Friday, January 3

The High Horse Audit 2013: The most disappointing game of the Year of Luigi

Note: This post contains spoilers for BioShock Infinite.

This decision was easy. It was made as early as April. Nothing could quite match the bitter disappointment that came with wandering through Columbia and soaking up the most cynical, arguably racist narrative I've seen in a videogame.

Cynical because, to me, having a group of subjugated people of colour wresting power and then attacking their oppressors in ways more violent and terrifying than what they were accustomed to set up a new enemy is a pretty heavy-handed way of saying that power corrupts everyone and everything that ever lived anywhere, including the crazy racist floating city in which the game is set. Racist because as Courtney Stanton points out in this blog post, having Columbia "... destroyed by the only black characters in the game, who are depicted as violent, white-people-hating, child-murdering savages," serves to confirm " the racist white peoples’ ideas about black people and presenting them as true." Using my powers of deduction, I'm guessing that Booker DeWitt's journey is supposed to be some sort of vague commentary on ills of racism and religious zealotry, but it just ends up shitting on its own message so spectacularly that it fails to impart any meaningful message on anything in particular.

Even if you're not willing to acknowledge that the original BioShock offered a critique of Objectivism, at the very least least it gave us terms like ludonarrative dissonance and the base lesson that sparing small children a horrific fate can bear some reward. The best BioShock Infinite could give us was a throng of games journalists ejaculating pretentious assemblages of words next to the numbers 9 or 10 (or equivalent). The hype surrounding Infinite in the two years preceding its release was mirrored in dizzyingly high review scores which for mine at least, pretty much solidified it as a sure choice for the most disappointing release of this, the Year of Luigi.  I mean, not only did it seem like the writers at Irrational Games were using, as ABC Art's Daniel Golding described as, the "aesthetics of ‘racism’ and ‘history’ as a barrier to point to and claim importance", but the majority of games journalists, who should act as arbiter for such shenanigans, were lapping it up.

BioShock Infinite was disappointing  not only because it had nothing of value to say, but also because it failed to introduce anything substantially new to the the series' formula. By virtue of the narrative's focus on characters rather than place and ideology, Columbia doesn't hold a torch to Rapture. Tears and Skylines do serve to mix up the combat, but honestly, there are oodles of better first person shooters on the market if all you're wanting to do is shoot some poor fucker in the face. Then there's Elizabeth, the object of much of the Gaming Community's© affection. A lot's been said about Elizabeth and how she makes Infinite a Good Game©, but I offered the following in my review:
Elizabeth is beautiful. She has Anime eyes and she throws you ammo and first aid kits and money and she has feelings too, but her duties on the battlefield and in general exploration come into conflict with her role in the story. Upon learning some of her and Booker's respective sordid personal histories, she's driven to collect more curiosities to interrupt what should be moving moments. Earth-shattering developments are cheapened by the heroine's compulsion to find useful shit. Her expression and mood change by the second and are more unpredictable than her movements, which see her teleporting ahead, behind, generally anywhere other than she's needed to be for the conversation at hand to work as intended. Elizabeth is your companion for most of the game, but she's never really there.  

 For all of my bellyaching, BioShock Infinite was a Good Game©: it was technically impressive and the combat was functional. For all of its false promises, it was a good ride until it ended. That doesn't counter the overwhelming sense of disappointment that came with navigating what "was more a neo-classical poster board for racist and religious slogans than an actual place."

You can find my review of BioShock Infinite here. For my list of the Top 5 games released in the Year of Luigi, click here.

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