Thursday, 4 April 2013

Bioshock: Infinite - Linear gameplay trapped inside a non-linear story

*End of game theme and story spoilers below*

Any story that has to wrap things up with extended scenes that explain what you have never taken part in (as a game player), hasn't done the job properly.
Spec Ops: The Line wrapped things up by explaining the reality of what you had played through and thought you had experienced, whereas Bioshock: Infinite merely takes you through from A to B and there is very little that you can do or have an opinion on about any of that. In all, if not at least some, of the scenes used at the end, there was opportunity for the player to play through those scenes as part of the developing story rather than take you through them briefly at the end as a sequence of explanations. This game could have had instead Booker and Elizabeth going backwards and forwards through time trying to understand what was happening rather than just experiencing straight forward linear action sequences.
It would have been really interesting as a player to have been able to utilise the vigors to open up special tears that thrust you into gameplay that extrapolated on the Rosalind and Robert Lutece influence and separate involvement in the creation of Columbia. Some might say "but that interrupts the separate realities of Booker existing with him appearing in the same time-frame as himself", but in Infinite that happens anyway - Booker appears in the revolution where he was killed and became a martyr. So what we have is a character who infiltrates different realities that he already does exist in or has existed in, but much of that is mere framework, or even wallpaper to some extent, rather than strong narrative building.

Other things I have and had issues with:
  • Daisy as a strong female revolutionary character was reduced to 'crazy black female'
    • I really hated the moment when Elizabeth killed Daisy. I sat there with my controller in my hand thinking 'yip, the white folks save the day again...'
    • Sure, if you put it in context of Booker being the racist Comstock, then it makes a lot of sense, but at that point, you're actually supposed to sympathise with the revolution. I mean, that universe's Booker is a flippin' martyr for crying out loud!
    • Or are you supposed to sympathise? It's certainly a discussion point, I guess.
  • Gameplay aspects like Elizabeth not opening any doors or pulling any leavers, waiting for you to do it instead even after she has just said “are you going to open the door or am I going in alone?” at which point she waits forever for you to open the door. Nice one!

  • Bullets having a physical effect on ghosts.
    • Okay, so if a ghost can have a physical effect on you, why can't you have a physical effect on a ghost? That's good reasoning, but it still seems really silly in terms of gameplay when a ghost is supposed to be able to move through walls but takes direct damage from bullets.
    • Using vigors exclusively, or combined with ammunition (like transferring shock jockey to your gun), would have made that fight far more interesting and less of a recycled combat moment.

Actually, there's nowhere near as much to gripe about as I'd like to think. My 'exploration with sky-hooks' has been covered.
Overall you could look at both Bioshocks as extrapolating on the pitfalls of idealism and the downfall of civilisations or societies based on exclusivity. And those are good things to discuss, but Infinite, however, left me with my alternative title: Bioshock: The virtues of suicide*. Because, even though there was revolution going on, the player was constantly fighting both sides of the revolution just to stay alive, and was reducing the concepts that could have been exploited in that idea to triviality, or 'not important', because the player has to get from A to B (constantly), and then finely discover his own role in the whole sordid mess.
But is it worth all the discussion going on over at Paul Tassi's two articles? I think any multiverse story can generate that kind of speculation if there is no closed loop or specified number of universes; Infinite spreads its net wide, though traverses only a few of the extended possibilities within the narrative. My general answer to that question is 'no, it's not worth it' but that's personal more than critical, as I would rather have a story teller be definite within their framework of multiple possibilities. As an example of this statement, a novelist may never state a character's age thus allowing the readers to speculate on the moral ambiguity of their actions within a clearly defined framework. It allows discussion to open up on the act itself and whether age actually is relevant in discussing [that] act. Infinite merely opens up discussions on possibilities.
Not to deride that in itself of course, after all, many people find that a fun and rewarding task. And that's fine. Bioshock: Infinite just might become a classic for the ending alone.
But I'll still want a prequel to the original Bioshock!

* This title is not meant as any disrespect to those who have had experience with the issues of suicide. Just a reflection on how the story pans out at the end.

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