A lot had changed for me since the summer of 2010, when this game was announced. I had went from being sixteen year old living in a little English village and feeling nervous about starting my A levels at a scary new college, to now a nineteen year old in Australia and enjoying university. For all these changes and event, one thing managed to stay the same… Bioshock. This was my favourite game and form of media storytelling, the thing that inspired me to go study film at college and even now make films at university. Rapture was a place to me that when I was bored and had nothing to do I could just go a revisit Fort Frolic or the Medical Bay, sometimes I loaded it up just to play that masterful opening again. Every time I play this game I see or hear something I didn’t before, learn a bit more about Andrew Ryan or Atlas through an audio diary or a poster on the wall (it’s the gift that keeps on giving). It was a common interest I’d had with a guy from school and we are now firm best friends joined over that mutual appreciation. In short Bioshock is incredibly important to me so Bioshock 2 (which was not made by Irrational Games and more importantly Ken Levine) did not live up to my expectations. Josh and I were confused by the game, It didn’t say anything or do much interesting and felt very much like a check list sequel, “Five new monsters, five new weapons” as Levine would say.
But then Irrational dropped the bomb, they would be doing it all again except this time in the sky. My anticipation for the game was (pun intended) sky high. So after years of waiting and being worried after its announced delays and team members leaving, Bioshock Infinite hit the shelves and landed in my hands.
Loading up Infinite and playing through the glorious opening to me was everything Levine had talked about, the world was alive with people who didn’t want to kill me on sight and I could listen in on random conversations, making me really feel the vibrancy and stark contrast of Columbia to Rapture. The game taught me how to use the powers in the game called Vigors through carnival games. Questions were raised along the way; who are the British pair asking me to flip a coin? Who is this Comstock and why is everyone so racist? Then the combat started it felt like a traditional FPS mixed with the Bioshock flavour, I could now sprint, the reticule spread as I fired, I now had a regenerative shield (so far so good it seemed). I met Elizabeth and walked through the beach, the quiet town, an ice cream shop and all of it seemed so real… then it happened.
I heard the words “Booker, we need the Shock Jockey” then Ding, the arrow appeared and the real game began. With the introduction section over, I now had to get on with it. All games that moment when the game decides to really get away from the hand holding and jump into the meat of its content (Just like Bioshock took us to the Medical Bay and Fallout 3 made us leave the vault). I know it’s part of gaming, the start of the game is a tutorial and depending on the quality of the game also sets it up. Bioshock and Uncharted 2 defiantly did while The Last of Us took the crown on this method (and there’s another article in itself), but here for some reason it bothers me. Going to the drab museum area and even though I did get a taste of the skyline system, wandering around shooting at the enemies felt beneath the game, after I got the Shock Jokey I back tracked to the boardwalk. Then the game came alive, I was battling on the skyline, Elizabeth was bringing in devices for me to use, the weapons, the Vigors and the skylines all came together perfectly and It felt great (though it reverted back to linear shooting for a while) Now yes the skyline moments I understand are paced out to be like set piece moments but unlike set pieces you’d find in a Call of Duty or even some in Uncharted, the skylines required much control and thought and in turn are the strongest moments of gameplay on offer. After tasting the good life, running through Fink’s Factory felt rather boring.
Many like me saw the E3 demo back in 2011 and fell off our chairs with excitement, even though that was a demo showing what Irrational would like to create. Seeing that video was what I imagined or hoped the real game would end up like, jumping on a skyline at any moment in a near open world setting with the Bioshock strengths of detailed environments and characters but instead we got a lot (and I mean a lot) of shooting. Columbia was made to feel more cohesive and there is no random area that may have seemed out of place, which the original did sometimes have but that meant none of the areas were that interesting to walk through.
Rapture may have had its odd environments like the underwater forest but that meant the environments of the original were so interesting to explore and learn about, they were like small hub worlds full of little secrets. Rapture was a museum of horror. The real story was discovering what happened to the failed utopia through the audio diaries, which helped flesh out the world through talking about none essential characters to the plot which told us the state of mind Rapture was in. In Infinite the audio diaries (now called Voxophones) are only essential to the main plot, with main characters speaking into them and the city becomes full of murder and war around the midpoint of the game when Elisabeth pulls you into another world. The sky is black and the world has lost its character and instead became another grey moody shooter.
Easily the best thing about the original Bioshock was the story and its characters. Mad Doctor Steinman and his obsessive search for beauty, Sander Cohen the disturbed artist lost to madness, we learnt about them and they represented Rapture. In Infinite no character reaches these memorable heights. Fink is essentially a slave driver and lives off the poor because he is, the game never explains why. Even Booker and Elizabeth feel archetypal; Booker the no nonsense Han Solo type, Elizabeth the Disney princess, ignorant of the real world and learns about the dark side of life. Her story beats and character growth moments feel forced, like with her first kill, she straight away cuts off her hair and loses her school girl like uniform for a ladies dress, this representation is too heavy handed and obvious.
Everything in Rapture made sense and all tied in well. Everyone in Rapture had the moral and limits bars turned off and doing whatever they felt like without rules, in that Plasmids were made which allowed super powers and improved intelligent and strength for practical reasons, making sense in the anti-religious city. But in Columbia Vigors are never truly explained, its implied at that maybe through one of the tears in space and time they were taken from Rapture but even then in a world where everyone is heavily religious surely altering ones DNA through science would contradict with the cities ideology? No one in the game really uses them apart from special mini boss enemies. Columbia, even though it can seem more alive and real than Rapture, isn’t.
The Endings to both Bioshock and Infinite are underwhelming. Following the twist reveal in Bioshock the game almost didn’t know what to do with itself and eventually led to an out-of-place boss fight at the game’s climax. In infinite, You protect an point of interest from oncoming waves of ordinary enemies to then get treated to a fifteen minute info dump that is more confusing than satisfying. One would have hoped that Irrational would have learnt from previous errors but instead repeats them. A boss fight is now around the halfway mark against a ghost of all things and the game essentially needed to stop the main plot so it could feed you information through tears.
There is an incredible experience in here somewhere but it seems far too concerned with being a shooter, less shooting and more exploring would have gone a long way. The original Bioshock has a commentary on modern video game design, with the “would you kindly” order representing how gamers do as they are told with no choice. Infinite oddly has choices at the start of the game that end up having no affect. Which feels like the game, under all its fancy mechanics it doesn’t feel like it has anything to say other than racism is wrong and religion can be manipulated. It’s like Irrational went back on themselves here and just wanted to make another shooter.
Though it may seem like I’m being very hard on Bioshock Infinite, it is because I was just too invested in it. After completing the game I talked to that same friend from school who told me I was expecting the original again and maybe he’s right. However, the game still is a good one and Irrational deserve high praise for creating a unique world whilst competing in an industry obsessed with sequels and military shooters. I want to love this game but when comparing it to my introductory visit to Rapture, I simply cannot.