Shocking, isn’t it? (BIOSHOCK SPOILERS AHEAD)
I finished Bioshock Infinite today and I’d like to burst out some thoughts while they’re still in my head.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
ARE YOU SERIOUS CLOSE THIS TAB AND GO BACK TO THE GAME
Okay, here we go.
I’ve always been vocal of my support of Bioshock and, yes, even Bioshock 2 was a solid experience even though it wasn’t the original team. One of my old blog posts on www.cliffyb.com was an extensive rant about what I loved about the first game. If you had told me that a game with a giant diving suit on the cover would go on to sell millions then I would have laughed at you. What we got was not only a critical success but, thankfully, a commercial hit. (Remember, this is a business, and if folks don’t buy games like this then we won’t see many more of them!)
So the credits have rolled, I’ve read the threads dissecting the narrative, I’ve seen Youtube videos praising and also attempting to shred the plot holes they perceive in the game. See, in this day and age it’s not enough to just enjoy an entertainment experience, you have to get online and share your two cents about it. I can’t count the number of movies I’ve seen opening weekend only to find that by Sunday there are a myriad of posts and videos tearing it apart. We now have “plot hole and continuity error discovery by way of crowd sourcing.”
Whether or not this is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen. On one hand this sourcing can make you think “Maybe I didn’t enjoy that game/movie as much as I originally thought” yet on one hand hey, any press is good press and you’d rather have people discussing your product than not, right? That’s part of the problem with the Internet. Everyone’s out to prove how fucking intelligent they are under the guise of anonymity.
Back to the game. I’m not going to do a study on the branching paths or what it all means. (Go here for that.) I’m going to talk about my experience as someone who loved the first one, followed the development of the sequel closely, and also happened to have made a few games in my day. Also, please keep in mind that I range from close personal friends to drinking buddies with a variety of members of the team that worked their asses off to make this game, so take what I say with a grain of salt. I’m going to gush, but I’m also going to nitpick, because hey, I’m also out to prove how fucking intelligent I am.
I’m just not afraid to attach my name to it.
First off, I love the world. For starters, the original Bioshock felt claustrophobic, dark, and oppressive. I felt buried in that game and, while it added to the atmosphere and world I can’t help but wonder if it steered a few people away from the world. The shift to a city in the sky is a brilliant move; hell, just gorgeous skyboxes and vistas are half of the battle. (Hello, Halo!) The vibrant colors. The sunny skies. It’s a world that I want to go off the tracks and live in.
Until you start to realize how very ugly it is. I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret as a white male. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s relevant to this article. There’s a certain type of white person that, when there are only white people around, pull the “You’re racist like me, right?” card. My response is always that I’ve met as many black and hispanic cool people as I’ve met assholes, and the same goes for white people. (This gets worse when you’re around a certain type of white person with money, but that’s another blog entirely.)
By the time I got to the infamous “throw the first ball” moment I had such conflicted feelings about the world. This is a country that has constantly been at odds with its own xenophobia. I’ve always loved this Family Guy clip; shame I can’t find a better quality one. I rarely talk about politics because I’m afraid that I’ll only reveal how ignorant I am about them. There’s always that one friend in the room who makes it his or her job to spend more time studying them that will one up you with their facts. (You can always find a study to support whatever it is you want to believe.)
So here’s the thing about the tension in this game between the white, upper crust society of Columbia and the largely immigrant working class Vox. In the hands of a lesser visionary and team the game would have simply been “Join the Vox and defeat Comstock!” Scene. But that wasn’t enough. Ken and Irrational then went on to show the uglier side of what happens whenever a regime changes. It’s not pretty. Sometimes the person who led the revolution ultimately proves to be just as bad if not worse than the original fool in charge of the other side.
Playing and beating this game I feel like I’ve gone through a tear and I’m in an alternate reality in which this game actually exists. It should not. From reading the turmoil that went over at Irrational, to my old Ninja producer friend Rod going over there to help ship it, it’s a miracle that it saw the light of day. The world itself…themes of racism, the violence, the sidekick aspects, hell a ROBOTIC GEORGE WASHINGTON are you KIDDING ME? I’ve been in publisher pitch meetings. The one where the marketing guy goes “Yeah, so it’s like Call of Duty meets Pac Man with a twist of BMX XXX, right? We haven’t seen that genre do well yet, so we’re not sure if we’re going to market it.” (Same thing from the numbers guy.)
I’m going to let you in on a little secret that Randy Pitchford and I were discussing. When your marketing guy and numbers guy and others are kind of confused about how to market and sell your game, double down on it. It means you have something unique. When you release a copy of a copy of a copy it’s going to feel faded and most customers will call bullshit and ignore it.
So, the guy that brought you a chainsaw gun would now like to get on his soap box about violence. Have fun judging me.
This is one of the few games that I’ve loved that I felt the violence actually detracted from the experience. The first time I dug my skyhook into someone I actually winced. I love shocking people in these games (it’s not called BioShootBeesAtThem) and I found that nearly every foe I zapped to death had their heads explode, Gallagher style. After the 400th head I was like “come on, already!”
Funny, right? That I’d say that? I know, it’s weird. Maybe it’s the fact that they did such a fantastic job of making this nuanced world that hitting you over the head with those moments felt out of place for me. From the initial “meet cute” with Elizabeth I fell for her. She is the first videogame Disney princess that I’ve ever seen or had the joy of getting to know. Towards the end when I heard her screaming for me it drove me mad; I had to get to her. Later when I heard her lamenting how I never came for her broke my heart; I had the same feeling when I watch this infamous scene.
With all of the discussion of misogyny in the industry lately, from sexual harassment, to “if you cosplay then you ask for it” mentality to the Tropes Vs. Women question of “Why’s it always the damsel in distress?” I’m dying to know what the women of the industry think of the depiction of Elizabeth. I actually wanted to see her “tear things up” in another way more often. (There’s that Whedon fanboy coming out in me again.) I was hoping for a moment similar to the end of Lunar. (High five if you get the reference.)
Still, the moment when the Songbird snagged her away from me, or when we were cowered behind the desk together, or when she put my hand on her throat and asked me to finish her if she was going to have to go back…I was moved. During the (incredible) ending I had chills. This is the mother of all videogame endings, the new standard by which all will be judged. This is some Looper, Memento, Source Code, Moon, Usual Suspects, Fight Club, M. Night Shyamalamadingdong stuff. Next level work that can only be brought to you by a talented team and one defiant visionary.
I’m especially glad that the game also dealt with the fact that Booker (and you, playing) are stone cold killers. And hey, it’s justified because they all shoot at you first! (Uncharted 2 did this at the end, which I loved.) Here’s a game that’s about the nuanced relationship between what is later revealed to be a father and daughter, trying to discover each other again, much like the most heart wrenching scenes in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (Yes one is father daughter, the other is former lovers, but similar “feels” happened for me.)
Overall, the combat and combat bowls were good, but to be honest, a tad “loose” in spots. This article actually summarizes my feelings rather well without having to re-type everything. There were moments when I went into a space and I could tell when the combat shit was going to hit the fan. I also could feel the pacing of enemies. Start with the fodder, introduce the heavier flame and rocket guys, then end with a Handyman or Motorized Patriot. As that article states rather well there were times when the combat just felt a bit too … busy… and I missed the clarity and smoothness of, say, a Halo experience.
I digress and I’m nitpicking now. Because overall the pacing of the game was excellent and I’m thinking about going through it as I type this. Pacing is extremely hard to get right in a 14 hour or so experience. There was one moment when I was starting to lose interest, however briefly…when I was getting the guns for the Vox. Right when I was on what felt like the Ultimate Fetch Quest the tables turned due to the tear and the game picked right up and smacked me square in the face.
We live in a world of ADD, whereas Twitter sometimes feels too long so we just browse Instagram and Pintrest. I’d wager many of my Twitter followers won’t read this blog. We live in the TL;DR world, as I’ve said before, the alt-tab nation. The fact that such a rich and deep experience exists gives me hope. Hell, I’m thankful that Game of Thrones can still do amazingly well in this world. Ken and co have made a game that you play, you finish, and you then go to pour over the discussions, the theories, and yes, the occasional plot hole or perceived problem with the ride.
Finally, I’d like to call out one element that I haven’t seen mentioned much. The use of music in the experience. I haven’t seen mood inducing music used this well since the recent Fallout games. The retro sounds of it…the barbershop quartet…the phonographs… it felt like there was a new song right around every corner. I tweeted earlier that I got a “O Brother Where Art Thou” vibe from it. Right at the start, when I’m going through the baptism area, I kept thinking about the Siren and baptism scenes from that film. It sets the scene in Infinite and brings it from a great experience into an amazing, transcendent one.
Right at the tail end of a console generation, when the PC is looking sweeter than ever, Ken and his folks have delivered a true classic for the ages. Bravo, bravo, bravo. Now go take a break someplace warm before starting the Next Big Thing. You’ve got one hell of an act to follow, and I can promise you that you’ve made one designer completely rethink what a video game can be.
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