Amazing Games With Surprising Flaws – Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite

I don’t know about you, internet, but I’m already tired of poring over all of the Xbox One vitriol and the beginnings to the huge console war we’re undoubtably going to have to deal with for the foreseeable future. As such, I’m bringing you my second instalment of Amazing Games With Surprising Flaws. If you recall, last time we dealt with Final Fantasy VI and its devolution in the World of Ruin. Today I thought I’d look at both Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite. I’ve chosen to omit Bioshock 2 for many reasons, principally because it doesn’t qualify as an amazing game. The idea behind this segment is that no game is perfect, even ones who achieve a perfect review score. However, many games are heralded as flawless and this is simply not true. I wanted to use this segment to dispel the cloud of nostalgia surrounding older classic games, but I see no reason why it cannot apply to newer ones as well. After all, nostalgia has to start somewhere.

* There will be spoilers in relation to both games; although, nothing will be said about Infinite’s ending

Can anything with a Big Daddy be bad?

The original Bioshock is often held as a masterstroke of modern gaming. This is despite the fact that it is incredibly similar to System Shock 2, but nobody played that game so tough. Bioshock really had it all: a wonderfully engaging mystery, the beautifully thought out world of Rapture, fun combat, a wonderful antagonist in Andrew Ryan, and a pretty unexpected twist ending, which floored most gamers. Most importantly, Bioshock went past the surface story, something that games rarely do by exploring larger themes such as objectivism and class conflict. Games traditionally don’t look at themes. Most of them devolve into shooting everything that moves with a few meaningless speeches thrown in for good measure. Bioshock’s themes bled out of every pore, saturating the entire game. This is what made Bioshock so memorable. It was the driving force behind the world design and the philosophy behind the gameplay elements.

One day System Shock 2 should be ported on every system. It deserves to be played widely.

But, Bioshock wasn’t perfect. There was a single major flaw in the otherwise great game, and that was the end sequence. After the large revelation and the switch of antagonist from Ryan to Fontaine, everything just kind of falls apart. You are at the height of the game, so there are no new gameplay innovations, which is a shame because the game shambles on for quite awhile, and it doesn’t stop throwing enemies at you. The combat starts feeling limited as new ideas stop, and it never really recovers. From a story perspective, Irrational as it is now, had to develop the character of Fontaine, something they primarily left to the very end for obvious reasons. That being said, Fontaine’s story simply wasn’t that interesting or at least they didn’t make it interesting enough, and the story felt padded out at the end simply to reinforce a character who doesn’t need so much time to develop.

Turns out, this isn’t that interesting a question past the reveal.

This all culminates in a laughably over-the-top final boss fight with Fontaine’s Atlas form. Bioshock had been wonderfully subversive up until this point, but instead of having a nuanced boss battle, you literally have to make Atlas Shrug. The battle is easy, but that wasn’t the biggest problem. Bioshock had gone out of its way to allow you to approach combat in many different ways. Whether it was commanding robots, using oil slicks, or hypnotizing grunts, you always had many choices. The Atlas battle doesn’t test any of these skills. Instead, you have to fight a boss that requires no thought whatsoever, one who ends up being as anticlimactic as possible. This was a major strike against such a great game. Of course, none of these problems with the ending reached the heights of the Mass Effect 3 ending. Instead of seeming like a betrayal as with Mass Effect, Bioshock just seemed unfortunate, if not a little boring.

Take that Ayn Rand.

When Irrational came to making Bioshock Infinite, it seemed like they knew about this problem with the first game. The ending of Bioshock Infinite was poignant and memorable. Even though the game was ended off with an uneventful wave battle, this was all quickly forgotten as the ending hit, blindsiding players with how well it was handled. That was a major difference with the original where Irrational unloaded its surprise payload three quarters through the game, leaving the rest of the story to limp along without anything help. Bioshock Infinite lacked the sense of mystery that permeated the original game. However, it made up for it with better developed characters and being a much more heady experience. Thematically, both games are very different with one being more of a horror game and the other being more of a swashbuckling affair. This hasn’t stopped most people from considering Infinite to be highly derivative, but, truthfully, it doesn’t matter even if it was derivative. The game is excellent, like its predecessor.

Much better characters.

Where Bioshock Infinite falters is in the middle of its narrative in two areas in particular. The first lull point comes when you get to Finkerton and have to chase down weapons for Fitzroy. The purpose of this area is to introduce dimension jumping and the differences between various dimensions. However, it ends up seeming like a major fetchquest. Truthfully, it’s simply a boring part of the game with lots of exposition shoehorned in, and it doesn’t push the story forward as you begin and end it in the exact same place. More criminally, it disposes of Fink and Fitzroy unceremoniously. Without Daisy Fitzroy, I spent the rest of the game wondering what was actually happening to the Vox when they became generic baddies with nothing at all behind them. Booker says another leader would stand up, which I appreciate, but I would have liked to see more. Sometimes it seemed like the Vox was destroying Comstock’s forces and other times, it would be months and Comstock was in as much control as ever. It wouldn’t have been hard to throw a couple of voxophones out there to explain some things better.

This should have had a way bigger effect on Elizabeth’s character, but like everything in this section, it is quickly forgotten.

The other major lull in the game came when you’re chasing down Lady Comstock’s ghost before you can enter Comstock’s home. Once again, it is a protracted area that reeks of fetchquestery (Real word, I swear). It is meant to be prolonged in order to give Elizabeth the opportunity to deal with her feelings on her adoptive mother and their mutual tormentor, but it doesn’t end up ringing true. More importantly, there are three identical boring and frustrating boss battles with the ghost. It seemed like the game was just padding itself out, which was a shame because I’m sure this was a concern since the game isn’t particularly long and I appreciate this. The game already got criticism for being short, without these parts, it would be considerably shorter, so I am glad both of these portions are in the game. However, they are noticeably weaker than the rest of the game.

This is going to get boring really quickly.

Both Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite are excellent games and some of the best of this rapidly ending generation. However, neither of them is perfect and both fall into the trap of lulls and dropping the main plot. Bioshock falls down at the end, once they get the major twist out of the way, while Bioshock Infinite has two major dragging parts of the story, which don’t move the story forward at all, and aren’t handled well enough to add significantly to the character development. Neither of these points diminish the effect and charm of either game, but they are flaws in the otherwise sterling veneer. As I’ve said before, anyone can complain about flaws in any game, no matter how good they are. So when I see people praising older or in this case newer games, while breaking apart games they don’t like as much for no reason other than to be disagreeable, I find it interesting to point out that any game on earth can be broken down and overanalyzed.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer


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