Before you say anything: don't worry. It's still okay to be talking about Bioshock: Infinite. Spoilers ahoy!
Pretty as a painting.
Bioshock has never been a series I find particularly impressive from a gameplay perspective. The original was good, I enjoyed it, but it left no lasting impression on me save for the significant impression left by the cogency of its aesthetic. Bioshock infinite has also not particularly impressed me, save for the significant impression left by the cogency of its aesthetic. There was a much greater sense of disappointment concurrent with that impression, unfortunately: the game design this time around featured some of the best ideas the FPS genre has ever seen, but the power of these ideas is dulled by an imperfect execution.
The positive things I have to say have been said myriad times as it is. The game is one of the most beautiful things I have laid eyes on. It is a painting in motion. The engine was created by both programmers and artists, with an understanding of color theory that suggests intimate familiarity with color and composition. I paint a bit on the side for money on occasion, I have been painting since childhood, and here a game engine creates the vibrancy and depth only attainable through bold color choices that every novice painter is afraid to make.
These color choices are scary for art directors of most games, too. They're scary because they are counter-intuitive. The temptation when painting something you've conceptualized as blue is to only use blue, which is part of the reason for the flat look of novice artwork. Artists of intermediate skill will eventually begin thinking of multiple light sources, typically adding a "backlight" to accentuate the form of a subject and provide it with more depth. This is common in earlier comic book art. When an artist truly becomes whimsical in his or her color choices, that artist has truly learned to let the paint surprise them, and most of the technique in art comes from learning how to make your media do things for you. Here is a painting by an old master, Jan Both.
The walls of the buildings in this piece are plastered, and as such have a yellow tint to them. This much is clear, but a closer look reveals that most of the walls are painted in red, blue and most prominently a pale green. To a novice, this seems a bizarre choice, but it clearly works in favor of the composition and color of the piece. it's the barely visible highlights at the very tips of the walls that imply this yellow color, and indeed it's the most illuminated parts of an object that inform what color we perceive it to be. The shadows, however, include splotches of a vibrant red among the pale greens. These sorts of choices terrify the novice because they just don't make sense, but they are critical to the visual interest of an image.
Now look at this wall.
What color is that wall? The one in the midground, the building in the back is obviously yellow. The wall has vibrant hues of orange, blue and pink, but this wall is made of a whiteish stone. So why the orange and blue and pink? Our brains interpret color by suggestion, not necessarily by the color that is actually there. For example, an experienced painter knows that a gradient of color can be seen by the viewer where there is actually one solid color if the solid color is surrounded by a dark color on one side and a bright color on the other. Hell, anyone who has seen a collection of optical illusions knows this:
Squares A and B are the same color, doncahano.
Knowing this is not enough, though. A typical painter spends countless hours trying to master color well enough to exploit the brain's tendency to see things that aren't really there, to project information onto a scene, and the artistic team at Irrational Games has nailed it within a game. It's a gorgeous, gorgeous game and they deserve all of the accolades ever for this achievement.
Unfortunately, Booker DeWitt is an unforgivable moron, and so is his stupid daughter.
STOP RELOADING AND JUMP YOU ASS
One of the best parts of the gameplay in Bioshock Infinite, in my opinion, is the skyline mechahnic. Many have written that it felt superfluous, but for me, it quickly became essential to survival. I played my first (and currently only) time on the hard difficulty setting, and mobility meant the difference between survival and Booker soup. In many cases, the ability to jump in an out of a hot zone barely spared me the frustration of death, and I can only imagine that the developers hadn't really used it very much themselves.
When Booker runs out of ammo, he automatically reloads. This is a standard feature in the modern FPS, but when Booker is reloading, Booker does not jump onto a skyline or freight hook, so Booker gets murdered while hopping a few inches into the air over and over again.
When ElizabAnna tries to predict where Booker is going in that slightly off-putting way, waiting for her to move out of the way gives away Booker's position, robbing the dumbass of the chance for a sneak attack.
Picking up things, activating things and opening tears are all actions mapped to the same button. This is usually not a problem. Sure, having to tap a button rather than hold it for a while would make the more situational tears like oil puddles or freight hooks more attractive from a tactical perspective, but the context-sensitive approach doesn't become blindingly infuriating until that same button also calls Songbird in the lazy, endless-wave-of-enemies finale. Booker begs Songbird to attack the damn barge, but the ground is littered with weapons from the endless wave of enemies so Booker forgets how am be done use words good and instead picks up a machine gun. On hard difficulty, this is a time critical issue.
Ultimately, I looked back on my time with Bioshock Infinite as a generally positive experience marred by intense frustration. I didn't mind the ghost fights, they were challenging and intense. I didn't find most of the vigors useless, I used all of them with a preference for shock jockey, bucking bronco and charge by the end. The guns were by no means Half-Life-2-shotgun satisfying, but the hand cannon and its friend the volley gun gave me the kind of firepower I was looking for. The story was not entirely novel, and it was full of the sciencey-wiencey misunderstandings of physics that make me cringe, but it had plenty of twists that even managed to catch me off guard. I'd change nothing but the game mechanics, and the changes would be trivial, too.