Spoilers Ahead. Deal with it.
Bioshock Infinite was a good game, though somewhat lacking in the gravitas of the original Bioshock.
A lot was made of this big floating city in the sky, and beautiful as it was, generally it just felt like a normal city. A normal hard to navigate city, since I could never keep track of which skyline would take me where. There was a sky and some ground, and most of the time I forgot I was perpetually in the air. I tend to prefer bright and accessible games, but it’s undeniable that Rapture set a mood that made it a character unto itself.
Columbia sets a mood more with what fills the environment. Much like Rapture is a picture of Objectivism gone wrong, Columbia is a comment on Exceptionalism and Nationalism taken to their nasty extremes. Here it does an excellent job. My favorite portion was when they introduce Fink and his establishment, focusing on labor exploits that are very much rooted in American history. His talk seems almost satirical - like the heightened rhetoric of Ryan - but it’s a reflection of a reality that still partially exists. It’s masterfully done.
The narrative had some pacing issues. Near the middle there is a series of fetch quests, cheapened by the fact that every time you get near the thing you’re fetching you simply jump to another world where the thing you were fetching had already been fetched. Time starts to (seem to) skip around erratically, and without actually accomplishing anything you’re in the middle of a bloody revolution.
Near the end there’s the classic “giant information dump” to reveal things they couldn’t fit naturally into the narrative but needed to reveal for a full conclusion to make sense. It’s something Eternal Sonata did, though Eternal Sonata did it much worse. It’s not terrible - they provide subtle hints throughout the game where you could possibly piece bits of it together, and once it all fits there are even subtler clues in the game that seem a lot more clever. Still, there could have been more organic revelations.
Comstock, for all his importance, didn’t measure up. Andrew Ryan was a fantastic antagonist, constantly menacing you through the dreary Rapture. Comstock tries, and he has a few shining moments near the end of the game, but he’s mostly of little consequence while you tear down his army. Fitzpatrick is equally unimpressive - you don’t have a lot of time to warm to her before Elizabeth gets all stabby.
Gameplay didn’t really bring anything new to the table. Guns were guns, Vigors were (mostly rehashed) Plasmids, the end. The skylines added a little twist, and it’s clear they wanted me to use those by how much Gear they gave that was skyline-centric, but I never found much success there outside of hurriedly running away from a Handyman. It was good gameplay - a solid FPS - but nothing we didn’t see in 2007.
I found myself missing the Big Daddies, the terrifying battles that left me within an inch of my life and completely out of ammo. Even though I always knew when they were coming and had time to plan and lay traps. The closest equivalent we had here were the Handymen. They were good - seeing one of those hulks tear an airship in half before charging you was certainly harrowing - but I think there were three of them in the entire game? Maybe I should crank the difficulty up.
I know most of this discussion has focused on the negative, and it sounds like I don’t appreciate the game when set beside its predecessor, but understand that if it were half of the original Bioshock it’s still miles ahead of every shooter and the vast majority of games. When I’m thinking about games as art, wondering whether I could make a strong argument for any mainstream releases, Bioshock 1 & Infinite are the games I reach for first.