Archives For Bioshock Infinite

Photo source: thefullbrightcompany.com

A compelling, but ultimately disappointing, game of discovery.

Sometimes I worry when my opinion on an especially beloved piece of work differs from that of the overwhelming majority of game reviewers. I wonder if perhaps I’ve missed something along the way. I think to myself “Did I play this the wrong way?” or “Was I not paying close enough attention?” BioShock Infinite, with its near universally high review scores and fleeting comparisons to Citizen Kane, was a recent example of the difference in opinion I felt with professional game critics. I found Infinite to be uneven, with the emphasis on narrative being overshadowed by the disconnect between it and the gameplay.

And so I find myself again in a situation where I have to wonder if I’ve done something wrong. Due largely to the many positive comments I have heard regarding the importance of Fullbright Studios’ “Gone Home,” I felt that I needed to play it now rather than later. The buzz on this plucky indie title is that it should be experienced by all. In some ways, I can’t disagree with that. It should be experienced, but the urgency to do so is misguided.

The game opens with Katie, the player-controlled character, returning home after a year abroad. While gone, her family moved into a new house, a sprawling manor with dark wood paneling that drapes every room in an appropriate sense of Hollywood mystery. The front door is locked, and taped to it is a note from Katie’s sister, Sam, urging her not to try and find her, nor to snoop through her things.

Playing the game is a matter of moving through the house, examining objects and unraveling the mysteries within. There are several stories to discover, from the relationship between Katie’s parents, the changing courses of their careers, and a story about the original owner of the home. But the main focus of the story is on Sam, and where she has gone.

Clues to what has been happening for the last year come in the way of written correspondence. Notes, some formal, some on post-its, some on desks, others torn and crumpled, move the narrative along. It doesn’t hit you over the head, which is refreshing, save for Sam’s story. Other than one notable surprise moment in a bathroom, I felt early on that I knew just where the story would resolve. While it didn’t necessarily roll itself out as I expected, the outcome was where I knew it would end up.

When I finished the game, I didn’t know how to feel about the experience I had just had. The story was satisfying, if not a little predictable, and I appreciated what the game did in regards to a novel approach to storytelling. But I still felt conflicted before I could fully render my final assessment.

The title builds a spooky ambiance through the ever-present rain and the sprawling, empty house. Such a decision on the part of the designers is not without merit: coming to a house you have never seen before, on a rain-soaked Portland night, would probably give anyone a feeling of uneasiness. But the game seems to rely on the haunted-house tropes to convey a level of mystery, and it doesn’t really work once the game is said and done. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t immediately know how to feel when I finished the game. Part of it was realizing that the elevation of the house’s atmosphere to a “spooky” level was not a needed inclusion. It never played out, and leads to a false feeling that something is there when it in no way is. It was a cheap way to build tension in a game whose setting exists in the same universe as you and I.

Another problem I have is that I found the secondary stories to be more interesting than the story of finding Sam. Katie and Sam’s parents, their strained relationships, her father’s decline and seeming rebirth as a writer, these things piqued my attention more so than the story of Sam. To the game’s credit, it allows you to make your own assumptions about how these side-stories resolve, and I find that approach to be more engaging than the straight-forward reveal of Sam’s fate.

Photo source: thecreatorsproject.com

Notes such as this one help move along the narrative and help nail a sense of place and time.

My biggest problem with this game is that it cost me $20, was over in 3 hours, and has no replay value. I didn’t get all the details of the stories, but I also don’t care enough about them to go back and play the game anymore. All the mystery has evaporated from it now that the narrative has concluded. I largely followed leads for the other stories to see how they intertwined themselves with Sam’s fate, and knowing Sam’s fate has made me lose interest in the other stories.

This is my inner struggle with this game: I know it’s a good game. I know that it takes an interesting approach to storytelling, and for that it should be lauded. I have long felt that stories in games are largely superfluous (BioShock Infinite being a prime example of a critically successful game where the story and gameplay exist on two independent planes). Where Gone Home succeeds is in making the story the game itself. There’s nothing magical about the exploration-based gameplay here, but it’s the execution that makes it work. Without the gameplay elements, the story would not be as compelling, and vice versa.

Gone Home is an important, if flawed, foray into the world of interactive storytelling. Its implementation of certain game elements feel forced, like shoehorning door unlocking “puzzles” in, and while the story itself is interesting, it concludes too quickly and predictably. It lacks sufficient variety to warrant a second-playthrough, and from a strictly value-based perspective, its twenty dollar price tag is more than most gamers would be comfortable spending. I recommend this game, but wait for a Steam sale.

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With the success of Bioshock Infinite its not strange to see new installments running the gamut. It has recently been confirmed that there will be a tabletop game for the series; probably preplanned. If you order the Songbird or Premium Edition of the game, you get a blue Handyman figure. Of course it is odd to get a miniature in a game, especially without any forewarning or explanation—now we know why. PlaidHat Games has revealed the meaning with the announcement of BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia, which allows players to take arms as either the Founders or Vox Populi.

While Booker and Elizabeth won’t be the main focus of this installment, they will be wild cards that could be persuaded for either side, or become their own faction. This is definitely an exciting venture and sparks a bit of interest. Of course we will see familiar names and items from the game such as Fitzroy, Songbird, and the famed Sky-line (which will act as an asset). Even some of Elizabeth’s special skills will also appear to play a factor in the game.

The main focus of the game is obviously the fight for Columbia. That portion of the story mostly takes place outside of the main storyline of the video game. This will give us a deeper look into the mechanics of the rebellion, and if you received a Handyman figure you can give your Founders a bonus figure.

The original Bioshock busted onto the scene in 2007 and garnered much praise and acclaim, seemingly out of left field. It was the real first unexpected hit of this console generation, and from then on all stories in games were held to a certain standard. It showed the industry satisfying combat and a great story, with twists and turns that would make M. Night Shyamalan jealous, was attainable and highly desired. Bioshock Infinite has been under the microscope because of this, and has a lot to prove. I’m happy to report that the game not only meets, but exceeds expectations handily. So, would you kindly, read on.

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The story of Bioshock Infinite is simply put, Fantastic. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and if I had the time and didn’t need sleep, I could’ve finished it all at once. I’m not saying the game is short, I finished in 14 hours and I was rushing a bit so I could get the review done. The story reminds me of watching a few seasons of a great TV show on Netflix, once I started i didn’t want to put the controller down. The games tells the story of Booker DeWitt, a private Investigator with a score to settle, who is tasked with finding a girl named Elizabeth and delivering her from a city in the sky called Columbia. Booker is a great protagonist, and an interesting mystery in himself. You never really are sure what his angle is until late in the game, and it’s a great new way to handle character development, specifically for the character the player is controlling. The city of Columbia is a character within itself, much like Rapture in the first game, it is a gorgeous city with friendly citizens and beautiful vistas. But all is not what it seems, and much like any great society, there is some dirty dealings going on. There are themes in the game that could offend, but if you keep and open mind and see it through, the payoff is worth it and the themes that are tackled are tied into the story are handled with much grace. Racism is a major theme, as is religion, specifically cults. Be aware you will be witness to some intense imagery, but it is thought provoking and never offensive or cruel. The narrative payoff at the climax is wonderful, if not a bit mind-bending, if you are a fan of Inception or Looper you will love this story. Also, stick around after the credits because there is a nice tease after they are done rolling.

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The gameplay is fun, challenging, but never frustrating. Like the original Bioshock, you have powers to use on your foes. These powers include Shock Jockey (which is like the shock in the original), Bucking Bronco (throws enemies in the air and suspends them), Murder of Crows (send a flock of crows to attack), Devil’s Kiss (shoots fireballs), Possession (grants the ability to possess turrets and people), Charge (you can charge your enemies like a bull), Return to Sender (sends rockets back to opponents), and finally Undertow (you shoot waves to knock enemies back). You also have a wide variety of firearms at your disposal. The guns feel and sound powerful, and the sound design for the weapons are some of the best in the business, just behind Battlefield. Both your firearms and powers can be upgraded to greater effect. All of this has been in prior Bioshock games, but there are a couple of huge game changers. First of all you now have a melee attack on the Y button, and you can use it at all times unlike the previous games. Previously you had to switch to a wrench or another melee weapon and then switch back to a gun. All of this has been thankfully alleviated, and the melee is very useful in huge firefights where you can run out of ammo. The skyhook is also a great addition to the combat. It’s a very satisfying thing to hop onto a skyline and drop down to deal a killing blow to an enemy, then engage the rest of the enemies. The first time you ride the skyline in the game is exhilarating, and when you use it in combat it is an immensely satisfying means to dispatch your foes. The combat in this game is honed to perfection and has some of the best first person combat on the market. Irrational has raised the bar, and military shooters are about to feel more generic to you after you play this game.

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One of my fears for this game was Elizabeth, games are notorious for having annoying AI followers who bring nothing but frustration to your experience, and you wish you could just leave them behind. I’m going to come out and say it right now, Elizabeth is the best AI partner ever in a game. Her story is intimately connected to yours, and I found myself delighted when she was with me, and conversely concerned when she was gone. Her child-like wonder when she gets her first taste of the outside world of Columbia is charming, and I found it clever because it’s how I felt when I first laid eyes on the city. She makes herself useful in combat as she throws you salts (which is basically your mana), health, and ammo. When you are exploring she will even find money and throw it to you, and point out lock picks (which Elizabeth uses to open doors to secret areas and safes). During combat, she can also open tears into the world that can place items such as turrets, medical supplies, and weapons in the area.

Bioshock Infinite

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The game is absolutely gorgeous on PC with the settings turned to Ultra. You can see evidence of this in our screenshots and our Let’s Play video. My jaw dropped when I got the first reveal money shot of Columbia. This may be the most beautiful game I have ever seen. The frame rate is nice and smooth, and I experienced no hiccups. The game has a frame lock option so you can lock the game’s frame rate at 60 fps. Aesthetically, it’s like I hopped into a time machine and went back to 1912. The colors are vibrant and the environments are huge and painfully detailed. You will find yourself just stopping to look around to just soak it in, and I love that. You will feel fully immersed in this world, and just like the original Bioshock, that is something very few games can accomplish. I did have some crashing issues, but a 30 second google search helped me fix it, and a patch is coming within the next week or so. The console versions are no slouch either, but if you can play on PC I highly recommend it.

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Bioshock Infinite is an absolute must play. Do not hesitate to buy the game, this is the best game of the year so far, and the other games this year have a lot to catch up with. Irrational Games, and Ken Levine specifically, have crafted a masterpiece of a game, and their years of hard work are on display. They have surpassed their previous effort, and I look forward to whatever they have cooked up next. The next 5 years will be worth the wait. This is a game that must not be missed.

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And check out our Let’s Play while you are at it!!

Come and watch Corey and Adam gush over graphics in Bioshock Infinite like girls over David Cassidy. Yep, I’m old.