Double Buffered

A Programmer’s View of Game Design, Development, and Culture

Things I Wish I Knew About BioShock Infinite Before Playing It

Posted by Ben Zeigler on April 11, 2013

I finished BioShock Infinite last night, and I had a few thoughts that I wanted to get down on virtual paper. First of all it’s fantastic and you should play it. This post is plot spoiler free, and it would be nice to keep the comments relatively safe.  Anyway, thinking back on my experience there’s a few things I wish I had known before I started, so here’s some unsolicited advice that you should feel totally free to disregard. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. Not that you’d be mean and say something like that.

Bask in the Splendor

The art direction of Infinite is absolutely incredible. I’m not one to take screenshots of games, but there were a dozen or so points were I felt obligated to capture the moment. I had no intention of sharing the screenshots with anyone else, or even really doing anything with them. I just saw a certain angle and knew I had to capture it, in case the visual images were ripped from my head before I could sufficiently enjoy the experience. I played the game on PC, and I strongly recommend that platform for the visuals (you can play with a controller), the game looks great at 1080p and 60 fps. One last piece of advice is to actually read the signs. There are dozens of unique period-appropriate signs throughout the game, and they’re all very well done and help tie together the environment and plot.

The only thing better than the art direction is the audio. First of all the voice acting is terrific throughout, and the incidental dialogue is always worth absorbing. The environmental audio did a great job of immersing me into the world and made the city come alive.  Most vitally, the music is a standout and ties into the plot and themes of the game better than any game I can bring to mind. The soundtrack has a very clear and specific reason for existing, and is so tightly integrated into the themes of the game that I can’t discuss it any detail without spoiling the experience. But, I will advise you to listen closely when you hear music that sounds incidental, it’s probably more than it sounds like at first listen.

Don’t Let It Play You

Do not play BioShock Infinite on hard. I’ve played all of the *Shock and Deus Ex games, so figured I would jump on a harder difficulty for more challenge. This was a big mistake, and I made an even bigger mistake by never lowering the difficulty out of stubbornness. Honestly the difficulty scaling on Hard is poorly done, the smaller encounters were still too easy and the larger encounters became extremely frustrating. Instead of making the game more tense by making you feel like every encounter matters, it instead made the encounters extremely binary.  Every encounter was a complete success or an abysmal failure. You take far too much damage so you need to stay as far away as possible and snipe, which makes it difficult to enjoy most of the powers and weapons. This ended up distracting me from the plot and characters at critical moments.

Do not search every object in the game. Infinite has an obscene number of searchable containers, but it’s really not worth it to open most of them. The scavenging elements feel very vestigial, and only seem to exist because Infinite was designed by people who once worked on a survival horror game. Scavenging is important in a survival horror game like System Shock 2 because it helps reinforce the concept of being low on resources and having to make difficult choices. But, in Infinite, there are no actual choices when it comes to resources. There are no usable health potions or other consumables, ammo was plentiful, and refilling health via apples doesn’t really matter due to all the full health kits laying around and the respawn mechanic. Most of the money in the game comes from certain types of containers like purses, and none of the upgrades are super essential. You should still explore the world to look for Voxaphones (audio logs) and locked doors, but the world will not end if you do not eat every garbage can sandwich.

Don’t Worry, It’ll Work Out

I had my share of issues with the gameplay, but my fears with regard to plot, characters, and theme were all unfounded. Inconsistencies of character or plot that seemed like gotchas either totally made sense or were very minor. I was worried that I would over-analyze the plot and break the illusion, but that never happened. I’ve over-analyzed dozens of games and movies until nothing remains but a morass of contradictions, but I wasn’t close to ruining the experience of Infinite. A big part of it is that the plot doesn’t hinge on a Sixth-Sense-style plot twist like the first BioShock, but instead is much more interested in the details of characters and how they react while living inside an interesting world. Infinite is a great example of my favorite type of science fiction, where creators creates an interesting world based on legitimately novel concepts and ideas, and use it as backdrop for a character study with relevance outside of the fictional world.

BioShock Infinite is clearly one of the best interactive experiences of this generation, and is absolutely worth purchasing for anyone who’s bothered to read this far into the article. I recommend the steam version with a controller or mouse. It may not have the best FPS combat, but it more than makes up for it in every other way. I’m not sure if single-player story-driven experiences are economically viable in today’s market, but Infinite clearly proves that there is plenty of fertile artistic ground left to till. Now off to read more spoiler threads, and corner people at work to discuss the finer details of the last hour of the game. Cause, you know, there’s that thing that happened, and, like, what does it all mean?

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