is one of the most stunning examples of game story-telling that I've witnessed. Its introspective exploration of player – and indeed human – autonomy in a multiverse is breathtaking. But, while genuinely stunning as a piece of art, as a game it is deeply, deeply flawed.
Rather than follow in the footsteps of the games narrative style, though - I don't want to drip feed the story of what went wrong - I feel a list coming on...
Spoiler alert: While I don't explicitly reveal any key story elements in this extended blog/feature, many facets of the game are touched upon so those wishing to play the game blind may not want to read on.
Hello, is it me you're talking to? – Better NPC interaction
The single most overwhelming disappointment in Bioshock Infinite's gameplay is how un-reactive the world is. Columbia is a beautifully realised world visually but that beauty really is only skin deep. It is incredibly jarring to be faced with one of the finest looking game worlds ever created then find that NPC characters don't respond to you, except in the most scripted of circumstances. Run into an NPC, jump on its head, run into its shop, go behind the counter and empty the register, and you'll got nothing more than, well anything. Violence will get them going but aside from that only every now and then if the script is set will stealing invoke a response.
It's not just the NPCs, the world itself is full of forced limits that stop you being able to explore it to any greater depth than standing back and taking in the view.
Not to suggest that the game has to be a complete sandbox but the level to which Bioshock Infinite has divested itself of interactivity makes it feel positively archaic. What's more, games set in wildernesses or in worlds where all you ever encounter are aliens can get away with this but in a game world that is constantly filled with supposedly normal human beings it is completely game breaking.
The solution? I'm not asking for much. Just for NPCs to jostle about or come up with a few stock phrases when you interact with them, and for there to be a little more freedom in where you can and can't go in the game world.
Drop the weapon(s)! – Reduce the weapon count
This one takes a little while to manifest itself but by three or four hours into the game it's utterly fatiguing having to decide which guns to use. The standard selection of pistol, shotgun, rifle, RPG, Magnum (in all but name), machine gun and sniper rifle are fine but then we have the Heater, the Burstgun, the Crank Gun, the Volley, the Repeater and the Hail Fire. With all these weapons also each having several upgrades, it's a bewildering array.
It's not just the breadth of weaponry on offer, though, it's also that they don't actually seem to make much difference. I used the Carbine (rifle) and shotgun almost exclusively throughout the whole game - only occasionally grabbing one of the heavy weapons if dropped by an enemy – and managed perfectly well, particularly as a good aim meant that most heads could be popped from miles away. All the other choices just forced me to second guess myself constantly each time there was an opportunity to buy upgrades.
The solution? Drop half the guns (by all means have peculiar ones but just keep the total number down) and perhaps have a few more upgrades for the standard guns. Maybe introduce a couple of much more powerful weapons later in the game but make it clear they're only going to be of occasional use – just imagine the impact of the crank gun if introduced just occasionally in the later battles, and if it were just a bit more poweful too.
Shake vigorously - Make vigors simpler
Yup, not only are the weapons tediously complicated but so are the vigors. There is a choice of eight, with again each one upgradeable, and while there is more discernible variation than with the guns, the game simply didn't feel like it really encouraged you to use them. Once you've got Posession and any of Murder of Crows, Devil's Kiss, Shock Jockey, Bucking Bronco or Undertow, you're basically set for being able to turn enemy weapons to your side and momentarily stop enemies in their tracks. All the rest was just distraction.
The crux of the point, here is that because the game doesn't allow enough freedom in play style – i.e. stealthy/gung-ho, lethal/non-lethal, melee/ranged – there simply didn't seem to be much point.
The Solution? Again, either reduce the overall number and have them upgradeable to a higher degree or make their use in certain situations more clearly defined.
Gottle o' Gear – Drop the Elixirs and Gear
Probably the two most tacked on and somewhat confusing features are the Elixirs and Gear. Elixirs can be used to either bump your maximum health, your shield or your Salts (used to power your vigors) while Gear is clothing that can be picked up to give you random extra abilities such as a 50% chance of shocking whoever harms you.
On top of the already tedious level of customisation offered by the choices of weapons and Vigors, the Gear and Elixirs positively invoked anger in this player. Looking back, I can see how I might have better used Elixirs – spent them all on upping the shield – or made the most of Gear but throughout playing the game it felt like complete trial and error, with very little science to the trials. Plus, the nature of the abilities Gear provides are just odd: a 50% chance of being invulnerable for a few seconds when you jump off a Sky Rail - what?!?
The Solution? Drop both completely or incorporate Elixirs into an overall upgrade tree along with the Vigors, and while you're at it, actually explain why they're there and why noone else in the game uses them. As for Gear, keep it simple: shock armour for melee or bulletproof armour for ranged attacks , high jump boots or speed boots, binocular helmet or melee protection helmet, etc.
Playing hooky – Make the most of the sky hook
Some of the final set pieces in the game begin to allow the player to make the most of the Sky Hook but throughout most of the game it feels thoroughly underutilised. It's supposed to be the
method of traversing the city – because, you know, the buildings are suspended in mid-air – but it's very seldom the player actually gets to slide around from building to building in any sort of meaningful way.
The Solution? Have a few more sections where you can strategically traverse the game world using the Sky Hook. Got the Sniper Rifle? Well, Sky Hook to the next building and pick off the chasing pack as they try and Hook after you. Also, how about a Monsters Inc. style Sky Hook chase!?