Bioshock Infinite’s stand-out mechanic is probably the opening of tears, allowing a player to create turrets and environmental hazards out of thin air, and Elizabeth’s support in general. The rail combat is also neat. None of these things outperform the expectations placed on such a high profile game. They’re toys that add to the gun-shooting genre maybe a little less than Dishonored’s blinking abilities add to the stealth-killing genre. It’s a fun, if safe, high-budget spectacle game. The story is well executed, certainly in terms of polish and expense, and provides a few thrills, the ending most of all, while not getting in the way of the player killing stuff. I’d rather replay Bulletstorm.
Elizabeth is certainly cool. She provides ammo, health, creates cover, finds money, picks locks, and even informs the player of points of no return. She does everything but shoot a gun, plus she’s completely invulnerable and never lags behind. If the designers were afraid of a gamer’s natural hatred for escort missions, they overcompensated, but I was also sad in the assurance that despite how much Elizabeth pampered the player, if she was still capable of getting shot in the head when Booker took too long to clear a room, much of the game’s target demographic would be calling her a stupid bitch whore. The developers may have been walking on eggshells and can’t be faulted for that, but it does speak to a feeling of ludic immaturity. Nobody’s asking for the game to make them care for a mentally disabled child, but a little real danger would probably be best. Then again, I went a little crazy any time Elizabeth told me she saw a lockpick and wouldn’t point directly at it, so I may not be the best evidence to support my own suggestions. It’s a complicated problem, no doubt.
It’s sort of the Avatar of video games. The opening plot is dishearteningly close to one of the big cliches in story structures: “Guy lies to girl when they first meet, guy comes to legitimately care about her after spending more time together, girl discovers lie once it’s arguably irrelevant and is heartbroken, guy redeems himself by doing something cool or putting down a convenient greater villain, girl forgives guy and they’re happy again but this time honestly.” In the game’s defense, it helps that Booker is more-or-less up front about the fact that people paid him to retrieve Elizabeth, and that these are unpleasant people. His lie is not that he is fighting for her benefit, so the sting of betrayal is a shorter arc, overshadowed by the more interesting many-worlds spacetime-travel plot that follows. And while she doesn’t pretend to be Clementine from The Walking Dead, Elizabeth’s exposure to Booker’s gruesome and sometimes barely-justified killing sprees does cause some mixed feelings, though the player isn’t given a lot of leeway, and the game never lays the guilt on too thick. It probably knows that people are only playing it because they want to shoot people. If you want a more interesting examination of these ideas, play Spec Ops: The Line.
All the same, I wanted consonance between the story and my actions, so I at least tried to avoid unnecessary spree killings. In one case, I stole an infusion upgrade. I didn’t want to kill noncombatants, but I wanted the upgrade and didn’t know if there was another way to get it. I decided to try sprinting off the map instead of opening fire, hoping people might calm down after I’d disappeared. Instead, I ran into a building, the game autosaved, forcing me to stick with my choice, and I had to kill the people in there, too. Actually, that was the only time I died in the whole game–when I got frustrated and starting dicking around in the bar, ignoring the people shooting at me. I’d suggest not playing this one on Normal, as it sets the bar lower than most games.
Come to think of it, I also died when my blimp apparently took too much damage while I was playing with various guns to get some exotic weapons achievement. Trying to get 150 kills with the machine gun or repeater discouraged me from spending more time in glorious Mass Effect 3-style Charge & Shotgun Vanguard play, and I wouldn’t recommend caring about them. Combat was actually very reminiscent of Mass Effect 3 overall, which surely had an influence on its vigor combo system, where powers either prime or detonate the effects of others. Combat’s a little sharper in some ways, a little more dynamic, but less chaotic, and with no strategic pause. But there aren’t any especially unique ideas in Bioshock Infinite’s system, and there are better reasons for a Mass Effect 3 replay.
The environments and art are great, not quite as visually interesting as Dishonored’s style, but with some fantastic sculptures, paintings, and other creative ideas. Some of the setting influences were also quite daring–it’s unheard of for a video game protagonist to get baptised, or to pick up a guitar in someone’s basement and start playing a folksy hymn. Normally, when I say I want the influences on games to branch out, I’ll talk about games that are being made in Chile, or Ukraine, but Bioshock Infinite definitely hammers it in that America has its own storied cultural history that game developers have hitherto never bothered to fathom. That kind of action ought to be praised, probably more than anything else Bioshock Infinite does, though these are still ultimately praises of flavor, talk about things done in cutscenes, no doubt important, but ultimately not my priority, as it says little about good game design.
Bioshock Infinite isn’t tailored for people who want full completion but also don’t want to constantly worry and check guides to make sure they don’t miss things, so I missed a few sources of wealth, voxophone achievements and so on. Thankfully, I was capable of drawing a line, and putting my time with the game on the other side of it. I did come back for the DLC, but it’s simple enough to say that I found it quite fun, on par with the rest of the game.