“It’s all right, I’m not like the rest – I’m a progressive!”
I got a lot of enjoyment out of the original Bioshock. It was a very flawed game in many ways and felt more like a visual novel that used an FPS engine, but the shooter part was fun and had a lot of physics toys to play with and was a more than competently done survival horror with some really good set pieces and a the delightful twist that we’d see later in games like Arkham Asylum where you realize that YOU are the monster that everyone else is trying to survive. I skipped Bioshock 2 because when I heard the whole “Play as a Big Daddy!” pitch, I was all “really? That was the WORST part of the first game! No thanks!”, but I’d heard great things about Bioshock Infinite, it was on clearance, so I decided to give it a go.
I spent much of the first two hours absolutely hating Bioshock Infinite. Being dumped in the sky city with little introduction was a poor repeat of the original Bioshock not because we’d done this before, but because without Atlas to be your guide and without the immediate threat of the crazy splicer holocaust you’ve been dumped into, you find yourself alone in a very picturesque but dead and static world digging through trashcans on your way to the story. Despite the dozens of citizens of Columbia hanging around, none of them pay you the least bit of mind or seem to notice your presence. And if you’re like me and like to thoroughly explore your surroundings in games like this, it becomes even more pronounced that you’re in this very wide linear path for nearly an hour looking for a depth that just isn’t there.
Ian Miles Cheong recently shared this meme:
Even moreso than its predecessor, Bioshock Infinite is the middle there, in spades.
Once the actual action finally got underway (and I died several times, losing all of the loot I’d spent the previous hour scrounging garbage cans for; but hey, I was playing it on hard), I was even more aggravated because it wasn’t doing the FPS part well either! Unlike the original Bioshock, where enemies could be seen fairly clearly because they were, y’know, in the room with you, enemies in Bioshock Infinite are difficult to see to the point of being downright hard to find except for when you’ve been shot at by one. It’s gone the freaking Call of Duty route to crouching and running from unseen shooters and taking shots at enemies either from a great distance or trying to close the gap and getting mowed down by suppressive fire. Oh, yeah, and you can only carry two guns! LAAAAAAME!
Also, I don’t think its look at Patriotism and Apotheosis of the founders is as interesting or nuanced as the first game’s look at Objectivism vs. Collectivism. The Randian may have been a self-important asshole and his paradise failed, but the labor thugs absolutely had a hand in Rapture’s failures, and the union boss is the game’s big-bad. The weird Lost Cause prophet guy and his klansmen aren’t nearly as interesting as villains as Andrew Ryan and his mad scientists and libertine artists.
So far, Elizabeth has been the only redeeming aspect of Bioshock Infinite. She does a good job at evoking the whole “video game caring potential” trope. She has a likable personality, she’s actually got some decent mechanical uses (“here is money I stole”, “here is a first aid kit I found”, “take this gun I took”, “let me pick this lock for you”), you don’t have baby-sit her, and a lot of her AI interactions with the environment are charming and fascinating. The last point, I think, is where Elizabeth really shines – here movement is both responsive to the player’s and predictive – rather than following on some typical AI path-finding trail behind your character, if you’re moving in the direction of some goal in a safe area, she’ll be moving ahead of you; if you’re just wandering around, she’ll wander as well at a safe distance, sometimes looking at things or out windows or getting a snack; if you’re really derping around, she’ll lean up against a wall or sit on a bench and wait for you to get your shit together. It’s cute, it’s interesting to watch, and it really breathes life into the NPC character. Elizabeth is a companion character done right. She’s also the kind of dame who’s usually paired up with the hero in the pulps, but that’s a whole nother can of worms.
Even if everything else about Bioshock Infinite is terrible and tedious and unfun (and it looks like that’s the direction it may be going), Elizabeth is amazing and nothing short of a breakthrough. I’d like to see her as a model for future AI companions in other games, perhaps those that will be more fun (at least to me) than Bioshock Infinite.