What I didn't love about BioShock Infinite
BioShock Infinite is incredible, but it isn’t perfect. After reflecting on what I loved, I took a moment to think over what aspects of the game produced a shrug after playing the first three hours on Thursday.
Infinite has been delayed to March 26 to accommodate polish and bug fixing, according to Ken Levine--time that I’m hoping is spent improving the game’s combat, which I was a little underwhelmed by.
Does a Plasmid by another name maim as sweet? Not so far. Vigors draw on a mana-equivalent called Salt in BioShock Infinite. You should receive this criticism with a grain of that: I’ve only played the first two or three hours of the game, so it’s fully possible that Infinite’s powers get significantly more interesting.
The ones I played with, though, felt sort of interchangeable. Murder of Crows unleashes a cloud of ravens to annoy and root single or multiple enemies. Bucking Bronco is a wave of seismic force that pops up an enemy, rooting and levitating them in the air for you to shoot. Possession takes control of sentry turrets or enemies (who fight on your behalf, then commit suicide after about 60 seconds). And Devil’s Kiss was an area-of-effect fireball projectile.
Part of why I felt let down, I think, is that I see Infinite’s fiction as a unique opportunity for weird, unconventional magic. The spells I slung were familiar variations on the Hypnotize, Enrage, Incinerate, Security Bullseye, Insect Swarm, and Cyclone Trap Plasmids from BioShock. Maybe more importantly, using them didn’t imbue me with the awe I remember experiencing in Rapture. I have high expectations for these powers, but kinetically and in terms of how they’re presented as particle effects, I wasn’t wowed. Strategically, too--in their un-upgraded form most powers had a secondary function to deploy them as a proximity-triggered ground trap by by holding down Mouse 2 to charge them. In the situations I faced, it always felt more natural and effective to me to just cast directly at one or more enemies rather than lay a trap.
BioShock’s combat had a messiness to it that I liked. The madness of splicers and the disproportionate agility of Big Daddies contributed a set of enemies that were aggressive, antagonizing, and unsettling. Even when I was knocking these mutants dead, I liked that I never felt completely in control.
Infinite’s baddies in the first three hours are much more human, and fighting them didn’t make me feel that same urgency. On Medium difficulty, I didn’t feel the need to flee, backpedal, or deploy a Vigor in anything but a calm manner. I didn’t die once on this difficulty. This may be a moot complaint--things felt more comfortable on Hard for the 20 minutes I got to play it--but I left hoping to encounter more unnatural foes. The police officers and other Columbia security you fight in the first few hours were ordinary.
A fight we were shown (but didn’t get to play) seemed to have what I wanted, though. In this shootout, Booker used a section of Sky-Line to transition between tiered platforms, pursued by an enormous mechanical man leaping like the Hulk all the while.
The caveat, again: I’ve only played the game’s introduction. But during it, Infinite felt like a less systems-driven game than its grandparent game, and more one where enemies were released into the environment at pre-determined moments. One of my favorite aspects of BioShock was the way its combat operated as an mild ecosystem--Big Daddies and Little Sisters had a mechanical relationship that manifested spontaneously while intersecting with combat between other enemies. I don’t need a Columbian duplicate of this to enjoy Infinite; I’m simply hoping to see more variety in enemy behaviors when I play it again.
One final note: though damage numbers are toggleable, I couldn’t turn off the damage indicator. I'd love to go further and disable the crosshair too. I also couldn’t rebind ironsights to right-click (your Vigor button), though I’d expect that to be changed before release.
Tom and I agree about this. The ragdoll of the enemies is expressive, but the guns themselves lack a kinetic punch. They’ve probably improved since BioShock 2, but my standard for weapon feedback, recoil, and animations--especially in a single-player-only game--has been raised by games like Metro 2033, Borderlands 2, and Far Cry 3. The arms that I touched fell short of these games. I couldn’t put down the game’s sniper rifle fast enough, which felt ordinary and unsupported by tactile audio. With all this considered, I’d still say I don’t have a negative impression of Infinite’s combat; just a lukewarm one.