I am very late to the topic. So late that it may surprise some people to read yet another article about Bioshock Infinite, so many months after its release. Why, and most importantly, why now? What can I possibly bring on the table which would justify such a delay? Truth is, I took my time to think about the game. I don’t know if I am just slow when it comes to analyzing and writing. Maybe. Surely. But I believe we need at least several weeks, if not months, to fully grasp what a game is about, and determine its inner quality and flaws. It is like closing a book after reading the last sentence or watching the ending sequence from a movie. At the end, regardless of its quality, any piece of creative work leaves some kind of mark in your mind, like an aftermath haunting. It haunts you, as you think about what you just experienced and try to make it fit in your mind, somewhere. If it brings you valuable content, whether it is emotional or intellectual, the haunting can last from weeks to a lifetime.
Paradoxically, this whole process of digesting a piece of art is directly incompatible with the video game industry at its current state, both in its marketing and its reception approach. In one hand, triple-A games are made to be consumed right after their release. Usually, a heavy-loaded marketing campaign prepares the field and builds up the hype for the upcoming title. More than the game itself, the key is how it is shown, for the interest only lasts a few weeks. On the other hand, once the game is released, it is time for the reviewers to continue the frenzy, taking the relay through over-praising articles. The hype does not last for long, so they need to make it explode in the short given time and earn profit before people eventually get bored and look for the next incoming masterpiece. I don’t know whether it’s in human nature to have this short attention span or if the modern way of consuming things lead to this, but the point is that this Bioshock Infinite article is definitely too late.
Still, I feel like I need to speak about this game, for a large amount of reasons, beginning with the first one: we need to talk about Bioshock Infinite. Regardless of what we think about it, good or bad, masterpiece or not, people need to seriously lean over this game and take it seriously. When I say ‘seriously‘, I mean in an adult, intelligent ‘serious‘ way. I mean criticism. Dissection. It needs to be taken seriously. Why? Because Bioshock Infinite takes itself seriously, and when I say ‘seriously‘ this time, I mean ‘I am more than a childish video game‘ kind of seriously. It calls itself an adult game. Something which will make the whole medium proud. Something that people are happy to bring as an example on the subject of ‘video games are more than stupid entertainment / they can be art‘. This is not something new, of course. Before Bioshock Infinite, numerous games claimed to be that one, that Citizen Kane of video game, that Hamlet of interactive software program, but Infinite is definitely the loudest screamer in this assembly of ‘wanna-be adult‘ games. It screams so much in fact that it became annoying, especially considering how mediocre Bioshock Infinite actually is. But I will come to that later. So in order to match the game’s pretension, we need to talk about it a lot, with deep criticisms and reflexions, and not only overlook it as another violent shooter game (even if it is its core, basically, but shh…)
The second point upon why I need to speak about this game is that it is called Bioshock Infinite, meaning that it is part of the Bioshock series which I deeply respect and appreciate. As a successor of one of the most interesting game of this generation, in my opinion, Infinite had a lot to prove and show in order to be called a Bioshock game, to begin with, and later on an excellent game. I won’t lie: in my opinion, it is absolutely not a Bioshock game to the core, and definitely not an excellent game. For those who don’t want to read my entire review, I will put it simply.
“Bioshock Infinite is a very bad Bioshock game at worst, and a mediocre game at best. At least in this reality.”
Now that I said this, I need to justify myself, for it is obviously not what the majority think about Bioshock Infinite. To be honest, I was really confused upon seeing reviews and opinions about Infinite, which treated it as a masterpiece. I truly felt a separation between me and what is called the gaming industry and the gamers, which is something that no other game than Bioshock Infinite had ever done before. I needed to think about it, and eventually write down to see if I missed something. It could be that. I simply missed the point of this game. Maybe I didn’t play it the right way. Maybe I didn’t see its inner, most hidden quality. But no, even after playing it again and watching and reading a lot about Infinite, I couldn’t see how people could call it a Bioshock game at first, and an excellent game right after. I felt like people had forgotten what Bioshock was about, at its core, which is why I needed to write about it, even if it was months after the release. In this ocean of universal praise and overwhelming awards, I cannot find myself applauding this game like everyone else does. I just can’t, and I need to write about it, because I don’t intend to bash the game without justifications; this is not my policy. As usual, it will be a long and detailed discussion, about the meaning of Bioshock, and how it is carried over in Bioshock Infinite.
Last but not least, I find the overwhelming praising received by the game quite eloquent towards what gamers expect today from a triple-A video game. Bioshock Infinite has possibly accomplished something that I find worrisome to a certain extent, which is establishing the formula for a triple-A game to succeed. It doesn’t really matter if you belong to a series and betrays its formula to the core, just so you can look like the most appealing genre in the market, that is to say the action-shooter. As long as it meets the specifications, assisted with a heavy-loaded marketing campaign, a game which would be considered mediocre in other times can become something good, apparently. For me, in many ways, Bioshock Infinite is a symbol of the current era in video gaming, for it represents some of the worst characteristics of the medium, both regarding the other media and itself. It shamelessly copies the form of a Bioshock game without the substance which justifies it, and wraps the whole thing into something edible on a superficial level, but unable to stand a deeper analysis. It’s the kind of game on which you say “it’s good…for a game“, but even this is hard to say, so don’t even bother trying to put it on a pedestal, as an example of the best video games can do. It is not. Here’s why.
This review will be divided into parts, which will analyze and discuss precise elements of the game, because I think it would be far too long to put everything in one article. The next part will deal with the basic elements: what does it mean to be called Bioshock and how does Bioshock Infinite interpret it?
Obviously, it is more a discussion than a review, so heavy spoilers lie ahead, both for Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite.