Some Feelings on Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock InfiniteBioshock 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…

Pseudo Intellectualism

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.

I Came, I ‘Blinked’, I Missed It: Dishonored’s Dissatisfying Sneaking etc

20121129-210338.jpg Dishonored lovers, PC gamers and fans of ‘immersive sims’ like Thief and Deus Ex (no, not the last two) have an iron clad put-down to any Dis-sentors; “You are playing Dishonored wrong”. More specifically, you are playing Dishonored wrong because you lack the emergent sim-literacy needed to fully appreciate it; you, having been raised by the narrow corridors, the ‘Follow’ icons and the unambiguous “Blow This Up” mission objectives of your annual Calls to Duty. You, console gamer.

You have gorged on linear games, following superfluous mini maps, glowing mission icons, snap targeting and dispatching foes with one hit melee kills. You have grown soft and fat and are unlikely to appreciate the sprawling multifaceted ‘possibility spaces’ of Dunwall. Only a true gamer could enjoy Dishonored.

At least, that’s the impression I got from the opening of this Rock Paper Shotgun piece. And don’t get me wrong, I am somewhat ‘hip’ to what RPS has to say on the matter of Dishonored’s ‘There if you look for it’ length/value ratio. But the idea that someone fresh from a square eyed, thumb punishing Halo 4 binge is going to mistake Dishonored for their next balls-to-the-wall AAA action epic is a little elitist and a lot misguided. More importantly, it’s hard to see what’s so mind bogglingly deep about Dishonored that your average console gamer couldn’t get it.

All the same, on finishing Dishonored, I have to admit I felt like I’d missed something that other players seemed to have “got”. I felt the same way I felt after playing Hitman 2 back in the early 00s, wondering why each mission descended into a bloody, unsatisfying trudge through an environment not made for bloody, unsatisfying (or satisfying) trudges. Except, I’d made sure to play Dishonored like I have played all such games since I caught the sneaky bastard bug; sneakily.

Somehow the experience was similarly unsatisfying. I peeked round corners, blinked between streetlights and exposed vents (so many exposed vents, thank god for the Half Life 2 guy’s art direction eh?) took side missions, read letters, listened to audiologs and sought out alternate methods for disposing targets.

And it kind of sucked.

Sucked’s maybe a bit strong, but it left me severely underwhelmed. Maybe it was because I’d seen Viktor Antonov’s “Put Blue Metal In It” art style put to more eerie use in Half Life 2? Maybe I’m sick of stumbling across ‘tragic’ scenes of environmental storytelling where a couple has, like, died in each others arms because of plague or something sad? Maybe I’m done with this increasingly ridiculous obsession game designers have with audiologs (the old “I have taken to recording my every thought on this anachronistic steam powered gramophone” trick) as if that’s better than cutscenes because you can walk away from audiologs when you get bored.

The fiction just doesn’t grab me, the more pleased the writers seem with their ‘Whalepunk’ universe, the less appealing I find it. The entire world feels unfinished, like there’s another draft of the story somewhere in which the Whale-Oil/Rat Plague/Talking Heart/Outsider/Olden-times-London-with-American-Accents stuff might come together in a more satisfying way. At the moment it seems like a number of ‘cool’ ideas thrown together with a thin “Your Princess is in another Brothel” type plot that doesn’t do the best job of wrapping itself up.

The mission objectives too (outside of “Kill This Guy!”) seem like placeholders. On capturing Sokolov, I was given the choice to torture him or try to persuade him to join the Loyalists – he mumbles something like “Maybe a thing would persuade me wink wink” [citation needed] and then an objective is added: “Get Sokolov a Bribe”. Where could this hilariously vague objective possibly lead our hero? Walk outside to Piero. He tells you Sokolov likes rum. Piero has rum, would you like to buy rum? Buy rum. Return to Sokolov. Give him rum. He is your friend now. But should you trust him? (Yes.)

It was at this point I started contacting anyone I knew with the slightest interest in games to bitch about Dishonored in long-winded text messages.

In another mission – one praised for its openness by critics – Corvo visits “The Golden Cat” to assassinate the Pendleton Brothers. As with most of the game’s objectives, there’s a welcome non-lethal option that involves doing a side mission for a crime lord named Slackjaw who asks the player to torture an art dealer for his safe combination (Dishonored seems to like torture). On recovering the safe combination, I trotted back to Slackjaw, eager to find out what clever non-stabby scheme I was to become a part of, only to find out that I didn’t need to do anything. Slackjaw was going to shave their heads, cut out their tongues and put them in their own mines. “You want me to-?” No thanks buddy, but here have a bone charm and head back to the Hound Pits for some lacklustre environmental storytelling and overheard conversations. Gee whiz, thanks Dishonored.

“Dumbed Down!” was the cry when Deus Ex Human Revolution stripped back some of the original title’s complicated skill trees and systems, but Dishonored’s Runes & Bonecharm system of character progression has had a pretty easy ride from critics so far, featuring 10 powers and abilities (5 active, 5 passive) with 2 levels of upgrade each. (And is it just me, or are ‘Blink’ and ‘Stop Time’ basically the same thing? At least to the guard watching they are. Should that bother me? It feels like one is an evolution of the other anyway.) I ended the game with 14 unspent runes because I simply didn’t want to spend them on swarms of rats or blood lusts or deadly gusts of wind because they didn’t suit my play style. In Eric Swain’s recent critique of the game on Gamasutra, he notes that the game seems to be missing some of the tools that you’d expect in a stealth game, but I’d add that it offers a buttload of tools that are useless to the stealth player as well.

None of which would be a problem if the game didn’t seem to want you to be the silent wind of ‘sleepy times’. The world reacts impressively to your actions, with guard patrols, rat infestations and hoards of ‘Weepers’ all affected by your actions in previous levels – but things are objectively “better” for you as a player and for the inhabitants of the city, if you keep your blade clean. Sneakier Corvos might feel like maybe they’d have had more fun if they’d just gone around cutting people up.

‘The Fading Of His Abilities’: Max Payne 3 and Gaming’s Old, Fat Men

Max Payne 3 Videogame Article on Ageing in Games

When Edge Magazine asked Gabe Newell what scares modern gamers, his response was typically brilliant; “The death of their children. The fading of their own abilities.” Shudder… He was discussing the Half Life series but his comment has relevance that extends beyond the crowbar swinging world of Gordon and the G-Man. It’s a quote that sticks in the mind, especially with regards to the current generation of games in particular that have featured a few appearances from characters of ‘advanced age’.

Solid Snake reappeared as ‘Old Snake’ in MGS4, Kane and Lynch sported beer guts and bald patches, Sam Fisher continues to slip on the incongruous glowing green goggles despite the fact that his mission handlers have been making ‘you’re old!’ jokes for over 10 years. But there’s one old donkey of a videogame character who’s recent appearance has made a fascinating feature of his age and fading abilities; the now paunchy, sagging, bald headed figure of Max Payne in Max Payne 3.

In MGS4, Snake had occasional coughing fits, had to watch his stamina and couldn’t stay out in the sun too long (no seriously), but he could still roll around, use CQC and take on all manner of sexy, animal women in robot suits. Sam Fisher seems to earn a new set of tricks on every birthday – leaping from balconies and pulling off head shots without looking in ‘Conviction‘. But while Max Payne is still laying waste to all manner of gun toting mobsters despite protestations that he’s not very good at his job, he’s not doing it as gracefully as he used to.

Where once he dove head first into a room in a hail of bullets, leaping backwards down staircases, pirouetting mid-air, nailing 4 Italian-American stereotypes with pinpoint headshots from his Desert Eagle, all before hitting the floor – now he flumps through the air like a meat blimp, maybe taking out one guy before he lands, uncomfortably with a weary  “Whooof!”, winded on the ground. Times like this, it’s often a better tactic to stay down and keep firing at anyone left standing until there’s a window for Max to heave himself to his feet. When he pulls off his first dive he groans (and I’m paraphrasing) that he’s either got to ‘take a hit’ or ‘take a fall’. ‘A Fall’… the kind your grandparents have when it’s icy out.

These days, Max doesn’t run so much as schlump from room to room. There’s a ‘run‘ button, which should really be rechristened a ‘try to run‘ button as it causes Max to adopt the body language of a man who remembers how to run, has himself ran in the past but is damned if he can muster one of those ‘runs’ right at this present moment. Max’s lumbering gait is a joy to behold; his heft shifting awkwardly, armfuls of half empty weapons that seem to weigh him down and impede his lolloping jog. That is, a joy to behold until ‘shit gets real‘ and Max seems utterly unable to get out of the way of a swinging door never mind a swarm of angry bullets… then it gets tense. Gamers are used to seeing a ‘grenade indicator’ and taking a few steps to one side to avoid it, Max doesn’t ever seem quite able to escape a grenade’s blast radius. Not without a dramatic well timed dive.

Max Payne’s animations and controls were always a little stiff, but at the same time his actual movements were fluid (if that makes any sense). He skipped as he ran, the tails of his Matrix-esque leather jacket fluttering out behind him (it was 2001) and he controlled like a fidgety hovercraft with feet, able to strafe and backpedal firing 360 degrees around himself. In Max Payne 3 Max’s movements are (as I’ve possibly rammed home by now) a little restricted by comparison – shuffling awkwardly sideways and aiming with a realistic range of upper body motion. He almost stumbles if he’s forced to shoot whilst backing up. He clatters into nearby office furniture and pesky door frames if he doesn’t look before leaping. Despite the ‘bullet time’ and magic painkillers, there’s something thrillingly real about the physicality of this new, girthy Max.

All of this makes for a fascinating sequel; the memory of the first two titles rubbing up awkwardly against the reality of the third instalment. Max’s diminished abilities mean he spends less time soaring through the air and more time doing what we’ve all been doing in our shooters since Gears of War – hunkering down behind waist-high walls and taking pot shots at guys who are doing pretty much the same. It’s like Max has wandered into a modern shooter after nearly a decade away, only to discover that his old tricks don’t seem to work like they used to; he’s older, fatter, slower and everyone else has moved on. Often we’re told we’re playing an ageing bad ass, but outside of a few grumbles about back ache and loud music, it doesn’t impact the way we play. Max Payne 3 makes its protagonist a crumbling statue of an action hero,  barely scraping through one last hot, uncomfortable nightmare of a mission.  It’s not ‘Passage‘ we’re dealing with here, but it’s a noticeable departure from the ass kicking silver foxes we’ve grown used to. And what better way to bring back an ageing gaming icon?

Into Each Life ‘Heavy Rain’ Must Fall

Disclaimer: I wrote this a while ago and didn’t post it, then I saw Beyond: Two Souls and felt my usual mix of feelings on seeing a Quantic Dream Game – curiosity and intense irritation. So I stuck a paragraph on the end of it that makes reference to it. The timing felt right.  

Thank You for Supporting Interactive Drama” said Heavy Rain, smugly, after I fumbled through its intentionally dull opening, getting wedged between bookshelves, failing to drink from cartons and raising serious questions as to whether Ethan Mars shouldn’t be living in some sort of sheltered accommodation. I’m not supporting Interactive Drama you fucks, I’m openly laughing at it. That is, when I’m not grinding my teeth at the navigational controls, scratching my head at the conclusion of scenes and occasionally, very occasionally being caught off guard by a moment that couldn’t have come in any other game.

I know it’s been said before, but as a species, didn’t we figure out the whole moving a character through a 3D space thing in the mid 90s? I’m pretty sure the solution didn’t involve ‘driving’ Mario with R2 and using the left stick to turn his head where you want him to go but don’t hold it too long or he keeps turning sometimes but only sometimes unless you’re at a point in the room where he can’t turn or the camera switches mid movement because that either cancels what you did last or carries on doing whatever it was you were doing  and USE THE STICKS! USE THE FUCKING STICKS! THE STICKS! THE STICKS! 

This is coming from a guy who didn’t just put up with, but stood up for the top down MGS camera. A guy who would argue that the tank controls in Resident Evil are integral to the feel of the game. But here’s the thing with the old RE’s and MGS’s; THEY USED THE STICKS! THEY USED THE FUCKING STICKS!

I’ve been doing this dance with David Cage since before the game came out; he did the rounds before the release of Heavy Rain, talking to the British broadsheets and telling them exactly what they wanted to hear about games. In his Guardian interview, he  came off as the one (smug) despairing intellectual in an industry of meat headed gun crazy knuckle-draggers who’d be able to make a new art form if they only grew up a bit – Hey Guys! he said I’m like you, I’m on your side! If only the rest of these idiots liked movies like Seven and Saw as much as I do, then we’d have a medium we could discuss on Newsnight. I don’t even think this is a game, games are for kids yeah? I’m more interested in adult things like when a woman comes out of a shower in her underwear and is attacked by fucking mercenaries but it’s all a dream. Or when a guy has to crawl through broken glass for some reason. You know, real things. 

But in just the same way that I’m occasionally flawed by Heavy Rain‘s moments of undoubted genius (the infamous ‘finger scene‘, for one), Cage himself will say something that makes a lot of sense – in one particular interview (now hidden behind the odious Times paywall) Cage said something to the effect of If you design a control scheme for a fighting game all you’ll be able to do in it is fight. Which makes a lot of senseWhen you put it like that, Dave (Can I call you that? Dave?) the quicktime-event-heavy, gesture-based control scheme almost makes sense. A game that lets me do everything from investigating a crime scene to changing a baby sounds pretty amazing.

Sadly, in practice, it’s not. No one put it better than Michael Abbott when he says “Heavy Rain mistakes button prompts for player agency” in his spot on criticism of the game. Rather than creating a fighting system that only lets me fight, Quantic Dream have created a ‘fiddling system’ that only lets me fiddle. I can walk around a room and pick things up and fiddle with certain things in the room (depending on which order I fiddle with them in, sometimes I can’t fiddle with one thing till I’ve fiddled with something else, other times fiddling with one object precludes further fiddling with another.) I can stand up, sit down, sloooooooowly, or as fast as I want (but not too fast or I fail at sitting down.) Now sometimes, I can do fighting. And awesome car chases. Wicked! Rad! But my interaction in these scenes is mechanically the same as opening a fridge and consequently it feels like I’m still just fiddling.

And aren’t fighting and awesome car chases something we’ve been doing since the dawn of button presses? What’s different about these car chases? Are they more emotional because two hours ago I was brushing this guy’s teeth? There’s certainly less of them than in GTAIV and I appreciate the fact that by the end of he game I haven’t racked up a genocidal kill count. But for someone who strives to get away from what games traditionally do – Cage and his team spend an awful lot of time doing exactly those things only without anywhere near the level of player expression offered by the very games he sneers at.

I’d love to play something without gunfights, car chases, punch ups and endless killing. But from the looks of Quantic Dream’s upcoming ‘Beyond: Two Souls‘, David Cage and his gang aren’t going to be the guys to provide that (we’re also apparently still ‘driving’ with R2 but now steering with the SIXAXIS… great). Cage and Quantic Dream are still as susceptible to sci-fi, horror and pulp storytelling as the rest of the industry, only Cage seeks to remove to player one step away from the immediacy offered by analogue stick shooter controls with a series of inscrutable button presses and stick wiggles. It’s as if, to Cage, the controls are the problem rather than the content – which is an interesting thought. Are we desensitised to violence because shooting is nothing more than a system? Perhaps, but if we are to abandon the Halo/COD model of 3D console controls can we at least USE THE FUCKING STICKS TO WALK?

“I Can’t See Why You’d Want To Live Here” – Bioshock 2 and Sequels

The announcement of a follow-up to 2007’s ‘Underwater-Objectivist-Dystopia-Shooter’ Bioshock was met with an uncharactaristically luke-warm welcome for a medium that usually thrives on sequels. After all, sequels give creators opportunities beyond ‘expanding the universe’ – improving graphics, iterating on mechanics and generally pushing things forward within the framework set out by the original game. Ask a gamer for their favourite games of all time, you’ll get a series of numbers and subtitles; 2,3,4… Chaos Theory, Snake Eater, Blood Money… Do the same with a movie goer, on the other hand and you’re unlikely to get a similar answer even though sequels form the backbone of most studio’s release schedules.

2K Marin’s Bioshock 2 got the kind of reception you might expect if someone announced a sequel to Blade Runner (oh, wait…) Bioshock, you see, had already told us everything we needed to know about the underwater city of Rapture. Any attempt to return would not only be a disappointment, but would cheapen the original’s legacy and make even the memory of that first trip in a bathysphere a little less special. Toss in an ill conceived multiplayer mode and you’ve basically announced that the upcoming Blade Runner sequel stars Shia LaBouf as Rick Deckard, will be directed by Michael Bay and was written by George Lucas with Will.I.Am providing the soundtrack. (And if the Black Eyed Peas haven’t already used some of Vangelis’ soundtrack to create a shrill, obnoxious and repetitive song about ‘partying like a replicant’ then I hope they all die before they get a chance).

Except the guys that made Bioshock 2 are talented… like, crazy talented. Jordan Thomas showed brass balls by stepping into Ken Levine‘s considerable shoes for the sequel that nobody wanted – he regularly comes across as a smart, candid and all round interesting guy in interviews. I was an avid reader of level designer (and lead designer on the ‘Minerva’s Den’ expansion) Steve Gaynor’s blog Fullbright and I eagerly await Fullbright Company’s upcoming game Gone Home which features the efforts of many former Bioshock 2 staff. And the whole team does an amazing job with Bioshock 2. It’s a brilliant game. But it’s one that’s let down by, of all things – the setting of Rapture.

It doesn’t make sense you see, Rapture. It didn’t make sense in Bioshock The First and it makes less sense now. The first had the luxury of being a place that we, as gamers had never imagined playing a shooter in. And yes, it was an allegory, it’s not meant to be taken literally – the ubiquitous audiologs, invincible little girls,  fist full of bees… etc etc etc. It was a game about Objectivism for sure, but it was also a game about videogames. It wasn’t the dreaded Citizen Kane of Gaming, but rather a sort of videogame Watchmena deconstruction of how games work and how they’ve taught us to consume them.

Without the luxury of metacommentary Bioshock 2‘s fiction crumbles under further scrutiny on this repeat visit. There’s a point early in the game where the player takes a tour through a Rapture/Andrew Ryan propaganda theme park. It’s a wonderful level, as brilliantly designed as the rest of the game and filled with delightful blackly comic touches – right down to a trophy for knocking the head of an anamatronic Andrew Ryan with a golf club. (A strong contender for Gaming’s Greatest In-Joke?) But its here that the fiction of Rapture starts to creak. There’s a host of juddery dioramas (dioramai?) that depict a self-mythologising Ryan as he decides to build Rapture under water, waking in the middle of the night on a boat and crying something to the effect of “Here please“, then we see a team of diving suit-clad engineers laying the foundations for rapture. Ryan echoes JFK’s Rice Moon speech – he chose to build Rapture under the sea, not because it was easy, but because there were magic slugs down there.  We see slums, we see railways, we see factories, we’re taken behind the scenes to see the inner workings of the carnival ride of the first game. But in trying to explain Rapture, it seems less plausible.

Then there’s audiologs, I think even Ken Levine admitted that audiologs were becoming a bit of a crutch after the release of the original Bioshock, by the time the sequel rolled around it had become hilarious to think of people constantly leaving voice memos ‘to themselves’ – usually after particularly harrowing experience. “Dear Diary, I injected myself with slug juice and now my tits have fallen off – the code to my safe is 1066, Andrew Ryan is a bad bad man. I am scared.” Going further into the symbiotic relationship betwixt Big Daddy and Little Sister also churns up mixed results, as does the explanation of ‘plasmids’ for workers in Rapture… for like, welding and shit.

But by far the hardest part to swallow is the notion that, once again, the player has arrived in Rapture to find a war going on for who ‘rules’ the city. It’s like finding two well dressed, charismatic academics fighting over a cake full of broken glass and smallpox. It seems not a year goes by without some ostensibly ‘normal’ person (ie – not insane and deformed)  making a concerted effort to become King or Queen of a city full of insane and deformed spider-people who shoot fire from their hands and weep uncontrollably. (But then again, why do people run for mayor of *Insert City*? SATIRE) What happens when Sofia Lamb manages to [SPOILERS] turn her daughter into a giant brain in a jar? (?) Will everyone just go back to how things were before? Or will they carry on scavenging and splicing and attacking Big Daddies? (Which I can’t figure out whether Lamb is for or against?)

All this being said, I love Bioshock 2. I love it for reasons I’ll explain in another post. And those reasons kind of melt away the quibbles I have with audiologs and giant brains in jars and the voice acting and the fact that Sinclair hides in a train for the whole game except for the bit where he comes out as another Big Daddy who fights you whilst saying “I can’t help myself!”.

Maybe it’s a step forward when gamers don’t want sequels to beloved titles? Maybe it shows that these things aren’t products to be improved upon endlessly – Portal 2 received a similar reception (before coming out and being totally awesome). But it’s got to be a good thing when a game means more to fans than a series of mechanics to be iterated upon year after year.