With the end of the decade coming up, I thought it would be fun and worthwhile to revisit a few titles that I found influential from the 2010s!
I’ll probably end with my main play MMOs, but to start with, let’s go outside of the normal scope of the blog and talk about a few other titles.
Up first: Bioshock Infinite.
I’ve been playing with various versions of this idea in a few drafts, but I want to not discuss the story directly, and not get off into a multi-paragraph dissertation on the failings of libertarian ideology, so I think what I’ll do for all of these pieces is this – describe why I like the game and why you should play it, and leave enough mystery to make it worthwhile. Okay!
Bioshock Infinite is a fantastic narrative told in an interesting way, which is good, because similar to the first Bioshock, the gameplay is merely “good, acceptable shooter with powers” rather than anything exceptional in its own right.
The whole Bioshock series (at the least ones made by Ken Levine and team at the former Irrational Games) is largely a set of stories focused on examining the human ideas for utopian society – what sets them apart, what makes them appealing, and ultimately then deconstructing them for their flaws. The heavy class divide of Rapture became its undoing in the first Bioshock, and Infinite focuses on creating what I called at the time a “Tea Party Wonderland” – a false ideal of utopian living that falls apart quickly when the underlying assumptions are challenged.
Infinite does one better, however, by layering in a myriad of additional themes – parallel universes and the ways in which choices we make can shape us and push us down drastically different paths. It does this in a lot of ways that we get to witness differently – the first Bioshock was very much a tell, don’t show kind of game that only presents the aftermath of a society in decline. Infinite shows much more of that collapse, and also uses more subtle themes early on to foreshadow what is to come without beating you over the head with the ideas.
Visually, the game is superb even today, and where Bioshock used the dark seafloor setting of Rapture to set darker scary themes, Columbia’s brightness, constant sunlight, and cheery colors provide an excellent contrast for the horrors of the society presented. The action is faster-paced and more engaging with the grappling hook and wires offering a lot of chances to engage in high-mobility fighting, flying all over the level to get the high ground and fight.
The game offered me a lot when I first played it through in 2013, and it is one of a few games all decade where I purchased it and nearly immediately began playing it and finished it without letting it linger on the backlog. The themes are excellent (although I have some nits to pick with how the Vox Populi end up), the story delivers on the promises from Bioshock 1 with tons of twists, surprises, and extra little bits – Bioshock had one excellent surprise that defined the narrative while Infinite is loaded with a couple of big reveals and several smaller ones. The aesthetic is gorgeous, and the sound really captures the era. The gameplay, again, is perhaps the only detractor – it is a fun shooter game with the layering of powers, but don’t expect anything spectacular. Years later, I only really remember the story beats and the feeling of running through the skyborne wonderland of Columbia – but, for that time, it was spectacular.
The influence it had on me was the emphasis it placed on storytelling and worldbuilding. Yes, it uses fairly cliche in-game elements like discovering journals to get some of it across, but even if you miss every voxophone in the game, there’s enough communicated story and lore to get the beats down and to come away with a strong impression. The game is only as strong as it is because of the delivery of its story, world, and characters. While I might argue it has fewer iconic voice lines than the original, the game still delivers a ton of memorable moments – the ending in particular messed with my head enough that I made a 30 minute video about it way back when!
Many games since this time have probably delivered better overall stories, or better accompaniment of story and gameplay, but for my money, the time I spent with Bioshock Infinite was worthwhile to me from beginning to end, and that is why it gets to start this miniseries off!