Nitpicking Bioshock Infinite

Let me preface this by saying that I loved Bioshock Infinite. I could go on for a long time about everything I loved, but there are enough people doing that. It's probably one of my favorite games ever. This is written assuming that you have completed the game, and I would recommend reading it after you've finished. I write this mostly as a way to put down some of my thoughts on game design, and lessons that I extracted from playing it.

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Voxophones

Bioshock Infinite has a relatively complex plot, the large portion of which is revealed through audio tapes (aka Voxophones) laying around the world. The problem is that if you find the story and world of Bioshock Infinite the most compelling part of the game (as I did), it is easy to become neurotic about finding all of the Voxophones. Having the revelation that the Luteces are actually the same person from different universes (as revealed in a Voxophone) was one of the most rewarding moments in the game. However, that Voxophone was hidden in an obscure location, as most of the Voxophones are. I believe at one point I found one in a bathroom, cursing me with the self-imposed task of strafing past every stall in every bathroom for the rest of the game. See also: warping in every sky hook so I don't miss anything on a high-up platform, running back through huge portions of levels after getting the requisite number of locks picks to open a door only to find that there aren't any voxophones behind the door, walking into almost every darkened door to ensure that it wasn't openable, and several other horrible habits. The problem of course being that whenever I was about to dissuade myself from these habits is when I would discover a voxophone in a ridiculous place and reinforce the searching habits. I understand rewarding exploration, but hiding critical portions of narrative, and the huge emotional reward from understanding the world further, took its toll on the enjoyment of gameplay for me. I may be in the minority in this aspect, but it seems counterproductive to encourage habits that reduce the enjoyment of the most unique aspect of your game.

The Journey to Comstock House

I had several problems with the structure of the portion towards the end of the game when you are going to Comstock House to try to confront Comstock. This is one of the more branching portions of the game, and there are several winding paths you can take to the house. Given that I love the world and I didn't want to miss any Voxophones or interesting areas, I immediately turned around upon arriving at the house and explored the other paths. This was a behavior that was previously rewarded as there was rarely mandatory backtracking in the game and many fantastic portions of the world that can be missed on an initial run-through. However, once I looped back to the house from my backtrack, I found out that I had to run the same loop so I could find the rifts that Lady Comstock's footprints lead to. So then I spent many minutes backtracking simply to open those rifts, many of which I had already seen but were gated by the game. This felt so out of place given the previous structure of the game, and even if I hadn't already previously backtracked, this portion felt curiously like filler given the pacing of the previous five hours.

I think the interesting part of this problem isn't that it required backtracking – I have no problem with that. My complaint is really that the game taught you that independent backtracking and exploration are rewarded behaviors, except during the portion when you go to Comstock House.

Combat

I was expecting not to like the combat in Infinite, but really enjoyed the vast majority of it. The battle on the airship against the Vox Populi after killing Comstock, however, felt really out of place given the game's approach to combat. Bioshock Infinite's combat is strongest when the arena is constantly changing. The pattern of engagement was something like this: you would enter a new battlefield, try to understand its shape, the options for warping in assistance, figuring out where the skylines went, seeing what enemies there were, planning your attacks, and then executing. Once you figure out a strategy that works, there's no real incentive to change. You figure out the puzzle of the battle, and then it ends. There are sometimes surprises to which you adapt, but generally the reward comes more from understanding the shape of the battlefield and not just shooting dudes in the face. However, the battle on the airship felt extremely bland compared to the rest of the game. I suppose that there was some sense that there needed to be a dramatic closing battle, but the final airship battle breaks from the theretofore rewarding combat formula. The landscape doesn't change: you stand on the ship's deck while waves and waves of enemies come at you. You fall into an attack pattern and then count the minutes until it ends.  When playing the trumpet you're told to never change the way you play. Don't change your playing form for high notes, or you'll never hit them. Straining and changing your form when you're trying to hit something difficult doesn't work. It felt like Infinite was straining for some grand conclusion to all of the battle systems introduced, but it felt like it just fell flat and the game was left with a battle sequence that would've been more at home in any other mediocre shooter.

The Multiverse

This last complaint is a little silly, so bear with me. The game plays with the concept of a multiverse – the idea that universes splinter into infinitely many other other universes as events occur (events branching into separate paths in different universes). Hence the name, Bioshock Infinite. So at the end the idea is that Booker lets himself be drowned by the Elizabeths during the baptism that would lead to him becoming Comstock. However, in a true multiverse, I'm pretty sure that there would be an infinite number of universes where Booker doesn't let himself drown. The story points to the Luteces jumping across different universes, looking for constants that all lead to the events involving Elizabeth's capture in order to narrow down the seed that spawns the universes where the events of Bioshock Infinite occur. This is a pretty okay workaround, and the plot is definitely great given that interpretation. However, whenever stories involve multiple universes I can't help but wonder why, since it basically invalidates any actions that the characters take, given that the exact opposite action will implicitly happen in some other universe. It always just seems weird to employ some narrative device when you can't fully deal with the consequences (see also: time travel).