SPOILER WARNING: Just like with any other Bioshock Infinite piece actually worth your time, I cover story details. If you give even half a damn about the game, don't read this until you've completed it. That's my recommendation. I don't actually care what you do. Spoil it for yourself if you want. Your loss.
So, Bioshock Infinite is a great game. I beat it a few days after it released and I've yet to encounter someone who disagrees with that. Lately there've been a number of debates about the game and the exact level of awesomeness it managed to achieve. Some folk contend that the story and, ultimately, its ending weren't all that surprising or original, and that this warrants knocking the game down a few pegs. Others believe that the level of gore and violence in the game feels out of place or too over-the-top, in a way that distracts from the otherwise wonderful narrative. Still others say that the combat was bland, generic, and easy.
As I've witnessed these discussions arise on Twitter, I've attempted to make my case for the sides I stand on heard ("that's irrelevant", "you're wrong", "you're stupid", respectively) but in doing so, I realize that my arguments, as inelegant as Twitter's character limit often makes them, may make me sound like some blind and zealous fanboy, unable to recognize any faults in a game I love. But this simply isn't true. I certainly have my share of grievances with Bioshock Infinite, and I acknowledge that as dreamy as Ken Levine is, this game is not perfect.
Gameplay vs. Narrative
Before you start foaming at the mouth, I'm not talking about violence. I'm talking about the dissonance that occurs when the events of the story's narrative meet the harsh reality that they exist in a video game. The clearest example of this, in my mind, is right after you rescue Elizabeth in the Fink level, after Daisy Fitzroy hijacks the airship you just took. Liz is pissed at you because you're a lying scumbag. Even though you saved her from some bad guys, she doesn't trust you and is very hesitant to rejoin you. For the next 30 minutes (at least) Liz expresses anger and contempt for Booker in everything she says to him. That is until she finds some money/salts/ammo or you ask her to pick a lock.
Irrational did a great job with conveying Elizabeth's emotions. Courtnee Draper does a fantastic voice acting job, and the character animators would feel at home at Pixar. But Bioshock Infinite isn't a movie. It's a video game. And as a game, it has its list of mechanics to supply the player, sometimes agnostic of the current status of the story. In this case, whenever Liz prompted you to catch some money or agreed to pick a lock, she did so with the same affirming, confident tone, even if she's supposed to be angry at Booker.
I argue that it should have been somewhat trivial to record some "angry versions" of those call-outs and have them only play during that portion of the game, and given the otherwise superb quality and level of attention given to the rest of Bioshock Infinite, it's a bit of a disappointment that they failed here. However, I list this problem first for a reason. Whereas this disconnect probably bothered many people in a serious way, I actually found it quite entertaining. Everytime I pressed E on my keyboard in combat to catch some ammo Liz was tossing me, she still had that "I hate you" look on her face when the camera panned her way. To be honest, I found it unintentionally adorable. I acknowledge that it's a flaw in the game, but it didn't actually annoy me because I thought it was so charming.
That weapon limit
Okay, now shit's getting real. The original Bioshock let you carry all the weapons, and I struggle to find a "story reason" for the change here. Maybe they were just trying something different with the combat. After all, every enemy drops a gun, and there's no shortage of pickups. You can also pick up ammo to guns you havven't even found yet.
I get that restricting you to two weapons may play into encouraging specialization and "builds", but isn't that what the upgrades were for? On the occasions where you run out of ammo on one of your favorite guns (and Liz isn't doing her FUCKING JOB <3) it felt like an unnecessary conflict in choosing which of your guns to drop to replace with whatever that cop just dropped. I dunno, even though it didn't have a HUGE impact on the game itself, I still feel like this is an unnecessary step backwards from the original Bioshock. Whatever Irrational was trying to achieve with this decision, I feel like it would have worked out just as well without the limit. Additionally, and maybe this seems petty, but I feel like making your ground-breaking FPS epic adhere to the two-weapon system does more harm by simply giving credence to any clowns that argue that the combat is somehow no different than that found in the latest Modern War Shooter: Battle Duty, even though Bioshock Infinite has so many other fun elements that set it apart, and ... well, that's for another blog post.
What really disappoints me is the revelation that 1999 Mode doesn't remove the weapon limit. I mean, what's more definitive of first-person shooters from the late 90s: the difficulty level of computer enemies, or the unrealistic and badass arsenal your character has by the end of the game? Duke Nukem 3D and Half-Life weren't that difficult, and Quake III and Unreal Tournament were all about fragging other humans. Not dropping the 2-weapon limit in 1999 Mode seems like a massive missed opportunity! What were they thinking?!
Those FUCKING ghost battles
I played the game on Medium. I can already feel Gobun scrolling down to give me shit in the comments, but that's how it is. I played the game on Medium for a couple primary reasons: first, by principle, I tend to do my initial playthrough of a game on the "default" difficulty setting, with the potentially na´ve assumption that this is the creator's vision of the "standard" or "typical" experience; and second, I knew that I wanted to get as much out of the story as possible, and harder difficulties can tend to throw unwanted frustrations in the way of this.
And still, fuck those ghost battles.
I'm totally willing to go along with the setup for the first battle against Lady Comstock's ghost in the graveyard. The scene, I felt, was set up well, and in spite of not fighting any ghosts prior to this moment, I was able to accept it as a natural part of the game's universe. But the absurd spike in the game's difficulty was awful! As I said, I played on Medium. Up to this point, I only died several times in the whole game: a few at the very beginning (that initial run from the police from the raffle is surprisingly tough) and later just a few moments of negligence on my part. But I struggled so much against Lady Comstock, dying at least a couple dozen times.
And then you fight her again. And then once more.
And I feel like I know exactly why those battles were bullshit. Throughout the game, whenever I found upgrade vigors, I didn't necessarily focus on just Health, Salts, or Shield (in the end, I tried to evenly upgrade them over time) but I do distinctly remember putting most of my upgrades to Shield. And yet, the zombie(?) mobs that Lady Comstock's ghost summoned would, for some reason, totally deplete my shield in no more than two hits. Meaning it didn't take very many hits, if I weren't playing absolutely defensively, to die. To make it all worse, Lady Comstock's health felt at times to be unreasonably high, taking an absurd amount of hits to kill her. Couple that with regenerating her health when you die, you just have an long, frustrating experience that does nothing but drain your patience in the worst way.
I had no real problems with the game's combat system until that point. Fights were reasonable and fair, with a healthy amount of challenge, and the vigors and skylines I felt added an exciting and never-ending source of entertainment. But the difficulty decided to spike unexpectedly in that graveyard to a level that really broke the immersion for me.
Lack of choices
Throughout Bioshock Infinite, you're given a number of choices along the way. At first, these choices feel super important, because what you choose will impact the story later on. But I eventually found this to not be the case. Despite the choices given to you, Bioshock Infinite's story is surprisingly one-track. For a game that flirts so heavily with quantum mechanics and the concept of infinite realities, you'd think there would at least be multiple endings or versions of key events, even if the ultimate outcome is more or less the same. But Irrational didn't even go that far. From what I've been able to gather, the only choices that affect later on are: how you react to the ticket teller during the ambush (Booker either will or will not have a bandage on his hand for the rest of the game) and choosing to save the couple at the raffle will yield an upgrade stash later on.
Is that really all? I've seen some people suggest that this is intentional. They say that the message Bioshock Infinite is sending is that it doesn't matter what you choose, the same outcome always occurs (albeit probably in a different universe). I could probably buy that, as disappointing as it is from a gameplay perspective. Other people try and say that the futility of choice is a statement about video games as a medium. This I disagree with. There've been many people trying to describe Bioshock Infinite as some sort of gamer culture commentary. I don't see it all, and if anything I think that just sounds really narcissistic. To say that there aren't any consequences to player choice because it's making fun of previous games without consequences for player choice seems like a massive cop-out, especially given all the games that do respond to player choice (e.g. Mass Effect).
I can't finish list posts properly
So, that's my ranty list of problems with Bioshock Infinite. At least, the ones I could think of tonight, but I definitely covered the ones that have been sticking in my mind these past few weeks. I truly, truly enjoyed the game. It's a wonderful accomplishment for gaming, a great story that's acted out and presented masterfully with gameplay that is for the most part entertaining and challenging. But to ignore the nagging problems I had with it would be doing it a disservice. I'm sure the kinds of things I am complaining about probabyl sound pretty trivial to some of you, but that's how it tends to be when you're otherwise completely blown away. I will be very surprised if anything surpasses it when it comes to my game of the year for 2013.
Hey there! If you're like me, you often hesitate entering a game franchise on a sequel. Depending on the type of game, I usually want to start at the beginning and work my way through. I'm secretly playing Halo CE: Anniversary because I've never played a Halo game and I want to play Halo 4.
I've been a long time fan of Guild Wars, ever since the original game came out in spring 2005. Naturally, I've been playing and enjoying the recently released and long-awaited sequel, Guild Wars 2. With the free trial event that's taking place this week, it occurred me that there may be a subset of gamers who are fascinated by Guild Wars 2 but perhaps afraid to get into it purely because they never played the original, and might think they're missing out on something. I get that - I understand being put off by the "2" at the end. Or maybe you are playing GW2 without having ever played the first game and you find yourself wondering about the backstory or the races, that sort of thing.
This post is intended to briefly cover what I think are the key things to know about the original Guild Wars. None of this is required to enjoy GW2 in the slightest, but I suspect having context would really add that certain "something" for a lot of people. Also I haven't blogged in a while so this gives me a reason to.
Campaigns Guild Wars originally existed as a single game with a single storyline. Later on, a new, standalone campaign was released and it was called Factions. To better differentiate the two, the original game was given its own subtitle and it is now referred to as Prophecies. Finally, a third campaign was eventually released. This was Nightfall. I'll go into the differences between these, but first it's important to note that Factions and Nightfall are NOT considered "expansions". They are entirely independent games with completely new stories and they can be purchased and played without owning Prophecies.
Prophecies The original Guild Wars game takes place on the continent of Tyria. Humans are at war with the big feline race call the charr. At the beginning of the game, the charr call down this big storm of fireballs that destroys the human kingdom Ascalon (this event is called the Searing) and forces humans out of their homeland and across Tyria to another human nation, Kryta. Without going too deep into detail, the story takes you further all across Tyria through a jungle, a desert, snowy mountains, and finally a volcanic island. The gist of the story is that there's an evil Lich Lord who acquires a magic sceptor and gains control of an army of beings called the Titans. You defeat the Lich Lord and eventually cut off the source of the Titans and that's a wrap. Keep in mind I'm trying to be very brief. It's a lot better than I'm making it sound. :)
Tyria during Guild Wars
Factions Factions takes place on another continent, called Cantha. Cantha is inspired by ancient China or Feudal Japan, so the whole game has sort of an Asian theme to it. Factions added two new classes to the game, in addition to the core five. The big thing with this game is that the mainland of Cantha is divided into two warring factions - the Kurzicks and the Luxons. A long time ago, a big catastrophe happened that petrified a huge forest and turned the neighboring sea into jade. The Kurzicks live in the forest and are basically goths and the Luxons live on the jade sea and are hipsters who ride giant seige turtles. Your goal is to stop this ancient bad guy who came back to life and in order to do that, you have to pick a side (Kurzick or Luxon) and work to bring the two together to combine their forces against the bad guy.
Nightfall Nightfall takes place on the continent of Elona. Just like Cantha gives Factions a Japanese theme, Elona is very north African with some Arabian Nights vibes thrown in. Nightfall also brings its own two new classes. The story is that you have to stop a crazy lady with a scythe from resurrecting an evil outcast god named Abaddon and covering Elona in darkness and torment. The final battle is against Abaddon (as you might expect) and he reminds me of Bongo Bongo from Ocarina of Time.
For the sake of Guild Wars 2, all you really need to worry about is Prophecies for now.
Expansion: Eye of the North In 2007, when ArenaNet originally announced plans for Guild Wars 2, they simultaneously announced the first (and still the only) real expansion for Guild Wars, called Eye of the North - abbreviated EotN or GWEN. EotN requires any one of the three campaigns, but really just builds off of the story of Prophecies more than the other two. EotN serves one majorly important purpose: to set in motion the story of Guild Wars 2.
Eye of the North takes place 6 years after the end of Prophecies and it's all about stopping the rise of an army of firey hellish beasts called Destroyers, lead by the Great Destroyer. After you stop them, it's ultimately revealed that the Great Destroyer is a general to an ancient sleeping dragon named Primordus. DUN-DUN-DUN!
Races Human - the only playable race in Guild Wars, including all 3 campaigns and EotN. Home kingdom is Ascalon. Also found inhabiting Kryta and parts of the Meguuma Jungle. In Guild Wars, humans are arch-enemies of the charr. The two races haaaate each other.
Charr - big cat warriors. Their homelands are north of Ascalon. They hate humans because they see humans as invaders (Ascalon is on former charr territory). The charr have four legions: Iron, Blood, Ash, and Flame. The Flame Legion actually worshiped Titans as gods and were thus responsible for the rain of hellfire that crushed Ascalon.
Norn - Introduced in EotN. Norn look like humans, but they're massive - adults are like 12 ft tall. They're like vikings or barbarians. They live way up north in the snowy mountains, dig hunting, fighting, and drinking, and they can transform into fucking bears.
Asura - Introduced in EotN. Tiny, diminutive, brianiacs, egotistical, sarcastic. They're geniuses with big eyes and big ears. They used to live underground until the Destroyers forced them out.
A sketch of Tyria as of Guild Wars 2
Dragons, etc Guild Wars 2 takes place 250 years after the events of Eye of the North. During that time, a few important things happened:
The Foefire - The King of Ascalon actually stayed in Ascalon during Prophecies, choosing to continue fighting the charr instead of following the player. During a final battle, the king cast a spell of some sort as a last ditch effort - it wiped out the advancing charr army but also raised the ghosts of humans all across Ascalon. Ever since, the ruins of Ascalon have been inhabited by these ghosts. A real pain in the ass for the charr.
Dragons - A handful of enormous, ancient, evil, sleeping dragons suddenly wake up and emerge from the earth. Their arrival alone causes a lot of devastation, but maybe the most notable physical changes to Tyria are the rising of Orr and the sinking of Lion's Arch. Orr was a big city in Tyria on a penninsula that had long-ago sunk to the depths of the ocean before the story of Prophecies began. When one of the dragons woke up and crawled out from hiding, Orr came back up with him (along with a bunch of undead). The rising of an entire city from the ocean caused massive tidal waves and completely flooded the coastal captial of Kryta, Lion's Arch - which is a major player hub in Prophecies. Humans establish a new captial in Divinity's Reach.
Divinity's Reach in Guild Wars 2
Sylvari - A new race has suddenly appeared in Tyria, just 25 years before the start of GW2. Sylvari are plantlike, born from a giant tree that was planted during the time of Prophecies in the jungle.
I think that should just about do it. Now you have some context, hopefully. The story of Prophecies isn't really all that relevant to Guild Wars 2 - the big thing you need to know is the relationship between humans and charr. Currently, neither Cantha nor Elona play any role in GW2 but it's definitely possible ArenaNet will have us explore them in the future.
Like I said, none of this is required to understand or enjoy Guild Wars 2. It just serves as backstory.
If you play Guild Wars 2, you'll quickly figure out the basic plot: the five main races gotta come together to defeat the dragons.
If you've got questions about Guild Wars, feel free to ask! I've also read one of the novels that takes place a few years before GW2 (and I've started the other novel). If you're really interested, I might suggest you check out the Guild Wars wikis to do some more detailed reading of the campaigns stories.
Like last year, I finished my PAX weekend having not played quite as many video games as I'd have liked. However, this is mostly because I spent considerable daylight time hanging out with beautiful and awesome people off the show floor doing things like eating Thai food and not standing line line, so I think it all evens out.
If we spoke at all this weekend, you likely already know that my favorite games of the show were Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Super Time Force. So rather than doing Yet Another Video Game Recap List cblog post, I'm going to honor some slightly more esoteric highlights of PAX 2012.
Best Cosplay - Shrimp Tempura Girl?
She walked by while I was in line waiting to play Monaco. I don't know where she got the idea, but it's awesome. It's the only cosplay photo that I decided on a whim to just take, and she seemed happy enough (I don't know how fried shrimp expresses agreement) to pose for my camera.
Most Impressive Tech That I Got To Try - Those headphones at the Runner 2 booth
I've never actually tried legit noise-cancelling headphones and Bose always gets shit from the audiophiles I talk to but damn that was neat. Nicely done, Gaijin Games.
Runner-up - Dude, the Red Lion hotel has free Wi-Fi. In the rooms. Holy shit. That's a first for me. Shut up.
This category is also called "I'm Jealous I Didn't Get To Try the Oculus Rift"
Best Hotel Moment - Dat Exhausted Sunday Afternoon Break
Photo by Swishiee Max and Beccy had finished for the day and we all just ate Thai food and decided to relax in the room for an hour. Jenn was delerious and wouldn't stop flirting with the bed, and Max and I discovered the Biboran thing.
Runner-up - The Friday hangover. Hangovers are bullshit and nobody likes them, but they're a PAX staple and an iconic way of knowing that you're starting the weekend right. Also, Swishiee discovered his PC FNF post had the word "Yup." in the title. Ah, alcohol.
Most Awkward Photo Of Myself - Posing with the HAWKEN mech
Photo by Ali D She hit Hamza square in his dumb spiky hair on the first attempt and won a dollar from Mr. Andy Dixon as a result.
Runner-up - There can be only one.
Best Tweets (No Particular Order)
Other things - During the Hey Ash! panel, a guy got up to ask a question, and Anthony Burch mistook him for Samit Sarkar. He even called this dude Browntown. In front of everybody. And then he realized his mistake.
- Some Destructoid stickers were placed on the hood of a BMW. A group of us then ran in fear inside the hotel, not wanting to be present when the driver returned.
- Speaking of stickers, Niero lifted JJMcCallum up in an elevator to hide one of the stickers on the other side of the elevator's ceiling. Secret vandalism!
- Anthony Carboni seemed genuinely excited to discover that I'm a real person, and not just "a Twitter robot that talks about anime".
When I first saw footage of the new Tomb Raider game last year at E3 2011, I thought it looked pretty damn cool. Sure, we had no gameplay and only a cinematic, but it was gorgeous. I really dug the new, grittier, less cartoonishly-buxom design of Lara Craft. The teaser video involved Lara suddenly finding herself on a flooding, sinking ship. She nearly drowned before being rescued, then as she later leaps across a gap caused by the boat splitting, she ends up falling into the water. After a fade to black, we see Lara on a rocky shore surrounded by the shipwreck, having to mend a broken bone or some other wound with a strip of cloth. She stands, as bruised and muddy as I would expect any shipwreck survivor to be, and the video ends with the tagline, "A survivor is born."
Earlier this week, we got to see more of the game. There's a little bit of story revealed in new cutscenes along with actual gameplay. In the E3 2012 presentation, Lara sneaks, hunts game and bad dudes with a bow and arrow (WEAPON OF THE SHOW), jumps, ziplines, and dishes out some fierce melee takedowns. She also, as action game heroes often do, gets shot at and knocked around quite a bit. She falls down a waterfall, steps into a bear trap, and crashes into trees while trying to parachute to safety (while seemingly breaking her ribs in the process). In the new Tomb Raider game it seems Lara is stranded on an island surrounded by armed thugs, and she has to find a way to just to survive while surely solving some sort of mystery and evil plot. I get sort of a Snake Eater vibe from it - we see Lara shoot a deer, perhaps to get food? And there's also speculation that injuries sustained will affect gameplay. Maybe you'll need to treat them as well like in MGS3. This is of course mixed in with Uncharted-inspired cinematic action and quick time events.
My impression last year and this year was, overall, that the game looks fantastic and I can't wait to play it. I sympathize with those who are bigger fans of the franchise than I (I never got into it back in the day) who are bothered by the new direction this game is taking. There haven't been any tombs or puzzles, and many are also worried about this being a repeat of Other M in its execution of the origin story. Valid criticisms all around, but that's not why I'm writing tonight.
People seem very bothered by the fact that the main character in this gritty action game is getting hurt, and they're bothered by it because Lara's a woman. There have been countless quips about how the devs must "enjoy" seeing Lara suffer, or that the game is rather sick in how it's all about a woman being beaten while moaning. I get the sense that people are some combination of concerned and offended by what they must perceive as a vile promotion of wife-beating and sexual perversion. My guess is that many people are so eager to jump to the rescue and play the white knight that they fail to consider the context and don't realize just how sexist they themselves are being.
There's a commendable movement in gaming culture to bring about gender equality, and I'm all for it. We need female gamers being treated equally rather than as jokes or attention whores. Personally, I wish we could do away with labels like "girl gamer" as an identity as all it does is encourage the distinction rather than homogeneity. Additionally, we need more strong female game characters with roles other than damsel in distress, helpless ditz, or sex appeal. More Samus Arans and fewer Princess Peaches, I say!
But these strides towards equal representation of male and females in video games fall flat the second you act like women protagonists shouldn't get hurt. All this does, in my opinion, is reinforce the notion that women are inherently just frail, weak, or even incompetent, that they are less able to defend themselves, overcome obstacles on their own, or save the day on their own. Instead of feeling sorry for Lara Croft, we should be cheering for her. Remember the tagline? She's a survivor. She's tough. Are some of the hits really gruesome? Sure. We're meant to reel and wince. It's meant to look painful as fuck, especially in a game aiming to look realistic, because bear traps and broken ribs are painful. And Lara gets up each time, shakes it off, and presumably continues to kick some more ass (and hopefully find some treasure and solve some puzzles!). So she's automatically far more tougher than you or I. Please, hear me out: you aren't as progressive as you think you are if your gut reaction to the new Tomb Raider footage is "poor Lara! what are they thinking!"
As for the sounds Lara makes - screams, grunts, moans.. these are sounds any human being will make when shot, stabbed, or tossed over a waterfall onto a glass window. I don't know what kind of porn some of you are watching, but I don't get off on girls in pain (call me old fashioned) so "sounds like rape!" isn't the first thing that comes to mind when I hear a girl picking bullets out of her shoulder. I know a lot of these comments are meant to be jokes, but again they're jokes hinging on the notion that when a girl makes painful, guttural noises that she must be having sex. Can we all try to move forward a bit?
While I'm here, there's another semirelated mini-rant I want to get off my chest by jumping back to October of last year to another game that all of this Tomb Raider nonsense reminded me of - Batman: Arkham City. When Arkham City came out, there was some hubbub over the fact that the bad guys in the game call Catwoman a bitch. Let me repeat that - people were offended by bad guys calling someone a bad name. Of course it's offensive. They're criminals. Murderers. They aren't going to call their woman enemy "ma'am". They're going to be obscene, because it's meant to be mean. I don't condone the language Two Face and his thugs use towards women, but I expected it. And I saw no reason to complain about it unless you wanted to invent controversy.
I'm glad so many people are proactive about trying to stop mistreatment and misrepresentation of women in video games. But many of you need to reign it in some. Put some serious thought into the arguments you're making and the situations that are upsetting you. Don't sacrifice equality in the pursuit of it.
You may now carry on debating the amount of QTEs and Uncharted influences and I'll resume being excited about bows and arrows.