2K Games and Irrational Games re-release their odd and mostly amazing trilogy of shooters that eschews most established conventions with all the original extras and some supposedly enhanced graphics. Having played all three games when they first came out, I remain unconvinced on that last bit.
Lamb is Watching
The first two BioShocks have pretty great plots and characters. The first has the Ayn Rand-worshipping (and almost anagram) Objectivist Andrew Ryan as the main villain, while the second has the almost-Utilitarian Dr Sofia Lamb as the villain, adding a little bit of philosophical class (even if that class is pretty bat-poop insane). The fact that both characters are constantly whispering in your ear thanks to the radios adds a layer of creepiness you didn’t realize was possible, what with already having a bunch of deranged drug addicts trying to kill you in creepily lit underwater buildings (more on this in a bit).
BioShock Infinite’s plot is weaker by comparison. It should have been better, with Booker DeWitt arguably being a better protagonist than both Delta and Jack (by virtue of actually having something to say instead of just mutely moving along), and the inclusion of reality jumping aspects (which should have been an easy win). And yet, the story felt limited and small. The villain, Comstock, a nativist and racist, was comically evil (Ryan and Lamb were also somewhat comically evil, but at least their misguided philosophies weren’t outright evil) and had no real depth to him (even with that somewhat ridiculous twist ending). But I think what saddened me the most was that you didn’t get Comstock’s voice throughout the game. This could have helped to flesh him out more, give some background or context to his extremist views, like with Ryan and Lamb, but instead I talked to Elizabeth, which was less exciting, honestly.
There’s Always a Lighthouse
Further segmenting BioShock proper from Infinite were their locations. Rapture is beautiful, ruined city, with Art Deco design and architecture and a gloomy, oppressive atmosphere thanks mostly to it being located deep in the sea (the deranged inhabitants add a little to that atmosphere). It’s probably the best place to hold a light-horror shooter that has genetic tampering as one of its main plot threads. Columbia, on the other hand, is a mostly open-air environment, high in the clouds. It is sunny and bright, and therefore not at all scary. I mean, at one point you hang out at the beach, for goodness’ sake. It’s just too much of a tonal shift to easily swallow, and I think 2K and Irrational realized this as Infinite’s DLC, Burial at Sea was shifted back to Rapture (though seemingly an alternate Rapture, as your protagonists are still Booker and Elizabeth).
Seriously, though, Art Deco is where it’s at. The first Batman film (which I watched in Mexico with my dad when I was like nine) had an Art Deco Gotham City. My favorite place in New York is Rockefeller Centre, which is full of Art Deco art and architecture. My favorite building in Singapore is Parkview Square (which I have nicknamed the WayneTech Building for what should now be obvious reasons). So of course Rapture would always beat out Columbia as my favorite BioShock location.
All three games contain audio diaries/voxophones scattered throughout, and I think it’s these that best give players a handle on the worlds they are inhabiting. These recorded thoughts from both major and minor characters add and enhance the overall flavor of both Rapture and Columbia, allowing a deeper immersion in the two cities.
A Man Chooses, and a Slave Obeys
Gameplay among the three BioShocks is essentially the same: you collect guns to shoot with and plasmids/vigors to magic with. You can upgrade both weapons and plasmids/vigors, but for me, the greatest bit of gameplay in the first two games is how you treat the Little Sisters after capturing them (who, incidentally, also add to overall creepiness of Rapture). Infinite does away with this, which is a shame, as it makes the game more linear that the first two kind of already were. Instead, it introduces the Sky-Hook, which lets you a) jump up to freight hooks for better vantages and speed along sky-lines for quick getaways, and b) use it as a melee weapon to maul enemies in the face. Infinite also introduces Gear that gives you some small bonuses depending on what you wear. Both of these additions were fine, but, besides the modicum of verticality from the Sky-Hook, didn’t really add too much to the game.
BioShock Infinite is clearly, and unfortunately, the weakest of three games, which is a shame. It should have been better. It’s a good enough game that’s mostly fun, but after the amazingness of BioShock and the even greater amazingness of BioShock 2 (and Minerva’s Den), Infinite felt like a huge let down. I will say, however, that any game that lets me shoot a ghost in the face with an RPG is gonna be a-okay in my book, and to date, it is the only game that has let me shoot a ghost in the face with an RPG. The importance of this fact cannot be overstated, and clearly more games should let me shoot ghosts in the face with an RPG.