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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Thursday, May 26, 2022

Why 'Bioshock Infinite' and other big-name games are still appealing

Expectations breed discontent. Oftentimes no matter how artfully a development team delivers on their original vision, fans will be dissatisfied with the final product. That's not unexpected. But what's frustrating are bandwagoners jumping on this spiraling vortex of Internet backlash against a well-received game by virtue of more in-depth critiques.

This pertains to "Bioshock Infinite," which is beginning to enter that fan-fueled phase of scorn—probably stemming from the release of Tim Roger's review on Action Button Dot Net.

I am hoping to defend “Infinite,” not out of some strange virtue to uphold the reputation of more mainstream reviews, but because I truly enjoyed this title. Both Roger's and Idle Thumbs’ candid, yet critically insightful, thoughts on "Infinite" are really well articulated. They are enlightening yet refreshing in their genuine nature—something that mainstream reviews sometimes lack.

Roger's points out after the first hour, this game essentially becomes shooting cops for ten hours. Yes, it's hard to dispute that. The Artificial Intelligence in “Infinite” is filled with brash heroes far too intent on running right at the man who has recently murdered hundreds of his comrades. However, this view is annoyingly short-sighted.

The reality of AAA game development is games need a gameplay crutch to lean on that will help make it marketable to more than simply an auteur searching for deeper meaning. This environment is incredibly frustrating and stifles lots of creative vision. I wish every kill in "Infinite" could actually mean as much as that first shot of blood splashing across the screen, but a $100 million dollar game can't realistically go that route.

A lot of the build up to "Infinite" focused around it finally cementing games as art. It was a game the industry could finally showcase as the title that legitimized video games. These expectations also bred unfair criticisms. "Infinte's" gunplay may not be any more inventive or creative than other games, but most of them are in the midst of a narrative purpose.

"Infinite's" narrative barrels forward, despite the occasional fetch quest, with a purpose almost every other game lacks. Just because "Infinite" tries to be something greater than the glut of unimpressive shooters doesn't mean shooting elements delegitimize the game's merits.

Similar arguments have been leveled at the racist and religious elements of Columbia, the game's setting, saying they're peripheral elements serving as shock value. These divergent parts are central to the fabric of Columbia. The stories of Booker and Elizabeth, the game's protagonists, are interesting, but what sets video games apart from other mediums is how the world itself can become a story.

Rapture, the setting of the first game, told as much a story through its art-deco desecration and Ayn Rand-ian philosophies as the actual tale players experienced in the first "Bioshock." Booker's tale is intriguing, but is ultimately a story about saving a girl from a tower. Examining Columbia and the various tales that emerged from simple exploration was probably my favorite part of the game. The themes of labor unrest, American exceptionalism and servitude are all ideas that resonate with player. I found them more intriguing than those of Rapture.

There are certainly elements of these criticisms that are valid, however. Comstock, the antagonist, seems less entwined in the fabric of Booker's journey than Andrew Ryan. Although you see his influence all over Columbia, the final encounter with Comstock appears slightly comical due to Booker's overzealous actions.

Enemies in "Infinite" are varied, but certainly prescribe to the tried and true method of bullet sponges in games. I thought the skyhooks helped vary combat arenas enough to avoid continual shooting galleries, but "Infinite" can certainly devolve into those at points. However, these issues don't warrant a complete disregard for everything else "Infinite" does to help push the genre forward.

I'm appreciative these critical examinations can help create discourse. It's good to have an opposite spectrum to the effusive praise "Infinite" received initially, particularly when it's as well articulated as the points leveled by Idle Thumbs and Rogers. Hopefully "Infinite" defenders can continue to appreciate the high points of the title, but it will inevitably have detractors.

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Are you tired of "Bioshock Infinite?" Or do you dig his defense? Let Adam know at arparis@wisc.edu

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