Friday, March 28, 2014

Review: Bioshock Infinite

One of the interesting things about catching up on 10 years of games is that since I'd been exposed continuously to only good games, it's extremely jarring when I play a bad one. I don't review most of those, because I never get far enough to finish them, since they don't hold my interest past a couple of chapters. Bioshock Infinite, however, came with stellar reviews, so I persisted despite my not having made it past a the first mini boss from the original Bioshock.

When I reviewed The Last of Us, I complained about how very unfun it was until I finally understood the game system and how it worked. A lot of it was that the game was continuously teaching me how to play, and between me being a slow learner and the reviews I'd read prior to the game, I'd approached it completely wrong. But by the time I really got it, the game became fun. The final scene where Ellie rescues herself from her kidnapper was like a final exam in everything the game had tried to teach you. (The fight against Mr. Freeze in Batman Arkham City serves the same function) Everything was put together right and I was never tempted to even look online for help.

I bring up these examples because they illustrate so clearly how a game can be done right and the game play leading into the climax exercises all the player skills that the game has taught him. Bioshock Infinite does it completely wrong. For one thing, none of the encounters prior to the climax require the kind of tactical and strategic thinking that was required to survive. Furthermore, the power-ups prior to the encounter all had the default selection set to the worst possible choice you could have made coming into the encounter. The result was that the game felt seductively easy enough to play (on easy settings), that you got to the final encounter only to get a whammy that felt like an infinite difficulty spike.

Now, I would probably have powered through anyway if the story had a decent payoff. Now the technical differences between the Naughty Dog team and the Irrational team really shows. The cut-scenes in The Last of Us are full of human interaction and expression, with every nuance of character reflected in the facial animation, body language, and acting. Bioshock Infinite doesn't have cut-scenes, but the animated models used by Irrational aren't subtle enough to carry the story off. Elizabeth is flat, and doesn't interact with  Booker anywhere close to the way Ellie interacts with Joel. The result is that the connection between Booker and Ellie feel forced and not as believable, which reduced my motivation to finish the game.

The net-result is that I watched the ending of the game on YouTube instead of playing through the climax. It's a decent ending without howlers, but definitely does not have the emotional tension and payoff from The Last of Us, or even Tomb Raider.

In any case, if you're a hard core first person shooter player I think Bioshock Infinite would be for you. For the rest of us, I'd recommend giving it a pass. The payoff just isn't worth the work, and the game play is unfun and breaks down right at the end of the game when it matters.

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