Thoughts on Bioshock Infinite

Last week, after finishing up my final quarter, I graduated from SCAD. I have a whole slew of blog posts I still need to write to catch everyone up to speed on SoulFront‘s development, and I promise I’ll get to them very soon.

In the meantime, it’s time for something completely different! As is typical for me when starting a SCAD winter/summer break, I took a week after finishing up to do nothing but hang out with friends, relax, and play a AAA title, start to finish.

The AAA title I chose this time was Bioshock Infinite, the latest game in the narrative-heavy FPS series, created by Irrational Games.

Now, to avoid posting too many spoilers (or any at all), I won’t go too far in-depth with the narrative. I will, however, say that the narrative was incredibly well conceived. It had me thinking about the game well after I was done. I was on wiki’s, looking up charts and diagrams, reading other people’s explanations… and then I was still thinking about it and making connections while I was trying to fall asleep. It’s rare for me that I find a story that has been so intriguing, that I want to replay a game for narrative sake.

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Kinetoscopes

I thoroughly enjoyed the little bits of narrative scattered around, particularly with the Voxophones. I also really, truly loved the radios and kinetoscopes. Those two things really kept me immersed throughout the entirety of the game.

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Welcome to Columbia

The art for the game is gorgeous. The characters are well conceived, the overall feel for the city is fantastic, and the artistic transformation during the game is wonderfully done.

My only real complaint on the art side of things is that I wish Irrational didn’t compress the hell out of textures with text on them. For example, in the cemetery, there were a lot of gravestones I wanted to read, but I couldn’t due to how compressed the textures were. It’s a small thing, but it really broke me out of the experience, to be honest.

My major problems start to come in when it comes to gameplay. I feel like Irrational dropped the ball on design pretty hard in a few spots.

MELEE EXECUTIONS

While I know the game is an FPS, and is marketed as such, I have to say that the violence was a little much for my tastes. Yes, going into it, I expected blood and gore and bullet wounds and painful ways to die. But Bioshock goes above and beyond the standard FPS gore.

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Melee Combat

First, let’s talk about the melee executions. From a design perspective, they’re worthless. In order to execute, you have to get enemies down to such a low health percentage, you could kill them with normal gun fire at any range. So not only did you have to be in hand-to-hand combat range with them (which, after the first half in the game, is a terribly bad idea especially with any of the armored enemies or heavies), but you also had to have them at a really low health point.

The only thing melee executions achieve are giving the player incredibly gruesome ways to kill an enemy. Shredding their face off, breaking their neck, scrambling their guts together… it never is really satisfying from any perspective. It was fun to do maybe the first time, and after that it became too much. It was completely not enjoyable to only have my melee weapon during the first bit of fighting, and being forced to execute the guards that were attacking me.

COMBAT

In terms of guns, there was nothing new. All of the guns were pretty much standard FPS fare: shotguns, machine guns, pistols, snipers, RPGs. I typically play the sniper class in FPS-RPG games, and Bioshock was no different. I ended up playing most of the game with the Sniper and the Hand Cannon (which essentially is just a glorified, powerful pistol).

However, an interesting design decision that Irrational made was the enforcement of a two-gun limit. Instead of having all guns accessible at all times, you were forced to choose between your favorite two, and dropping the rest. At first I thought it was an annoying decision, but I ended up appreciating it, and I can definitely see how it could add to the desire to replay, and also how strategizing in combat would have been deteriorated if I had access to everything always. During one fight in particular, I realized how attached I got to my sniper and hand cannon, and I really didn’t want to swap my hand cannon for an RPG, even for a small section of time.

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Vigors concept art

Vigors is where combat starts to get interesting for me. Compared to Plasmids from previous Bioshocks, Vigors made me feel more like I was orchestrating combinations with my guns to have combat more dynamic. I felt like I had an incredible amount of control over the battlefield with things like Possession, Undertow, Bucking Bronco, and Return to Sender. And with Vigors like Devil’s Kiss, and Murder of Crows, I was constantly switching which two Vigors I had equipped.

That said, I wish there was more Vigors, or at least more interesting ones, or combinations that could create interesting effects. Devil’s Kiss, Shock Jockey, and (sometimes) Murder of Crows felt like more of the same, and I rarely ended up using the trap elements for any of the Vigors.

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Sky-line

Combat on sky-lines was something I was really looking forward to, and ended up being disappointed on. According to Steam achievements, I ended up killing 0 people while on sky-lines, and killed 5 people by jumping on them while dismounting from the sky-line. There was no reason for me to try to fight people while on a sky-line, because it was so hard to aim and I didn’t gain anything from it (besides achievements). The AI of the enemies didn’t encourage me to stay on the sky-lines, either. Why fire (nearly) aimlessly at people while going 20 MPH on a metal rail, when you could just dismount and get the job done quicker and safer?

ENEMIES

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Boy of Silence

I feel like there was a serious regression in the enemies in this Bioshock. Every enemy had one “spot” they were weak, which, for all intents and purposes, was the head on everyone except the Handyman, which you pretty much could only damage by hitting their heart. Point being, there were no enemies that caused me to play the game in a different fashion. Everything was “shoot until dead”, and nothing else, which got incredibly repetitive fast.

The Boys of Silence had this incredibly interesting story and design, and I was really looking forward to fighting them after seeing them in whatever trailer it was that showed them off. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed. The combat design for these guys completely contradict the character design: they’re supposed to have increased hearing senses with no sight due to those helmets, but in-game, they can’t hear you at all, they can only see you with a spotlight? Not sure what happened there, but a really interesting character pretty much got turned into a creepy, human security camera. And instead of fighting the actual Boy of Silence, you just fight their slaves, which is more of the same point-and-shoot-till-dead.

I think this issue was further exacerbated by Elizabeth. While playing the game, it was handy to have her constantly give you ammo, salts, health, whatever you need. But the fact that she gave me stuff anytime I needed it really hindered my overall experience in the strategy department. The problem of “shoot till dead” was only made worse by Elizabeth essentially sitting the background screaming, “Hey, shoot them more! Here! Go get ’em.”

GAMEPLAY

While I wouldn’t say Bioshock Infinite is an interactive movie, it definitely felt like an on rails experience. Cutscenes were blended really well into gameplay, which I like. However, the game had very few optional quests (I think I ran into a total of 3) and all of which were “get the key for this treasure” or “get the cipher to open this treasure”. I tried to make it a point to go into every room and unlock every treasure before I went into the next area, but it still felt like I was being guided from room to room, with only one real solution to any one problem. I wish there was more variation, or at least the ability to solve problems in more than one way.
However, I must say that Irrational did a great job with reusing levels multiple times, and making it not feel repetitive.

There was a dialogue in the game that said, (paraphrasing) “Not everything needs to end in a fight.” I laughed, because up until that point, the only thing I could do was fight enemies. And after that, I gave people the chance to not attack me, but they did anyways. The concept of “some enemies may not attack you because they have no ill will towards you” is interesting and something I wish Irrational explored more, but it falls flat when literally every person in the game is either dead or shoots at you.

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Pipe dream hacking

That being said, THANK YOU for getting rid of that god awful Pipe Dream mini-game that was hacking. Trimming it out and just having Lockpicking from Elizabeth was a fantastic decision.

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Gear

I really enjoyed being able to build my character how I wanted to play him with the use of various pieces of gear. The Overkill gear piece in combination with my sniper really made things a lot of fun (though for a while, things were really easy). I’m also a huge fan of the “not a straight upgrade, just a variance in playstyle” gear economy. I mean, just look at SoulFront!

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Carnival Game tutorials

Also, A+ for integrating the tutorial into (optional) carnival games. Not only did you not force the player to deal with unwanted tutorial sequences, but you disguised them in such a way that learning the game was enjoyable. Honestly one of the best FTUE’s I’ve seen. Well done.

With all of that being said, I definitely did enjoy the game, even if it was primarily from the narrative (and I am not typically a narrative game kind of guy). Even though the first few DLC will supposedly be focused on narrative, I hope they will fix some of the design problems that are in the game’s current state.

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