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"BioShock Infinite is not a formula game"
March 12, 2013 11:59 AM   Subscribe

"Propaganda shields ideas from danger, and I think I'd rather expose ideas to danger. I think that's what I like to make in these games, is to take ideas and say, well, let's see what happens when these aren't protected." With the much anticipated release of BioShock Infinite just two weeks away, EuroGamer sits down for a lengthy chat with creative Director Ken Levine about philosophy, politics and God.

Levine, who actively answers questions about the game on Twitter, also spoke recently with Fast Company's Co.CREATE and the Los Angeles Times. You can read about what the first three hours of the game are like, and watch the official trailer. (BioShock previously on the blue.)
posted by jbickers (92 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm interested in this game because the art direction is so great, but I'm pretty concerned that the gameplay will be rather dated. I just played Far Cry 3, which has a lot of crappy aspects, but also never leaves your perspective and tells the story (or what passes for it) very organically, something Valve excels at and is very difficult to do properly. I'm afraid that what Bioshock Infinite will lack is subtlety of storytelling, which might make its heavy themes and symbolism grate. But we'll see!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:26 PM on March 12, 2013


I feel like every screenshot I've seen spoils this game a little bit more.
posted by Catblack at 12:28 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's fascinating to watch the game industry adopt the conventions of the rest of the industrial-entertainment complex -- in this case, the promo tour.
posted by Slothrup at 12:34 PM on March 12, 2013


Still boycotting due to the cover art. Pretty clear they are trying to cater to filthy casuals and MLG COD kids.

Fuck Ken Levine, he sold the fuck out. He destroyed my childhood, well actually more like 5 years ago I guess, when he ruined Bioshock Infinite with that fucking cover. He is never going to get a dime from me again. This is worse than the betrayal of Spore and Aliens: Colonial Marine rolled into one.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:40 PM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I know you're kidding, but the reversible cover is pretty sweet (spoilers?)
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:41 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dear boyfriend,

I know how long you've been waiting for this game and the fact that you're currently replaying the first BioShock in anticipation speaks to that.

I'll miss you. Come back soon!

Love,

Elsie

PS. Why can't you obsess over two player games?
posted by elsietheeel at 12:42 PM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Prediction:

Within one week of this game being on the market, some human hairdo at Fox News is going to make it the poster boy for Why Games Are Corrupting Our Youth. The words "anti-American" and "atheist propaganda" and "socialist" will be bandied about.

It's gonna be GREAT.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:45 PM on March 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


I have a feeling that Infinite will suffer the same fate as the original BioShock -- thematically intriguing, but fairly lackluster gameplay. And that was with the benefit of a pretty clever metatwist that excused away some of the game's narrative and mechanical failings -- a trick they won't be able to get away with twice.

I hope I'm wrong.
posted by neckro23 at 12:47 PM on March 12, 2013


spoils this game a little bit more

[spoiler]

I actually feel like the video about the liz AI will improve my enjoyment of the game. I would have assumed she was as dumb as most other game AIs and just hoped she'd get out of my way, instead of waiting to see her do things.

That said, it would be easy to get it wrong, so we shall see.
posted by poe at 12:49 PM on March 12, 2013


The stuff I have seen makes me want to avoid it purely because it makes me motion sick. (Stupid 3d, FPS sensitivity)
posted by DigDoug at 12:50 PM on March 12, 2013


It's always disappointing when Ken Levine talks like he doesn't know that Bioshock was exceptional for it's setting and art design, not it's writing and story.
posted by straight at 12:50 PM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


All kidding aside about the "boycots" over DLC, no multiplayer and the cover. I'm a little trepidatious about this game.I hope people calm the fuck down and there isn't the typical backlash if the game has any flaws what so ever. I am not looking forward to "dear Ken, you fucked up the game" or "what bioshock infinite should have been" posts all over the web for the next 6 months as happened with diablo 3
posted by Ad hominem at 12:52 PM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


The stuff I have seen makes me want to avoid it purely because it makes me motion sick. (Stupid 3d, FPS sensitivity)

Oh yeah, me too. All that aerial stuff sets my vertigo right off. Credit to their graphics, I guess.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:53 PM on March 12, 2013


Holy crap I'm growing tired of all the hand-wringing there is over entertainment these days. "What if it disappoints?!!?" "What if it doesn't answer all my life questions and I'm left feeling incomplete as a human being?" I wonder if some people can even play a f*cking game without composing tweets in their head that are going to attack the less-than-perfect writing or not-awesome art design in the corner of the third level behind the rosebeds.
posted by papercake at 1:10 PM on March 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


I am taking a big Wait and See attitude about this iteration of BioShock. I remember the first one was so amazingly beautiful, the story line and graphics shockingly brutal, and the game play pretty exciting (excepting that whole plumbing as lock picking thing). It was an exhilarating experience.

BioShock 2 was pretty disappointing - and I am trying to keep my expectations in check for BioShock 3. Hopefully - I'll be really pleasantly surprised.
posted by helmutdog at 1:12 PM on March 12, 2013


BitterOldPunk: "Within one week of this game being on the market, some human hairdo at Fox News is going to make it the poster boy for Why Games Are Corrupting Our Youth. The words "anti-American" and "atheist propaganda" and "socialist" will be bandied about."

Breitbart beat them to it.
posted by brundlefly at 1:14 PM on March 12, 2013


To be fair, I think I'd also list separately the premise of Bioshock as being great, and I'll bet Levine deserves a lot of the credit for that. It has a lot of neat ideas behind it. And it looks like the strengths of Bioshock--the premise, the setting, the art design--are as strong or stronger in Infinite.

I'm optimistic that Infinite might have deeper and more interesting combat and movement mechanics. I'll be pleasantly surprised if the writing is any better, the plot makes more sense, and/or they've come up with a better synthesis of story and player agency.

I kind of like what the Idle Thumbs guys have been saying about story and video games lately: Maybe we should just concentrate on getting some good writing into games and worry later about the thorny problems of integrating story and gameplay. (With their work on The Walking Dead game as Exhibit A.)
posted by straight at 1:19 PM on March 12, 2013


Papercake, I think the term "hand-wringing" is a lot more applicable to getting bent out of shape that people are talking and thinking critically about games.

It sure makes sense to me to ask, "Is this going to be any good?" before spending $60 on a game.
posted by straight at 1:26 PM on March 12, 2013


In the wake of Diablo 3 and SimCity, a whole lot of 'wait and see' is more than justified. Publishers are showing a remarkable ability to really fuck up PC games at the moment.

Like others, I loved loved loved the original. High hopes for Infinite -- and will wait a full week after release before I plunk down a penny.
posted by Frayed Knot at 1:41 PM on March 12, 2013


I'm just going to jump in and defend BioShock 2 a little. When it came out it did indeed fail to live up to the sense of wonder that the setting and the twist inspired the first time around. But you could never replicate that. BioShock 1 said pretty much all there was to say about player agency in the FPS, and you just can't visit Rapture for the first time twice.

I've replayed BioShock 2 two times now and it did quite a lot of things right. First of all we get to see a much more of Rapture, the star of the first game, and learn more about its history. That's somewhere I wanted to spend more time, and I'm on board with a title that lets me do it. Secondly, while it may not have been tittering behind its hand at Objectivism quite as much on the second outing, as a consolation prize we get a decent exploration of collectivist and communist ideas through Rapture's fractured lense. It's hardly the last word on the subject, but I appreciate a game that does its homework and gives the player an opportunity to engage with some parts of it on a more intellectual level. Thirdly, we get more insight into the Big Daddy/Little Sister relationship, which was a lovely mix of creepy and tragic in the first game. I'm of two minds whether or not that dynamic really benefits from having more of the details spelled out, instead of leaving things to the player's imagination, but it hits a few memorable story beats.

It doesn't have a perfect set-piece level like Fort Frolic and it treats Adam as basically magic, but the combat is much smoother than the first game, the graphics, particularly the water effects, are improved, and the art direction remains excellent. BioShock 2 is a great game. It will just always have to live in the shadow of the original.

Oh, and the period music selection is remarkable. I always forget that until I replay it.
posted by figurant at 1:42 PM on March 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


METAFILTER: The words "anti-American" and "atheist propaganda" and "socialist" will be bandied about.
posted by philip-random at 1:50 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I think everyone agrees Bioshock 2 was a better shooter. And I mean everyone:

[Bioshock 2 is] a better game from a combat and gunplay perspective; they really improved on that a lot. - Ken Levine
posted by Frayed Knot at 1:51 PM on March 12, 2013


I just finished my first full playthrough of System Shock 2 - when I played it in 2001 I stalled out on the RIckenbacker - and damn if that hasn't held up brilliantly. Slap a few texture upgrades on, use the remastered music, and you've got a thoroughly modern and consistently beautiful/terrifying game.

WE ARE, WE ARE.

I hate to be that guy, but I'm afraid that Bioshock Infinite's necessary kowtowing to modern thrillride game sensibilities will make it a lesser experience.

Eh, who am I kidding. I'll buy it soon as the RPS dudes tell me I should.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:52 PM on March 12, 2013


One more thing about BioShock 2, while we're on it: The "Minerva's Den" DLC was absolutely fantastic, maybe one of my favorite video game experiences ever. Absolutely one of the high-water marks of emotional storytelling in a video game.
posted by jbickers at 2:14 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've tried to play Bioshock, and I can't seem to get into it. It's up there with Skyrim in beloved games that I don't get. Maybe it's because I read the Tim Rogers review (which spoils the story) first and hung out on Insert Credit, which attacked its design flaws. Maybe it's the way it feels simultaneously claustrophobic and overstuffed: there's a great stark survival horror/shooter begging to be set in Rapture but the game is filled with minigames and narration and magic powers and RPG elements. Just give me a pistol and let me be afraid. Or admit you're a silly shooter and don't pile on the creepiness. There's also the respawn tanks that remove much of the tension, since you can get a few hits on a Big Daddy, die, and come back to finish him off. As Tim points out, the big moral question is 'should I harvest little girls for resources or let them live?', which shouldn't even be a question.

Maybe I need to go back to it at a harder difficulty or play Bioshock 2. I'm still looking forward to Infinite, since the setting looks gorgeous and I love shooters.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:36 PM on March 12, 2013


I was watching a preview demo playthrough thing of this, I guess it's about fifteen or twenty minutes long, and there's a part where the protagonist (you) has just followed some little girl out of a shop, and they go into this sort of park or whatever, and the important thing to remember is that the little girl can manipulate these dimensional pockets of time that are randomly scattered around the map, and anyway there's this horse that has been grievously wounded and it is lying there on the ground whinnying in agony, it's all burned and bloody and shit, and the little girl is concerned and tries to manipulate this dimensional time-pocket to put the horse back to normal, and she's trying to concentrate and the protagonist (you) is just running his fucking mouth non-stop and at one point he says "It's just a horse!" and that's when I realised, well, I won't be playing this game, because I wouldn't say anything like that ever, and I can't connect to this character in any way no matter what kind of cool shit he can do or what kind of gritty and "complicated" past he has.

I did like the first game though, but it's still no System Shock.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 3:30 PM on March 12, 2013


Tom Francis on Bioshock Infinite:

Later on, I actually see it happen. As I’m walking towards a bridge, Chas White’s Home and Garden Supply shop floats slowly towards me and docks noisily with a pair of metal teeth jutting out of the street, clanking into place and steadying as it locks. A nearby troupe of a cappella singers harmonise over the noise.

It’s all terribly… nice. It has the atmosphere of a cheerful village fete, but in a village that couldn’t exist. At one point, we seem to be in a cloud: a thick haze turns everyone in the street to silhouettes, picked out by spectacular rays of golden sunlight. Confetti floats through the air, and hummingbirds pause to probe flowers. Two children splash each other in a leaking fire hydrant.

Blood geysers all over my face. I’m drenched. Everyone’s screaming.Half an hour later, for reasons I won’t go into, I’m ramming a metal gear into a man’s eye socket until blood geysers all over my face. I’m drenched. Everyone’s screaming. Four more men are coming for me, and this blunt steel prong is all I have to kill them with.

I skipped ahead there for two reasons: one, I don’t want to spoil why violence does finally break out in BioShock Infinite. It’s a moment that will become notorious in gaming, and a hard one to forget.

Two, I wanted it to sound jarring, because it is. Extremely, intentionally and upsettingly so. When I ask Ken about it, he describes the intended effect as “biting into an apple and finding the worm at the core”.

It works as that. But it’s also jarring in another way. A moment ago I’d been enthralled by this place, fascinated by how different and fresh it was, hanging on every word of these people’s everyday lives. When I realised my next task was to ram a piece of metal into eight different people until they were all dead, part of me thought, sadly, “Oh yeah. Videogames.”

posted by Sebmojo at 5:53 PM on March 12, 2013


It's always disappointing when Ken Levine talks like he doesn't know that Bioshock was exceptional for it's setting and art design, not it's writing and story.

I thought its writing and story were just as exceptional. Tennenbaum, Fontaine, the whole city of Rapture as a character whose tragic story unfolds as we uncover its ruins, the twist (which I didn't see coming) . . . all of it blew me away and represented a level of interactive storytelling I'd never encountered before.
posted by treepour at 6:13 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ad hominem: "Still boycotting due to the cover art. Pretty clear they are trying to cater to filthy casuals and MLG COD kids.

Fuck Ken Levine, he sold the fuck out. He destroyed my childhood, well actually more like 5 years ago I guess, when he ruined Bioshock Infinite with that fucking cover. He is never going to get a dime from me again. This is worse than the betrayal of Spore and Aliens: Colonial Marine rolled into one.
"

So, it's okay I preordered on Steam then, right?
posted by Samizdata at 9:25 PM on March 12, 2013


figurant: "I'm just going to jump in and defend BioShock 2 a little. When it came out it did indeed fail to live up to the sense of wonder that the setting and the twist inspired the first time around. But you could never replicate that. BioShock 1 said pretty much all there was to say about player agency in the FPS, and you just can't visit Rapture for the first time twice.

I've replayed BioShock 2 two times now and it did quite a lot of things right. First of all we get to see a much more of Rapture, the star of the first game, and learn more about its history. That's somewhere I wanted to spend more time, and I'm on board with a title that lets me do it. Secondly, while it may not have been tittering behind its hand at Objectivism quite as much on the second outing, as a consolation prize we get a decent exploration of collectivist and communist ideas through Rapture's fractured lense. It's hardly the last word on the subject, but I appreciate a game that does its homework and gives the player an opportunity to engage with some parts of it on a more intellectual level. Thirdly, we get more insight into the Big Daddy/Little Sister relationship, which was a lovely mix of creepy and tragic in the first game. I'm of two minds whether or not that dynamic really benefits from having more of the details spelled out, instead of leaving things to the player's imagination, but it hits a few memorable story beats.

It doesn't have a perfect set-piece level like Fort Frolic and it treats Adam as basically magic, but the combat is much smoother than the first game, the graphics, particularly the water effects, are improved, and the art direction remains excellent. BioShock 2 is a great game. It will just always have to live in the shadow of the original.

Oh, and the period music selection is remarkable. I always forget that until I replay it.
"

Well, I dug the more strategic aspect of harvesting. And, as far as Little Sisters go? The sequence where you control one and see through her eyes was just deliciously shiveriffic for me, as it truly pointed out unarguably what tampering had been done to them.

Although I do like to haul out my save of the meeting with Ryan in Bioshock 1 now and then to get a little jawdrop action out of people.
posted by Samizdata at 9:33 PM on March 12, 2013


jbickers: "One more thing about BioShock 2, while we're on it: The "Minerva's Den" DLC was absolutely fantastic, maybe one of my favorite video game experiences ever. Absolutely one of the high-water marks of emotional storytelling in a video game."

Oh HELLS yes. The ONLY time I purchased Microsoft Points?

That.

Really had me feeling the System Shock love.
posted by Samizdata at 9:35 PM on March 12, 2013


When I realised my next task was to ram a piece of metal into eight different people until they were all dead, part of me thought, sadly, Oh yeah: Metafilter
posted by dumbland at 9:37 PM on March 12, 2013


Oh, and Minerva's Den did lasers right. /personalsciencegrognardery
posted by Samizdata at 9:44 PM on March 12, 2013


"Fuck Ken Levine, he sold the fuck out. He destroyed my childhood, well actually more like 5 years ago I guess, when he ruined Bioshock Infinite with that fucking cover. He is never going to get a dime from me again. This is worse than the betrayal of Spore and Aliens: Colonial Marine rolled into one."

Lighten up, Francis.
posted by bardic at 1:50 AM on March 13, 2013


Papercake, I think the term "hand-wringing" is a lot more applicable to getting bent out of shape that people are talking and thinking critically about games.

It sure makes sense to me to ask, "Is this going to be any good?" before spending $60 on a game.


We're talking about different things. It's one thing to wonder about if a game is going to be worth spending your money on, but this increasingly shrill and pervasive questioning of What It Will Mean if the game fails, pre-judging the merits or lack thereof from evidence gleaned in interviews and pre-release gameplay footage. It goes far beyond weighing the experience of the game — which only a few people can talk about at this point — and leaps right into the insanely vitriolic LOVE vs. HATE spew-fest that online culture, and especially geek culture, tends to devolve into at the slightest provocation these days (see: ME3 ending(s)).
posted by papercake at 7:17 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


It goes far beyond weighing the experience of the game — which only a few people can talk about at this point — and leaps right into the insanely vitriolic LOVE vs. HATE spew-fest...

I think part of the problem comes up when people who play games tie their own identities up with the games and franchises they love. When someone who defines a part of themselves through the hundreds of hours they spent on Diablo 2 is disappointed by the third, it's more than a disappointment. It's like a personal affront.

It seems exhausting, to be so affected by the quality of something totally outside your control.
posted by mean cheez at 7:48 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm convinced a non-trivial percentage of this kind of reflexive, intense lashing out at mass-market entertainment products has its roots in the huge anticipation and subsequent disappointment of the Star Wars prequels.

If there was ever a textbook case for negatively reinforcing wide-eyed enthusiasm for pop culture, that's got to be it. It wasn't exactly traumatic, but I know I felt a bit betrayed by them. And there were a lot of people who had high hopes for those films. Some people lined up for Episode I for weeks or months, with a kind of euphoric naivete that seems quite sad in retrospect. Quite a few were adolescents, giving them a nice formative lesson in having your dreams crushed.

Bitter cynicism in the face of a single profound disappointment isn't rational, but it's an understandable defense. You can't be hurt again, no matter how good that game or movie or TV show might look, if you've been calling for it to fail as hard as you can on the internet for months. Obviously we only hear the loud voices, but I suspect they're outliers. I imagine a lot more people take a measured, wary approach to news of upcoming entertainment titles. Because thanks to Star Wars, we know that hype is inherently distrustworthy and whatever it is might suck. Better to not get your hopes up. Maybe that was a lesson that people needed to learn, but it can make pop culture conversations gratingly downbeat.
posted by figurant at 10:29 AM on March 13, 2013


I can't help but feel like some of the posters in this thread are what our very own mightygodking is responding to in this post.
posted by sparkletone at 12:01 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the MGK comments: "Why bother to create such a fascinating setting if it’s really just slightly more interesting wallpaper for the death match arena?"
posted by straight at 4:28 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the MGK comments: "Why bother to create such a fascinating setting if it’s really just slightly more interesting wallpaper for the death match arena?"

I feel like the tone of lots of these shooters is off. What I like about Borderlands is that it KNOWS you're going to play it to get loot and kill stupid shit. There's still a critique of capitalism and a ruined utopia and all that, but there's no need to hide the fun of the basic mechanics behind grimness.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:05 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm preloading it now on Steam. I hope I'm wrong but I'm afraid it will be historically remembered as one of the last "great" single-player games or FPSs with a traditional "40 hour" story. Everything from here on out is going to be a campaign-lite F2P MMO, which I actually have negative interest in playing.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 9:07 AM on March 24, 2013


For anyone still reading here, Adam Sessler has just posted his review of the game. Five out of five, and he says it's up there with Half-Life and Uncharted 2 as one of the all-time great games.
posted by jbickers at 11:08 AM on March 25, 2013


Yeah, no spoilers in this comment, but my jaw is on the floor with some of the things I've seen today. Big ups to Levine and his team for having the guts to do what they seem to have done.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 6:57 PM on March 26, 2013


I finished it at about 4am my time this morning. My non-spoiler, one-sentence review: I would like to buy a Songbird plus and then hug it forever.
posted by sparkletone at 8:47 AM on March 28, 2013


I've been watching a stream of it, and it seems like everything that's wrong with modern gaming. It looks like a really, really bad game.
posted by codacorolla at 10:40 PM on March 28, 2013


It also has some seriously fucked up politics. I'm not going to spoiler anything, but Ken Levine is a total shithead if he thought this was deep or meaningful in any way and wasn't a sweaty middle school South Park enthusiast.
posted by codacorolla at 11:08 PM on March 28, 2013


Finished it last night. I'll need to run through it again to make sure it holds together, but I'm really impressed.

One thing I'll say, as obliquely as possible, is that I wish every single review hadn't drawn attention to certain aspects of the, ahem, audio. Coming across some of those completely cold, with the slowly dawning realization of hey, wait a minute... for something that's been in the periphery of your awareness for a few minutes, would probably feel a bit like going mad.
posted by figurant at 8:36 AM on March 29, 2013


I've been watching a stream of it, and it seems like everything that's wrong with modern gaming. It looks like a really, really bad game.

Mind expanding upon this and your second comment some? Because while I can think of various flaws, and would never call the game deep in terms of politics or anything, I... feel like you were watching something other than what I was playing, and would like to understand the disconnect here.
posted by sparkletone at 1:11 PM on March 29, 2013


I watched from just before the point where the player character and the ridiculous virtual girlfriend character got guns from a very poorly rendered Chinese stereotype to a part where he was flying around on rails shooting a stupid bullet-sponge mini boss. The guns have some of the worst action I've ever seen in a game, sounding and looking like Nerf product. All of the interesting parts of RPG mechanics are gone (like making choices about character creation) and all of the tedious parts are still there (like digging food out of trash cans, and having to select which ammo to take from corpses). Unless you're playing on 1999 mode (ugh...) there's no real consequence to dying. It's a boring amusement park ride with your buxom computer wife.

The rail mechanic is baffling. What does that add to the game, other than power-fantasy set-pieces of swooping down on people? Absolutely nothing interesting happened with the rails while I was watching, except to force the player to keep going back and forth on them to avoid the bullet-sponge enemies. Enemy AI was ridiculous, and seemed to have two modes: charge the player, and die. This may have well as been one of the modern military corridor shooters that everyone hates - it's just going from one set piece to the next doing really boring typical shooter stuff with facile RPG elements glued on top.

RE: the storyline, it seems like halfway through the revolutionary elements are suddenly, for the convenience of the storyline, made to seem like badguys too. The leader of the revolution turns in to a comic book villain, so that Ken Levine can rub his chin contemplatively and say "well, maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle." It's a ridiculous story-book misunderstanding of American history and politics that totally ignores the role that violent revolution and threat of revolution has had in affecting real social change, and chooses instead to villainize people who are fighting for their freedom.

Apart from that, this game has about as much narrative heft as Grand Theft Auto. At various points the PC mowed down innocent civilians and there was... no reaction. The computer girlfriend just stared blankly at them, the game didn't do anything different, and it didn't matter at all. Five minutes later computer girlfriend gets bent out of shape that one named NPC died.

It's a boring, bad game with stupid mechanics and an idiotically insulting storyline, and for some reason it's getting straight tens and stand-up reviews from players. It's confusing to me.
posted by codacorolla at 1:51 PM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I, on the other hand, don't understand how you can think Bioshock Infinite is a boring, bad game with stupid mechanics and an idiotically insulting storyline. Not like the game? Sure. As just discussed in a different thread, it's perfectly possible not to enjoy or to even dislike good things. But it is practically inconceivable to me for someone who likes video games to consider Bioshock Infinite as terrible a game as you seem to consider it. Perfect? Of course not. Not to your taste? Could be. But terrible? No.

Bioshock Infinite has some of the finest art direction I've ever seen in a video game. Perhaps the finest. The audio is amazing. The voice cast is wonderful. Elizabeth is a stellar character. Finally, an NPC who isn't a complete waste of space and an annoyance who does nothng but get killed in monumentally stupid ways, or get you killed trying to protect them. I actually cared about her and her storyline, something which has never been true in a shooter before. The combat is fluid and well done. The skyrails are one of the first really innovative gameplay elements we've seen in a shooter in years. The story is actually trying something new and has great ambition. Its reach may exceed its grasp at times, but surely that's better than not reaching at all!

I mean you're complaining about how the guns sound. Seriously. That's utterly trivial compared to the major aspects of the game. And as to there being no consequences to dying, well, play it on 1999 mode. It's what I've done. And the criticisms of the game's "misunderstandings" of American history are entirely off-base.

Far from Bioshock Infinite being what is wrong with modern gaming, I think the inability to look beyond the trivial and the superficial (gun sounds! GUN SOUNDS!) is what's wrong with modern gaming. It means that there does not exist a single game which will not result in some fraction of the gamer community getting its hate on. XCOM was game of the year last year and a chunk of people still call it an abomination. Bioshock Infinite will likely be the game of the year this year and, as we see, some people will call it terrible.
posted by Justinian at 12:35 AM on March 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


GUN SOUNDS. (tears hair out).
posted by Justinian at 12:38 AM on March 30, 2013


Bioshock Infinite undoubtedly has good art design and production values, but all of the other points you cite are debatable. There is a lot of discussion of the combat, which is really about fighting off waves of enemies, which is neither new nor innovative, to the extent that people are pointing out if such a gameplay style is optimal for this lavish setting. The story is certainly trying with great ambition, but its execution can leave a lot to be desired. Bioshock Infinite is certainly reaching, but if you stripped away its production values, I think you'll find it's not too different from other AAA titles of modern gaming.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:23 AM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's certainly a rail shooter, but that's not terribly problematic from my point of view. An RPG on rails is a bad thing; a shooter I'm not bothered by.
posted by Justinian at 2:53 PM on March 30, 2013


Is the combat satisfying? Does death hurt? Does it fix the problems cited in the Action Button Bioshock review? I'm a bit weary.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:46 PM on March 30, 2013


Death hurts on 1999 mode since resources are so tight. I reload the last checkpoint rather than accept the hit, which can cost half an hour of play. I don't know how much it hurts on Hard difficulty and I doubt it hurts at all on Easy or Normal, being for bad players. Whether combat is satisfying is subjective but I find it so.

Given that the Action Button's primary gripe with Bioshock was
Most pointedly, the hero is a boring, nameless, voiceless dunce.
I think it's fair to say even critics of Infinite would admit they've addressed that problem. Elizabeth and Booker are anything but nameless and voiceless.
posted by Justinian at 6:00 PM on March 30, 2013


I watched from just before the point where the player character and the ridiculous virtual girlfriend character got guns from a very poorly rendered Chinese stereotype to a part where he was flying around on rails shooting a stupid bullet-sponge mini boss.

I... I guess I can maybe see how you're arriving at your conclusions based on just that size a chunk? But jesus, you are kinda way off base on a lot of things.

1) The death mechanics aren't significantly different from any *shock game since System Shock 2. In SS2, when you died, you payed some nanites to be resurrected at the nearest chamber, which is pretty much how it works here. If you find that unsatisfying, okay, but on the harder difficulties, resources are constrained enough that what you're paying to be resurrected matters.

2) The ... sound design I guess is purely subjective, but while I found the story more fascinating than the gunplay, the fighting in this game pretty much always felt satisfying to me as someone actually playing the game. Deciding how to tackle enemies using the guns I had on hand and my vigors when combined with the terrain and stuff Elizabeth could bring to the table... Pretty much always satisfying (there's exactly one fight in the game I don't feel this way about). As far as sounds go, the guns felt meaty (I stuck to the shotgun, sniper rifle, machine gun and RPG pretty much exclusively fwiw) and overral the art direction in the game is impeccable (and I'm not the only one who feels that way, it's pretty clear).

3) You're being really dismissive of Elizabeth based on a very small part of the game when she's actually one of the most well drawn characters I can think of in a game of this type (constraining to genre merely because the story telling modes available to an FPS are different than those in an RPG, etc) in a long time if not ever. She might have antecedents like, say, Alyx in the HL2 expansions, but Elizabeth is a major step forward. She's not just some "buxom computer wife" in a power fantasy.

There's a joke image macro going around about how the game is one long, shitty escort mission except it's her doing the escorting and you, the incompetent player, who is constantly dying and in need of help. I find the way that inversion is carried out here particularly interesting.

Plot aside, she's mechanically important to the combat. In addition to occasionally tossing you health packs and what not, she can in many fights summon in optional bits of landscape, helper minions or things you can use as traps along with your vigors (say a pool of oil or water to light on fire/electrocute accordingly) and on the harder difficulties which one(s) you choose to bring in and when can make a major difference in the fights.

But even beyond specific game mechanics, she's a character with an interesting back story, motivations, etc. and despite whatever flaws it has, the game does right by her as part of the story. Your player character isn't the usual FPS faceless/nameless protagonist, by any means, but she's by a large margin more fascinating. Calling her "your buxom computer wife" is weird, reductive and way off base.

4) The rail mechanic was fun to me, and it seems to a lot of people. It adds a really interesting amount of mobility and verticality to combat that otherwise would be very staid even with the vigors/magic powers. Maybe it's not the most fun thing to watch (I have no idea), but it's a lot of fun in practice.

5) You're also very much missing a ton of stuff about what's going on with the Vox and why/how things work out the way they do. I can understand those turns in the plot not working for you, as the game is more interested in Booker, Elizabeth, Comstock and what not than it is in making political points (ie: the Vox are part of the backdrop as much as anything else is) but... Yeah, again, without going into spoilers too much, you're missing a lot and drawing bad conclusions based on missing info.

Overrall, if you want to bring in the GTAs.... The ones of those games with decent plots only have decent plots because they straight ripped them from movies (eg: Vice City = Scarface, very explicitly with references and everything). Bioshock: Infinite does something pretty ambitious in terms of story telling that I can't think of many equivalents of (at least not in the genre). Don't get me wrong, it's not 100% successful but like I've been saying I ... really don't understand where you're getting some of the complaints you have other than that you saw a context-less small chunk of the game and read in a bunch of faults that aren't there.

If you feel like the game would be a huge waste of time and you're not interested, okay fine, but I don't feel like most of your judgements are anything resembling informed, reasonable opinions. You saw a small portion of the game and went out of your way to find things "wrong" with it and came to a lot of strange conclusions as a result.
posted by sparkletone at 6:31 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had no idea people watched video games instead of playing them. I mean, I know about Starcraft and competitive games, but had no idea people watch 1 player games live. Huh.
posted by imabanana at 5:51 AM on March 31, 2013


Yeah, if you haven't seem the ending, you really can't judge the storyline.
posted by empath at 6:25 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Having completed the game (on 1999 mode) I'm now even more confident Bioshock Infinite will be named Game of the Year by a lot of sites come the end of 2013. It's still early and something brilliant could come down the pipe, but BI is hugely ambitious story wise and mostly succeeds. Wonderful, if depressing.
posted by Justinian at 1:40 PM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can we get into spoiler talk? I really really want to talk about the game in detail. There are so many beautiful details that are easy to miss on a first play through.
posted by empath at 1:51 PM on March 31, 2013


Sure. I gotta agree with the previous comments which said they'd have preferred if reviews hadn't mentioned that much of the music you hear in the early sections of the game is (intentionally) hugely anachronistic. The Beatles, Cyndi Lauper, etc. Because I, too, wish I'd come to that realization unspoiled.

My only confusion is that, given the game's explicitly many-worlds interpretation of the quantum mechanics at work, why would Booker's sacrifice at the end not result in yet another branching of realities, leading yet again to universes where he becomes Comstock? I realize (taking into account the scene after the credits) that they want to leave the impression that only the Comstock realities were excised, but I don't see why that follows from the rules established earlier. If, as explicitly stated, killing Comstock after his baptism leads inexorably to split-off worlds in which he was not killed, why does drowning proto-Comstock before his baptism not lead inexorably to worlds in which he does not drown?

I'm happy enough to accept "a wizard did it" as an explanation since it's the only way we get to the ending where the only realities extant have Booker and Anna together, even if it means the Elizabeth of the story never exists. What a great character!
posted by Justinian at 2:01 PM on March 31, 2013


Also, anyone who thinks BI was a terrible game is playing games for reasons so different than those for which I play them that it's completely alien to me. Perfect game? Not at all. Terrible game? I can't wrap my mind around the opinion.
posted by Justinian at 2:06 PM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'll only be peeking at this thread through my fingers until I'm done with the game, but I just want to ask about how long it's taken y'all that have finished to do so? I've been playing about 12 hours so far and I tend to be pretty slow.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 2:20 PM on March 31, 2013


It took me 22-23 hours on a 1999-mode first playthrough. It would have been quicker but I always restarted the checkpoint when I died which occasionally cost me 30 minutes of exploration.

On easier modes I expect it would have been more like 15 hours.
posted by Justinian at 2:24 PM on March 31, 2013


Less than 15 hours on medium for me.

Re: the drowning. I think it's a bit metaphorical since you really can't show this -- consider that it's an infinite number of Elizabeth's coming back to drown an infinite number of bookers immediately after the baptism, entirely wiping out the comstock timeline while preserving the Anna one.
posted by empath at 3:06 PM on March 31, 2013


You're positing that Booker and Elizabeth's commitment by the end is so total that they are willing to sacrifice Booker in every single Comstock timeline (an infinite number)? I can buy that, I guess. It beats "a wizard did it."
posted by Justinian at 3:11 PM on March 31, 2013


Also, anyone who thinks BI was a terrible game is playing games for reasons so different than those for which I play them that it's completely alien to me. Perfect game? Not at all. Terrible game? I can't wrap my mind around the opinion

If you just want to shoot stuff, I can see how it would be unappealing. And also, it's ultimately another trippy sci-fi story (lost, matrix, etc) that crawls up its own ass with quasi-mystical parallel universe bullshit at the expense of characters and political relevance. They used America's horrific racist past fairly flippantly, almost as a sideshow, which I could understand people finding offensive.

I enjoyed it, but I can totally understand how some people could really dislike it. I didn't like the first bioshock much at all.
posted by empath at 3:28 PM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't have much tolerance for just wanting to shoot stuff any more, unfortunately. To paraphrase what Alec Meer said at RPS, I no longer get much out of one of those grimly photoreal, tiresomely macho-posturing gun-worlds. Or as Yahtzee calls them "spunkgarglewheewhee".
posted by Justinian at 4:48 PM on March 31, 2013


Cake heals my wounds, and I have pants that can set people on fire. This is an amazing game!
posted by bibliowench at 4:57 PM on March 31, 2013


Well, I'm bored with them too, but you still played a game where your primary interaction is to point and click on things until they die.

Again, I think the game is very good for what it is -- it might even be the best FPS ever made. But at the same time, how long are we going to keep dousing that FPS pig with narrative perfume? Interesting story, beautiful art direction, decent acting, but it's still just another mass-murder simulator when you get down to it.

It's too bad that game studios can't get a huge budget to explore ideas like that without also making it all about killing thousands of people.
posted by empath at 5:09 PM on March 31, 2013


I think the ending is open-ended enough that there will be several interpretations. I'm still mid-way through my second playthrough, so I haven't gone through the ending a second time to look at it in detail. But here's my take: Elizabeth doesn't murder anyone (or any infinite multiples of anyone) at the end of the game, either Comstock or DeWitt. What we see isn't a drowning. It's a baptism.

Elizabeth forgives DeWitt for his sins. Not exactly in the divine sense, but for his actions that directly harmed her. Grace, unexpected forgiveness given freely to those who least deserve it, is a concept the game comes back to frequently. Profound guilt is absolutely central to DeWitt and Comstock as characters, and by absolving it maybe she's able to stop Comstock from developing.

I'm not sure how well that holds together as an interpretation. It doesn't explain away DeWitt's guilt over Wounded Knee, but I'm eager to see if it fits. I do think the after-credits sequence might support it, but not everyone may have seen that.

As an aside, I've noticed that Infinite is less interested in the technical details of its world than the first Bioshock was. We got loads of information about Rapture's construction, the economy, how plasmids worked. Bioshock wouldn't have put a city above 10,000 feet and neglected to mention why nobody's suffering from severe hypoxia.
posted by figurant at 7:18 PM on March 31, 2013


Did we ever learn Lady Comstock's past and for what she needed forgiveness? It comes up on at least one voxaphone but is never explained. Only that Comstock absolved her despite her being unworthy of forgiveness. But it came across far more concrete than just an allusion to all people being sinners and in need of forgiveness.

I'm still trying to reconcile the post-credits scene with DeWitt drowning before the baptism. That should erase all timelines, not just the Comstock ones, but the post credits scene implies that at least one non-Comstock timeline survives. I'm not sure I buy the "it only erased the Comstock lines" rationale discussed above in the thread.
posted by Justinian at 7:32 PM on March 31, 2013


Well, okay, I guess there could be realities where Booker didn't go to the baptism at all. But that would be a major departure. Like Booker wasn't at Wounded Knee level departure.
posted by Justinian at 7:59 PM on March 31, 2013


There are also a wide range of realities where Booker's gambling outcomes weren't so dire. That's assuming we go with the many-worlds interpretation where these universes actually exist. Elizabeth feels that she may create them when she selects them. The Luteces who arranged the sale of Annas presumably either had to locate appropriately indebted Bookers or arrange outcomes so that his gambling would be spectacularly unsuccessful. The universe we see in the game is after all one where a coin can come up heads several dozen times in a row. Although they may have been messing with Booker to demonstrate a point.

Columbia also can't be built in the Comstock universes without the archangel who appears to him. Since the prophesies are pretty accurate, I don't think that's a hallucination. I suspect it's actually a certain version of Elizabeth, ensuring that she'll exist. The archangel statuary certainly suggest it.
posted by figurant at 8:29 PM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I believe the coin flip was to show that some version of Booker had gone to Columbia to attempt Elizabeth's rescue many times before (there are actually over a hundred marks under "Heads"), always picked heads, and was always correct. So it isn't that heads comes up dozens or hundreds of times in a row given that there is always a single coin flip, it's that Booker always picks heads and the outcome never changes. Just as he always attempts to rescue Elizabeth and the Songbird always prevents it. The Booker we play is the hundredth or thousandth (or infinith?) Booker to make the attempt and would have failed like all the others if old-Elizabeth hadn't yanked him forward in time to give him the CAGE code.

My hunch is that as with most stories of this kind there isn't one true interpretation that holds water and we could beanplate it for days.

But, man, it's depressing as hell that all those versions of Elizabeth went poof. Anna may still exist but Elizabeth does not.
posted by Justinian at 10:19 PM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, that's a much better explanation of the coin flipping scene. The interesting thing is that Robert Lutece seems much more accepting of the unvarying outcomes for each universe (no, he DOESN'T row). Rosalind is the one who's disappointed when the coin comes up heads. But Robert is the one most interested in finding a way to make amends for Anna's kidnapping, even though it must seem futile to try.

In the first few minutes on Columbia, we see a statue of Robert change into Rosalind. I wonder what the significance of that is?
posted by figurant at 11:01 PM on March 31, 2013


I'm still trying to reconcile the post-credits scene with DeWitt drowning before the baptism

He's not drowned before the baptism.
posted by empath at 5:58 AM on April 1, 2013


I believe the coin flip was to show that some version of Booker had gone to Columbia to attempt Elizabeth's rescue many times before (there are actually over a hundred marks under "Heads"), always picked heads, and was always correct. So it isn't that heads comes up dozens or hundreds of times in a row given that there is always a single coin flip, it's that Booker always picks heads and the outcome never changes

Constants and variables. They asked about the bird and the cage for the same reason, and the discussion of whether Booker would row is similar. They were trying to figure out what was fixed and what was variable.
posted by empath at 6:00 AM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Columbia also can't be built in the Comstock universes without the archangel who appears to him. Since the prophesies are pretty accurate, I don't think that's a hallucination. I suspect it's actually a certain version of Elizabeth, ensuring that she'll exist. The archangel statuary certainly suggest it.

All of the prophecies were a result of the machine that Rosalind lutece makes for him.
posted by empath at 6:18 AM on April 1, 2013


I don't really understand what Slate was doing in the game, tbh. Wouldn't he have known who booker was?
posted by empath at 8:46 AM on April 1, 2013


I don't really understand what Slate was doing in the game, tbh. Wouldn't he have known who booker was?

Slate didn't know that Booker became Comstock in the reality where he (Booker/Comstock) accepted baptism after Wounded Knee. So from Slate's perspective, Comstock is glorifying his role in a battle he wasn't a part of.

There's a voxophone on the beach (I think) in which the journalist who is writing Comstock's biography remarks that there is no information about the man before his baptism. So I don't think anyone but the Luteces know that he used to be (a) Booker.
posted by bibliowench at 11:55 AM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The interesting thing is that Robert Lutece seems much more accepting of the unvarying outcomes for each universe (no, he DOESN'T row). Rosalind is the one who's disappointed when the coin comes up heads. But Robert is the one most interested in finding a way to make amends for Anna's kidnapping, even though it must seem futile to try.

Robert can empathize more with Booker's situation, and the futility therein, because Robert has been placed in the same position. He's been taken from Booker's world to Comstock's, and Rosalind has at least one recording where she talks about how her "brother" is having a difficult time adjusting to the reality shift.

The bioshock subreddit has a good discussion of the plot here. It helped clarify many of the questions I had after the ending, but not enough for me to immediately start a second playthrough.
posted by bibliowench at 12:01 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Glenn Beck's The Blaze has a surprisingly nuanced take on the game. Contains some risable statements. You do NOT want to read the comments.
posted by figurant at 12:52 PM on April 1, 2013


Those comments are hilarious. I was actually troubled, btw, at the even handedness of the treatment of the two sides. The criticism of extremism would have perhaps gone over better with me had there been some plausible third way presented. As it was, it comes across as pure nihilism.
posted by empath at 1:26 PM on April 1, 2013


I actually have no problem with the portrayal of the Vox Populi in the game. They're a loose confederation of ideologies that only share their dissatisfaction of the Founders. Slate has no political problem with the Founders, and only defects because of Comstock's reaction to what its soldiers has done and Comstock's obfuscation of the truth. Daisy starts off as obviously wronged and set up by society, and eventually starts the Vox to help improve most people's lot against the racists, tyrannical Founders.

However, the player enters a parallel reality where DeWitt dies as a hero to the cause, where there's fighting in the streets, and Daisy seem uninterested (and unable) to reign in the worst excesses of a revolution. The final third of the game has no leader for the Vox, so they degenerate into frenzy of blood-lust for 'justice' as they have now seized Columbia. From Year One in the French Revolution, to the October Revolution, to Year Zero in Cambodia, historically oppressed groups have still been able to destroy even innocent members of the establishment after the revolution.

If anything, this happens with the Vox because of the oppression is so total that only the most violent aspects can survive. If the Founders were less oppressive, the backlash against them would have probably been far more subdued and more directed at Comstock and the Founders directly, as opposed to the rank and file in Columbia.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:37 PM on April 2, 2013


If anything, this happens with the Vox because of the oppression is so total that only the most violent aspects can survive.

If anything, it columbia was less oppressive than the ante-bellum south, and that didn't end with slaves running wild and murdering their masters. In fact, the whites went wild and murdered more freed slaves. The game comes across as justifying jim crow, frankly.
posted by empath at 7:41 PM on April 2, 2013


There wasn't a full-scale slave rebellion in the south, nor were there successful workers rebellions in the US in 1900, so it's very difficult to say what would have happened in that scenario. If history dictates anything though, post-revolution executions and bloodshed is rather common. I don't think the game is saying that Columbia is justified in its oppressive attitude towards workers, blacks, Irishmen, and foreigners at all. Just as much as the Founders are sort-of charactertures of nativist American exceptionalists, the Vox Populi are the sort-of charactertures of honest-to-goodness bomb and gun wielding anarchists at the turn of last century.

Booker and Elizabeth are navigating through a conflict. If the conflict ended peaceably through the Vox Populi taking power, then there are no more external threats to them. If the conflict ends through the Founders crushing the Vox Populi (like they do in other realities), the external threat to them is pretty much the same as before and we never get to see the possibility of the revolution-gone-wrong. I'm glad they didn't take either of those roads.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:06 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was thinking the game was going for Booker and Elizabeth inadvertently causing the conflict to become ever more violent by moving through tears into more-and-more violent realities. As it turns out that is a hard case to make since Daisy wanted the weapons even in the initial reality, but I still like to think it the case.
posted by Justinian at 8:13 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know this thread is getting on in age, but I'd like to point out that Booker doesn't always choose the same side of the coin (tails on my first playthrough, heads on my second, but it seems random), but the coin always lands heads-up. It's something you don't realize until you play through multiple times. In this case, there's no player choice (Booker just chooses), but I liken it to other choices you can make that don't affect the outcome of the game (bird/cage, shoot dude/get stabbed in the hand, spare/kill Slate). In most games, I'd consider it videogames-being-videogames, but the thematic content of BioShock Infinite seems to pointedly draw attention to these ultimately inconsequential choices (constants and variables, will the circle be unbroken? etc). It touches upon the same questions of player agency as the original BioShock, albeit from a different angle and in a more nuanced way.
posted by strangecargo at 12:39 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huh, I had no idea Booker doesn't always choose heads.
posted by Justinian at 2:37 PM on April 3, 2013


Opened this thread again, looked away and hit END on the keyboard... Ok, *shwoo* here's 5 non-interrelated thoughts:

I'm kinda in love with this game right now.

My one word to describe BioShock Infinite is: melancholy

The skylines killed the fan bearing on my video card.

I hate that Elizabeth is just some character in a video game. I want to play more games with her. I think she is pretty neat. Whenever combat breaks out I'm annoyed at them intruding on our explorations together.

Also, I'm having trouble making progress because I am afraid a world (the world?) will end if I finish this game. :(
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 4:41 PM on April 4, 2013


New Bioshock thread.
posted by Justinian at 1:50 PM on April 5, 2013


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