April 3, 2013 by Pete_XXVII
There seems to be a common trend recently to make games that aren’t really shooters look like them. Last year we had Dishonored and now we have Bioshock Infinite. Neither of these games are shooters at heart but they have been dressed up to look like an FPS and it belies the great game underneath.
Before we get too involved in this lets set up the story of Bioshock. You play as Booker De Witt, a former Pinkerton agent, now freelance contractor who has got himself into debt with people you wouldn’t really want to be in debt with. “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt” as every trailer has made clear. The girl in question is Elizabeth, a girl locked in a tower for the past 12 years who is guarded by a mechanical songbird. Oh and she can open portals to parallel universes.
With me so far? If not then you’ll quickly find yourself lost in the world of Columbia. The story is definitely the driving force behind the game but with so many narrative twists and turns it can be quite easy to get lost. When you arrive in Columbia the underlying tensions in the city are evident. One of the first interactions you have is the choice to throw a ball at an inter-racial couple, or the man setting it all up. This tension between the social elites, the Founders, and the lower classes, the Vox Populi, soon boils over and you find yourself caught up in the middle of it.
This is where the FPS element comes in to play. With a weapon in your right hand and a vigour (think plasmid) in your left you use a combination of the two to fight your way through the city and onto an airship to make your escape. As a shooter it’s perfectly serviceable but nothing more. There are the usual generic weapons to choose from and the differences between the weapons of the Founders and the Vox are little more than cosmetic. It would have been interesting to see some kind of dynamic at play here (perhaps the Vox would fight alongside one of their own?) but there is none. You fight on as a one-man army against two sets of enemies equally determined to kill you. One positive here is that Elizabeth is not merely someone to be escorted through the mission. She can keep herself safe and even provide you with supplies as you go along.
Fortunately the negatives end there. The setting of Columbia is beautiful. The art style may be a radical departure from that of Rapture but it is equally evocative. From the moment that you first walk out into the main square all the way to the end, you feel that you really are exploring a new world. Perhaps the most engaging part about this is the snippets of conversation that you hear as you explore. None of it feels forced or placed there for the sake of it, it all helps to build up the atmosphere. All around the world are little hints as to the over-arching themes of the game. Irrational have shown themselves to be very adept as weaving philosophical themes through their games with just the right amount at face value. To fully understand the city you need to collect the Voxphones, Infinite’s version of the audio logs, that will fill in much of the backstory as you go along. Of course you can ignore all that and play it as a straight shooter but why would you?
Overall Infinite is an excellent game but it really isn’t an FPS. It looks like one, and it has the mechanics of one but what it is is something else entirely, it’s an experience. Much like Dishonored it is difficult to place it in the traditional game genres. All the Bioshock games have had a story to tell and a world to explore and Infinite’s is perhaps the richest. It just feels like it undersells itself by pretending to be something that it isn’t.