The Surprising Ways ‘BioShock Infinite’ Is An Old-School Game

Senior Contributor
04.25.13 14 Comments

BioShock Infinite is an excellent game. In fact, it’s even a game we’ve argued is art. But it’s also a surprisingly old-fashioned game in some respects, for better and for worse, as I discovered on my second playthrough.

It’s Almost Ridiculously Linear

The sidequests in this game are, quite literally, an after-thought. There are only a handful of them, and honestly, they’re actually the absolute worst thing about old-school FPS games: They’re a key hunt, every last one of them. OK, so technically they’re mostly “ciphers”, but it still boils down to running all over the map for a key, finding it, and then spending fifteen minutes just getting back to the room with the cipher to press a button.

It’s understandable, because it’s a story-driven game, but it’s a bit inelegant in some respects; one sidequest forces you to leave your current map, go to one you’ve already fought through, although the enemies don’t respawn, and go back to a room about half an hour of gameplay after you found it. Another forces you to go back across the map with no direct way back.

Also, they’re not really optional, as they almost inevitably have key upgrades. Which you’ll need because…

It’s Pretty Tough

Infinite, refreshingly, does not hold your hand. Enemies are aggressive, well-armed, and become aware of you very quickly. The battlefield is often smoky or otherwise full of obscuring cover, which means you might suddenly find yourself in a frantic fist-fight with a guy carrying a rocket launcher as you’re running away from his machine gun packing buddies. Sniping from a distance is difficult, ammo can easily run out, and you can’t hide in cover for long.

This is how FPS games used to be played, and some modern games could stand to take notes.

Flat-Pack Maps

Infinite is a “two-dimensional” game to a surprising degree. Not as in “lacking depth”, as in the fact that most maps are relatively flat. This isn’t a game that hides collectibles in the ceiling or makes you go very far out of your way to find them, unless it’s a sidequest. Any impluse you have to go through every chest you find will serve you well in this game.

This isn’t a bad thing: The game has been carefully timed and paced so you want to keep pushing through and playing, and jumping puzzles in FPS games often stop even the best FPS game in its tracks. Still, that relentless push does present a problem…

Murder Box After Murder Box After Murder Box

If there is a game that is more in love with tossing you in a room full of enemies and forcing you to kill them all, we haven’t found it. Pretty much every area in the game is a progression of murder arenas, although to be fair the game almost never explicitly locks the door behind you: You can nearly always back away from a fight to lure enemies into traps, hit up a vending machine, or otherwise hand out a killing. And some fights can be avoided if you move carefully, although a stealth run is pretty much impossible. And it is a lot of fun.

But it begins to get aggravating, especially towards the end of the game and your confrontation with the Siren, where the game makes you repeat an annoying, resource draining fight three freaking times in three different locations on one map. Get familiar with the Return To Sender vigor: You’ll be using it a lot during this fight.

It Doesn’t Make The Most Of Some Mechanics

The Skyhook is a ridiculously fun and finely tuned mechanic… but it rarely appears on most maps in the game and seems largely in place to give you a melee chainsaw hand. Not that we’re complaining about a melee chainsaw hand, and it is a good thing that the game never makes you, say, exclusively fight on skyrails.

Still, in some respects it seems a missed opportunity, especially for making the game a bit more open and dimensional. There are very few maps where you can grab a rail and get to a sniper’s perch, and when you do have to use the Skyrails for a setpiece, it’s often a thrilling and dynamic way to get around, catch a breather, and pick away at some of the tougher enemies, while forcing you to get off the rails to get into the fight in the long term, or forcing your enemies to get on a Skyrail after you.

In other words, you want a lot more of it than you ultimately get. Similarly, while the impulse to not repeat Big Daddy fights from the original game is reasonable, we don’t see nearly enough of Songbird, and we never get to actually fight him. Even a “pointless” battle would have been fun.

In short, BioShock Infinite is, in many ways, and for better and worse, a game from 1999. In fact, if you play it on 1999 Mode, it becomes clear that was how the game was meant to be played. Still, we hope Irrational, for their next game, opens the maps up a bit and does away with the murder boxes.

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