I’m not impressed with the new Bioshock, sadly. I was looking forward to the game since its announcement, and over time I saw things I knew I wouldn’t like (such as the Vox Populi) but I enjoyed the core gameplay and conceits of the original Bioshock enough to hope. I feel as though aside from the core concepts that the game promised, it lived up to nothing that the trailers and interviews promised would be in the game for a long time. It’s pretty incredible, actually, how few of those noteworthy hype-accruing features seem to be part of the product that I’m trying to play right now.
There will be spoilers, but I’ve not finished the game (12 hours or so going right now) and I’ll try not to spoil the bighuge twists of it. It’s possible that the final stretch of the game’s content will be different, but I don’t think it can redeem how unremarkable it feels when the game could have been pretty groundbreaking. This post won’t be a review, but rather a collection of my thoughts on the things that I felt the game promised, and could’ve done a lot with, but didn’t deliver.
I’m going to focus mostly on the game mechanics in this post. But I did want to touch upon this subject due to what Bioshock was like. Compared to Bioshock, the ideology and its presentation in Binfinite falls pretty short. It’s basically just graphic and shocking set dressing, and its politics are very poorly thought out and lopsided.
I really hate how the Vox Populi were presented in the game and I feel that it is a huge disservice to the real history that the game used as a grounding for its core ideologies. They are such awful burn-down-the-house anarchist caricatures and such a hamfisted conservative’s nightmare. It feels like the hidden enemy the Tea Party would think wants vengeance on all the world’s privileged people. Whereas Comstock and the like are based on a history of racism and oppression in the USA, the Vox Populi are just a cartoon that makes Comstock also seem cartoonish in mutual association Binfinite has a sad and honestly pathetic message behind the conflict in the game: that they’re all the same, the oppressor and the oppressed, they’re all as bad whenever they decide to hurt others despite context. It’s incredibly facile and childish.
Competent But Soulless Shooting
I’m actually a fan of shooting games. I’ve probably played every major shooting game that’s come out in a long time and I enjoy games like Call of Duty (and the original Bioshock). Binfinite is a competent shooter with a decent variety of guns, but that’s really all I can say about it. Enemies are very samey, and the setpieces aren’t distinguished.
The problem I have with it is that Binfinite isn’t scripted enough and it isn’t open enough. It doesn’t have the kind of action Bioshock had where it was a semi-open environment that allowed you pick and choose different tactics and had enemies of markedly differing toughness that you could pick your battles against; and on the other hand it doesn’t have the variety and spectacle that heavily scripted games like Call of Duty have, where every mission is a fairground of different weird things to do like the mortar shooting, the sniping, the AC-130 section, the helicopters, the straight-up firefights, the stealth sections, and so on that you do over the Modern Warfare series. It really fails to innovate in this space.
The downright best parts of Binfinite are the skylines. The most fun to be had with the game is to use the skyline melee as much as you can. You can spec your character with gear and vigors that make melee really good, and whenever a skyline is there you can go to town. It’s very spectacular and you’ll hate it whenever there’s not a hook around to use. And that’s a LOT of the time, sadly. Even the skyline has its bad moments though. There’ll be more than one time where a skyline won’t be vertical enough to attack enemies a tier above you, forcing you to the ground and to move up through staircases or buildings to reach their perches and fight them conventionally. It is very frustrating and it happens more often than you’d think it should.
Every other encounter is simply too stylistically weak and repetitive. There are very few enemy types and the game teeters between being too easy and being too difficult. The same enemies are overused throughout the game, to the point that the Vox Populi inexplicably gain the resources to have their own handymen and motor patriots later in the game so they can be entirely the same as Comstock’s forces in equipment and challenge, which was very absurd to me, but I guess necessary for the game. I’m not sure how much “1999 mode” can alleviate these problems, because when the game decides to be challenging, its difficulty spikes absurdly and its deaths are hilariously punishing and never seem to follow a concrete rule as to what you lose or what’s supposed to happen. Especially since you’re dependent on its checkpoints to respawn, many of which aren’t well handled. Either they’re too close or they’re too few and far apart!
In addition, the Bird doesn’t deliver. I don’t want to say a lot more because it’s a huge spoiler, but there are really no Big Daddy-esque elements to any enemies in this game. None of them wander, none of them chase, none of them have that element of ominous challenge. The Bird does not bring the tension anyone said that it would.
Elizabeth Is A Walking Item Dispenser
Hey do you remember all that cool stuff that Elizabeth was supposed to do, like team up with your vigor powers to do cool new stuff, and use her incredible magical radiant AI to interact organically with everything and everyone and dazzle you with how alive she seems? None of this seems to have carried over. Elizabeth is a walking item dispenser that makes you hit F a lot in combat. All of her powers are entirely pre-determined by the setpiece fights and involve you hitting F so she’ll spawn objects or health, limited to making cover, spawning robot guns, and making pickup barrels.
Elizabeth’s dimensional abilities are also entirely scripted, and never involve Booker’s vigors. In fights, enemies outright ignore her unless they’re scripted not to, at which point she’ll either be captured (so far this is the prevalent result) or kick them in the balls (she does this a single time). It is vanishingly rare that Elizabeth actually interacts with something or does something that isn’t about giving Booker stuff. Not even the “cutesy” moments made it in!
Outside of fights, Elizabeth’s AI interactivity is confined to leaning against objects and bending down near objects, as well as making frowny faces when Booker is listening to a voxophone. Outside from one scripted sequence so far, Elizabeth has done very little with the game’s environments that did not involve her rummaging for money, ammo and salts (magic) for Booker to use. She does, at a few points, get mad with Booker and turn her back to him whenever you stare at her, which is interesting, but nothing revolutionary. In fact I might be imagining that whole thing. Maybe it’s all just part of the AI that keeps her out of your firing line at all times. It’s frustrating compared to what was hyped up.
Elizabeth is the farthest thing I could think about from being an organic or living AI. She’s very clearly heavily scripted and working in routine, and the environment is bizarrely apathetic to her overall presence. I might be exaggerating, but I feel like Binfinite promised so much more than what they delivered with her.
Vigors Are Dull And Unexplained
Plasmids were fairly deeply involved in Bioshock’s story and many enemies made use of them, and you saw the consequences of having those powers and their origin. No such thing happens in Binfinite. Vigors are magical drinks that are readily available from vending machines but aside from scripted crow and fireball enemies nobody uses them except you, and they’re basically just there because Bioshock settings have cool magic powers.
But the Vigors aren’t terribly cool either.
Most of the Vigors are a poor fit for the strengths of Binfinite’s combat. Their range is poor, the effects are mostly uninteresting, the trap effects are fairly pointless, they’re unbalanced and they’re fairly finicky to land. In fact, you start your Vigors off with the game’s essentially strongest magic – Possession, handed to you for free, allows you to get free money, free allies, free guns. Salts are fairly easy to come by and Elizabeth will throw you more when you need them, and the advantage of possessing the correct enemies is so astounding you’ll hardly need anything else. Me personally, though, once I got it, stuck to the Charge vigor. It lets you essentially do a teleport punch with your grappling hook toward any enemy you please. Specced for melee, your character becomes quite ridiculous, and actually fairly entertaining mostly. Enemies are samey, and too easy, and all of your fights are the exact same routine, but your routine is to tornado punch everyone.
Unfortunately you get Charge like 4/5 through the game. New Vigors are very few and far between in the game, so you’ll be rooted even more closely to Possession. The character’s progression and the pacing of new upgrades and equipment feels very slow and poor.
One More Thing
This is not meant to be a comprehensive review but rather the things that disappointed me based on the trailer and interview hype, and how interesting Bioshock itself was in its time. I was looking forward to this from the trailers, though I knew I would be disgusted with the hand-wavey and somewhat cowardly cartoon centrism in the narrative. I played it, and I’m not finished, and I’m going back to see the ending.
But so far I haven’t enjoyed it as much as I wanted to. 12 hours in, I don’t think it’ll change.
Binfinite is a well-built and pretty-looking AAA game. I’ve found no glitches and I’ve never been entirely frustrated with the controls, the visuals or the shooting on a technical level. I don’t think this needs to be said, or dwelled on, because it’s a AAA game with a huge budget and technically competent studio. It was always going to be pretty and cutting-edge and a nice show of its hardware. But the game still lacks some soul, and does not live up to either its legacy or to its promises for me. It straddles many ideas of what Bioshock was, but lives up to none.