Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: I absolutely adored BioShock Infinite. It completely blew my mind; the jaw-dropping narrative (which I’ve previously dissected), incredible art style and interesting world all combined to form an early strong contender for Game of the Year. I didn’t think that it was the gaming perfection that some did (our review can fill you in there), but suffice to say, I loved it. My point is I am not here to bash it. However, I was also a huge fan of the original BioShock. I believe, and this is just my opinion, that there are a number of things that that title actually did better than its predecessor. I’m not sure that makes BioShock a better game overall, as I still need some time to reflect on Infinite to judge them objectively, but here are five things that prove to me it’s hard to beat an original.
*This article is spoiler-free, but there are basic gameplay and character details throughout*
BioShock Infinite features a robust weapon selection that combines mainstays like machine guns and shotguns with more interesting arms like the volley gun, burst gun and my personal favorite, the hand cannon. You can carry any two of these around at a time, and figuring out the best possible weapon combinations for each fight is a big part of the fun. Other than that, inventory is basically non-existent. In a way, Elizabeth’s constant stream of helpful items and tears replaces your standard inventory.
The original BioShock featured a slightly less expansive armory that nonetheless has one undeniable advantage over its sequel: you can carry every weapon with you simultaneously. Besides giving you an obvious tactical advantage, it’s nice not to have to scavenge weapons from the ground. In addition to this, BioShock lets you scavenge a number of parts to craft with. Even if it’s not a very deep crafting element, it was still fun to mess with, and adjusting your various plasmid loadout options was always fun.
Upgrading your weapons is a key element in both games. Infinite lets you independently upgrade your entire armory, but I was hesitant to do so because I rarely knew when I would have a particular gun. I upgraded my hand cannon as soon as possible, but that expensive shotgun upgrade was hard to justify when I couldn’t be assured of always having a shotgun handy. Your gear is an interesting way to customize Booker, even if I didn’t think most of the effects were as good as some of the plasmids. A static health/shield/salt upgrade system rounds out the RPG elements of the game.
BioShock also features gun upgrades, but they handle it better than Infinite. Since you have access to every gun, I didn’t feel so bad spending money to upgrade them, knowing I always had access to it. The prominent visual additions to each gun for every upgrade was icing on the cake. In addition to that, the wonderful picture taking element (which I missed dearly) let you upgrade a number of attributes through scoring well on your pictures. I’ll take a gameplay based upgrade system over a static one any day.
BioShock Infinite has some cool enemies to look at: the Handyman and the Boys of Silence were particularly sweet looking enemies. I didn’t particularly care to fight either of those gentlemen, but they looked pretty cool. I also liked the Fireman, but was fairly meh about the Motorized Patriot. I was less enthused about the generic foes; they pretty much all looked the same to me, and I didn’t really get a sense of them beyond mindless AI I have to kill.
Of course, BioShock didn’t have quite the number of types of enemies, but the ones they did have were so much more memorable to me. Every time I killed a splicer, I wondered what his story was, and how exactly he figured into the fall of Rapture. Spider, Houdini and Nitro Splicers joined the more common Thugish and Leadhead versions to form a considerable pantheon of foe, but the real star is the Big Daddy, who is nothing short of awesome. Add in level specific character designs and fantastic battle dialogue, its hard not to side with BioShock on this one.
I’m not even going to compare Columbia and Rapture here, because they really are like apples and oranges, not to mention the technology gap between the two titles. But few developers do level design better than Irrational, and there is quite a contrast between their two masterpieces. Columbia is a bit more open than Rapture, and you are constantly retreading familiar ground throughout your time there. While the game does feature distinct areas that you travel through, they all kind of blend together in a sense. Sure, certain areas like the Fair & Raffle area and the Hall of Heroes felt unique, and the entire city of Columbia was oozing with personality and wonder, but there is one way the floating dystopia paled next to its watery sister.
BioShock peeled back the layers of its story so masterfully, the level designs themselves became part of the storytelling. Your first real stage is Fontaine Fishery, where we learn about Fontaine’s fishing operation and discovery of EVE slugs. Each subsequent level revealed another piece of the puzzle, until you have the complete picture. Slowly turning the environment to your favor by hacking the various machines scattered about was one of my favorite elements of the game, and it was pratically non-existant in Infinite. Possessing a vending machine for a few coins, or taking control of a turret for a short time, just didn’t match the thrill of finally hacking that hard-to-reach camera or wielding a small army of search bots.
The cast of characters in both BioShocks serve their respective games well. First off, I know she is no antagonist, but Elizabeth is one of the best NPCs I’ve seen in a game in a long time. I loved her. I was less sold on Comstock, Jeremiah Fink and Daisy Fitzroy as characters. Comstock gets a bye (for reasons you’ll understand if you’ve beaten the game), but Fink and Fitzroy were supposed to provide some depth, and I just didn’t care for either of them. Even Captain Slate, who is set up to be an important antagonist, kind of falters. The exception is the Luteces. Whether they are antagonists or not is up for debate, but I thought they were the most interesting characters in the whole game. Songbird was certainly cool, but his story was never really fleshed out enough for me to care.
BioShock on the other hand had a memorable cast of major antagonists. Fontaine may have been the big baddie at the end, but it was really Andrew Ryan that stole the show. It’s just hard to find a more compelling villain. Even crazy Sander Cohen stood out more to me than almost any of Infinite’s bad guys, and he was only prominent in one level. The Big Daddy/Little Sister dynamic is also a special game relationship that is, in a way, antagonistic to Jack, and that was realized beautifully.
And that’s my take on it. Do you agree that these elements are better in the original BioShock, or do you think I’m off my gourd? Since we’re already talking about the past, present and future, take a stroll down memory lane with these underrated PlayStation RPGs, or look ahead to see five features that the next Xbox needs to have.