25 September 2010

I wasn't planning on watching this thing; the 10 minute gameplay footage trailer for Bioshock Infinite, the 2012 (youch!) spiritual successor to the original Bioshock (you could even call it the true sequel, if you proceed from the judgement that Bioshock 2 was a well-executed expansion pack). But I did.

What I got were incredible highs coupled with incredible lows. The first few minutes are so great. You walk around a world that has that inimitable brand of Irrational creepiness. It’s just walking around and soaking up the atmosphere. The subtle tilt of buildings suspended precariously on hot air balloons. The bountiful propaganda plastered on the walls. The burning house with an oblivious woman sweeping the front porch. Wait, what? Just walk on, this is about as SNAFU as it gets.

You turn into a small park and find a man surrounded by a murder of crows, feeding them silently. A patriot is shouting incendiary texts from a pavilion. This is fucking great. I could walk around an entire game like this, doing absolutely nothing expect looking at the insane trappings of a world that is just ever so slightly removed from reality.

My hopes were about as high as they were when seeing the first Bioshock trailer. What incredible promise lay in that setting! But I also remembered the extreme disappointment when that setting was then used only as a background for well-crafted, but ultimately unfulfilling, unimaginative shooting gameplay.

Before the thought was fully formed, Bioshock Infinite exploded. The crow guy on the bench was now using them as weapons on me. The patriot swung away on a rail and begon bombing me with a cannon. I flee into a bar and twenty guys in white bowler hats start chasing me, crazy people chasing me, everybody’s chasing me. The action doesn’t quit until the end of the trailer, with a huge boss descending on me. A boss. Because apparently, you can’t quite explain the subtleties of Manifest Destiny without duking it out with a giant robot-cyborg with wings.

I know it's stupid, insane, pointless to keep expecting these Bioshock games to be something the game is obviously not: an atmospheric RPG instead of a shooter. The disappointment that the whole thing eventually revolves around shooting instead of interacting with this world in a more interesting, earnest way is just too much to bear. A lesser game without such an interesting setting I’d have loved for this type of gameplay. Why can’t I just walk around this dysfunctional world and talk to its people? Why can’t the final purpose of this game be the exploration of its themes instead of killing people and blowing things up?

It's just too goddamn painful to see all these wonderful, never-before-seen-in-the-medium ideas about turn-of-the-century racism, American ascension and what have you, and then have that serve only as the wonderful coathanger for another shootey action game. It's like you're making the Mona Lisa to use as really supernice toilet paper. Fuck fuckerdyfuck.