Friday, 8 July 2011

So, about that Bioshock: Infinite demonstration...

Warning: unhinged rant time. I don't usually write about videogames but Bioshock: Infinite is one of those things I've been keeping my eyes on. They showed 15 minutes of gameplay the other day. And, well...I'll just post my impressions one by one.

First of all, I love the setting, or at least the premise of the setting. From day one, when we got our first glimpse of what Infinite was going to be, I was blown away. Love love love it. Love the design, the aesthetic, the ideas behind it. Second of all, the game looks gorgeous. Like really gorgeous. Third of all, I'm still not exactly sure what in the video was a cutscene, what was scripted and what was free play. The game sure looks like a sandbox, but a sandbox that's heavily interspread with pre-defined events. I'm not sure how it all fits together. But it seems like a fun experience in either case.

Now here's where the problems start. First of all, even if it looks gorgeous and I love the design, it all looks a bit...cartoonish. But ok, I can live with that. Up to the point where Elizabeth looks a bit like a Bratz doll. But I'll squint and its ok.

Except it's not really. She's also the classic damsel in distress type. She's competent, sure, but giving her magic powers does not a strong character make. She basically spends the game (at least the period shown in the video) doing what Booker tells her to do, except when it's something useless like saving a dead horse, and screwing up then again relying on the man to cheer her up. Plus she seems to have this weird Stockholm Syndrome thing going on with her bird-robot captor. Ok, I'm nitpicking, this is nothing new in videogames, but you know, one can wish for something less...stereotypical? There are moments in there that show that she could be a better character and I sure hope the whole game goes further in that direction.

Except then you run into the Vox Populi, this pseudo-communist mob of crazies and it's all 1920's Red Scare stuff stereotypes pumped to the max. "Your women are ours." Burnt down stores with "Hoarders." and "Seized for the people." written on them, public executions. It's like every bit of anti-socialist propaganda ever acted out. We don't see the other side in this video but from other previews it seems they're exaggerated to a similar (but perhaps not as extreme) degree. You know, racist, nigger-hangin', gun-tottin', "patriots".

The first Bioshock seemed to be smarter about its philosophical and political themes. With these cartoony characters and cartoony sides (straight up political cartoon stuff!) I'm not sure what its message is. Not to mention that you apparently mow down these mock-communists and mock-fascists like cattle with your guns. There's no indication that these are people, you know, people with beliefs, however mistaken. They're just cannon fodder. At least the splicers were completely insane fucked up and irredeemable mutants.

I don't like to point fingers. And I don't like to pick on one game in particular (because goddamn are there so many more with these problems). I don't want to judge before the whole game is out, perhaps displaying new layers and twists to the whole setup. Maybe it will feel completely different once it's over. Because right now it definitely looks like satire, except it's apparently played straight. Which makes it offensive.

And I don't mean it in a fucking "oh noes, my liberal sensibilities!" P.C. moralizing way. If I'm asked to kill hundreds of orks, it's ok, they're orcs. I might be aware of the whole dehumanizing, colonialist angle or whatever, but fuck it, they're orcs. But on the other hand if they take early 20th century fascist-conservatives and anarchist-communists and turn them into orcs for me to kill, I'm going to go "Really? You have nothing meaningful to say about these groups beyond the fact that they make good target practice? You just picked them for the cool colour, right?". Plus there's the whole "only female character in the game needs the strong guy's protection, plus she's got big tits" bit. Let me just say again that I'm not actually throwing any stones here. The game is not finished and it's not out, so I'm in no position to judge. Let's just say I'm concerned. Maybe I just don't have any humor today.

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