Bioshock Infinite tells the story of a man, memorably dubbed Gunther Gunface by @SkinnyPaulo on twitter. He inherits the Bioshock protagonist crown from Digby Drillfist who in turn picked it up when it fell off the swollen head of Frank Wrench. All of this means Gunther Gunface is a man with a dark, dark past and a left hand that shoots crows/fire/lightning when the occasion calls for it. He also eats everything he sees on the floor and has a knack for getting rich from the inside of bins (there’s food there too.)
I’m yet to reach the end of Gunther’s journey. Everyone else has – long ago – because it came out months back and they don’t mind dropping £40+ on the recommendation of exclusive reviews. Good for them.
“We Both Know What You Are, Gunther Gunface!”
How do you solve a problem like Videogame Protagonitus? The tragic curse of only being able to interact with an environment by shooting, punching and zapping ‘in’ it? I’ll tell you how – you use this handy monologue…
“How many people have you killed to get here, John Killerman? Did you enjoy it? Admit it John Killerman, you’re a killer, man! You enjoy all the killing! Everything you touch turns to killed! You did everything I told you to because you just wanted an excuse to kill a man… don’t you get it? Killerman: Kill a Man!?! You were the villain all along!”
I was 12 when Metal Gear Solid came out so it was pretty cool when people kept saying that to me. Also, the very nature of a game like MGS (and its sequels) means that there’s a constant tension/release/guilt/panic kind of vibe going on when you do Kill A Man. This should have been the last time anyone was allowed to deconstruct the Player/John Killerman dichotomy out loud. And yet. And yet. etc.
“Lay Down Your Arms, Gunther – You’re Safe Here”
Remember that bit in X-Men 2 when the policeman shouts “Put Down Those Knives” to Wolverine and he goes “I Can’t“? Awesome! What I would have done for some of that in Bioshock Infinite, a game where once Gunther gets hold of his gun – he does not want to put it away. Nor is there the option for the player to put it away as there is in the latter day Falls Out, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and countless other games.
What this means is that Gunther walks through non-hostile areas, eating cotton candy, watching puppet shows and making an actual fucking fortune in bin coins, all with a fully-loaded steam-punk rocket launcher pointing everywhere he looks. (He is, at this point, the most wanted man in cloud city too) Is this a comment on the FPS character’s one dimensional relationship to the world? I do not think it is that. If it turns out to be later on I’ll eat my words whilst holding a gun pointing at my words.
The aforementioned Deus Ex allows you a wonderful opportunity to role-play by putting your gun away in non-hostile areas or around civilians. Whether or not anyone notices is kind of missing the point, these little opportunities to inhabit a character can make a huge difference to a game. They’re the reason you blow the ‘smoke’ from the end of a toy gun as a kid – it’s a nice bit of make-believe that no one ever quite grows out of. I hated Heavy Rain, but I wish more designers would incorporate some of those little non-essential twiddles into games that aren’t quite so in love with their own pseudo intellectuality. Which brings me to…
Ken Levine and his team are infinitely (hehe) smarter and way more better book learned than me. But being a smart person is no guarantee against making something profoundly stupid. In fact, the attempts to force some history learnin’ down these COD kid’s throats just makes Irrational seem patronizing and worse still, makes all their own dumb stuff look even dumber.
Is the best way for someone to learn about the Boxer Rebellion to have a shootout in it? Is the best way to combat racism to have a shootout in it? Is the best way to satirize having shootouts to have more shootouts? Infinite want to have cake, eat cake, make people feel bad about the cake and come back for more DLC in which the C stands for Cake and the cake stands for gun play. Or an intellectual debate about race… Or religion… I mean, I’ve not finished it yet so bear with me.
Goodby Hacking, Scavenging, Balance… Hello Elizabeth
I’m not even going to get into Elizabeth as a character, there’s probably no shortage of blogs on her constant damselling or her relationship with her stoic, lantern-jawed protector. Instead, I’m going to go ahead and blame her for taking away all of my favourite bits of videogames. Hacking, lockpicking, safe cracking… the much maligned ‘minigame’. I know why this has happened, sure – people have been griping about minigames ‘taking you out of the action’ since there’ve been minigames. Doesn’t make it any easier to swallow when I come to a locked door and rather than use my ingenuity to hunt for a combination, or a key… or use my finely honed bobby pin skills to pick the lock, our old friend the ‘Use Key’ appears and Elizabeth scurries over and unlocks it for me.
I would honestly rather she did the shooting and I was the one who hacked. Imagine that!? Imagine if the only thing you could do in an action game was hack!?! Is there a game like that? Can I play it?
Instead, I get to have all the ‘fun’ – the swarm of bullets whittling away a re-chargeable shield while Elizabeth helpfully throws me healthpacks and salts and ammo that – in an earlier ‘Shock – I would have found in a bin (along with considerably less money) and would have had to choke back sweet tears of gratitude at the bounty contained within. I sense there’s a vicious cycle at play in which the combat was so open and hectic that they had to make Elizabeth more helpful, but Elizabeth was so helpful that they had to make the combat more open and hectic.
(Oooh, if you haven’t read Radiator Yang’s Post on Bioshock Infinite and the ‘Use’ Key then click ‘use’ on that link there. No not ‘E’…)
Did you Get My Audiolog?
Is this not the biggest crutch in storytelling since, I don’t know… the flashback? The overlong opening scroll? The title card? I’ve whinged about it before – but I find the thought of an Early 20th Century Racist/Sub-Aquatic Objectivist lounge singer/security guard/mother/father/tinker/tailor/candlestick maker recording their every thought into some kookily anachronistic listening device to be more jarring than a cut scene. When were they going to listen back to that? Who did they expect to listen back to that? Did they know Gunther Gunface was coming? If that’s the twist and they all knew he was coming and the characters of Bioshock Infinite basically turned their own lives into a Bioshock just to prove how much he enjoys all the killing then woah.
As I said, I’m not finished yet. And I’ve not talked about all the stuff I genuinely love (first 20 mins… some other things) but I’ll come back to it.