Finishing Bioshock Infinite and loving on narrative-driven games.

Last night I finished Bioshock Infinite. I have to thank the folks I know who played it long before I did and opted not to spoil it for me. The last 25-30% of the game totally won me over and I went from feeling somewhat ambivalent about the game to absolutely loving it. I’m so glad I played through it.

I’m going to continue the not-spoiling tradition, so that’s all I’m going to say about Bioshock Infinite for now. But as I sat there — kind of slack-jawed — watching the credits roll, it got me thinking about the different reasons people play games.

In my social networking circles, single player games have fallen out of favor. Most of the people I associate with don’t play them, or if they do they never finish them. They get bored without having other people around. I’m very much the opposite: when I’m playing a good single player game I just lose myself in it and escape to another world. I can’t really do that when I’m also talking to other people. Maybe there’s some deeper meaning there about my level of happiness with ‘real life’ and why I’m so drawn to escaping it for awhile, but we’ll leave that question for the next time I’m on Dr. Phil.

When talking about narrative-driven games in particular (my favorite kind of single player game) there’s a faction of gamers who off-handedly dismiss them by saying something like “If I want a movie I’ll watch a movie.” Most narrative-driven games are fairly linear; it’s really hard to give the player many significant choices and still keep a strong narrative going.

I can understand that push-back; I like sandbox games because they let you generate your own narrative. But there’s something about a strong narrative-driven game (think Red Dead Redemption, think The Last of Us, and yeah, think Bioshock Infinite) that just enthralls me in a way that few movies really can. I think it has to do with having to “work” to push the story forward. I’m sure there’s some psychological term for how we appreciate things more when we work for them, but I don’t know what it is. Suffice to say that few movies have the kind of impact on me that a strong narrative-driven single player game can.

And speaking of working (while running down a tangent), I really didn’t like the first part of Bioshock Infinite. I didn’t hate it, but I found aspects of it pretty annoying (you can read my post from last week for a recap of why). I’m now really glad I stuck it out, which in turn makes me think of all the times I’ve said, or friends have said, or journalists have said “If a game doesn’t grab me in the first 10 minutes I just move on.”

I wonder how many wonderful experiences we cheat ourselves out of by not being a little more patient and giving the designers some time to set the stage.

If you haven’t, and if you like narrative-driven games at all, I suggest you play Bioshock Infinite. I played it at the ‘normal’ setting and it wasn’t very hard at all (and I’m not a very skilled gamer). On easy mode it must be a complete cake-walk (to the point of not being enjoyable, I suspect…there’s a point where a lack of difficulty turns gameplay into a repetitive chore) and if you play games for their challenge definitely play it on hard.

I hope this post is somewhat cohesive; I shouldn’t start writing stuff like this when I only have 15 minutes before work starts!

Picky, picky, picky. My gripe with Bioshock Infinite

I know everyone played Bioshock Infinite long ago and haven’t thought much about it since, but I’m new to it. I got it as a Playstation Plus freebie and downloaded it, and now my PS3 hard drive is getting full so I need to work through some backlog on the last-gen machine. BI seemed like a good place to start.

(Oh, there’ll be some early-game spoilers in this post since I figure I’m the last person to play it.)

And y’know at first I LOVED it. I loved the aesthetics and the weird slice of Americana that you’re first introduced to. Y’know, before you win the contest to throw the first baseball at the mixed-race couple that are going to be stoned to death (via baseballs) for polluting the purity of the white race.

Then as you learn more you get really comfortable with remorselessly destroying everything and everyone that keeps this twisted society going. So that’s fun. It’s like shooting Nazis or something. Hardly anyone ever feels remorse about shooting make-believe Nazis in a video game.

But as I played I started to feel really bogged down until now I’m just not enjoying myself any more. Why?

Searching containers.

As you move through the world of Bioshock Infinite you encounter about 10 containers/minute. Exaggerating? Well let’s see, that’s 1 every six seconds and yeah, that sounds about right. And if you’re OCD like me you will HAVE to search every one. They hold things like money, ammo, health and mana (here called salt) and sometimes lockpicks. Or they hold nothing. In addition to containers there’s plenty of junk just laying around that you’ll want to pick up, particularly Silver Eagles (money). But you don’t vacuum these up, oh no. Just in case you decide you’re much too rich and want to pass them by, the game makes you aim at each one and press the Square button to pick them up. Same with ammo, health and mana (though in the last two cases there might be times when you’d rather leave it for now). Oh yeah, and when you kill a bad guy, you have to search his corpse. too.

When you’re not going through trash cans for a Sandwich (+health) and a few Silver Eagles (because the people of this world often throw money away) you’re picking up voxophones (audio recordings), watching kinetoscopes (short old-fashioned movies) or peering through telescopes to be a sight seer.

I just feel like all this constant searching and collecting is really bogging the game down. Plus it makes me a little ill, literally. Since I’m always whipping the camera around checking every corner for a crate or a barrel or a trash can to be searched, I can only play a short time before I get woozy from simulation sickness. So that’s my gripe with Bioshock Infinite, and I’m kind of ashamed of myself for griping about it.

You know, it must suck to make games. Irrational built this huge beautiful world for gamers to explore and play in, and here comes some dork like me whining that he has to search too many containers.

I admit I’m being an ass about this! But I can’t help feeling the way I feel. I’m so sick of opening containers and having to “aim” at something to pick it up that I might just quit, and really I’ve barely gotten started (I just got Shock Jock from Slade).

I want to love it, but when you have a backlog that, were it not digital, would fill your apartment with game disks, it’s so easy to just say “Naaa” and bail on a game. And yet I feel bad for doing so since I know a team of hard working people crafted this world for my enjoyment. I’m such an ingrate. But I need to tip my hate to Irrational for making such an amazing game.