Friday, April 12, 2013

Bioshock Infinite (XB360): Full of Hot Air.

When I play a game in the first person perspective, I get very unpopular with my friends because of my usual harsh criticisms.  Look at the first person games I have reviewed here, maybe one or two of them actually walked away with positive recommendations out of me.  But I don't consider myself a "hater" of first person shooters, because there are a handful of examples in the genre that I gravitate to, enjoy, and love. 

One of those examples was the first Bioshock game. Scary setting, good story, excellent pacing, creepy enemies, and the fuck'n Big Daddies. I hold it as one my staples of excellent FPS games and aside from a friend spoiling the games biggest twist for me, it was a near perfect experience. I severely disliked the 2nd one, however. It just felt boring, unimaginative, and lifeless. Just tacking a less interesting story onto the same game I've already played. Because of this I hesitated on the newest Bioshock release. However, I've heard numerous positive reports and seen many high scores. So many its time to give this series another chance.


In Bioshock Infinite you play as Booker DeWitt, a disgraced agent who is indebted deeply to the wrong people. In an attempt to clear out his debt and start fresh, he was been tasked to go to the floating city of Columbia to find and apprehend a young girl by the name of Elizabeth. After heading to a rocket silo in Maine, he is launched up into the floating city and is greeted by an almost eerily cultish society.

He manages to pass through undetected until at local raffle o' racism, a citizen notices the brand on his hand. Shit starts to go haywire as apparently the cities prophet, Comstock, foresaw that Booker would arrive to take the girl away and bring the fall of Columbia. Booker is branded as a false shepherd and the people begin to revolt against him. Booker manages to work his way to the tower where Elizabeth is being held captive and convinces her to escape with him.

I'm going to have a hard time putting some structure into this review, since my feelings on this one where kind of all over the place. But to sort of give things away, I had a lot of hesitation going into this one because Bioshock 2 I felt was so poor I didn't even want to bother with Bioshock Infinite. Infinite actually starts off very similar to the first game as well, although instead of a plane you are taken by boat to a silo in the middle of the sea where you are strapped in and taken to this games variation of Utopian society.

But unlike the previous two games, nothing apparently is going wrong here. People aren't hideous deformities because they are overly spliced. The city isn't falling apart because of the nonstop pressure of the ocean. Everything is brightly lit because the city is high above the clouds. It was just.... A city. It's an incredible let down because the moment the gameplay actually takes place, it just feels like you are on a regular old cityscape and the floating city concept is chucked out the window. There isn't water leaking in through the walls and there is no dark and scary atmosphere to the game. If anything the city and the people in it seem more cartoony than previous games which from an art style standpoint I think is a bit of a downgrade.

The actual aspect of the floating city comes into play on some of the maps when you have to engage in the rail system. Most of the time these are simply to travel from point A to point B, but there a handful of maps where firefights take place on multiple levels of floor and you need to use these rails to glide up and down floors or purse and airship. Its a pretty interesting concept, but it never felt exactly fluid with me. A lot of the time you just kinda hop onto the rail and pray. Most of the time I never even used it, and if I didn't need to use them to beat the game? Then in my opinion they weren't incorporated right. 

Because of its first person perspective, this can also get you turned around real fast. Infinite introduced a bit of way point feature much like Dead Space does where you can drop a line and it sort of guides you in the general direction of where you need to go, but with the rails it becomes incredibly difficult to follow and there have been a number of times I found myself going completely in the wrong direction. At some points it doesn't even work, but that's usually become some kind of event needs to take place first.

I never did get the knack of using the skyhook.
I would have liked the fact that the city was floating to play more of a factor into the combat as well. There are occasional points where you can miss a jump and fall off the edge, but I would have liked it more to be incorporated into environmental kills. Allow me to blast out a glass floor to take out a group of enemies or give me some kind of force blast to throw people over the edge. That would have increased the combat for me immensely. 

Another thing that would have improved the fighting for me would be interesting and fun enemies. This is another area where I feel Bioshock 1 crushes Infinite. In one you have the splicers and they all have unique attributes about them. Some just try to run and stab you, some throw hooked blades at you, some of them can disappear and come back. On top of that? They were fucking crazy. Just listening to them sing to themselves, pray out loud, cry about how lonely they are before they notice you just adds to this feeling that things are fucked up, and raises the tension greatly.

Infinite's enemies are basically just 1920's soldiers or civil servants. Sometimes you have a citizen with gun, sometimes you have a soldier with a gun, sometimes you have a rebel with a gun, or in a pinch sometimes you have a robot with a gun. Whew, give me a minute to re-balance myself from all that staggering innovation.  And like the surrounding city, everything is all sunny and enemies are wearing overly saturated bright colors. I suppose it gives them a distinct look but it kills much of the intimidation of the foes as I fight them.

Now, not every enemy in Infinite is completely generic. They do have a few interesting concepts such as steampunk robo-washington, a hooded man with a coffin on his back who can break into a murder of crows and teleport, and Infinite's answer to the Big Daddies, the Handyman. The crow man was pretty cool, but after a while it just becomes another fodder enemy. Not difficult enough to be a reoccurring boss, and not frequent enough to be a grunt. The Handymen are the only things that feel like a boss or miniboss, but unlike the big Daddies where you can use your surroundings to fight them, it seems like the only way to put down Handymen is just unload your weapons into the big glowing spot on their chest. Snore.

The combat in this game left me a bit disappointed as well. Maybe this can be easily fixed by adjusting the sensitivity settings, but the aim in this game felt very jerky and off. This isn't something I ever had an issue with in the previous Bioshock games but it was a enough of an issue here for me make note of it more than once. 

Not the Big Daddy. At all. Boo. 
Weapon's kind of disappointed me too. At first I thought Infinite had less weapons than the first one, but in reality its about the same amount. The problems are they took away two of the different and original weapons like the crossbow and chemical thrower for extra variants on machine gun and assault rifle. In addition to that, they also took away having a variety of different types of rounds for just one regular type. Both of these are a let down because I love the chemical thrower and giving me different ammo types allowed me to strategize or switch for tougher enemies.

The other thing about the guns I hate is they took away the ability to collect all of them for the same ole boring ass two weapon slots. I fucking hate this. When I pick up a rocket launcher, I don't want to use it right away on some dumbass foot soldier. I want to hang onto it and pull it out when I have a tougher enemy or a mini boss. I can't do this when I can only carry two guns because that makes ammo capacity limited. So what ends up happening is I try to maintain the two weapons that allow me to hold the most amount of ammo.

And where the fuck is the wrench?! I was a master assassin with that thing by the end of Bioshock. Mashing someone with the but of my gun isn't nearly as satisfying. So maybe I got some perverse joy by continuing to wail on the skull of a downed splicer with the wrench long after I killed it. So what? Don't judge me.

Guess what: Pistols and sniper rifles barely work on this thing.
Let me carry more than two fucking guns. 
I suppose the mentality is to make you use everything when you pick them up, but it basically takes out the element of situation need. There are points in the game where I would have loved to have a sniper rifle, but not at the sacrifice of the machine gun that has carried me so far already. Or there would have been a situation were I needed one, but there wasn't one around to swap out for. I'm not going to carry around my sniper rifle for when I might need it next when I'm getting onslaughted by foot soldiers and I need lots of ammo and high rate of fire. I hate this system. 

I felt the same way about the Vigors in this game. A number of them have different names but essentially, they are variants of the Plasmids we have used in previous Bioshocks. But these are cut down too: No enrage, no hypnotize, no ice blast. Either they have a broad one like Possession that just works on everything but shittier (since it never seems to last long enough to stop me from getting gunned down), or the majority of them collect dust because they all do the same thing. Quick fire for attack, Hold down for bomb trap. Once you level up Fire (huge damage) and Lightning (chains to multiple enemies), I found literally no reason to use anything else.

I will say though, perhaps I'm a bit harsh on the vigor aspect. I've talked to a couple of people who have also beaten the game and each of them said they used two specific vigors, and all of us chose a different two. So I suppose it is more a matter of personal preference rather that effectiveness  Still, would have liked some more diverse options.

So if I can swing back to the story for a second here, they game really goes hard for the shock factor right out of the gate because as soon as you crack the surface of this Pleasantville-esq society it pretty much throws right in your face "Holy shit! Look at how racist all these white people are!" Aside from flinging out terms like Master Race, pretty much anyone not fully Caucasian is part of the cities downtrodden, abused and neglected. As I played through and listened to NPCs spout off nearly every racial slur I could think of, I could only help but think "Christ, this is white folk figuring out how to get away with it."

But then the story shifted and without spoiling to much, starts to delve into the idea of alternate dimensions. It was around this point that I started to forget about my complaints with the game play and really started to get engrossed in the story. This however was quickly knocked back down because after a good bit of pacing, the game just explodes in BioCall of Duty:1921. There is just firefights going on all over the place, shit blowing up, and everything moves a frenetic pace. It fucking pissed me off because if the regular baddies with guns made it feel less like Bioshock, having massive military firefights made it even less so.

Seriously, White folk figured out they can be as racist as the want
so long as its done in the name of art. Good work games industry.
But then something strange happened, in the late stages of the game I came across a boss fight where this spectre started raising up spirits from corpses. They still had guns by they had these creepy glowing eyes on their spectral bodies. This ghost would rip around the field screaming in anguish as she rose more soldiers, and if she had enough she'd fly at me and start swinging her ghostly claws. I noticed the sky had darkened and winds were swirling. I could only think "where the shit was this cool stuff when I first started playing the game?!"

Apparently the game knew I was not going have positive things to say, so in a last ditch effort it started throwing things at me that looked awesome. So I guess I can say its back half was much stronger for me than its front, although its around the point I started liking the game that the story went fucking bananas on me.

This shit needed to happen much sooner. 
If I had to pick something I liked about this game I would say its probably got the most interesting characters yet. First off, Booker is not a silent protagonist. He's got a name, a face, and quite the substantial bit of dialog and back story to him. He starts off somewhat jaded and cold  but goes through a good amount of development to make him a likable protagonist.

But who I liked even more than that was Elizabeth. Not because she's the games token pretty face to escort around, but because as far as support characters go she might be the best one I've seen in a long time. Even though she's an obvious damsel in distress, she is confident without coming off as arrogant or aggressive  Despite being basically held prisoner by her father and a giant robot bird (oh yeah, there's a giant robot bird in this game btw), she is cheerful and resourceful. Even though Booker basically breaks in on her, she is smart enough to see him as her chance to escape from her cage.

But she's not just a pretty face to escort either, she pulls her own weight. She doesn't fight per say, but as you scramble around the battle field she will throw you health, salt for vigors, or ammunition in a pinch when you need them. She can also use her ability to rip tears in timespace to provide cover, cause a distraction, allow you access an area you couldn't, or bring in a robot to help you fight. She also is the teams locksmith (which really isn't much since the locks seem arbitrary and you collect the picks).

Booker may be the hero but Elizabeth is clearly the driving force in the story, and definitely seems to have the understanding that she is somehow part of something much bigger than her..... She does always seem to have this stupidly bewildered smug look on her face at all times though. It can ruin a great bit a dialog between the two characters, as if she finished the conversation and then suddenly realized she didn't understand a word she said. Still, she was charming enough to make me fall head over heels for her, (maybe not as much as these lunatics but then again....  Persona 4.)

The game has multiplayer too, but I didn't have the online pass for it, its an FPS game so I'm sure there's not a whole lot of innovation there, and frankly I don't give a shit about multiplayer. Online gamers are assholes. You people really shouldn't expect to hear me talk about it at this point.

The main reason I played this game after so much hesitation is that, like mentioned previously, this game has been getting immaculate reviews. If the reviewing source wasn't giving it a perfect 10, then it was getting 9.75 and that's when my bullshit meter goes off. Here's what bothers me about that, most of the reviews I have read hinge their score based almost completely on the story. Now don't get me wrong, the story after a bit of a sluggish beginning was nothing short of incredible and I wholeheartedly agree that this is the games strongest aspect.

But if the game truly was perfect as so many other reviewers have said, I should not have been able to come up with so many faults to point out. I've admitted that I am incredibly rigid judge of FPS games, but proponents of the original Bioshock or System Shock have had a number of the same gripes that I had as well, so I am clearly not alone in my feelings here. That's not to say its bad though, the game more than stands up on its own and I liked it way more than I did Bioshock 2. 

So the question I raise here is does having an incredible story completely make up for faults in gameplay? I don't think it does, but it certainly goes a long way in making me ignore faults. Take a look at one my favorite games ever, Silent Hill 2. From a purely technical gameplay standpoint the game is fucking awful. Clunky tank controls, loose and unresponsive combat, average voice acting (when compared to current day standards). But the story department is so good that I learn to overlook these flaws. Is the game great? Absolutely. Is the game perfect? No, not at all.

And that is where I see Bioshock Infinite. Die hards to the Shock series of games aren't going to find this as a true spiritual successor to System Shock 2, and the fans that really loved Bioshock 1 aren't going to see Infinite as a massive improvement to the series. But the game does have some interesting moments, some very relatable and likeable characters, and an ending so expertly constructed that pretty much every gamer's jaw hits the floor when they realize the twist.

Bioshock Infinite to me was a great experience in gaming. I played it nearly start to finish in two days, had a great time, and left the game feeling satisfied with my overall experience. The game was not perfect. Now that I finished it I don't really have any desire to go back to it. That to me does not spell a perfect score. But it does merit much of the praise its getting. The game is completely deserving of 8's or 9's or 90+%'s. But to say that this is the pinnacle of gaming perfection is a gross overstatement in my opinion.

Bioshock Infinite is definitely worth your time, but its not the apex of video games in our lifetime. Lower your expectations a bit and you'll be fine.

(Review subject to change when I get a check from 2k like all the other reviewers. {False})

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