Now, some of you might have read Kotaku’s „BioShock Infinite Is Insanely, Ridiculously Violent. It’s A Real Shame“, where known people from the industry were going all „nyeh, this game shouldn’t be so violent“. The complaints are mostly about the hook, since it features gruesome fatalities. Of course, as usual, Kotaku is mostly wrong.
Now, I will admit that the first kills with the hook are pretty jarring – especially since the ride up to that point was all rainbows and Comstocks. And now I’m slaughtering policemen left and right. I felt uncomfortable for jamming metal up a cop’s head – and most cop killing in games is pretty impersonal. Though people from Kotaku should have felt better than I did – that’s a racist cop, after all, and isn’t racism one of the ills of the society that Kotaku and the Escapist aim to cure?
In their pursuit for their own secular, all inclusive, gender neutral Columbia, they miss the fact that the whole combat system is fucked. The difference between BioShock and BioShock Infinite is akin to that between Dragon Age and Dragon Age 2 — combat is less intimate and more about killing masses of faceless mooks. Splicers were the tragic victims of self inflicted genetic manipulation. Enemies in Infinite are there just to be enemies; so that you would feel like a bad-ass for mowing them down – like in Call of Duty or something.
Another big sign combat design laziness is the two guns limit. Why is it there? Because half of the guns in game are palette swaps of the first half. Put some red on it, maybe add a scope, BAM, new weapon! If you could carry all of them, the lack of effort would be pretty obvious. It’s even sadder with weapon upgrades: in BioShock, you’d do them just to see how the guns looks afterwards – and the nifty powers that came with it didn’t hurt. Here, it’s just a dumb stats increase.
But we’re forgetting one other weapon – the controversial shit-to-panties expediter, the hook. It pales in comparison to Wrench from BioShock, which, with smart and liberal application of plasmids, could become the only weapon you would ever need. Stealth, ice upgrades – wrench was a connoisseur’s weapon, a primitive tool for a more civilized age. The Drill in BioShock 2 wasn’t as good, but it still had something going for it – for example, an upgrade that let you deflect bullets while spinning in. Here, the hook is demoted from a real weapon (that would have it’s own slot and all) to a button that makes bad people go away if they come close – and if the enemy got to melee range, that means you suck. Please note, pummelling someone with the hook in Hard mode is stupid and suicidal. So, beyond that first use on a cop, it really is a useless gimmick.
Much like the whole combat system, which is entirely disconnected from the game world. How are Handymen made and who is Songbird? We don’t know, but we had to put them since BioShock had Big Daddies and Big Sisters. What are vigors, how do they work? Who knows, who cares! They might be factory produced, adds for them might litter the world, actual bottles are lying everywhere, but only you and a couple of special enemies use them! Oh, water puddles and oil slicks that would organically fit into the environments? Too hard to make, so here’s Elisabeth quantum-pulling them from between her sweet butt cheeks.
While we’re on ass-pulls, here’s a vigor to hack machines for you, because hacking puzzles, while fine and dandy for SystemShocks and BioShocks 1 and 2, aren’t what we want in this game. Much like security cameras, which were prominent in all games up to now. You see, this is an action oriented shooter, so no skulking around looking for hacks and cams. And here are some more checkpoints to boot, since they are a great idea in game that lets you explore the environment and loot stuff. Had to close the game before the next checkpoint came? Well boohoo, what do you think you were playing? BioShock?!
And yet they ramble on how they can’t show BioShock Infinite as a sign that the industry has matured. Well, what’s holding them from showing BioShock the first? Why is Infinite supposed to be Lamb that would drown in flames the world of the mundanes? Mundanes that would see that first cop killing and would go all „yep, games are damned forever“. It’s like dismissing Tarantino’s or Cohen’s movies because they’re violent. It’s like dropping „American History X“ after the curb-stomp scene. If you want to enlighten someone as fickle as that, you’re doing a Sisyphean task that only gains you accolades after you complain to like-minded individuals in Tumblr (or Kotaku)…
In the end, most of the player’s active interaction with the world of Columbia is a dumbed down version of the Rapture experience. And if you cry out for more Elizabeth and environmental exploration and puzzles, well… Do you remember the original reveal of „Bioshock: Infinite“? No? Let’s recap:
It‘s a three year old, 10 minutes long video about the world we could experience. City was alive, it was breathing, it had face and it faced many problems. It also looked very familiar as in comparison with many problems and choices we’re facing today. Yes, early videos and screenshots looked harsh, yes they sparked some controversies in press, but what of it? Cheap write ups dissecting Columbia in a light of some ongoing real life debates where ment to generate clicks, not to solve any problems. But somehow I feel that someone (be it a publisher, or developer) got spooked. Columbia became sterile and empty shell of a city it could’ve been.
Also, what happened to Elizabeth and her powers? It feels like originally there was a choice to make. You know, exploit the girl to beat the game quick and easy, or balance things, so everyone is happy at the end? Fact is she wasn’t just another nice manifestation of Yorda (Ico) or Elika (Prince of Persia 2008), Elizabeth was bound to be greater than that, but ended up just like any other sidekick. Why?
Well it’s just a guess, but we’re thinking that maybe gaming media is a part of this? If media and critics tend to lose focus on gameplay values and mechanics, while they use game related discussions to push various agendas, maybe it’s only normal that developers choose to play it safe? Even if that safety is provided via simple smoke and mirrors illusions, allowing everyone to see only the stuff they wish? You think you’re not fooled by it? Well then, compare the skyrail system Columbia had three years ago, with the one it has now.
„Bioshock Infinite“ if definitely a good game. Sad thing is, that there’s no game related elements that would bring it higher above the competition. Whole combat system and it’s parts, sense of exploration, overall atmosphere and freedom of choice… All these elements is ranging from mediocre to good. Perfection is probably achieved only in voice acting, sound engineering, storytelling (not the story itself though) and attention to some specific details, but on these terms it should compete with movies on „Metacritic“.