based on 2, where violence wasn’t always the answer.  There are a couple of places where I’ll enter a room and not have to shoot someone and I feel okay, where we’re just people being people.  And then some guy has to recognize me and these poor schmoes end up getting caught in the crossfire one way or another.

        1. Me too. The first hour of the game showed a brilliantly and beautifully developed world with endless possibilities. I thought I was going to fall in love. But instead of making a game where you could interact with the environment and the people, it became a simple kill everything in sight with every gun you can find game.

          If anything, this game should be contrasted with Red Dead Redemption (which the critics felt was a worse game). RDR had fighting, but it wasn’t random and stupid, nor was it an endless suspense sequence. RDR also let you interact with your environment and meet the people, play minigames, and immerse yourself in the world and its politics. RDR was one hundred times the game BioShock: Infinite is.

          1. BI has a hundred times less the view of a horses’ ass though, so it’s got that going for it.

          2. I wouldn’t go quite that far.  I’d say RDR is superior (based on my as-yet unfinished playthrough of Infinite), but maybe not to that degree.  Still, I can’t help feeling that Infinite is a tragically wasted opportunity.

            I’m not a shrinking violet; if I loathed videogame violence I wouldn’t have been so completely smitten by RDR, the last two Fallouts and the previous Bioshocks.  But somehow I wish that all that death meant a little more.  It means little enough in those other games, but killing the bad guys in Infinite has become as generic and pointless as Space Invaders, only much more gruesome.

            And I really thought I liked grue.

  6. The thing is that without the shooting it wouldn’t be as good of a game. When the gunplay is working (and it often does) it serves to add variety. The combat does break down in some spots, particularly in more open areas with large numbers of enemies, and it’s at this point where things get frustrating. As far as a game that is at least in part about America the fact that much of the talking comes from the end of a gun seems appropriate if not purposeful.

    1. This is a great point, and certainly something I hadn’t considered.

      That said, I’d like to see it be a great game by taking out some shooting.  :)

  7. Writer quickly destroys his credibility for me as he tells us three times that he fails to hear the dialogue in the game. I had no such issue. In fact, bioshock was the first game where directional audio actually *worked*.

    He seems to have missed the point.

    Bioshock was always a series about story and choices. Gameplay was always weaker. It is a beautifully created world that fits extremely well into the series. It’s not an insanely interpretive indie game, but the ending does address guilt and redemption. Plot is necessarily light due to the ending.

    End Spoiler:
    In all other Bioshock games, your choices affect the ending. Infinite is the opposite of this: In a world with multiple universes, all choices are made.  Your actions are ultimately irrelevant as the entire tree of events leading to the gameplay is pruned off in the ending.

    Maybe the author should’ve spent more time paying attention to the game than writing the article.

  8. >killing is the laziest mechanic known to game creation
    This is the laziest generalization known to game journalism. “Killing” is not a mechanic by itself. “Shooter-killing” and, say, “slasher-killing” are different things, and each in fact consists of different mechanics. Or does she mean general “removal of pieces from the board by conquering them”? Chess inventors sure were lazy…

    This guy said it best:
    “I don’t think it wants to be a good fps. I don’t think that the western image of FPS is a positive thing anymore. They know that customers are more obsessed with symbols instead of substance, so instead of creating a powerful work mechanically, they create a cohesive aesthetic and give the player cool symbols to enact, rather than making actions themselves cool.”

    Leigh is no different: “The guns are tuned beautifully. The vigors are so cool, bro.” No, they are not.

  9. I’m only just a few hours in, but for me it’s a little too much running back and forth, a little too “on rails”. But it’s a beautiful game in a very interesting world, and I’ll keep grinding to find out how it ends. It’s more entertaining and certainly a lot edgier that just about any action movie coming out these days.

  10. Personally, I wish that all engaging, cerebral games were RPGs, or adventure games, or puzzle games: the shooter is just not a genre that lends itself well to depth.  With that having been said, though, Bioshock Infinite did amazingly well within the constraints of its genre: I liked it even better than the original.  The “depth/story” parts were not integrated with the “shooter/action” parts seamlessly, but that’s a minor quibble; what’s so bad about seeing seams? 

    As for this review, she says it herself: “I no longer care to listen to the voxophones. I don’t hear what Elizabeth is saying to me.”  Well, if you willfully ignore the “depth/story” part of the game and only experience the “shooter/action” part, then of COURSE the game is going to seem like a hollow experience! 

  11. I respectfully disagree. It doesnt need to be overly intellectual to be smart. It’s quite brilliantly directed. The game’s violence is Booker DeWitt’s violence. Booker DeWitt is a violent man. 
    And the looting and the shooting IS generic, and one would be naive to think this wasnt on purpose. Bioshock knows itself a game. It even comments on that on the ending, but i don’t wanna spoil thinks.

    I think Rab Florence and Kieron Gillen hit the nail in the head with this one:

  12. What?!  You mean just running around shooting amongst the scenery is somehow….empty?  Someone expected the interesting background and story to influence the ‘gameplay’ in some way?

  13. I would like to respond to this argument with a murder of crows and a sky-hook to the face. Respectfully, of course.

  14. So, the TL;DR is that Infinite frustrates players by taking them to other places than where they thought they were going and have them engage in activities that they think should be avoidable. Eventually the frustration reaches meta levels where the player is questioning if the game is denying them their emotional payoff by glitch or by design.
    Would you kindly tell me if that reminds you of something else? ;)

  15. The generic gameplay is because it’s a Bioshock game. The combat is very like the first, which at the time was a welcome throwback to Deus Ex, but now is fairly common. It’s certainly a lot more flexible and creative than a Call of Duty, still. Perhaps they could have taken more risks here… but if you go messing with too many game systems at once you run the real risk of total disaster.

    Also, if you’re just running around shooting people you’re missing most of the fun (and the game will be much harder than it should be). Have fun with the Vigors. The magma attack (whatever it’s called) makes Handymen pushovers, at least on normal level.

    I guess it’s a matter of whether you see it half full (decent shooter with fantastic setting, gorgeous design, and far better writing than most shooters) or half empty (fantastic setting and gorgeous design weighed down by a merely decent shooter). Leigh has a very strong agenda (which I mostly agree with) about where gaming should go that makes her very cranky about anything with shooting in it. Me, I’m fine with a little this, little that, so I can enjoy it as it is.

    1.  The issue is it isn’t even a decent shooter, and the story and characterisation  had serious flaws. I can live with a shooters gameplay being lacklustre if it delivers solidly on the story.  Unfortunately the liberties they kept taking with their own narrative just serve to aggravate me more and more culminating with the ending, which was to put things mildly complete rubbish.

      I don’t dislike the game, it was just painfully average and certainly nowhere near as good as everyone seems to think it is.

      1. Oh come on, not even merely decent? I had a blast with the vigors and zipping around the skylines. Perhaps your distaste for the narrative is souring your view of the mechanics. Who can’t enjoy turning a thuggish irishman in a bowler hat into a flaming floating bomb?

        It’s true that the game doesn’t really force you to experiment and have fun – you could play the whole game with the same weapons and tactics, which would probably be a bit of a slog.

  16. I enjoyed the recent Tomb Raider game so much more than Bioshock Infinite.

    Let me summarize the two games:

    BioShock: Infinite: you run around and kill things. There is also a ‘plot’ bolted to the side. The combat is interesting, but it is unrelenting. And while there are some great strategic battle scenarios, most of the time it is nonstop enemies charging at you. Oh, and did I mention that you only get two guns? Yeah, this means you specialize in nothing or you only specialize in some of the first guns you pick to play the entire game.
    Tomb Raider: same as above, but with environmental puzzles and a neat cover system (which makes BioShock: Infinite especially jarring if you previously played Tomb Raider before it). The combat isn’t as complex as BioShock, but the tactics are more fun. The environmental puzzles are what make the game. Also, it doesn’t have the annoying two guns problem.

    Neither game is great. It is just kill, kill, kill. Battles mean nothing in these games. I pine for days when games like Baldur’s Gate would make you think when you went into a battle, and where the actual battles were infrequent, but intense (and where if you actually had a surprise battle, you nearly pooped your pants). Sadly, no FPS developer knows how to do this. It is sad that games that require so little thinking from the players get these phenomenal critical reviews.

  17. Bioshock Infinite is a first person shooter. There is meaningful discussion to be had about the genre. The market saturation, for example. Or the reduction of homicide to a rote objective of little or no emotional consequence even. There’s room for criticism.

    But Bioshock Infinite is a first person shooter and should be judged as such. Perhaps it is more narratively ambitious than it is mechanically, but I find Bioshock’s gameplay dynamics to be refreshing in this desert of modern military and space marine iterations we found ourselves stranded in this console generation. Feel free to disagree while I take the same liberty to not give a damn about your opinion.

    As far as the ludonarrative dissonance goes: the ludus insists you murder a bunch of people and automatons to succeed. The narrative just happens to assert that you, Booker Dewitt, are an unrepentant murderer of people (and now, automatons). Not much dissonance there.

    1. I guess my point is that given the choices and thought put into the decision trees of Bioshock 2, Bioshock Infinite doesn’t have to be *just* a FPS.  There are no more little minigames for hacking, a few side storyline quests, but given the exploratory nature of recent sandbox games or thought-provoking problem-solving gmes, this could have taken some elements from those and made something more well-wounded.

      You are absolutely correct, the dynamics of skylines and ability to use the vertical dimension is a massive change and well done, I just thought the previous two versions of this were leading us towards something more than just a FPS.

      1. Infinite is a more focused game than the previous Bioshocks.

        Consider how the story and level progression is more linear. It suggests Irrational had little interest in recreating the illusion of player choice, which is perhaps necessary after “Would you kindly?”

        The mechanics reflect this streamlining as well. Consider the elimination of the weapon wheel from the prior games. They retained the same wheel system for the Vigors that was used for the plasmids, yet Booker can only carry a pair of firearms at a time. This is no accident. This limitation, along with the randomized skill boosts from the gear, forces the player to make a strategic commitment early on (especially in 1999 mode).

        I think this is wise. Bioshock 2’s combat system was wide open and offered a variety of environmental interaction. Infinite could have done the same, but I think in this case less was more. The limitations make things a bit more urgent, and that urgency is reflected in the plot.


      Feel free to disagree while I take the same liberty to not give a damn about your opinion.

      Your comments give the impression that you do give a damn about the opinions of people who don’t like the game to the point that you want them to change their opinions.

      I haven’t played the game so I can’t judge it specifically but “Hey, it’s a FPS!” isn’t an excuse.  Half-Life and Half-Life 2 were both FPSs — and both essentially on rails — but they’re nonetheless ground-breaking games built on a FPS engine.  Speaking of which, umm, Portal?  There’s room for debate about whether Portal should actually be considered a FPS but it uses the same engine as Half-Life 2 and the mechanics are all based around shooting a (rather unique) gun.  Fallout 3 gave us FPS mechanics in massive and surprisingly open-ended RPG.  The original Bioshock has some similar RPG mechanics, though it is obviously much less open-ended.

      So it seems to me people have been judging this game as an FPS still — understandably — find it wanting.  Again, I don’t have an opinion on it myself but it seems perfectly legitimate to me to say, “yes, it’s a FPS and not a very good one”.  For example, a lot of commenters are comparing the game unfavorably to previous Bioshock games, and since those games are also FPSs it seems to me that this is judging the game as a FPS.

      1. Yo son, don’t ever accuse me of respecting the opinions of others in your life. It is legit to say that Bioshock Infinite is a bad FPS, it’s also legit to say the people who think Bioshock Infinite is a bad FPS are bad people to listen to. Because they’re wrong, in my humble opinion. No, the game isn’t as mechanically inventive as Bulletstorm, I guess, but to call it an incompetent shooter is baselessly provocative. The combat is fun, kid. Not quite Borderlands 2 fun, but objectively empirically factually indisputably fun.

        1. [snort]

          Well, I guess you told him.  I’m finding the combat less fun.  I’ll throw some Possession at the biggest possessable foe in the area, wait for him to soften everyone up, take a few potshots, then melee the ones who get through.  Rinse and yawn as one repeats.  The Handymen are tough, and the Mechanized Patriots move annoyingly fast so they’re tough to get behind without using more Possession, but they fall over eventually.  And then I loot some more ammo, silver eagles, and the occasional banana.

          That’s “objectively empirically factually indisputably fun”?  I guess my imagination needs a tad more stimulation.

  18. This was one of the shallowest and most tone deaf interpretations and analysis I’ve ever read. How it is possible to misunderstand and misinterpret the rather strightforward critisicsm and nuanced thoughts over how the US reinterprets its own history (over WW II, Korea, Iraq, Cold War, the 56 “interventions” in South America…) with using the same techniques (with Wounded Knee and the Boxer rebellion), even far less caricatured than what US Propaganda between 1890-1970 was.

    Or that the whole section in the Hall of Heroes was a critique of the modern shooter genre, which takes real US wars and reinterprets them as totally linear hyper-patriotic shooting galley set-pieces of cutscene/tin soldiers to shoot every few minutes (just like the Hall of Heroes segment consciously was).

    Has the writer even found a single Voxophone? Because I can’t imagine he would write an article showing his pants so far down if he had.

  19. I also see quite a bit of commentary about the ‘wtf’ ‘copout’ ending. People just haven’t read enough science fiction.

    The whole plot is quite digestible, comprehensible, and satisfying if you’ve grown up on Gene Wolfe and David Gerold (The Man Who Folded Himself!), Greg Egan (Diaspora), Roger Zelazny (Amber), Charles Stross( Merchant Princes),  or even the Dark Tower series.

    Furthermore, it foreshadows and echoes the larger plot in multiple ways (Songbird). There’s nothing WTF or copout about it as long as you can wrap your mind around the infinite parallel words thing (which is enough of a WTF in itself). The game does not spring this on you out of nowhere.

  20. I think the game is, if not perfect, a stepstone in gaming altogether whose real value is only to be established when others jump on the bandwagon. The revolutionary idea in this game was to put the artwork in front and the game mechanics behind. Those game mechanics aren’t groundbreaking in any way. Actually, they are pretty much the basic sum of all that existed until now, so: nothing special here. But the visual part, the musical part… Have you noticed, for example, how much work has been done in making the ultimate steampunk soundtrack, consisting for a major part of 80’s synthpop hits transposed into golden age style music? The story, the idea behind it and the whole athmosphere are the stars of the game. Of course: that’s not anyone’s cup of tea but it is new and refreshing in a way. Sure, it has been done before but never in that intensity, with that obsession. It’s not perfect though and I am sure that a developer studio has to choose wisely how they spend their budget and make hard decisions as to where they will set the focus. Bioshock Infinite is a play, a performance where you, as a player can take part. Don’t expect it to be the most revolutionary shooter on the market at the same time!

  21. Bioshock: Infinite has a pretty good story. But, it’s a story that would have worked better as an animated movie. It isn’t taking advantage of the unique advantages of computer games, that the player can make decisions that significantly alter the course of the story. Instead, it follows a simple model in which successfully overcoming each game challenge is rewarded with another part of the completely pre-determined story.

    This is all the more frustrating, as the premise of the story concerns an infinite number of branching paths, each with a single origin and leading to a single conclusion. The developers could have had the story come to a single conclusion, but with a variety of paths the player could choose to reach that conclusion. From the earliest trailers, the story involved a civil war in Columbia between two factions, which implies that the player would be confronted with the choice of choosing among them. In the story as it plays out, there are at least four occasions in which Booker is invited to align with some faction, but Booker doesn’t have any actual alternatives.

    I’m coming at this partly with memories of the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle, in which the game developers decided to impose an ending that disregarded the details of the player’s choices. What was most galling was the team leads’ insistence that only an imposed ending could be artistically satisfying. I’m worried about a trend in game design in which rejecting the novel possibilities of the medium isn’t just laziness, but is actually a conscious decision by game developers. It’s of a piece with the fading of the ideal of general purpose computers and an open Internet as offering more scope for freedom and unconstrained interaction.

    1. Must games feature a branching narrative? The medium allows it. Perhaps the medium even encourages it. I’m not convinced the medium demands it. That position is sort of tyrannical, and it dismisses some of the greatest achievements in video game storytelling. 

      Is The Walking Dead a disadvantaged gaming experience because it ultimately subjugates the authority of player choice and enforces a largely predetermined conclusion?

      I think not. There’s certainly room for both linear and nonlinear narratives in the medium. A game’s story shouldn’t be seen as lesser because it abstains from a narrative device that doesn’t serve it. Bioshock Infinite could have gone the route of Heavy Rain, but thank Bokonon that it didn’t.

      1.  Should *every* game have branching narratives? No, of course not.

        But, I believe it’s the most intriguing possibility opened up by computer games as a medium. And I’m seeing a trend towards rejecting the idea of branching narratives — not just out of laziness or limited budgets, as many speculate, but through some misguided translation of auteur theory from film to games.

        And it strikes me as especially disappointing when the possibility of branching narratives is rejected in a game with a story whose explicit premise is exploring branching narratives; in which a major character’s life is shaped by her ability to leap between branches of a narrative; which ends with the protagonists are discussing “constants and variables”, a model for constructing games with branching narratives that still has a coherent narrative; in which infinite possibilities for branching narratives is actually referenced in the very title of the game.

        1. I’m a bit on the fence here.  Personally, I prefer my videogame stories to have multiple endings, all else being equal.  I like the feeling that my actions have measurable repercussions and influence on the game’s world and story outcome.  I’ve played my share of games without any real narrative where you just shoot as many enemies until they finally kill you. I got bored with that dynamic circa Space Invaders.  I played Firefight on Halo 3: ODST a couple of times and realized that I still have limited patience for a game without a story.

          And of course a game can have a story that unfolds as I play along and doesn’t materially change whether I play one way or another, and that can be okay too, if it’s a compelling enough story.  But once I started playing sandbox games like the last few Bethesda titles, or story-driven choice-heavy titles like Mass Effect, I really came to appreciate how satisfying it can be to have some influence over how a story plays out, even though I know every last outcome is totally scripted and there are only a handful of them.

          And I’m seeing a trend towards rejecting the idea of branching narratives — not just out of laziness or limited budgets, as many speculate, but through some misguided translation of auteur theory from film to games.

          Much as I detest auteurism in film criticism, I have to say that when developers of story-based games reject the idea of branching narratives, the only justification I won’t bitch endlessly about is if they genuinely believe there is only one possible legitimate ending.  Laziness is inexcusable, and lack of resources is a lame excuse that always needs to be apologized for (or better yet, worked around), but if a particular game has one definite goal which the player either reaches or does not, then that can be a legitimate storytelling restriction, if that circumstance serves the story and the developers are being intellectually honest about it.  The folks at Bioware were not being honest when they claimed that having all the branching roads of the three Mass Effect games lead up to one conclusion that varied only in color was the only artistically valid ending, especially in light of the way the player’s choices so heavily affected gameplay in every foregoing moment in all three games.  The ending they wrote might have worked perfectly fine had Mass Effect been any other science-fiction RPG/FPS.  Would it have killed them to write one or two or five different endings, including the one they did use?  Would that have offended their artistic integrity?  Or would it just have taken a little extra effort and fit in perfectly with the entire choice ethos of the series?  As it was, Bioware dropped the ball on the 1-yard line, screwed up the ending, and we’re left with a 3-game series that’s hugely satisfying from start to ten minutes before the finish. It’s like they shot the nose off their own Sphinx.

          And you’re right about Bioshock Infinite.  It’s definitely a game whose very premise demands a departure from the rails in this day and age.  They didn’t have to write it that way.  The first two Bioshocks didn’t involve alternate timelines and realities and still managed to have different endings depending on how one played the game.  Maybe taking the game off the rails would have been too demanding an undertaking.  I’ll never know; I’m no videogame designer.  But oh, if it had been… I think I’ll be dreaming of the wasted possibilities for a while to come.

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