New steampunk RPG criticised for 'borrowing' from Bioshock Infinite, but why is that a bad thing?

A shot of Avalon showing a large statue and an airship in the background.
(Image credit: inXile Entertainment)

Clockwork Revolution—a steampunk-themed first-person shooter from InXile Entertainment—was revealed at the Xbox Games showcase last week, and its look and setting already has folks getting steamed-up. The game features a few stylistic choices and mechanics that are familiar: that steampunk aesthetic, time-travelling hijinks, and a rebellion against a ruthless dictator who rules the city with a brass fist. Yes, everyone's thinking of Bioshock Infinite.

Some have taken issue with just how closely this hews to that inspiration, however, particularly Butmac on Twitter. They've got an impressive run of trailers under their belt as a producer—including Bioshock Infinite but also the likes of the trailer for MultiVersus, which I remember fondly for how well it captured the nostalgia of that game, even if the brawler has had a rocky time since.

"I've never seen a game take from another game as directly as Clockwork Revolution took from Bioshock Infinite," said Butmac. "I mean, that was IP infringement levels of borrow".

Butmac then made a separate thread going on to draw comparisons between screenshots—"only about half" of which were from trailers they worked on—-and Clockwork Revolution.

The IP infringement jab is arguably just exaggeration to make the point but, since then, a Microsoft spokesperson has told IGN that the similarities are unintentional and players will be able to customise their own characters in the upcoming RPG. This feels like a response to Butmac's comment on the "Daisy Fitzroy character replete with scarf"—Daisy Fitzroy being the leader of the Vox Populi, a rebellion in Bioshock Infinite. 

I'm always wary when any game gets accused of 'copying' any other game. While developers do heavily borrow from each other, it's not an inherently bad thing: I'd argue that iteration is the nuts, bolts, and beating heart of a medium like games. Art is meant to be shared, built upon, changed and tweaked. 

While inXile's developers clearly looked to Bioshock Infinite for inspiration, giving the trailer a watch, I'm primarily seeing steampunk aesthetics—something that Irrational games didn't invent—and some genuine creativity on display. I'm especially a fan of the dapper gentleman at 0:36 and his mobile, mechanised airport conveyor belt, which I want in real life.

If we go by what InXile's Brian Fargo and others have been saying about the game, Clockwork Revolution is borrowing from a far broader book of mechanics than the trailer suggests. For instance, Bioshock Infinite used time travel as a plot device in its linear, triple-A style campaign. The player never quite interacted with it so much as they were thrust through it for a change of set dressing. The time-travel system in Clockwork Revolution is shaping up to work more like Clock Town in Majora's Mask, rather than anything we saw in Columbia. 

Would Clockwork Revolution exist without Bioshock Infinite? Maybe not in this exact form, though I don't think it's fair to judge it for wearing its influence on its sleeve. Especially when—and I'm sorry to make our readers feel their age—-Bioshock Infinite is 10 years old. There's a non-zero chance that developers who grew up playing Bioshock Infinite are making games now.

To put that in perspective, Dead Space wears influences from System Shock and Resident Evil 4 proudly, with a gap of around 14 years for the former and only three for the latter. Is borrowing direct influence only bad when it's from one game? How long do we have to wait before something's judged as a 'knock-off'? Even if Bioshock Infinite was a direct inspiration, I think it's about time other studios took a crack at toying with the same aesthetics, ideas, and themes.

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.