A month or so ago, I wrote an article declaring that while I enjoyed Infinite I ultimately found it significantly weaker than the original Bioshock.
This was a giddy, hedonistic time for Irrational with 9s and 9.5s being thrown around like celebratory confetti at a particularly rowdy wedding. People were actively whooping and parping off on social media, podcasts, and on printed pages, backslapping Ken Levine for a job, thoroughly, well done.
And it wasn't bad was it, Bioshock Infinite? It looked pretty; the story had enough substance for an interesting pay off; and nobody got their penis out at the end and started shouting "willy banjo" either.
But while it was a perfectly good shooty-type game, it wasn't perfect, and neither do I think it warranted the unabashed praise. Nobody seemed to be pointing out the obvious flaws and the underwater elephant in the room.
Because for all of Infinite's impressive technology, it wasn't half as interesting as its submerged predecessor. Columbia didn't hold the same intrigue, the same tension, and the same level of innovation. Ultimately, Booker DeWitt's adventure was nothing more than a simple run-and-gun built around impressive environments. And let me qualify that: impressive environments, but essentially uninteresting environments.
When I first clambered into the bathysphere bound for Rapture I was scared. Creeped out by the pangs of the occupying score, mesmerised by the glamorous external look of the ocean city, and fundamentally awed by the breakdown of this once-utopian society.
Crawling through the wreckage and ruin was like partaking in a particularly gruesome aftermath documentary. Terrifying edicts adorned walls, unhinged inhabitants wandered through charred corridors, and I was left to somehow endure it all, getting from point A to B gathering just enough understanding as to how it all came to be.
Now take that same sentiment, and apply it to Columbia. I will not disagree that the first hour was fascinating. The technology, the art, the sheer bravado of the designers, and I spent hours picking through the scenery. It felt like an excellent set up that would lead to an epic payoff. Except it never really hit a higher note.
The failed utopia of Rapture was what gave it interest. Seeing these intellects and capitalists reduced to savages and mutant ideas when society and morality crumbled around them; from the cantankerous cries of Andrew Ryan, unbelieving in his loss of control, to even minor players such as the horrendous activities of JS Steinman in his pursuit of absolute beauty.
I equally feared and became obsessed with Bioshock's watery deeps. And without sounding like a man delving profoundly into hyperbole and drama, or indeed just like Max Payne, it was hard to turn each corner in Rapture, but impossible not to.
That same level of tension, anxiety, and exhilaration just never materialised within Columbia. While it showed moments of genius, the city never seemed believable. Entire areas either fitted into "safe mode" or "hostile mode". We never entered shoot outs in anywhere brimming with life and occasion. As the False Prophet I felt more like a crusader destroying enemies on a series of cleverly designed flotillas rather than a man trying to complete a mission throughout a fantastical city.
The story too - the story that we hear so much about - seemed inherently uninterested for the majority of the experience. Those nods and winks towards a greater scheme were often too far apart, or just too clichéd, almost constantly nodding towards dual consciousness and amnesia.
That same level of exploration and determination to uncover more about the location also seemed absent. Columbia, whilst a flying city, could have ultimately been set somewhere in Southern USA. An independent state with parables to the Confederation and the worst elements of religious zeal. Everything was given at face value, the fact that it was all elevated and powered by blimps became by-the-by after an hour or so of mindless bludgeoning.
Which made it all that little less interesting. Voice memos didn't detail a society that was teetering from the edge of golden age towards oblivion. The occasion didn't really need to be informed at all. And yet, Irrational still stuck to the same formulas. Heading into faux-scary locales to defeat a "big bad".
Take the Hall of Heroes for example and Cornelius Slate the resident "crazy". The point of this entire section of Infinite was to explore the bowels of a man's madness, uncovering something about Booker in the process. In reality, it followed a similar pattern to the Steinman sections of the original, except instead of murderous experiments and insane patients, we were given a guided tour of the Boxer Rebellion and a handful of set-piece spawning enemies. It was a lot less interesting, but fundamentally the same - minus the tension, the interest, the raison d'être.
And this blue-print copy-and-paste design became the problem for Infinite. In creating a scenario that worked less well than the original Bioshock, Irrational laboured on a point that couldn't ever top their previous work. And that isn't without mentioning the humdrum combat.
Shooting things and using plasmids within Rapture was far from perfect. It could feel sterile, and oil and water spills appeared far too conveniently for your electro-fire zapping powers. But how murder was approached was far more interesting. Akin to System Shock 2, areas had their "monsters" but this wasn't the time for action movie antics: instead each combat encounter become a fight for survival. Bullet preservation and choosing your battles was key.
Columbia then, became a Call of Duty in the sky of sorts. Those explosions of violence were reminiscent of the final scene of Rambo with Booker taking on anyone and everyone, perhaps only stopping to mutter about "Johnny! You got no legs!".
Combat became the singly most uninteresting, and relentless, element of Infinite's design. Corridors linked vast arenas of conflict, with the only goal in mind to keep shooting until the bodies hit the deck. It became boring and passé. Add in uninteresting Tonic powers that seemed so out unusually out of place and harking back to Rapture that it was hard to take the game seriously after a small number of hours.
All in all, while Infinite was a very impressive and, and lest we forget, enjoyable game, it wasn't quite up to the same standards of its predecessor. Interesting however, is how Irrational bet on a new setting, and yet now seemingly are heading back to their original doomed city.
When Bioshock 2 debuted, while it was still applauded, it failed to live up to the lofty expectations of the first, selling little over half of Bioshock 1. One of the reasons for this perceived failure was its failure to innovative, and move away from the initial game. It stuck too closely to the formula.
Surprisingly, Irrational then chose to move away from Columbia and back to Rapture for their DLC "Burial at Sea". Doesn't it seem odd that while the second installment underwhelmed because of "Rapture Saturation" that again the Shock series is heading back to the murky depths?
In my opinion, it seems like the developer's have fundamentally misunderstood the draw of their original creation. The fantastical setting is now a must, but bastardised, while Rapture, while brilliant seems overused, overcast, and overshadowed by too many hours spent learning its hallways.
Is the main draw of the Shock series now simply a "pie-in-the-sky" location, whether it be above ground, below the ocean, or balanced on a particularly big monkey puzzle tree, with elements of anarchy and rebellion introduced? With the first creation the true master piece of it all?
Bioshock Infinite is by no means a bad game, and while I cannot pass judgement on the DLC as of yet, it seems as though the developers have become like their ill-fated societies: empowered by a brilliant idea, but warped and twisted by misunderstanding over time.
Happy DLC everyone.