The honeymoon is over, and while I still say that BioShock Infinite is not only the game of the year, but probably of several years to come, The Brother With One F and I sat down and honestly critiqued what could have made this amazing game unstoppable. Here are the ten items we came up with in no particular order.
Spoilers abound ahead.
1. Make It Less Violent: BioShock was incredibly violent and frightening, and it needed to be so. It was the story of ultra-Randians hopped up on genetic steroids that drove them mad being controlled to attack you by pheromones. It's like Doom, in a way. Infinite, however, takes place in this beautiful, functioning city full of perfectly normal people not overly intent on killing you. They really should have dialed the violence way down for the setting, but that also brings me to...
2. Up the NPC Interaction: People line the streets of Columbia, and will happily remark as you pass them by. Unfortunately, you can't really remark back most of the time. There's a scene in Finkton where you come across a weapon in a cop's office, and the policeman sitting there next to it just stares at you. You can't bribe him, distract him, convince him or otherwise interact with him. All you can do is get too close and make him start opening fire without preamble. A little choice in the matter would have given it some variety.
3. Make Our Choices Matter: Whether you throw a baseball at the interracial couple in the beginning or you throw it at the barker, it makes no real difference overall in the game. Black people don't treat you as a friend if you do the first, nor white people the second. If you spare Slate in the Ghost Dancer segment, you'll find him again in jail later, but he has no lines. All this makes what little choice you make rather arbitrary, and represents a step backwards from the previous two games, where they at least determined the endings. Too often I wanted to avoid confrontation and found that either there was no way to do so, or doing so didn't change a lick.
4. Remember That Booker Is a Detective: DeWitt is a gambler and a drunk who sold his daughter to erase a debt, but he is still a Pinkerton and a private eye. In the bright, sunny world of Columbia, something sinister lurks underneath, and it would have been invigorating to have him actually try to solve some mysteries instead of mindlessly walking from firefight to firefight. I went into BioShock Infinite hoping I was getting a FSP version of Ace Harding from Déjà Vu, but I got Duke Nukem with better writers.
5. Give Elizabeth More Powers: Elizabeth is the best video game sidekick since Tails and arguably the best of all time. She doesn't need to be protected, saves your ass constantly and can pull things from other dimensions. The trouble is, she pulls extremely mundane things. There's not much opportunity to really explore her powers. Let us lure big hitters into the path of an oncoming truck from another world, or just use the tears to solve side quests and mysteries. The sky hooks are nice, but it's not exactly mind-blowing.
6. Don't Limit the Weapons: Throughout the game you can find various weapons, but you can only carry two at a time, and upgrading the ones you have is very expensive. All this really accomplishes is to make you hoard the weapons you think you can rely on to the exclusion of others, and it takes literally all the fun out of trying out newly found weapons. No one is going to suddenly start saving up to upgrade the hand cannon when they've been putting all their cash into the pistol. If you want to limit the arsenal, then I suggest looking at the latest Tomb Raider system, which is excellent.
7. You Don't Always Need Plasmids/Vigors: Plasmids in BioShock make perfect sense. The whole populace of Rapture gets addicted to them, and needs to keep using them in order to protect themselves. In Columbia, almost no one uses the vigors outside of Booker, despite advertisements. The summon crow attack was fantastic, and definitely in keeping with the story when you meet up with the Cult of the Raven, but it would have made more sense if further powers were mechanical, such as acquiring a shock unit from the Handymen.
8. Throw a TARDIS Cameo in the Ending: Okay, I'm cheating a little, but can you imagine how awesome it would have been if one of the other lighthouses in the background was the TARDIS and The Doctor and a companion had walked out instead of Booker and Elizabeth? Back to seriousness.
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9. Make Sure You Develop Your Peripheral Characters: BioShock managed to create an entire world of stories through its audio diaries that revealed an enormous amount of information about Rapture and its citizens. In Columbia, the voxophones tend to deal exclusively with the main story, which makes them slightly uninteresting and narrow. This tends to rob important characters like Daisy Fitzroy and Jeremiah Fink of any real depth or majesty. Certainly none of them matched the elegant insanity of Sander Cohen.
10. Make Elizabeth Playable: I remember way back when I first played Resident Evil 2 exactly how awesome the dual play system was. It made the game basically four different adventures depending on whether you played as Leon or Claire first or second. As I was going through my umpteenth firefight, as little different from the previous one, I wondered what it would be like to be controlling Elizabeth supporting Booker. Scrounging for ammo and health, opening tears, maybe using those expanded powers I asked for. It would add a whole new dimension to the game that didn't necessarily involve being Rambo.
Revisit Rapture as part of our Video Game Atlas series, or treat BioShock as a harbinger of things to come with 5 Horrifying Video Game Plots That Are Coming True As We Speak.