Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My Thoughts on Bioshock Infinite (SPOILERS)

NOTE: I have played through 60% of Bioshock Infinite and have seen about 90% of the game, including the ending. So, keep that in mind while reading this.

So, Bioshock Infinite. It's become one of the highest-rated and most talked about games ever in just a smal amount of time. However, I find the game quite over-rated. Now, before you smack me, let me say that I find BI to be a great game, amazing in some respects, but still over-rated.

Let me say my praises for the game first. First off, the game looks amazing. Sure, NPC models are reused, and enemy models don't look that great, but the environments, Elizabeth, and Songbird all look incredible, and the way they all touch and interact with each other is great as well. Next, I'll say that the execution of the story is a huge step above the original, as now the story plays out right in front of you, and the player feels a lot more engaged because of it. The soundtrack and voice acting are also superb, especially the superb performance from Troy Baker as Booker.

Now, onto my criticisms. Basically, my main gripe (and main reason I chose to wrote this blog) is that BI gets praised for so many things that we've seen or experiences before. The first example being the gameplay: it's the same thing as the first game. Sure, the new zip-line mechanic is cool, but its hardly used; heck, combat as a whole is a pretty small part of the game, which is perhaps why it isn't very deep. Sure, there are the multiple vigors and guns, but each battle plays out in the same fashion: point and shoot. There is little to no variety in the BI's combat, despite the fact that the vigors give you many useful abilities. One could say the controlling of machines is a strong point of the combat, but it quickly becomes dull when controlling the turrets or machines is what you do every time you see one. Same can be said for how to deal with the people. Murder of Crows, Bucking Bronco, or whichever vigor you prefer to use to slow down your enemy so you can shoot them. Overall, combat is just too simple; well, at least too simple to be praised. BI's main focus is the story anyway, so it seems a bit harsh to criticize the gameplay so harshly.

And that brings me to the second point: the story. Two praises the story gets that I find irksome are the beginning and the multiple universes. I'll start with the beginning. The beginning of BI begins with a fair where you can participate in attractions, listen to a barbershop quartet, and even practice combat for later. I'd give this part of the game more praise if I hadn't already experienced it well over a decade ago in Chrono Trigger.  Don't get me wrong, it was a really nice way to start the game, but we have to give credit where credit is due, and BI's opening feels practically ripped right out of CT's Millenial Fair opening. And next comes the multiple universes that begin to overlap with each other due to the actions of one man and certain events of the past. Does this sound familiar? Because it's the main plot foundation for Chrono Cross. While BI's ending did eventually make its story more than a rip-off of CC's, I found it quite noticeable.

And third, we come to the setting: the city in the sky run by a tyrannical overlord with kind words but an evil agenda, where people are separated into classes that are forbidden to interbreed, where the people revere their ruler and his offspring as their guiding light, and it all comes crumbling down due to the hubris of the the city's leader and the rebellion of his offspring who once that he controlled through love. Sound familiar?

It's Zeal. It's Zeal to a freakin' T! Now, I'm not saying BI's setting still isn't great, as I especially liked the way it crafted a beautiful utopian version of America in the 1920s. But the similarities to Chrono Trigger most famous arc cannot be denied. Now, I know that there have been many stories in the past that feature cities in the sky, tyrannical overlords, seducing the people with words, etc. But the way they all came together in CT's Zeal arc was an amazing experience back in 1995. I know it probably didn't happen with everyone, but the comparisons hit me pretty early on, and, as a result, I felt the story lost a lit of impact. I'd seen this all before. It also didn't help that the story was pretty predictable, with the exception of the ending (though you could see a lot of elements of that coming too).

Which leads to my last point: the story and characters. The story of BI is perhaps what gets the most praise; particularly, the ending and the character of Elizabeth. The ending was quite good, though it is foreshadowed a lot throughout the game, and we've seen multiple universe stories before, mainly in sci-fi shows, novels, and movies. So, imo, it was entertaining, but nothing groundbreaking. Just because this type of story is put into a videogame doesn't mean its as if we hadn't experienced it before in other mediums. Now to the character of Elizabeth, who I feel was well done, but not nearly as impactful as many make her out to be. Sure, it's nice that she does interesting things like not follow you into the men's bathroom, wait on a bench while your scrounging, or provide lots of expressive facial expressions at key moments, but, besides all that, she never had much of an impact on me. I never felt attached to her. I suppose that's mainly due to the fact that she never feels like she needed Booker's help. She follows you perfectly, takes care of herself in battle, and saves Booker a bunch of times. Now, I like Elizabeth in that she is a strong character, but if the purpose of the game was to make me care about Elizabeth as someone to rescue, I don't think the game accomplished that. ICO executed this perfectly with Yorda; I find that to be the perfect example of a female companion the player bonds with through gameplay and story.

Overall, Bioshock Infinite is a great game, but not a very satisfying one. It executes a lot of its ideas, both gameplay and story, quite well, but it feels like a very limited experience. Combat can only get so deep, how much I care for Elizabeth can only go so far, and the impact of the setting can only tantalize me so much before I fall out of the experience and feel more like I'm watching a decent play rather than experiencing a videogame.

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