Note: This was originally posted on the blog in November of 2013, but got lost in the shuffle with a transfer from one hosting service to another.
I haven’t played a lot of Bioshock: Infinite. I’ve got a lot of work on my hands at the moment, and I only finished King’s Quest I the other day. Hmmm. That’s an interesting combination of words to write in 2013. At any rate, I haven’t played a lot of the game, though I’ve played enough to sit down and write something relatively thoughtful. I hope.
First off, let’s discuss preconceptions. I absolutely adored the original Bioshock, as did many people. I’ve never encountered a twist so deliciously well done, and that game showed us what video games could do that other mediums could not. The role of the player was inverted, the linearity of first person shooters implicitly mocked, the mechanics and parameters of functioning gameplay presented as a major plot device. It was wonderful. More than that, the story did this central idea justice. Dodgy Irish accents aside, we were presented with a fully believable world. A vivid setting that suggested all kinds of backstories and origin myths that we might never have a chance to explore. That’s the key word really: exploration. Despite Bioshock’s linear progress you felt like you were exploring the city of Rapture. I ended the game as satisfied as I have ever been with a story told in a video game.
Then something funny happened. I have never gone back and replayed Bioshock. I played Half-Life 2 repeatedly for years. Come to think of it, maybe I’ll play Half-Life 2 again soon. But Bioshock? Never went back to that well. Bioshock 2 came and went. I didn’t particularly want to go back to Rapture. My interest never really solidified enough to give the game any kind of a shot despite numerous Steam sales, a friend loaning me his copy and the excellent (or so I hear and believe) Minerva’s Den DLC. The Bioshock spell had worn off, so much so in fact that I didn’t have time for Infinite either. I was a little worried by some of the ambition being put forth about the story and the setting and I wasn’t all that sold on Ken Levine’s interpretation of the historical context. The game was released, and I have a whole set of reviews, reactions and related articles in a bookmarked folder, waiting to be read once I’ve completed the game. Because, despite everything else and most unlike my approach to Bioshock 2 I always knew I would buy Bioshock: Infinite. I just expected to have problems with it.
Now, this might seem unfair. Truthfully, it’s completely unfair, unless the game ends up eliciting a more positive reaction from me because I went in with low expectations. However, this is why games can be different. And books, for that matter. Even as single-player games get shorter in length spent playing the game, I would have to believe (and certainly would hope) that people would have an issue with Bioshock: Infinite taking less than ten or twelve hours to complete. I’m not talking about speed runs here. I’m talking about cut scenes (or scenes set up to be as close to such as possible), talking to random NPCs, soaking in the atmosphere of the game. And shooting. The last of which I’ll address in another post at a future date. I want to enjoy the game, I want to luxuriate in it to a certain extent, I want to sit down and enjoy my time with it. A film will grab hold of my attention and demand that I stay focused from anywhere from ninety to one hundred and eighty minutes. A book can take a few days or a few weeks or even a few months. Video games, although this is somewhat dependent on the genre, can similarly be enjoyed at length. So, even if I do have issues with Bioshock: Infinite, I could still come away with a positive feeling about the whole thing.
So far, it has proven exactly thus. The dialogue is occasionally hokey, we’ve already had a dodgy Irish accent and a janitor determined to push the envelope in his role as a magical negro, speaking in an over the top accent that makes me a little uncomfortable and apparently recording audio diaries at rather odd moments that prove quite fortuitous to the plot. However, the positives are in greater number: the miscegenation raffle early in the game is a truly fantastic moment whether or not you choose to classify it as a reveal. The hinting at the “Vox Populi” terrorist group and the general propaganda has been fantastic, even if that is a bit of a silly name for said terrorist group. And the floating city…
My my, that city. What a dream this is. The moving buildings, the concept of different districts docking with others. The setting as a whole is wonderful. A quiet populace fully acquiesced to the notion of a theocratic supreme leader and the demonization of all cultures without and some groups imported to the underbelly of the city. I’m a little unclear on why exactly that was done, actually, other than to simply have people to clean up after the white folk. Maybe it’s that simple. I’m starting to worry that I’m going to encounter more of such simple solutions going forward. But we’ll see, I suppose.