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Bioshock Infinite. The game I’ve waited for all year, the game I beat on day one, and the game that I’ve spent the entire year reflecting on. It’s Ken Levine’s newest game, with a whole new city and slew of powers to discover. It’s a powerful game that attempts to portray heavy topics such as racism and religion.
Dishonored. The most atmospheric and gripping game of 2012, Dishonored stuck with me for over a year now. It blends masterful stealth with a deep combat system and fascinating locations and world building. While it may seem like a shallow revenge fantasy, it quickly spirals into a near-perfect story of betrayal, power, magic, and conspiracy.
At surface value, these two games seem very different. One’s a stealth game with multiple solutions to a problem and sword-based combat, and one’s a fast and linear FPS with an emphasis on mowing down hordes. Yet, when you look deeper, they’re extremely similar.
I’ve hinted in my previous blog series that I’m not too happy with the way Bioshock Infinite turned out. I thought that the storyline was a confused mess and the gameplay was sadly shallow and unrewarding. Bioshock Infinite shot for the stars, but it ended up tripping and falling flat on its face. The only saving grace this game has is its atmosphere, but even that can stumble.
Columbia is a dense city, but it rarely feels like it is. After a few scenes walking around the city, all civilians vanish and all that’s left is a pretty box. The more I played the game, the more I felt like I was experiencing a haunted house. Walking through, seeing the sights, and then leaving. Combine that with the fact that every civilian in Columbia is a heartless murderer who will shoot you in the face if you so much as draw a gun. Columbia should feel alive, but instead, it feels hollow.
The fact is that if Bioshock Infinite wanted to work, it would really have to go that extra mile. Civilians everywhere should’ve felt more like people and less like Disneyland Anamatronics. Everything leading up to getting the Skyhook is so perfectly paced, with people going about their daily needs and talking. Children played in the streets, couples enjoyed the view, and inventors will showing off their newest creations at the fair.
If the game managed to keep that atmosphere all along, then Columbia would feel real. When I played Bioshock, I felt like I was really in Rapture. Like this lost city was an actual place that could be visited. When I played Bioshock Infinite, I felt like I was walking through video game levels.
These common pitfalls that Columbia falls prey to are for the most part, avoided by Dunwall. Dunwall is established as a city in fear. Assassins are running amok, a plauge is spreading, scientific advancements are being made at an alarmingly fast rates, and a millitaristic city watch keeps all of the citizens in line.
The worldbuilding of Dunwall is so powerful and realized that you always notice its presence. From plauge-ridden weepers shambling around where a group of homeless people once took shelter to the City Watch giving a security detail inside of the High Overseer’s palace, this world constantly has characters acting more than just enemies.
Dunwall is a focused location that is just begging to be explored after Dishonored ends. I still want to go into the city and discover every nook and cranny. But after you go meet Jeremiah Fink in Bioshock Infinite, Columbia’s charm has worn off for just some random city with a nice view and racists.
Ok, so Dunwall is superior to Columbia, but the worldbuilding and atmosphere doesn’t make the game. How about the gameplay? While they do seem very different at first, they focus on combat using supernatural abilities mixed in with conventional weapons. While you can sneak around in Dishonored, close encounters do end up feeling a bit like a FPS. Sadly, this is another section where Infinite plummets.
See, Dishonored treats each of their powers and weapons as tools before anything else. They can all be used in interesting combinations to make interesting results. You can cook a grenade, throw it, and then freeze time in mid air. After freezing time, you can possess a guard and make him walk in front of the blast, get out of possession, and wait for time to resume and the bomb to blow.
Using Blink with a sword lets you shock enemies or topple mighty Tallboys with a single stab to the throat, escaping with a possession and a rat swarm makes you lost in the crowd of diseased rodents, and windblasting grenades back at their uses are all fantastic ideas that the game lets you use. These otherworldly gifts to Corvo make the once boring stab and shoot system exciting. Removing them from the game removes most of the fun.
If you take away the vigors from Bioshock Infinite, you lose nothing. I beat the entire campaign without once needing assistance from the vigors, and that’s troubling. A gameplay element as big as a secondary weapon should at least do something interesting. Possession was overall useless, Undertow was a conditional power, Shock Jockey did the same thing as Murder of Crows, Bucking Bronco only made easy targets easier to hit, and the others never got more then one test use out of me.
I came into Bioshock Infinite excited. I had high hopes for a new entry in one of the best franchises of the seventh generation. Instead of delivering a fun combat system with another great world, I got boredom. If you want to play what I consider to be the true Bioshock Infinite, pick up Dishonored instead of Infinite. I certainly wished I did.