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Bioshock Infinite - Does it fit in with the others in the series?

by Gaurav Singh Bisht on 02/15/19 12:36:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

After 6 years of its initial release, I played Bioshock Infinite again. And not just Infinite, I completed the whole series again. I know I didn't play the whole series in 1 sitting but I did complete it in the span of 2 days. But this time around I didn't enjoy it as much I did the first time I played it. I think it because the first time I played Infinite, it had been 2 years since I last played any Bioshock game. I played Infinite in early 2015 because before that I didn't have a setup powerful enough to handle it. 
Playing Infinite this time, I didn't feel like I was playing a game from Bioshock series. Let’s first give the series a bit of introduction. I will just explain a bit of general setting of all 3 games and not go into its story since that’s not the point I have an issue with. I have some confusion with the ending of infinite but will discuss it later.
Bioshock series is a first-person shooter video game developed by Irrational game. The first game came out in 2007 and the second game Bioshock 2 came out in 2010. Both games are based on a fictional underwater city called Rapture, a city created for society's elites to flourish and live outside of government created laws. The city scientists soon discovered ADAM which allowed its users to alter their DNA to grant them super-human powers. Because of this, the citizens of Rapture were not allowed to contact the surface people. This created power struggle inside the city, which led to the creation of Big daddies, little sisters, and splicers. This is just the basic setting for the games. Now Bioshock Infinite is set in 1912 and takes place in a fictional steampunk city-state called Columbia, which is suspended in the air using a combination of giant blimps, balloons, reactors, propellers, and "quantum levitation”. Without getting much into the story of the game, We step into the shoes of Booker DeWitt, a private investigator. He is in a huge debt and is instructed to retrieve a girl imprisoned in Columbia.
Coming back to my thoughts about Infinite, it feels like a far cry from both the old games. It scrapped most of the mechanics which made the previous games stand out, and replaced them with generic ones. Bioshock 1 and 2 gave you options, whereas Infinite is a generic FPS, story aside.
Let’s start with level progression in the game and how linear it is. In infinite you just go from area to area, shooting numerous enemies on the way and completing different objectives. The only backtracking you do is majorly based on the level you are playing. Most levels follow the same structure. Enter a level through open area or plaza, fight through hordes of enemies to reach your main objective, once done return to the open area to progress to next level. The main beauty of Bioshock 1 and 2 was the openness of the levels. You were free to explore the levels at your own pace, look for loot and/or looking for a place which can give you an edge when engaging Big Daddies. You could engage in fights with them on your terms. You could plan your way ahead and approach an objective whatever way you see fit. This is just not there in Infinite. You don’t have the option to stealth kill enemies or to avoid them if you don’t have the means to fight them. You just go from Point A to Point B with as minimum diversions as possible. This made the levels really monotonous with nothing as memorable as the first 2 games. Also, Big Daddies in the first 2 games were a force to be reckoned with. If you fought them without a proper plan then they would beat you to a pulp in no time. You would wait for a long time so that big daddy is in range of a turret or exploding barrels hoping that they would turn the battle in your favour.  In Infinite, Big Daddies are replaced by Handyman. Facing these handymen, unlike big daddies who roam around a level freely, are scripted events. I think these handymen were only added to stop the player from progressing too fast. Although they weren’t as difficult to kill as a big daddy they still absorbed a ton of ammunition. Killing them wasn’t too rewarding either. When you killed a big daddy in previous games, it not only gave you an option of how you wanted to progress the plot (by either killing or saving the little sisters) you also got ADAM. Whereas when you kill handyman you just get some throwaway piece of equipment which is not really worth the number of resources I used to kill it. The gunplay is also very simplified to appeal to the masses (who are spoiled by playing COD over and over again). You can only carry 2 guns at a time in infinite, whereas in the previous instalment, you could carry 1 of each kind. I am not against carrying only 2 weapons at a time, rather it induced some decision-making skills on the players part on what guns to carry with them forward, but the problem here is guns aren't that different from each other. I finished the whole game with my hand-gun and honestly, after 2-3 upgrades I never really needed any other gun (apart from rocket launcher of course). Also upgrading guns in infinite there are no cosmetic changes when you upgrade your guns. Earlier when you upgraded your guns, there was always some cosmetic changes to the gun making it truly yours. If I’m going to toss aside my shotgun for next 15-20 minutes because I needed some other weapon for a specific part of the game, how on earth is the shotgun which I picked up 30 mins later going to have the same stat boost? Was the enemy using the shotgun which I threw away earlier? Won't that make that single enemy more powerful than the other enemies because the gun he is using is modified? Does upgrading a gun upgrades it for everyone who are using that same gun? Also Elizabeth, as much as I love a walking talking demigod by my side who can literally bring anything from other dimensions to help me, she never stops talking. I am not saying this in a bad way, what I’m saying is she many times interrupts me when I am listing to some important audio diary. In older games, you could listen to them in peace while moving around. While in Infinite you have to stop in one place so that Elizabeth won't interrupt it. After some time it got so frustrating I just gave up on it. Why not just make Elizabeth tell you about an area or make her react to the audio diary you are currently listening to.
And finally the ending, the problem I have with it is that the Booker-Comstock connection feels like it is there just to provide a twist and set up the mindfuck ending. There is no intellectual satisfaction or emotional punch resulting from it because of how far-fetched it seems. Booker and Comstock are so radically different in their thinking that I cannot draw the line from one to the other with what the game provides. Neither does this knowledge really put anything that happened earlier in the game in a whole new light like the encounter with Ryan in the first Bioshock did.
The final major argument about this because of the above-stated reasons Bioshock Infinite doesn't fit the Bioshock series. The mechanics used in the game really goes against what the previous 2 games were about. If the game was a completely new standalone game, I would have been OK with it. Hell, most of my argument here would have been invalid. But the difference, at least for me,  between the old games and infinite, is far too much. It just looks like its trying really hard to be a Bioshock game without using any of the mechanics which made the original games stand out in the crowd of other FPS games. To sum it up, it's not bad because it is not the same as previous Bioshocks. It's bad because it scrapped most of the great mechanics' previous games had, and replaced them with generic ones.

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