Good News and Bad News: Bioshock Infinite is Awesome but New Walking Dead game is Garbage

Image and video hosting by TinyPic



BioShock Infinite aims so damn high – fittingly, since its alternate-reality 1912 city of Columbia literally floats atop clouds – that it’s a wonder it successfully hits any of its lofty goals at all. But it does hit them, again and again. A stunning original world of retro-sci-fi technology and gorgeous scenery. A cast of fully fleshed-out, memorable characters who deliver real emotional impact. A great villain and a greater monster. New and thrilling ways of traveling and changing the world around you. A story twist most people won't see coming. Even when it does occasionally miss, another hit follows so quickly that the stumble almost feels like a setup to increase the effect. Infinite comes through as a true, worthy follow-up to BioShock, one of the most-renowned shooters of this generation. In my book, it becomes one itself.

Irrational Games – a studio that’s made a name for itself in eschewing predictability and is known for pathological cybervillains and brutish Big Daddies who earned our sympathy in their staunch protection of Little Sisters – somehow makes a city built on the clouds seem plausible. It's a place that feels alive. Townsfolk bustle in the plaza streets, birds flit about almost everywhere, and propoganda extolls the local prophet's racist, ultra-nationalist beliefs. Columbia has its own history and hierarchy, to a degree that most shooters – or games of any genre, for that matter – can’t even aspire. It's created using a vibrant color palette and a unified vision of a twisted, jingoistic take on America. Simultaneously, no two of its many diverse areas ever feel alike. All these elements give this fantastical city a sterling sense of genuine place.

It’s that inaugural hour – and in fact the few that follow it – that build the foundation upon which the rest of BioShock Infinite stands. Er, floats. Early on, thanks to the weapons, powers, and upgrades having new names but functioning in largely the same way, it’d be fair to call Infinite an elaborate, blue-sky reskin of the first BioShock. If that's a criticism at all, it's a weak one; BioShock's about as sound a starting point to build upon as a game could hope for, and Infinite has made the most of that. I'd put the artwork, meticulously crafted detail, and overall atmosphere of Columbia right up there with BioShock's Rapture, Half-Life 2's City 17, and Mirror’s Edge’s unnamed dystopian metropolis. Two things evolve Infinite past its predecessor, however, and the first is one of its central characters: Elizabeth.

Our mystery girl rarely leaves your side once she joins you a short time into the campaign, and unlike the vast majority of AI companions throughout the ages, she requires zero babysitting. To the contrary, she'll take care of you, tossing you ammo and health in the heat of battle, randomly throwing you money at idle moments, and even bending the layout of a combat area to your will using her dimensional-portal-opening abilities.


Elizabeth herself, in fact, plays a central role in BioShock Infinite’s story, and in the moment-to-moment experience. Once she’d established herself at my side, any period of separation was noticeable. Not only does the action revert to feeling very much like BioShock 1, but it made me feel as if something was genuinely missing: emotional depth. Over our time together, Elizabeth's expressive performances elicited everything from sympathy to fear and even guilt. She provides motivation and moves the story forward, and like the clear bond the Big Daddies and Little Sisters had in the first game, I was compelled to protect her. And from a purely mechanical perspective, it’s a half-miracle that she never gets in the way – but she doesn't. What's great about Elizabeth is that her presence always adds something, and never takes anything away.



This world is easy to buy into because its characters believe in it so convincingly, chief among them our player character, war veteran-turned-PI Booker DeWitt. He's a reluctant hero on a mission, vaguely referred to as a less-than-virtuous man with a shady past. The first hour chronicles DeWitt’s unusual journey to Columbia under orders to recover a teenage girl named Elizabeth so that he might “wipe away the debt.” Though he begins as both a bit unlikeable and mysterious, eventually Booker's backstory is fully filled-in and brought to a satisfactory end. Under your stewardship, he oscillates between doing good deeds and some clearly bad ones, but his words and actions eventually left me thinking of myself as a fan of the man by the time the credits rolled.
Pleased to Meet You, Elizabeth



In firefights, that means you might have the choice to teleport in any one of a flying gun turret, a wall of cover, a powerful weapon, or a stash of medkits. It’s yet another option that'll affect how the fight plays out in a big way – a layer that makes Infinite’s combat so refreshingly nimble. The guns may not be wholly original, and the vigors may be familiar, but in concert with the Elizabeth wildcard and the open, large-scale play spaces, Infinite offers tangible, meaningful choices in each encounter.
Elizabeth herself, in fact, plays a central role in BioShock Infinite’s story, and in the moment-to-moment experience. Once she’d established herself at my side, any period of separation was noticeable. Not only does the action revert to feeling very much like BioShock 1, but it made me feel as if something was genuinely missing: emotional depth. Over our time together, Elizabeth's expressive performances elicited everything from sympathy to fear and even guilt. She provides motivation and moves the story forward, and like the clear bond the Big Daddies and Little Sisters had in the first game, I was compelled to protect her. And from a purely mechanical perspective, it’s a half-miracle that she never gets in the way – but she doesn't. What's great about Elizabeth is that her presence always adds something, and never takes anything away.

Booker and Elizabeth have a strong supporting cast to work with as well. Almost from the moment Booker arrives on Columbia he's antagonized by Zachary Comstock, aka “The Prophet,” who makes for an easily hateable villain both for his morally reprehensible views on race and for his oddly personal verbal attacks towards Booker over loudspeakers and other communiques. His level of evil and the ways in which he harasses you indirectly are something of a cross between the sadism of System Shock 2’s SHODAN and the manipulation imposed by BioShock’s Andrew Ryan.

Meanwhile, Booker’s most physically imposing opponent is the Songbird, the gigantic robo-fowl assigned to "protect" Elizabeth in a tower, Rapunzel-style. He is constantly in your rearview mirror, as it were, ominously threatening you each time he appears and giving chase in exhilarating running sequences. I wish he'd shown up more often, really – among all the players in Infinite, his is the arc that feels the least developed. That’s not to say his story isn’t satisfying, just that I was left wanting more

Speaking of spitting-distance combat, I was particularly fond of the Skyhook’s melee attacks because of the gruesome executions they deliver. Similar in function to BioShock 2's drill, it's a vicious tool for snapping necks, boring into chests, and exploding heads into a bloody mist with its spinning rotor. It's a treat until the enemies get too tough to make it a viable strategy any longer, but I was able to stave off that time using stat-boosting Gear augmentations, the equivalent of BioShock's tonics now in the form of apparel. Specifically, in this case, I made ample use of the Deadly Lungers pants' tripling of my melee-strike range, making the guilty pleasure of those sadistic executions much more frequent.
Infinite’s combat is nimble in the truest sense of the word thanks to its other great evolution: the aforementioned Skylines
. Something akin to self-guided, one-man roller-coaster tracks, Booker is able to hook onto these metal rails with his Skyhook gauntlet and speedily navigate around Columbia's large open areas, often dangling perilously over the abyss below while moving from floating island to floating island. Riding a Skyline is surprisingly intuitive, useful, and perhaps most impressively, not the slightest bit scripted or disorienting. You are in full control at all times, to the extent that you're never forced into any significant encounters while you’re riding them. If you prefer to take the action to the ground, you can. Laudably, BioShock Infinite isn't so proud of Skylines that it wants to impose them on us for anything other than transportation.

Aging console graphics hardware lets down Infinite, too. When the original BioShock debuted on Xbox 360 in 2007, it was an eye-gasmic wonder – a blissful marriage of Art Deco art direction with top-shelf graphics technology. Fast-forward almost six years, and Infinite is every bit as effective in the former area, but in the raw graphics department it fails to make anywhere near the same impact on either Microsoft or Sony’s box.


Infinite deserves plenty of credit in its moment-to-moment storytelling too. Serious themes abound in Columbia’s alternate-reality 1912. Racism, sexism, nationalism, and religion are all put directly in front of you, whether you like it or not. It makes a point simply by confronting you with these uncomfortable issues and forcing you to at least think about them. And though Infinite never gets preachy, it certainly offers political commentary, chiming in with obvious nods to the “99% vs. 1%” debate -- even if, unlike in the original BioShock, Infinite slyly submits that both sides of the coin have their demons, and neither can claim the moral high ground in Columbia. To that end, Infinite skips out on any significant moral choices or multiple endings from the previous BioShocks. I didn’t miss them, though, as its story arc is both definitive and impactful while riding its own singular track.

Going in, I had to question whether Infinite could live up to the BioShock name after having discarded its signature world of Rapture, with its Big Daddies and Little Sisters and warring philosophies, and starting from scratch. On the way out, I'm forced to seriously question which is the better game. In total, BioShock Infinite is a brilliant shooter that nudges the entire genre forward with innovations in both storytelling and gameplay. It trips over itself in a couple of spots, but not in any way that should keep you from embracing it with your utmost enthusiasm.



Well that's the good news! Now for the bad.

I spent last night playing through the first couple of hours of the first-person survival horror game, which came out yesterday for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. Survival Instinct begins with a weird, cordoned-in tutorial that first sends you in pursuit of a false objective, then puts you into an unwinnable fight against a bunch of zombies, or "walkers" in The Walking Dead parlance. You die. Then comes the big reveal—spoiler alert?—that you were in control of the father of well-known characters Daryl and Merle Dixon, and your terrible shooting and running skills got him killed. It's a crap tutorial even among other crap tutorials, and a precursor to all the crap to come.


But first! Comes the credits sequence. Which, if you're a fan of the popular AMC Walking Dead TV show, will feel mighty familiar. Bear McCreary's six-note violin motif and string-section dive-bombs push through an evocative collection of rural imagery accompanied by the names of the actors who appear in the game. It's almost like you're watching a TV show!

And then, back to the game, which is very clearly not a TV show. You take control of Daryl Dixon, the man you'll command for the rest of the game. Side-note on Daryl—it's interesting that the most popular character on the TV show is this guy who has no counterpart in the comics. I like Daryl on the show, too. His low-drama badassery stands in welcome contrast to the whining and carrying on of the majority of the cast, and Norman Reedus manages to inhabit the role with a sharp, morally ambiguous intelligence. And he does seem like the most obvious character on the show to base a video game around, what with his signature crossbow and mysterious backstory.

But even if Daryl deserves to star in his own video game, it shouldn't be this one. I've spent two hours playing Survival Instinct, and those two hours were filled with frustration, boredom, and that peculiar form of bleak hopelessness that accompanies the worst games.

Of course, it's not a huge surprise that Survival Instinct is bad. Its promotional campaign has been festooned with warning signs—in particular the fact that they've been cagey about actually showing the game. The introductory trailers made a far bigger deal about the fact that the game stars Reedus as Daryl and Michael Rooker as his brother, Merle (Wow! Real actors from a TV show! In a video game!) than anything related to the game itself. We were unable to secure an early copy of the game for review, which is never a good sign. And early footage that hit the web was… well, it wasn't promising.

So, yes, the game is a steaming pile and an utter waste of time and money. On the off-chance that this is all new to you, allow me to demonstrate a few of the ways it comes up short.


It's very ugly.


Combat is a drag.

Combat in the game is a disaster, plain and simple. In the early stages, you'll have a couple of guns and a knife. One of the guns uses a scope and is essentially useless, as the zombies are never far away enough to require you to use it. The shotgun is more useful, but is so loud that it attracts far more zombies than you could ever kill with your limited ammunition. That leaves you with the knife, which lets you get into a kind of hilarious slap-fight with a zombie until you kill it.


Or, you could sneak up behind the biter and stab it in the brain. You will do this a lot. In fact, the ol' "Punch the zombie in the face to stun it, then run around it and stab it in the brain" trick was just about the only trick I used. Well, unless I got caught in...

The endless zombie group-hug.

One of the weirdest elements of Survival Instinct is the "grapple" move, which happens when a zombie gets too close to you. Daryl starts to wrestle with the zombie, and you jam the right trigger and, if you can get the cursor over the zombie's head, Daryl will stab it in the brain. It's kind of a neat idea? Except it fails in execution. The levels I've played usually end with me making a run through a pack of walkers. And if I get even remotely close to one of them, I get sucked into an unending zombie scrum, stabbing zombie after zombie after zombie, almost always until I die.

Sweat. Everywhere.
Survival Instinct also features a lot of sweat. Sweat? Yes, sweat. Normally in games like this, when you "sprint" for a while, you'll run out of breath. Maybe, if you're playing Far Cry 2, your vision will swim a bit. In Survival Instinct, you'll start to see a weird water effect run down the side of the screen. That is, I have to assume, supposed to be Daryl's sweat, pouring down the camera lens. Weird! And kinda gross!

Video Game B.S.
Survival Instinct is loaded with all kinds of shoddy video-game bullshit. The levels are very hemmed in and the world never feels reactive or real, and as a result the whole thing feels cheap and unfair. You'll carry around sports drinks that replenish your health, but equipping and using them is a nuisance. Checkpointing is a bummer and there's no quicksave option, and at least once the game crashed to desktop and forced me to restart an entire level. The heads-up display is laughably fug, a giant oblong compass in the corner of the screen that points, surprisingly unhelpfully, to your next objective.


Level design is awful—I'd run into a room and more often than not would get cornered and die. Doors are inconsistent—some will open, but most are glued shut. And there are invisible walls everywhere.


I'm standing on the car, the dude I'm supposed to get to is right there, and yet I have to run into the glowing green area to end the mission. Man.

Slightly interesting ideas, poorly implemented.
When you travel from level to level in the game, you'll have to make some decisions about which route you take. You can take backroads, regular streets, or the highway. Each one uses a certain amount of gas, and each one brings with it a chance of a breakdown. If you run out of gas or break down, you'll have to explore a small side-mission area to find more gas or locate whatever part from your car needs to be replaced.

It's an interesting risk/reward idea that falls flat because no matter what happens, you're going to have to do the same thing: Enter an area, dodge some zombies, grab a thing, and run back to the glowing green square. Basically, these side missions give you more game to play. Because the game is terrible, they feel more like a punishment than a bonus.


You can also manage the survivors in your crew, which is another odd idea that doesn't work but could've maybe been interesting in another game. You can give your companions weapons and even send them out on errands to get gas or food. You can also just tell them to "stay at the car," which, if you follow the TV show, is kind of funny, albeit unintentionally so.

But really, this whole aspect of the game is a mess, and just adds some unclear, unfun micromanaging to deal with in between unfun action missions. I'd love to play a post-apocalyptic resource management/travel game like Oregon Trail, but this ain't it.


So not only does the cutscene trigger before I touch the green box, it ends with a hilariously anticlimactic death scene. Bang! End-of-mission screen! Ha.

Basically, everything else.
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is a slipshod, uninspired mess. I have to feel for the developers at Terminal Reality—whatever rushed production schedule or other behind-the-scenes shenanigans must have gone down, no professional game-maker could be happy with this final product.

There are so many superior alternatives: If you've got a hankering to kill some zombies in a southern setting, play Left 4 Dead 2. If you love The Walking Dead and want to spend more time in that world, play Telltale's wonderful adventure game from last year. And if you want to play a tense, terrifying first-person zombie game that relies on smarts and sneaking as much as on firepower (and you own a Wii U), play ZombiU.

I can think of no compelling reason why anyone should play this game. Ugly, flat, boring, aggravating and often broken, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is the purest form of video game garbage. It's utterly unworthy of your time and money.



Source 1


Source 2