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The Missed Opportunities of BioShock Infinite

/ Apr 19th, 2013 1 Comment

BioShock Infinite
Bioshock Infinite

Are you real?

The perfect video game – it is the illusive item that every gamer yearns to play. What would constitute a perfect game though? Is it gameplay that is fun, smart and addictive or is it a story that has emotional resonance with memorable and iconic characters that reveals some universal truth? Certainly there are some that would say that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is an undeniably perfect game. It is a sentiment that all-time lists, historical overviews and reviews often support to some degree. Some may disagree and find nothing terribly special about Ocarina of Time. When someone plays a game does factor into how they view it, because what may be revolutionary sixteen years ago may be commonplace today (primarily due to that game, but the system may have been refined and fine tuned in those sixteen years). A game can be perfect on an individual level without a doubt, but no game is ever perfect. There are small bits and pieces that could be improved, story beats expanded, dungeons tweaked, etc. Despite scoring perfect 10′s across the board or from a majority of publications or an insanely high aggregate score, there is always something that can be tinkered with to make the game even better. What these games that end up scoring perfect or near-perfect marks ultimately means that for that specific moment in time is that the game is a benchmark. Regardless of the nitpicky flaws, there is a standard being set with the game that everyone should notice. That was the case with Ocarina of Time and it is the case with Bioshock Infinite.

Irrational Games‘ Bioshock Infinite was a game long in the making. The nearly five-year journey from concept to physical product was fraught with criticisms of the long development time, numerous release date delays, plenty of re-designs of Elizabeth and changes to the systems that finally gave life to the world of Colombia. Despite the almost unbearable wait to play the true follow up to the original Bioshock – which came to occupy a specific spot in the collective consciousness of gamers across the world after its release in 2007 – Bioshock Infinite more than made up for the delays by being a truly special game. Both the dark and claustrophobic city of Rapture and the nostalgia and sepia-drenched streets of Colombia show Irrational’s knack for nailing down atmosphere. Each of these games had a keen ability to make gamers feel dread upon moving past each new corner because lurking beyond a stairwell or vestibule may be a Big Daddy or a Handyman ready to smear the player’s brains across the floor. Additionally, from a narrative perspective, each game managed to capture an ideal of what America should be at its most selfish, extreme and terrifying. Bioshock Infinite’s Colombia is an effective critique of what might happen if a portion of America were to have seceded in the 1900s, but also a prescient comment on the religious and political tumult of the present.

The game is richly textured in both its gameplay and narrative. What makes the story so incredible is that it works on several levels. Functioning as an emotionally resonant story about a man’s attempt to redeem himself and a woman’s bildungsroman as she tries to escape the cage she was born into, a critique about story telling, and a meta story about possibilities and quantum physics. Also, probably about a dozen other things that will be unearthed as people continue to revisit the deep world of Colombia. Bioshock Infinite will act as a benchmark game for the current generation of gaming and, in moving forward, other experiences will need to take note of the its achievements.

Bioshock Infinite

BioShock Infinite

That said, Bioshock Infinite is not perfect. While there may be some criticisms of its difficulty or the story having some plot holes that are not addressed, those are not the most pressing issue with the game. (Spoilers be ahead, ye be warned). Those are indeed some weaknesses in varying degrees, but the biggest missed opportunity of Bioshock Infinite was boss fights. Boss fights may becoming passé in the modern strain and style of gameplay, but there is something to be said of a tough, unfolding and complex fight between the player and a ridiculously strong boss. While Irrational Games and Ken Levine’s focus on narrative is hugely satisfying, sometimes that comes at the expense of what gamers want, which is a challenging fight with a boss enemy.

In the original BioShock, there were rarely many “traditional” boss fights except for the final showdown between the player and a plasmid Hulk, but the Big Daddies were so ferocious and frightening that running into them more than made up for the lack of bosses. However, while Bioshock Infinite has many tough enemies like the Zealots of the Lady, the Beasts, the Motorized Patriots, and the Handymen, none were nearly as singularly terrifying as Bioshock’s Big Daddies. The Boy of Silence, which is totally creepy and should be a force to reckon with is easily avoidable and even if his gaze lands on Booker, it just leads to a horde of melee fighters attacking the player. Even with the interesting and fun boss fights with Slate and Lady Comstock, the game feels like it cheats a little bit on not having a real showdown between two major players. There is never a real fight between Booker DeWitt and Daisy Fitzroy, the confrontation ends up becoming an ambush where tons of Vox Populi attack him and Elizabeth. While this one is understandable because it leads to a crucial story beat, there is certainly a smart way to have that moment and have a fight between Booker and Daisy.

The biggest letdown was that despite playing the game living in constant fear of the inevitable battle with Songbird, it never happens. Daisy can be given the narrative pass, but there was definitely a way for Booker to have to fight this tragic monster while still creating these sweet character moments between the Songbird and Elizabeth. It was completely anticlimactic in some sense that instead of finally having to take on this aerial colossus, Booker and Elizabeth have a simple deus ex to have them all work together. The cooperation should have been earned a little more. Despite there being the story’s definitive statement that Booker could never defeat him, there should have been some fight even if it was just Booker buying Elizabeth time to figure out how to control the Songbird. How awesome would it have been to use the Sky-Lines to fight the Songbird on the Hand of the Prophet?

Again this is mainly nitpicky beefs that do not take away from the quality of the game or how satisfying it is. They simply are looking at the minor faults from the game and wishing that in some version of the multiverse that these fights existed. That perhaps some version of ourselves felt more empathy for Elizabeth as she was forced to make that tough decision after a dogged fight between Booker and Daisy when Daisy resorts to a cowardly gambit. In another reality, we fought the Songbird despite the impossible odds against victory and it took a large toll on Elizabeth’s psyche as she watched her childhood warden savage her hard-boiled savior. Fight, fought, will fight, perhaps at some point we do, did, will do.

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. Currently, he lives in Tustin, California. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs

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  • allenphelix

    This was a well written review. I agree with you for the most part, and I am glad you can look at Bioshock Infinite with eyes of reason unlike most sites.

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