Let’s Play Catch-up: Bioshock Infinite
Just like I have a backlog of games to play, I also have a backlog of games to write about. I’m trying to get some quick posts out before we hit the summer and things slow down a bit. Here’s the first.
It’s hard to come up with much of substance that hasn’t already been said in a million other places already. Rab Florence has a great line in his piece on the media response that sums up my thoughts:
If there is any game that can justify its violence, it is Bioshock Infinite. It is a story about a violent man, and about the violence within society. It’s a story about extreme beauty, and extreme ugliness. It’s also saying a lot about videogames, and as it delivers its story and themes, it does it through patterns and behavioural codes that we all understand. The violence isn’t only justified by character, story or themes. It’s justified by the language of game mechanics that the game is using.
What games can’t justify their use of extreme violence? Almost everything else. And yet I haven’t seen commentators call all those other games out. Why wasn’t Gears of War widely taken to task for gruesome violence? Why wasn’t Modern Warfare 2? Was it because those games didn’t aspire to be anything other than silly old videogames? Was it because those games knew their place?
I do think Bioshock Infinite has its share of issues. There’s not enough of the glorious skyhook combat. I do wish I could talk my way out of certain situations—one non-spoiler example: there’s a bar you can approach, and some downtrodden folk point their guns at you in warning, which implies you can somehow convince everyone that things are cool. But you can’t; any movement, even if it’s backwards, results in gunfire.
And despite its best efforts, Bioshock Infinite is still a game that feels not entirely successful at melding its gameplay with its narrative. The beginning of the game is glorious but it does seem to be mostly you walking to places and looking at things; the ending is even worse, basically an interactive cutscene. I don’t mind the violence, and I think it’s useful from a story perspective, but the game does lurch between combat and non-combat situations with only marginally more grace than a Mass Effect game.
But to me, these are all problems gaming in general has yet to solve, not a particular weakness of Bioshock Infinite. I don’t think it deserves the weight of expectation so many have placed on it—not just to be a game, but to be The Game that completely redefines our medium. It would’ve been fantastic if Irrational had pulled it off, sure. But just because it’s merely a very good experience, and not a groundbreaking one (or arguably only groundbreaking in certain ways), doesn’t mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. It certainly isn’t representative of everything that’s wrong with modern, triple-A gaming—or did you guys not play through Modern Warfare 3, Assassin’s Creed 3, Halo 4, SimCity, and a host of other games that get a free pass?