Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Schrodinger's Bioshock Part 3: on Disappointment and Deus Ex.

Because I can't leave well enough alone, I realise I still have things to say about Bioshock: Infinite, somehow, someway. This is because, the further I get from it, the more lingeringly disappointed I am in how it played. And I realised during one of my habitual Long Ass Road Trips with Shieldhaven, that part of why is because I've played (and still need to finish) Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Bizarrely, rather than wanting to continue in the mechanical legacy of its predecessors, it felt very strongly as though Infinite really wanted to be like Deus Ex-- but failed. That is to say: It wanted a Pacifist Playthrough option.

This may have something to do with the setup. In Infinite, you walk into a relatively peaceful, lovely place... you can wander around, chat with people some, the works. Then things go horribly wrong, and you're scrambling from gunfight to gunfight in a way that... okay, initially anyway, it does feel like the reasons for the gunfights are at least connected to something you just did. But later, you never know, walking into a situation, whether people are going to be aggro'd or not, and once they're aggro'd on you... well, I guess it's gunfight mania forever, and I, at least, was sort of bewildered and unhappy at why I was even fighting in the first place.

This is especially unsatisfying once the Vox Populi turn on you, as the reason you're given for it is that you're already dead in that world (of being goodly and awesome, btw), and the present you is "simply inconvenient ." Yeah, okay. So now I have to gun down a ton of people I feel like I _should_ be able to talk to and reason with, but well... the game wants me to have a bunch of staged gunfights, and I didn't even get to choose the arenas. The tear bennies are pretty easy to prioritize: turret/mosquito > Friendly Patriot, then healing kits/Salts  > a hook for exploring, rinse, repeat. Ignore guns to switch to, unless out of ammo, and a lot of times even then. Ignore cover (unless you're out of ammo and about to die and too far from health kits and Elizabeth is being useless-- so again, ignore cover), because this game couldn't find cover shooter mechanics with both hands and a flashlight, so you're never really going to be able to tactically take cover and shoot in a smooth way. So the choice is kind of lame there.

In thinking about why this was unsatisfying, I realised that, if this game had been Deus Ex, the NPCs opening fire on me like that would be a failure condition. I'd reload and try again until I could do it without being seen/getting shot. And there's not really a good way to do that in this game without skipping content they expect you to see, and that's a bloody shame.

Oh-- another note. At the festival in the beginning, the incident that triggers all the violence, you're identified by the 'AD' on your hand. However, one of the later moments gives you one of the very few choices you have, which can result either in you getting stabbed in the hand and wearing a bandage the rest of the game, or not. When you wear this bandage, it covers-- you guessed it!-- the AD on your hand. That the plot did nothing at all with this seems like a hugely wasted opportunity.

Bit of a tangent-- I've had a lot of conversations lately about what makes a game, as a whole, Good, and/or Successful? And I'm thinking that, in order to reach either bar, the game has to have at least One Thing that the developers cared enough about to make a labor of love. Players know when they're being treated like idiots, and generally respond to damns being given, at least somewhat. In some games, it's the graphics, or the story, or the combat mechanics, or the puzzles, or whathaveyou. The more of these you have, the better. It doesn't guarantee success, but it has a lot better chance. Now, the other measure at play here is Expectation. If you're a small, hitless studio, no one expects you to care, so when you put out something that shows that you do, you're way more likely to be lauded and made much of.

But when you have a reputation like Irrational does at this point, and when you've put out games like the first (and I would argue) second Bioshock games, you're expected to care about everything, all the time, enough to really get it right... and here, it's pretty clear that it was only story, and only, ever story, to the point where everything else was sacrificed to make that happen. Including making it an actual game.

So in the end, that has to be my final assessment of this title. A lot of awesome ideas, and a story that won't quit (near-literally)-- and a string of hugely wasted opportunities. I hope the next offering from Irrational has more to it.