When I set out to replay BioShock Infinite for this retrospective, I opened up a Notepad file to log all the problems I had with the narrative and gameplay. Every time I encountered something stupid, illogical or broken, I alt-tabbed over to Notepad and wrote it down. Retarded point-and-shoot action? Wrote it down. Story points that contradict each other? Wrote it down. Ham-handed moralizing? Wrote it down.
The end result is that I have a file that’s close to 500 words long, with several dozen different bullet points explaining every little thing that makes Infinite suck. Since I only have about 1,000 words for this post, I’ll have to condense it down to the broad strokes.
BioShock Infinite is the cancer that is killing video games. It takes every lesson of good game design from the first System Shock forward, lights it on fire, then urinates on it out of spite. Tack on the nonsensical Burial at Sea expansions and I’m almost convinced that Ken Levine is suffering from some undiscovered type of brain tumor. In trying to cater to the “video games as art” crowd, he’s created something that fails at being a game and as art.
No, Mr. DeWitt, I Expect You To Die
BioShock Infinite fails primarily because it disregards the very basis of the System Shock genre of shooters: at no point should the player feel like he’s just playing a game. Both System Shock games and the original BioShock had little to no interaction with NPCs because of this: dialogue trees took the player out of the action, and there was nothing to keep the player from cleaving their skulls in with a wrench and breaking the game.
Infinite disregards this by turning the series into Metal Gear Solid: First Person View. The game throws all sorts of logic-breaking moments at you in order to maintain the integrity of the plot. For example, take the segment where Booker and Elizabeth are running around the beach after escaping from her tower. The game doesn’t allow you to use your weapons until you approach the ticket window, even though it allows you to use weapons in later civilian-filled areas. Why? Because Elizabeth expressing shock at Booker killing people is a major plot point, and letting the player shoot up the beach would break the continuity of Infinite’s freshman writing workshop-level story.
Speaking of which, Infinite’s sickeningly uneven tone is another big problem. At the ticket window, Elizabeth is disgusted by Booker killing people in self-defense. Yet not ten minutes later in Soldier’s Field, Booker (i.e. me) is running around blithely murdering unarmed shopkeepers to rob their tills and even executing a couple of children’s mascots with a shotgun… in front of an audience of terrified kids.
Elizabeth isn’t horrified by my ruthless slaughtering of innocent civilians; indeed, she’s actually making small talk with Booker about his life. When Daikatana tried to pull nonsense like this over a decade ago, everyone laughed John Romero out of the room. BioShock Infinite is the exact same kind of pap, but the reviewers are now praising it.
It’s moments like these that destroy what little atmosphere Infinite builds up. BioShock, for all its faults, made me feel like I was an honest-to-God plane crash survivor trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic city. Even BioShock 2, with its nonsensical plot, did a better job on the immersion score. Playing Infinite is like being trapped in a haunted house ride with a condescending, dictatorial narrator: “This is the segment where you shoot bad guys!” “This is the part where you shed a tear at Elizabeth and Booker reuniting! Squirt some tears, damnit! I’m getting paid on commission!”
Philip K. Dick For Retards
“But Matt, what about the ploooootttttt? Muh strong female characters!” Come off it. BioShock Infinite is a cheap morality tale that makes no sense whatsoever. To Levine’s credit (and the consternation of more extreme SJWs), he avoided the “white Christians are irredeemable racists” story we were all expecting by depicting the black and Irish Vox Populi rebels as a bunch of savage throat-slitters. That doesn’t make the central story of Booker and Elizabeth any more excusable.
The game is supposedly themed around fatalism and choice, but the conclusion—drowning the alternate universe Booker so he doesn’t become Zachary Comstock, the game’s antagonist—makes little sense. Good stories are defined by their central characters changing or growing over the course of the plot. Infinite’s ending results in Booker learning fuck all. Sure, Comstock doesn’t exist, but Booker is still a loser who would sell his own daughter to pay off some gambling debts.
Furthermore, Elizabeth’s ability to move between parallel universes unravels the plot. For example, the very first time Booker and Elizabeth journey to a parallel universe (in Fink’s theater, for the purpose of finding Chen Lin), Elizabeth tells Booker that she “might not be able to bring [them] back.” Then what’s the point? Why move between different universes if you’re just going to get stranded and not be able to complete your objective?
The inconsistencies in Infinite pile up like turds in a punchbowl. We learn that the Lutece twins have brought over a hundred different Bookers to Columbia, each of whom failed to save Elizabeth: what’s that line about insanity and doing the same thing twice? In the Hall of Heroes, Cornelius Slate fights Booker for no reason then because he wants to have “a soldier’s death,” a moronic trope stolen from Hideo Kojima. Burial at Sea piles it higher and deeper: we learn that the Booker in that game is actually an alternate Comstock, but I thought Booker’s drowning got rid of Comstock!
Halo: Combat Devolved
I suppose I have to say something about the gameplay. BioShock Infinite is a boring Halo clone, right down to the asinine two-weapon limit, but I have to admire the honesty with which the game shoves its dumbed-down action in your face. There’s no more of the “FPS/RPG hybrid” crap we got force-fed with the first game: Infinite is a shooter, full stop. You don’t even get to choose which plasmids (oh, excuse me, “vigors”) you get anymore: there are only ten and you get them all as part of the plot.
Infinite also deserves credit for introducing a penalty (however small) for death. Every time Booker gets killed, you lose money and the enemies regain some health. It doesn’t make the game any harder (especially considering the rock-stupid AI), but at least the developers were trying. Burial at Sea: Episode Two dumps the resurrection system entirely, forcing you to reload when you get killed.
The idea of using Elizabeth to open “tears” that provide extra ammo, health kits and/or allies to fight with you is a fairly clever idea, but it further accentuates Infinite’s divorce from the games that inspired it. Forget about stealth, subterfuge, or playing the game your way: you either fight these set-piece battles or you go home. In many cases, Infinite doesn’t even allow you to progress unless you’ve killed all the bad guys in the area.
But what really irritates me about Infinite is the save system, or more accurately the lack of one. Being able to save your game whenever you want is one thing that has always separated the PC Master Race from the console untermenschen. But Infinite uses a stupid checkpoint system, meaning if you quit the game (or it crashes), you have to start over from the last autosave, however long ago that was. There’s simply no excuse for this in an era where even consoles come with hundred gigabyte hard drives.
Death To Art
But really, mediocre gameplay and a nonsensical plot aren’t enough to make BioShock Infinite one of the worst games of recent memory. The problem is the praise the game gets.
BioShock Infinite is the end result of the years-long push to get video games recognized as “art,” a medium on par with movies or books. The problem is that the definition of “art” here is the same one used to justify “Piss Christ,” Infinite Jest and Ingmar Bergman’s entire career. It’s fueled by a juvenile “FUCK YOU, DAD!” mentality that celebrates sentimentalism and SJW ideology and disdains innovation, honesty or even fun.
Infinite is the result of this cancer metastasizing to the vital organs of the game industry, from Passage to Depression Quest to the AAA developers. It’s a game that sacrifices story, gameplay and atmosphere in pursuit of high-minded themes and motifs that make no logical sense but give warm fuzzies to SJW reviewers. The fact that the game is also grossly hypocritical and revolting doesn’t matter to them either. SJW game journalists poo-poo games like Grand Theft Auto V or Hatred for their ultraviolence, but they have no problem with the vicious executions or grisly, brain-splattering suicides of Infinite. It’s art, don’t you see?
Well, I say nuts to that. Decade-old games like Planescape: Torment and Deus Ex were able to tackle weighty subjects without sacrificing action and/or narrative coherency, so this “art game” crusade on the part of SJWs is completely superfluous and unnecessary. More to the point, there’s nothing wrong with entertainment that’s meant to be fun, that doesn’t force “deep” moral subjects down the audience’s throats.
As any truly talented writer of recent times can tell you, the publishing industry’s focus on “high-minded” novels has doomed American literature to irrelevancy. The same thing will happen if cancerous “games” like Transistor and Gone Home are allowed to dominate. The only way to fight back is to refuse to play. Don’t reward SJW game developers with your money. Deconstruct and dissect why their games are bad.
Oh, and shove sentimental garbage like BioShock Infinite in the trash can, where it belongs.