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Versus Mode – Debating BioShock Infinite

Versus Mode is a special feature that we're doing today, and it focuses on two editors debating the merits of a particular game or series. This entry features digital editor Bryan Vore debating the merits of BioShock Infinite with senior editor Jeff Cork.

Bryan: BioShock Infinite was in contention for my game of the year in 2013. It was just edged out by The Last of Us. Let’s start from the beginning on this. I loved the introduction to the floating world of Columbia. I think it starts wonderfully, initially seeming like a utopia with the fairgrounds section and quickly turning to a nightmare when you’re handed the baseball and told to throw it at the defenseless prisoners.

Jeff: I completely agree with you so far. The beginning is definitely amazing. I loved the part where you see the barbershop quartet float by singing The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” That pretty much encapsulated everything I was so excited to see in the game: a bizarro alternate history full of surprises. Then the baseball part happened and whatever nuance I was looking forward to disappeared with a skyhook to the face.

Bryan: So you would have preferred a more gradual introduction to the xenophobic, racist elements of Comstock’s world?

Jeff: Exactly! Wait, no! I’m not going to fall for your tricks, Vore. Maybe my problem started once I turned that dude’s face into hamburger and began my career as a virtual psychopath on history’s longest killing spree. Maybe my bigger issue is that the setting (which is awesome) was undermined by the way you interact with it. As a shooter, it ain’t great, and unfortunately, well, it’s a shooter.

Bryan: I see this “murder spree” argument come up regularly with Infinite, The Last of Us, Tomb Raider, and others. I think it has to do with the stories and characters in games advancing while it’s hard to conceive of another way to handle the gameplay. We’ve been killing non-stop since the dawn of video games, but now that there are more realistic, well-formed characters pulling the trigger instead of Doomguy it creates a juxtaposition.

Jeff: You’re forking my argument up! While I totally agree with people who say games need to evolve past killing thousands of people, that wasn’t my big beef with BioShock Infinite. (A quick aside though: I think Irrational cultivated a mindset of creating interesting places, and it wasn’t shocking that The Fullbright Company was formed by people who worked on BioShock 2 and its DLC.) My complaint is that the gameplay was boring and repetitive. Dudes appear. Shoot at dudes with pistol, stunning them with Murder of Crows. Catch a coin from Elizabeth. Maybe get her to summon a turret or some cover. Or don’t. I just didn’t find it to be much of a leap from the first BioShock, let alone its sequel.

Bryan: I agree that the combat mechanics could have been better and it was easy to lean on a few skills. (Those crows were pretty great.) But there are plenty of shooters that are just about shooting the same pistols, shotguns, and machine guns. Irrational was able to incorporate special powers that tied the player into both the portal-ripping story and the character of Elizabeth. Catching those coins got old, but you can’t deny that she was a compelling A.I. person, served a real purpose by your side (not just hitting switches), and most importantly didn’t require any babysitting.

Jeff: You’re absolutely right. There are plenty of shooters that are just about shooting the same pistols, shotguns, and machine guns. And they’re not generally considered to be The Best Games of All Time. People really seemed to latch on to Elizabeth, and I did think her story was interesting. Unfortunately, I thought she was most interesting when I was learning about her from audio logs. When she was with me, she reminded me of Ashley from Resident Evil 4 in a Disney Princess dress. 

Bryan: C’mon, Ashley could at best help push a dresser in front of a window. Elizabeth can possess mecha-George Washington and make him shoot bad guys!

Jeff: Good point. Did you feel that Columbia was as fully realized as Rapture? That was another disappointment. I really enjoyed exploring BioShock’s worlds. The environments in Columbia felt sterile, and I was rarely encouraged (or rewarded) for moving off the critical path. Rapture had lots of optional areas to poke around in, and it didn’t seem like I was walking around a set.

Bryan: I felt that Columbia was an excellent followup to Rapture. They both are these small dens whose leaders had to go to enormous lengths to create so that they would be able to create their ideal society. Both become rotten from the core outward and are constantly risking complete annihilation from the sea or gravity. That said, I don’t necessarily remember Rapture having tons of off the beaten path areas, but it’s been a long time since I’ve played. I do agree that digging through every trash can and desk drawer was not fun in Infinite. Even then I couldn’t help but do it in every room on the fear that I’d miss some awesome pickup or a big bag of cash. What did you think of the ending?

Jeff: I thought Irrational did a nice job of illustrating the way that parallel universes can spiral into infinity (or as far as last-gen processing power could permit). I’m a big fan of endings that have interesting callbacks to a story’s beginning, like the film The Conversation, and I liked having context to those weirdo Lutece twins. Honestly, those two were probably my favorite part of the game. The ending generated a lot of conversations in the office, but it didn’t feel completely baked. I still need to play the DLC. In spite of whatever I’ve said about the game in this conversation, I did buy the season pass right after the credits rolled. It was a very good game, but there were so many great games in 2013. We can still agree that The Last of Us was the best though. Right? 

Bryan: Haha, yes! Maybe our next debate can just be agreeing on how great The Last of Us was.

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