First Impressions

1 Apr

I’m starting this post now, before I’ve finished Bioshock Infinite, because I just want to address the stark difference between it and Assassin’s Creed III. I posted on both when they were still trailers, looking at the seeming thematic similarities between them, particularly in terms of anti-American Exceptionalism over at TLF. I haven’t finished either, yet, but I feel like it’s nevertheless a good time to talk about them in comparison. Mostly because I’m not sure I’m ever going to finish both of them.

I started AC3 several months back, and was really excited. As someone who lived in Boston, worked on the Freedom Trail, and spent far too many years of my life dedicated to Bostonian colonial history and the British, who are always “coming.” I tolerated the game’s opening, not really understanding or caring why I was controlling a character in a hoodie, because it promised a future in colonial Boston. And – eventually – I did get there.

And at first it seemed to fulfill all its promise. As someone who has frequently navigated downtown Boston both by car (don’t do it) and by foot, I was pleased to discover that I could do so in the digital colonial version, as well. I went and found King’s Chapel and climbed it (where I used to work). I climbed the Beacon on Beacon Hill, ran down to the harbor, visited Faneuil Hall, and leapt across rooftops until the really annoying Redcoats started yelling at me. Why do they care if I want to break my own neck, anyway?

Confession? I never even made it far enough to switch characters to the actual main character of AC3, Connor. I got bored. I, who spent seven consecutive summers as a Tory in colonial garb, got bored shooting, strangling, neck-snapping, and drowning Redcoats. Bored. I feel bad that I haven’t finished the game, or even managed to get any further to the main story. But I’m just bored and annoyed, its ethos of anti-Exceptionalism notwithstanding.

Bioshock Infinite, on the other hand, sends me into fits of giggles on a fairly regular basis, and not because it has sunshine (it does) and birdies (it has those, too) and cotton candy (yup). Because I can strangle an enemy with a skyhook, shoot flocks of crows out of my hands, and go flying through the sky on rails. It’s FUN.

Now this isn’t to say that BI has foregone thematic importance for fun – on the contrary. While I do think that the game is rather, uh, heavy handed (think “elephant sitting on a Hummer while waiving a spiked club about with its trunk”) with its commentary on white supremacy and Exeptionalism (they aren’t actually the same thing, although in this game you might think so), it most definitely retains the firm insistence on the power of the Vox Populi (in the literal and metaphoric sense).

And here’s where I get to my point. I will finish BI. I will finish it probably at the sacrifice of both food and sleep (to minor degrees) because it’s both pretty (as is AC3, in a different way) and fun. I will appreciate its message of inclusivity and interconnectedness (and whatever else I haven’t encountered yet). But – and here’s the part that makes my not-so-inner academic a little sad – I won’t appreciate it as a powerful work of subtlety and nuance. Because BI isn’t.

AC3 has a lot of potential in that department, it really does. I can imagine a narrative line leading from where I left off in that game to something complex and rich. BI isn’t complex or rich in narrative terms. It’s about as subtle as the shotgun that makes it so much fun. And I’m struggling with the fact that I wish the two games had been combined (at least so far). I want the subtlety, the verisimilitude to reality that I feel like AC3 has and BI lacks.

But as a gamer, I’m not going to struggle through boredom to get there, and that’s why, ultimately, BI is a better game. It may still be immature in its narrative and symbolic complexity, but I’m having so much fun that I can forgive it for waving a glittering symbolism stick in my face while jumping up and down on a trampoline of metaphors.