BIOSHOCK INFINITE: First Impressions

I started playing BioShock Infinite this week. I recently reached Battleship Bay, which is the fifth of sixteen levels. Overall, I’m enjoying it. Amazing visuals, great music, intriguing airship city. I loved entering Columbia and exploring the fair. I spent two hours just ooh-ing and aww-ing.

But I do have a number of questions, observations, and, yes, criticisms. Some will, no doubt, be addressed with further gameplay. We’ll see!

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At first, I thought the carnival booths were a clever way to offer a tutorial while not really feeling like a tutorial. But, when shit got real and I actually had to fight, I felt woefully overwhelmed and ill-prepared, fumbling and frustrated. Instructions flashed briefly onscreen and I didn’t have time to read them because, you know, I was busy trying not to die.

Unlike previous BioShock games, there’s no map, no way to carry health kits or salts (the equivalent of EVE hypos), and no weapon wheel, so I can only carry two weapons at a time. A vigor called “possession” replaces hacking, while doubling as a way to turn enemies against each other, but it’s unpredictable. Some turrets I possess remain friendly to me forever, others switch back to unfriendly within seconds. So, no, not really like the hacking mechanic in previous games.

Why are there “vigors” at all? In BioShock, the plasmids were invented by scientists who moved to Rapture to be free and unfettered in their wild pursuit of technology, thanks to the libertarian ethos of the city’s founder, Andrew Ryan. In BioShock Infinite, having weird powers doesn’t seem to fit the apple pie, Americana, right-wing religious ethos of Columbia. One of the citizens on the beach of Battleship Bay talked about Darwin and was told to keep his voice down. Yet, they embrace science when it comes to mechanical horses and vigors? Is a half-naked she-demon bottle of Devil’s Kiss meant to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the society, or is it just sloppy storytelling?

I’m not sure how I feel about the voiced protagonist, which is new for the BioShock franchise. There’s something about being inside someone’s head, especially when they have an interesting personality and their observations are integral to the plot. For example, I loved Daud in Knife of Dunwall and Billie Lurk in Death of the Outsider. I also liked Garrett in Thief. But, so far, I don’t feel like Booker’s “holy shits” and game prompts (“I should use that skyline to reach monument island”) are terribly interesting, insightful or necessary.

I’m super frustrated with the stealth mechanic, or lack thereof. My attempts to sneak were dismal failures. Crouching seems to be designed for ducking behind cover when bullets are flying, not for sneaking up on enemies. There no indicator to tell you if you are hidden or not, other than the game constantly flashing a reminder to “press O to stand up.”

Not loving the save system. The game automatically saves at random, but not very frequently. It may be possible to reload “chapters” and play a level again, but if I have to quit in the middle of a level and the game hasn’t saved in awhile, I’m required to replay a chunk of the game next time. I’d appreciate being treated like a Big Girl and allowed to choose my own saves, please.

And utterly ridiculous is the tendency for enemies to shout out that they’re reloading during a gunfight. As if to say, “Please run up and shoot me in the face right now!”

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT

I’ve got a LOT of issues with the rescue of Elizabeth from Monument Island, aka Indiana Jones saves Disney princess from the KKK.

1) I shot a shit-ton of cops in town, and Comstock set fire to his own zeppelin to stop me, but then told his army to “stand down.” Why? I met no resistance at all, entering and moving through the tower. WTF?

2) Too many cutscenes, before and during my arrival on Monument Island, entering the tower, eventually finding Elizabeth and then getting out again. If I wanted to watch a movie, I’d watch a movie.

3) How does Elizabeth know where to go, during the escape? She’s surprised to discover that she’s being watched, so she’s never been through those tunnels before, yet she’s saying “this way” like she knows what’s what?

4) How is it helpful to have a ginormous mechanical bird who looses its shit and rips the place apart when it’s supposed to be protecting her? Did the bird wreck the Columbia statue, the bridge and other parts of the town, too? Why?

5) Why didn’t my bullets harm the bird’s glass eye, but being underwater made it crack?

6) Why didn’t Booker break his neck when he hit the water?

7) I spent hours trying to locate Elizabeth, only to have her disappear and be told to find her AGAIN. Really? Yeah, yeah, I get it, she’s innocent and free-spirited, caged bird and all that. Whatever. I really don’t like plots that revolve around dumb young women. I swear, if she says the phrase, “I can take care of myself,” at any point, I’m going to leave a flaming bag of poo on Ken Levine’s doorstep.

8) Elizabeth’s dress and hairstyle reminded me of Belle, and the semblance is reinforced by finding her in the library, which was an important location in Beauty and the Beast. Even the way she dances and sings is reminiscent of a Disney princess. Is that intentional or unintentional? Homage or satire? Either way, it’s the tired old “damsel in distress” trope that I find irritating rather than endearing.

In BioShock 2, the story revolved around rescuing Eleanor (who was also called a “lamb” and was an unwilling object of a religious cult — why did they recycle this same plot?). But BioShock 2 did a great job of subverting that “damsel in distress” trope. Eleanor rescues her rescuer and kicks ass. And Subject Sigma’s survival was tied very literally to hers, because of their pair bond, and emotionally because he was her “daddy.” Booker has no tie to Elizabeth. She’s a job, nothing more. At least, far as I can tell — if he knew more about her, wouldn’t he say so, since, y’know, he’s a voiced protagonist?

Based on the brilliance of BioShock, BioShock 2, and Minerva’s Den, I’m still eager to play BioShock Infinite. Though I have a bad feeling I might end up with a verdict similar to Thief — really wanting to like it, but not being able to look past its glaring problems. I hope I’m wrong.

~ J.L. Hilton

BioShock Infinite: Final Thoughts

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