The lights are on
The beauty of video games is that they are a type of media that encompasses all other forms of entertainment; literature, cinema, music. As long as it's interactive it's still considered a video game. People complain that visual novels like Katawa Shoujo or cinematic dramas such as Heavy Rain are not video games because they focus on literature or cinema rather than gameplay. I believe it's wrong to assume that a video game is good or bad based on how many cutscenes it has but rather how well it's able to engage the player in whatever it's trying to accomplish.
Bioshock Infinite is a game that plays with this idea that a video game can be something more than just gameplay by trying to bring the player a riveting narrative and engaging FPS action. Unfortunately, its achievement in presentation overshadows its effort in gameplay which leaves the game unbalanced.
From first entering Columbia to the mind-numbing finale, the game embeds your brain with beautiful imagery, symbolism, and narrative through its gorgeous graphics, stellar musical numbers, and believable voice-acting. Every line of dialogue and event appear to be carefully scripted and well thought out. Every character and their intertwining fates, the backstory and subplots, and every situation comes about in such a cinematically, methodical and beautiful manner that it's obvious that the developer's first priority was to tell a story as exploration is compromised for almost on-rail story-telling.
The main and most damning problem that Bioshock Infinite has stems from its methodical story-telling. As stated earlier, the story appears to be Irrational's first priority making the gameplay an obvious second. This becomes a problem for two reasons; with a story that's the main focus the gameplay becomes a glaring distraction, and the gameplay loses a ton of potential.
While the story may have some problems, it's evident that the developers put forth the time and effort to bring the player a thrilling cinematic experience and they succeeded. The player has a reason to continue, not because they want to shoot mindlessly at random enemies but because they want to continue the tale of Booker and Elizabeth. The problem here is that the gameplay is not thrilling enough to compete with the game's cinematic elements and therefore becomes a distraction. The same problem arose with Spec Ops: The Line where the bland third-person shooting felt like a hindrance in the wake of the narrative. While the gameplay of Bioshock Infinite definitely has a lot more depth than Spec Ops', it, nonetheless, becomes a hindrance as well. While vigor combinations and dimension-tearing are amusing for a bit it all starts to lose its shimmer when with every room comes a wave of the same enemies that can be killed with the same vigor/weapon combination. While experimenting with vigors, I found that Shock Jock and Possession are really the only ones needed. As far as the weapon choice goes, I found very little difference with each weapon or not preferring one over the other. The only reason I would switch a weapon was when I exhausted my ammo, then I would continue the assault the same as before.
All of this brings a lack of strategy among other things that really would have other-wised balanced out Infinite and made all of its parts shine. Picking up a certain weapon should bring about a sense in the player that they should switch up their style of gameplay to suit the gun or choose a gun based on the situation. All Infinite offered was a sniper rifle, the only different gun in the game. Every other gun from the pistol to the rocket launcher felt exactly the same albeit the blast radius and that was a problem. There were also other elements in Infinite that felt like they could have been expanded upon. Using sky-rails could been implemented better as they were only used as a way to progress the story or for a quick escape when a wave of enemies became too tough. I imagined entire fights above the skies on the rails, switching from one to the other, using melee andgrapples, or electrocuting them through the metal with your vigors . . . but no, none of that.
The world of Columbia is such a strikingly beautiful place but as you play through the game it becomes apparent that all Columbia was meant to be was a setting. The game itself is very linear not just in a narrative sense but in a gameplay sense as well. There is no emphasis to explore the beautiful city and lacks the ability to backtrack and explore Columbia in spare time. I find it unforgivable, given this gorgeous world rich with lore, that an emphasis on exploration was not accentuated.
Infinite suffers from being a mindless shooter as the game is composed of wave after wave of enemies. There were a few tiny portions, and I mean tiny, that if expanded upon, could have really improved the gameplay. One was a stealth sequence in which an enemy would be on look out and if spotted, he would call a wave of creepy prisoners to attack you. It was a breath of fresh air to be able to use the environment as cover and sneak your way passed, or if you'd rather, just rush in and take them all head on. There were only two instances of this and they occurred near the end of the game. The other example of lost potential being the controlling of allies on the battlefield (I'm not talking about Possession and I can't say who you control exactly with the fear of giving away spoilers). Controlling an ally, only happens once, while was not the most thrilling, it was a change in gameplay that was another breath of fresh air. Infinite's problem comes down to a lack of variety.
With such a strong narrative, it's a shame that the gameplay, while not the most thrilling but by no means awful, disrupts the flow of the entire game and leaves the latest installment of the Bioshock series an unbalanced loss of potential. The narrative and presentation are so engaging that the gameplay, as fulfilling as it may be, becomes a distraction. Bioshock Infinite's brilliant story and mediocre gameplay leaves the game far from perfection but has enough substance to keep the majority of players entertained.
Gameplay:Simple FPS gameplay expanded slightly with the use of vigors. The gameplay is focused on simply defeating waves and waves enemies by using a balance of weapons and vigors to dispatch them. Unfortunately, I found strategy to be unnecessary when simply blasting away enemies with any weapon you have and spamming Shock Jock will get the job done about 90 percent of the time. Elizabeth also simplifies fights to the point where I had to stop using her assistance. As soon as you run out of ammo, health, or salts she will instantly replenish them. After accepting a few of these items from her, it will take her a few seconds before giving you anymore. There is literally a price to be paid every time you die. Upon death, you will lose a reasonable amount of money before the battle once again restarts (from where you ended off and with the enemies' health slightly restored). The only boss fight in the game is very dull and the final standoff left more to be desired. There is a small change-up during the final moments of the game where some stealth elements were implemented but only lasted for a few sequences leaving the player to return back to the monotonous gunfights.
Playability:The game plays quite well with the only complaint being that turning is a bit slow especially when you need to get out of a top spot and running only works when moving forward.
Camera:The camera really shines when trying to move the player through the narrative. It worked in a very cinematic way to focus on the narrative.
Fun:The enjoyment stems from the desire to continue the story and exploring the world and is held back by the sometimes monotonous gameplay. Not to say the gameplay is bad, it's just not as in depth as the narrative.
Lasting Appeal:Infinite is a good-sized game, taking your time it'll probably give you over 15 hours but after that the only thing to do is play a higher difficulty or try 1999 mode.
Graphics:Stunning visuals that bring the bright and grim world of Columbia to life.
Sound:Top-notch voice acting, musical score, and 1900's renditions of modern songs add to the brilliance of the presentation.
Difficulty:Pretty constant but things like Elizabeth's aide and tears give the game unnecessary dips.
Flow:The gameplay slows down the gameplay especially when the main focus of the game is the story.