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We’ve heard nothing but near-universal love for BioShock Infinite, so we didn’t expect the game to be very polarizing. But one of our Threeview reviewers wasn’t as crazy about the recently released shooter (PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3) as we expected her to be (albeit this is her looking at the game through an academic lens as we requested, not as a gamer). At the same time, one of our other reviewers liked it a lot more than we thought. It just goes to show how little we actually know about our guest writers and their crazy opinions.
Read on to see what our own critic, an industry analyst, and a smart-as-heck academic (and former games journalist) think of what many people are already calling 2013’s Game of the Year.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
BioShock Infinite: The critic’s review
BioShock Infinite is a great game.
The combat is fun. The pacing is excellent. The world is fleshed out and filled with interesting things to discover. While portions of the story’s ending disappointed me, I don’t feel cheated because it was such an enjoyable ride.
Infinite’s biggest issue is that the stiff nonplayer characters really dampen the impact of the social themes. Irrational worked so hard building this world filled with terrible racial imagery, but it’s difficult to feel the effects of that when I can’t relate to the mechanical mannequins that populate Columbia.
It’s actually a minor complaint, but it’s very noticeable in a product that is otherwise so exquisitely put together.
Read the full GamesBeat review.
Final critic’s score: 89/100
BioShock Infinite: The analyst’s review
There really isn’t anything I can say about BioShock Infinite that does the game justice. Game of the year? Definitely. Most interesting game I’ve seen? Yes. Captivating till the end? I’m not quite finished (that pesky job keeps getting in the way), but from what I’ve played so far, it just seems to keep getting better.
Publisher Take-Two has a practice of letting its developers create art, and the company’s management gets out of the way. This is a risky strategy if the developers are unproven, but Take-Two has assembled some of the best development teams on the planet, and the guys at Irrational might be the best in the organization. Ken Levine and team has been working on BioShock Infinite since late 2007, and their work shows in this highly polished, compelling game.
I’m not a game reviewer, so my opinion about quality should be disregarded. However, with an average Metacritic rating of 95 from a total of 62 critics, this game appears to be a can’t-miss proposition. That said, I think that the interesting storyline will generate significant buzz all year-long, and I expect BioShock Infinite to sell 5 million copies quickly — and a likely additional 3 million copies for the remainder of the year. I expect the game to have solid sales for the next few years, as sadly, we’re not likely to see another game from Irrational for a while. Classics such as this one tend to have robust catalog sales.
With five-and-a-half years of development, BioShock Infinite was an expensive game to make; my estimate is that the team earned around $10 million per year, so the game cost an estimated $55 million to make. The typical marketing budget for a game is 15 percent of estimated sales, so it is likely that Take-Two spent another $45 million or so promoting the game. At that level of spending, BioShock Infinite is likely to be very profitable, with front-loading of expenses and back-loading of profits, given that Take-Two shipped the game in the last week of the company’s fiscal 2013 fourth quarter. I think that BioShock Infinite proves that good things are worth waiting for, and I cannot say enough about how much I am enjoying the game.
Final analyst’s score: 100/100
BioShock Infinite: The academic’s review
“They’re all dead … you killed those people. You’re a monster!”
“What did you think was going to happen?”
The complex layering of themes in BioShock Infinite invites analysis within diverse frameworks: as dystopian post-colonial narrative; the use of violence as a rhetorical device; as a classical tragedy illustrating that “character is destiny”; an investigation of historical determinism; but primarily it is a bleak existential fable that illustrates Sartre’s concept of bad faith.
The antihero Booker, witness to (and, we infer, participant in) the massacre at Wounded Knee, may blast his way through the many human targets in the game, but he is ultimately trapped by being in bad faith: alienated from his own self and unable to take responsibility for his actions. In Sartre’s foundational existential play No Exit, a character realizes near the end that “[h]ell is other people.” In this case, hell is Booker himself and by extension, the player too is forced into bad faith.
Bad faith happens when one renounces the authentic self; it indicates both a failure to take on the burden of free will and a need to define one’s self through the eyes of others. In No Exit, the three characters continually look to each other for confirmation of who they are, to no avail — that is the hell they are trapped in. Booker is presumptively on a path to redemption, but from the first apparently meaningful choice given the player (when Booker is offered baptism upon arriving in Columbia), it’s clear that this is no choice at all. The player, in order to advance through the game, must accept the baptism — or stop playing.
In this way the narrative is profoundly un-interactive, even anti-interactive, in a way that feels inauthentic within the fiction of the game. In the above example, presumably Booker could have punched out the old preacher or simply shouldered him aside and run past him. But the game does not make these actions available. Under these circumstances it is logical that the player gives up responsibility for any choice at all. Through a clever semantic twist involving interdimensional travel, the game attempts to justify the lack of meaningful choice by suggesting that because Booker has already done every act in this particular universe, he must do each act to maintain consistency. All such meaningful actions are predetermined. It’s an interesting philosophical quandary but noninteractivity evokes despair rather than redemption, nihilism rather than creation. One could argue that illustrating bad faith is a central theme of the game, but does the point need to be made over and over during 18 hours of gameplay?
“What did you think was going to happen?” Booker asks Elizabeth when she protests the trail of dead he has left behind after a combat encounter. What indeed? This is a first-person shooter, and we are bound to its rules. There is no choice but to shoot our way through.
Final academic’s score: 70/100