Friday, 5 April 2013

BioShock Infinite Review

Doesn't it suck that there are hardly any games that explore deeper themes? Doesn't it suck that there are hardly any games that are truly meaningful? There were only 3 games last year (The Walking Dead, Journey, Spec Ops: The Line) that really meant something, when at the movies in 2012, I can pick 20 films off the top of my head that explored deeper themes that don't focus solely on fun. Sure, I still want dumb fun games, and not all games do have to mean something, but isn't it so much better when they do? Isn't a party so much better when it's celebrating something? Not only is BioShock Infinite the most meaningful and surprising game I've played since Spec Ops: The Line, and the most fun I've had in a linear shooter since Max Payne 3.

Warning: Spoiler Alert
I wont directly spoil anything for you, but there might be some details in this review which you can join the dots and figure out the ending, and it's best to go into it knowing little about it anyway. If you want to avoid having any indirect spoilers, don't read this review until you've played it all the way through. If you want a mini-review: Do not miss BioShock Infinite. It is absolutely incredible, and it's the first great game of 2013. Go play it, now. 

This game is notable for being heavily delayed. The first trailer was released in August 2010 and was set for a release date in October 2012, and has been pushed back twice since then. I guess it's good for a developer to spend a few more months polishing a game, as Shigeru Miyamoto once said, 'A delayed game will eventually be good, but a rushed game will be forever bad'. I could wait till 2014 for BioShock Infinite, just as long as it's polished and perfected to a mirror shine. You can see the time and effort that's gone in to Infinite; the world building is extremely effective, but the combat certainly needs a further polish.

The world building is very similar to Dishonored, Hell, the world in general is very similar to Dishonored. Columbia can be described as an American Dunwall, and a good one at that. The buildings look very similar, because they run on the same engine, and the stylisation of the characters is very similar. Much effort has gone into making the world extremely disconcerting, even though it starts out peachy and wonderful and perfect. There are barbershop quarters floating in from the sky, there are rosy-cheeks on happy children and everything is so neat and tidy and bloody happy. It's disquieting how non-disquieting everything is, and you must wonder how the government is keeping the people this way.

Mechanically, Infinite is absolutley perfect. Bullets fly at things you point at and the movement is fast and fluid. The guns are incredibly fun to use, as are the plasmids, I mean Vigors, including a plasmid, I mean Vigor that allows you to wash away several enemies with a load of water, and a plasmid, I mean Vigor that allows you to absorb incoming bullets and throw them back in the enemies face. The weapon menu is incredibly unique: THERE ISN'T ONE! You can only equip 2 weapons at once, so instantly the combat becomes less varied and more limited. I spent most of the game with a Machine Gun and a Shotgun, and just upgraded the Hell out of both of them, so I never needed to do anything else, which kind of sucks. I can't see why they wouldn't allow a weapon wheel like in BioShock 1. Maybe they didn't want Booker to become a walking armoury, or maybe it was more efficient in the midst of battle to just quick select, but still, maybe you could only assign 2 weapons to the quick select to make things easier, or you could just have an 8 weapon limit, as there are a lot of weapons in the game.

On Easy and Normal difficulty, the Vigors seem like a gimmick. On Normal, I got through the entire game without needing to use any plasmids, I mean Vigors, except for the odd boss fight and if I was trophy hunting. You also never really need to go hunting for ammo, health, money or Eve, I mean Salts, as Elizabeth just chucks you some around every corner, so the world becomes less interesting when you're not picking up voice notes all the time. This is why I encourage you to play on Hard. Sure, play it on Normal first, because the controls and movement is something to get used to, but on Hard you can really see the diversity of the combat, and most importantly, you will feel the urge to explore more and learn more about the world of Columbia. Be prepared to play on 1999 mode, though. I could only play an hour of it before I have to give up. When you die, you have to pay some $90 dollars to revive. $90? Seriously? And when you have insufficient funds, you're taken back to the main menu, and forced to start from the most recent auto-save. Unless you've murdered your wife and kids and are seeking for a punishment, go ahead, but otherwise I can't recommend it.

Of course, what would BioShock Infinite be if it weren't for the memorable characters and writing. The writing? Yeah, it's pretty great. At some points it falls a bit flat and cliche, but at other times it's very well written and is overall pretty great. The characters are amazingly well developed, Elizabeth in particular. Here's a complaint: Why isn't Elizabeth on the front cover of the game! Elizabeth is an astonishingly good character, and she's more of the main character than the main character, so why isn't she on the front? The front cover consist of a Bro holding his gun and looking all cool-like, and I'm pretty sure we've seen enough of those covers (what do you mean Battlefield and Call of Duty?). Is it so awful to have a female character on the front cover? Will people not buy it if they see a female taking away the spotlight from the Gun Bro? It's hideously sexist, and borderline misogynistic, and it really shows how little the Gaming Industry and the gaming audience in general has evolved from the basement-dwelling troglodytes of the late 80s and early 90s in which the only female roles are Ditzes or Bad-asses or characters that arbitrarily switch between the two. You know, there are more girl gamers than ever before, and it's up to the industry and the audience to make them feel less alienated.

But I digress. It's refreshing to see a female character that isn't a damsel in distress. When you get down to it, the game is one large escort quest, but she takes care of herself in combat and is regularly an asset to you. When you're low on health, salts or ammo, she will happily chuck some to you in the midst of battle. Hmm, that's strange, a female character that doesn't need the constant assistance of a male? What do you mean Metroid Other M?

From earlier in this review, you might of picked up on the parallel I made with the first Bioshock, and it might seem like just a retread of BioShock 1, and that's understandable; plasmids are now Vigors, Eve is now Salts, Adam is now Infusion, objectivism, materialism and conformity is now racism, american exceptionalism and religious freedom, the wrench is now this awesome sky-hook, Andrew Ryan is now Father Comstock, Jack is now a more developed and empathetic Jack called Booker DeWitt, the Big Daddy is now the Songbird who protects Elizabeth instead of the Little Sisters, and steampunk is, well, steampunk, but a different kind of steampunk, the up-in-the-clouds sort of steampunk instead of the rock-bottom of the ocean kind of steampunk. But all of these parallels, the games uses it to it's favour. I wont tell you how it does it right now, but it's something different, and you have to play it for yourself.

Having a satisfying conclusion is rare for a combat focused game. It's usually rushed and stupid and token and cheap, like every Call of Duty (even the good ones) and every Modern Military Shooter you can care to name. The original BioShock famously failed at drawing a satisfying conclusion, with an awful, pointless bossfight and a 'good' ending which made no sense because the only reason the Little Sisters existed was to provide you with Eve. Infinite's ending however, is so remarkably conclusive and satisfying that it rivals the best of all shooters (especially Spec Ops: The Line), but I won't spoil it here, maybe another time.

Final Verdict: 9.5/10
You want action? It doesn't come much harder. You want story? It doesn't come much better. This is the kind of game I've been waiting for for years, and it was worth it.

Why Always-Online DRM Won't (and will never) Work

It looks like the next-gen Xbox will require an always-online connection to play it. It doesn't matter if you're playing a single-player game, you will constantly need to be connected. Here is a list of reasons why always-online DRM won't (and will never) work in the form of questions to the company:

1. Does the always-online DRM only account for games, or for the console usage entirely?
What the next generation of consoles are doing is trying to account for all forms of entertainment. The Wii U kickstarted this trend in consoles, with an extra screen for transporting your game, or just watching movies. The 360 is continuing this with it's dashboard, so you can access Sky TV, Netflix, LoveFilm, Music browsers and stores and other such applications for other media. Why just appeal to gamers when you can be entertainment? On my PS3, I can put movies and music on there via USB stick, so I can lay back and watch a movie on my PS3. Will the DRM cover this as well? Will I not be able to access my files if I'm not connected? Or does the DRM only account for games? Surely there should be boundaries.

2. What if I live in a rural area?
I live down a private road with 3 houses. BT wont install cable down our small road to give us high-speed internet because BT wont have enough profit. Our internet runs at 500 kb/s at best. That would mean it takes roughly 9 hours to install Dishonored, an 8GB game, and even longer for PlayStation, because Sony doesn't know what high-speed internet is. My internet constantly dips in speed, and sometimes disconnects entirely. This would mean I would have unnecessary lag on a single-player game, and for no reason. I know it's worse for most other people, like those living in poorer conditions than I. Our community should be an accepting one, a place where people come to escape. We accept all people into our community, no matter what race, religion and background. Having an always-online DRM is not accepting those poorer people who can barely afford their console, and it only turns the gaming community into an elitist one.

The Creative Director of Microsoft that announced the DRM,
said this in reply to 'What if my internet disconnects?'
Complete idiot. 
3. Will the servers last forever?
Say a publisher has really bad servers, like EA or UbiSoft, or they're just fixing their servers and they're down for a day, that means we can't play on our consoles. It also cost money for the publisher to keep the servers up and running, so that would mean we would have to pay for an online pass on top of $60 plus tax in America, and even more in Australia or Brazil. But what about 6 or 7 years down the line? Will those servers continue to be running, even though there are very little people still playing on them? What about 10 or 15 years afterwards? When the children who first laid hands on their brand new Xbox are revisiting their childhood? Or a veteran gamer is just replaying an all-time classic on that console, like people do when they plug in their old SNES's or NES's. Does Microsoft not care about their consumers? Or do they want their precious precious money?

Look at SimCity for example, it looked like it would be quite a decent God-game, but turned out to be plagued with server issues and was rendered unplayable. Hell, the lead designer of Diablo 3 now regrets having an always online connection for it, as it cost Activison-Blizzard a lot of money to keep it running. Go here for more information: and 

4. Is Multiplayer the core experience? 
This current generation was a turning point for publishers. After the overwhelming success of Gears of War and Call of Duty, more publishers have been using multiplayer as compensation for single-player and as justification for £40 worth of game. And they still charge you for an online pass. I've said many times in the past that I think this is extremely damaging to the gaming industry, as single-player is the core experience but is being ruined by publishers who make crappy multiplayer focused games. Single-player is the core experience for a number of reasons: it tells a story, it's crafted for the player, it's structured more so than multiplayer etc.

 Multiplayer is a tagged on extra, where all the guns and people are pilled into an arena and kill each other. It's inherently less structured and it depends on the skill of the other players (and of course the weapon balance; see the 'noob tube'). I say all of this, because with the always-online DRM, developers will be almost forced to include a multiplayer mode into their game, taking resources and time and effort away from the core experience to focus on something they didn't want (see the Spec Ops: The Line multiplayer). They will have to include the multiplayer because of the always-online DRM, because what's the point in having the DRM in the first place?

5. Why are you implementing it in the first place?
Money and loyalty. Purchasing an online pass on top of the £40 game is an easy way for a publisher to make money. And we of course have to show our loyalty to the publisher, by religiously buying all their products and all their DLC at full-price with out buying a second-hand copy (known to EA as 'stealing'). To quote Jim Sterling, "If that's all your next game is going to be; a cynically-structured exercise in wallet drainage, what the f**k makes you think you deserve $60 up front? What have you done to earn that? What?". That is indeed true. What benefit does always-online DRM have for the player? For Diablo 3 is had that marketplace, that no one ever uses and that they now regret implementing. For SimCity, pff, it doesn't matter if it plopped Cream Eggs out the USB slot, it's un-bloody-playable and has received dozens of average (and below average) review scores, and holds a 64 Metascore on Metacritic. With all the complaints thrown at EA's and Blizzards way, a whole new generation of this will continue, and we will continue to encounter server issues and un-playability because of this. We will have another 7 years of Error 37's and SimCity's.

On top of this, game's are becoming more expensive, with the pre-order price for Battlefield 4, AC4: Black Flag is at a boffing £45, and it's not even limited edition! The publishers know that these games are going to make money, as they're two of the biggest franchises in gaming today, so they least they can do is be courteous to the consumer, to actually treat the consumer, the one who spent £45 on your game which probably didn't deserve it, with the respect he/she deserve. Microsoft and EA have little or no respect for the consumer, and it's up to us as an audience to show EA and Microsoft that we don't want this crap. If the new Xbox does come with DRM, I will certainly not buy it, and I hope you don't either. If the new PlayStation comes with DRM, I will certainly not buy it, and I hope you don't either. PC already has DRM, but it makes up for it because Steam is cheap, efficient and it actually respects you. Origin and UPlay, on the other hand, charge full price (or over) for a downloadable game. If a company pulls a shoddy business practise that you don't like, either pirate the game or avoid it completely, to show that we will no longer put up with the crap the publishers throw our way.

Also, no more used games or backward compatibility, because WHY NOT!