The Strength of BioShock Infinite’s Tutorial
Like any human being on the face of the earth, we all have pet peeves that are just as individual as we are. And being that we’re all fans of the art of video games, it’s more than likely that rule applies to gamers as well.
Yes, whether it’s in-game save points, specific art styles, or even the way certain leveling systems are implemented in different RPGs, I’m more than willing to bet money on the fact that, if you’re reading this, you probably have a gaming pet peeve or two.
While mine is fairly lengthy, one of the biggest pet peeves on my list is a bad tutorial. Now, “bad” itself is a subjective word; we all have our own ideas of what deems one thing “bad” and another “good”. So, what exactly do I mean by “bad” tutorials?
Typically, a tutorial takes place in one of two ways; it’s part of the game’s story and helps introduce you to everything in a flowing fashion, or it is a standalone part of the game that takes place before any of the plot has been jumped into. Sure, there are extraneous examples that could be cited here, but in my experience, most tutorials tend to run one way or the other.
A bad tutorial, then, is one that may fail to introduce me to the world in a seamless and interesting manner, might not fully explain the advantages and use of certain mechanics and systems, or is hokey to the point where it breaks the experience a bit (seriously…there’s nothing quite as awkward as a character telling you to jump using the “X” or “A” button while you’re running from danger. The best way to break immersion is by making it quite clear that I’m playing a game. But I digress).
While it’s not the worst tutorial of all time, the beginning of Vanquish was one that really failed to introduce me to the game’s world and the true capabilities of the character’s suit. You’re basically thrown into a white room, targets are thrown up, a voice behind a wall is instructing you, and you’re practicing moves in a completely inorganic way that does nothing to reflect the reality of the game’s frantic combat. It should be noted, however, that I love Vanquish. So much so that I’ve made the claim that it’s one of my all-time favorite third-person shooters. But that tutorial did nothing to introduce me to the game’s combat style or make me aware of the possibilities the suit offered.
But since there’s always a yin to a yang, there’s something to be said of the power of a good game tutorial and its ability to provide you with some context to understand and appreciate the world you’re jumping into.
I found this yesterday when I put BioShock Infinite into my PlayStation 3 and played through the first few hours of the game. Its tutorial is intelligent and manages to introduce you to the world of Columbia in a way that is neither obvious nor insulting.
So, how does it do this? Essentially, you’ll spend the first hour or so learning the game’s systems. But that’s not just you following an NPC and doing everything the game wants you to do in a tedious fashion. Rather, BioShock Infinite does a great job of assuming prior knowledge, but offering help if you need it. The game assumes that you’ve played a shooter before, and therefore doesn’t teach you how to shoot a gun. However, if you want to get a good feel for it, there’s a section in the game where you attend a carnival and can practice firing weapons at a game booth using targets of the Vox Populi. Or, if you’re a bit rusty on mechanics of old, you can always brush up on the use of Vigors by trying to catch a devil target using the Bucking Bronco telekinesis vigor. Sure, there are prompts that teach you how to use the weapons, but at no point in the beginning was it force feeding me information and holding my hand. Rather, it encouraged me to explore, learn, and engage with the world of Columbia in a way that was both interesting and creative.
Sure, some of the introductions with the different Vigors the game gives you are a tad blatant. But for how obvious they are, they’re still handled well. You’ll use Posession to convince a machine to let you through a gate, take on a Fireman to gain Devil’s Kiss, and you’ll fight a crazy crow master to gain Murder of Crows after witnessing a gruesome death. But it’s not only a great way to showcase some of the madness running deep within Columbia; it’s also a great opportunity to allow players to experiment with their powers and find what combinations and uses work best for them in an interesting way.
I’m not saying that the tutorial to BioShock Infinite is flawless and a prime example of how all games should handle tutorials, but it was a breath of fresh air when so many of the games I’ve played recently were nothing but hand-holding chores that felt like a chore.
For more on BioShock Infinite, check out this analysis of some of the game’s story beats. Be on the lookout for our complete review coming within the next few days.