Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Not quite infinite quality

It would be foolish of me to say that BioShock Infinite is not a good game. It is an excellent one, filled to the brim with creative, detailed environments that beg to be explored and a combat system that rewards creativity without punishing players who lack it. Difficult issues like racism and classism are not avoided but are not beaten to death either. Almost everything the player needs to know about Columbia is explained by their hero worship of John Wilkes Boothe and villainization of Lincoln. Still, I am not reacting to Infinite the way I was hoping to. I went in expecting one thing and got another and in spite of the quality of what is there I am a little disappointed.

What I wanted was more BioShock and that is not what I got. The change in venue from impossible underwater city to equally impossible flying city is not the problem but the change in tone is. BioShock drops the player into a situation not of his or her doing. The entire game takes place in the horrific aftermath of genetic modification gone too far. There is no victory for any of its inhabitants, only survival. BioShock was dark, gritty, tense and more than a little uncomfortable. In contrast, Columbia appears to be working just fine. The player is the catalyst, not the victim, of events. Had he not shown up with a gun and bad attitude nothing would have gone wrong.

Of the two Rapture is the more realistic take on what humans in isolation would become. Plasmids created a genetic arms race. They were easy to get, easy to use and not having them meant getting killed by those who did. The vigors in Columbia should do the same thing but no one is using them. Availability is not the problem, they are giving them away in the street and selling them from vending machines, and still, no one takes advantage. Rapture is a failed utopia and Columbia is a successful one, at least externally. It's inhabitants don't wield the bigger and better weapons because they either don't need to or don't want to. This is too great a stretch, even for a game.

Elizabeth is also a problem, at least in how she is presented. Yes, she is motion captured and every move she makes is very believable. She looks and moves so much better than everyone else that every other model in the game looks worse for her being there. I don't know if this was a money or hardware limitation but I am having a difficult time looking past it.

BioShock was/is a classic. BioShock 2 was just BioShock again and I can forgive that. Everyone has to get paid. BioShock Infinite just feels off, like it was actually the first game and it never came out. Everything it does the first game did better. Again, Infinite is a very good game, better than nine out of ten other games that come out, but it will not be taking a place next to the first game in any best of lists for this generation. Maybe Irrational should have waited nine months and made it a launch title for the next one.

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