Reviews by badgersmacker

95

Culmination of the series, of the genre

badgersmacker | July 23, 2013 | Review of BioShock Infinite (NA)

So as to not dance around the elephant in the room, it is no doubt that BioShock Infinite has received the highest of praise in the press. And according to that number next to the title of this review, one could gather that this reviewer tends to agree. A 10/10, 100, or anything of the sort does not necessarily imply perfection—nor should it—but rather the reviewer's overall satisfaction with the game. And in the subjective opinion of this reviewer, BioShock Infinite is a highly satisfying experience.

As far as atmospheric shooters go, the BioShock series is exceptional. The previous two entries were impressive demonstrations of gameplay immersion in shooters, something thought to be unfathomable in the past. BioShock Infinite expands on that, and combines the best of both worlds with regard to its predecessors: the incredible narrative and storytelling of the original BioShock, and the polished gameplay mechanics of BioShock 2. That in and of itself would make for a very good game.

BioShock Infinite, however, manages to feel unique while paying homage to the rest of the series. The new setting is, perhaps, chiefly responsible; Columbia is a spectacular sight to bear, especially on the higher video settings. The art direction is certainly something to call attention to, as the aesthetics of BioShock Infinite are refreshing with its colorful appeal – the polar opposite of the current gritty brown trend of other shooter franchises. The point to be made is that Columbia, while unapologetically fictional, is full of life and energy, a city that is enjoyable to explore and discover more about. In fact, the "calm before the storm"—that is, before enemies are encountered—is great for curious players, as the development of the setting is laid forth without any strings attached. Arguably, it makes the slow removal of the city's facade all the more dramatic and gratifying.

It is enormously difficult to discuss the powerful storyline without delving into spoilers, though how it functions is worth noting. The term "ludonarrative" is key here, as the plot of BioShock Infinite is driven by the player, in a somewhat similar fashion originally pioneered by the Half-Life series. The player is only as informed about the world as the player-character, Booker DeWitt, is. In essence, there is more of a relationship between the player and his character relative to the other games of the BioShock series; whether one finds Booker likeable is variable, but Booker is, at the very least, understandable, and his lack of familiarity and desire to maintain control his environment closely parallels that of the player. This, combined with the dynamic relationship between Booker and Elizabeth—the escortee—makes BioShock Infinite have very human and genuine characters that fit the narrative.

Gameplay further refines what BioShock 2 attempted by streamlining certain features to prevent suspension of immersion. Most mini-games have been removed, along with passive character abilities. The result is less time spent with the game paused, which translates into more time spent in the game world. As for everything else, there is not a whole lot to say, as everything plays and feels a lot more fluid. There are only two complaints to be had: the first being that late-game weapons can feel wasted if the player already upgraded early-game weapons, and the second being a boss fight that takes place in the final quarter of the game, a battle that felt completely contrived, out-of-place, and did little to advance understanding of the narrative. Aside from these issues, BioShock Infinite is incredibly polished in terms of core gameplay, and, most importantly, it remains fun throughout.

BioShock Infinite is an engaging and entertaining experience, and it breaks down a lot of preconceived notions or ideas about the atmospheric shooter. It may not end up being the future role-model for the genre like Half-Life 2 or Call of Duty 4 was, but the game most certainly shows what can be accomplished with enough creative talent. If not a winner of some "Game of the Year" award, BioShock Infinite will at least be a game to remember, proof that it is possible to reinvent the shooter.

80

Gameplay makes up for the less powerful narrative experience

badgersmacker | July 18, 2013 | Review of BioShock® 2

It is hard to follow in the footsteps of such a beloved game. Indeed, most that merely try to ride the coattails of their predecessor fall flat on their face and are lampooned by the community. Bioshock 2 does not fall into that trap. The greatly enhanced gameplay of this sequel makes it hard to return to the wonky mechanics of the original game (the refined hacking mini-game alone is refreshing). The flow is vastly superior, and this time around, it does not feel like the gameplay is holding back the story.

The story, however, is arguably the main point of contention about Bioshock 2. Players of the original Bioshock will undoubtedly believe that the ludonarrative of this installment leaves something to be desired. This reviewer tends to agree, but there is an argument to be made that Bioshock 2 has a more coherent and more engaging plotline. The original game likes to throw big ideas at the player, a bombardment that eventually falls apart after the big twist and never recovers. Bioshock 2 does better in this regard, in that story arc sustains momentum and is more captivating, albeit not as powerful.

The game thus provides appropriate homage to its predecessor and is capable of standing on its own merits. While it is unfortunate that the intellectualism of the original Bioshock feels absent from this sequel, the core gameplay is much more enjoyable and has greater fluidity. For this, Bioshock 2 is an very satisfying experience, even if the hard-hitting, existentialist themes are not at the forefront of this adventure.

85

Narrative delivers an incredible experience

badgersmacker | July 11, 2013 | Review of BioShock (NA)

There are few high budget titles these days that can provide an immersive ludonarrative experience, and Bioshock is among this happy few. Without spoiling anything, the game is not your conventional first-person shooter – indeed, it actually tries to turn that idea on its head. It accomplishes this by placing the story arc, an existentialist journey through the world of Andrew Ryan, above that of core gameplay. That is to say, the narrative is the emphasis of this game, and for those who are particularly academic or literary, there is much to be appreciated.

The inherent problem, however, with this redirection of attention, is that the gameplay is not anything revolutionary or particularly noteworthy. The arsenal can almost be directly compared with that of Gordon Freeman in Half-Life 2, if you were swap out the crowbar for a wrench (perhaps an intentional reference). Plasmids are the non-firearm option, and are akin to spells or superpowers. They do offer some more interesting playstyles, but some are incredibly situational. Puzzles are occasionally thrown in there, and are either simplistic (use fire plasmid to melt the ice on this door) or downright annoying (mid to late-game hacking mini-games, which consist of connecting and redirecting a series of pipe pieces to complete the flow of liquid, become near impossible).

The last quarter of Bioshock also suffers with regard to the plot. There is the big, climactic twist—a very original one too—that really complements the ludonarrative, but it is then followed by two or three weak chapters that fall flat on their face in terms of storyline momentum. The antagonist becomes a cartoon character and seemingly evil only for the sake of being evil, the difficulty only increases in the sense that more goons are being thrown at you, and all the while you just want to process that plot twist that was just pulled on you. The main gripe here is that the resolution does not come quickly enough, and when it does, it is laughably generic and arguably inappropriate for the game.

The memorable parts of Bioshock, however, certainly outweigh the post-revelation slump. The game delivers an incredible experience because of its immersion, and curiosity will drive you to learn more about Andrew Ryan's dystopian Rapture. Bioshock is a great game, perhaps just shy of being an outstanding game due to a few issues, mainly gameplay elements that are simply par for the course. Still, the near-masterful creation of the narrative has generated discussion even five years later, and for that, it deserves the highest of praise.