The World

Bioshock Infinite has one of the most impressive worlds I've ever seen. Not because it's beautiful (although it is), and not because it feels particularly complete and fully realized (which it doesn't), but because it holds up such a strong and critical mirror to American nationalism and racism.

The Hall of Heroes setpiece, in which Booker and Elizabeth walk through lovingly rendered, utterly grotesque, themepark depictions of Wounded Knee and the Boxer Rebellion, is pretty much what justifies the game's price for me. This isn't casual bigotry that taints a community but a thorough, studied, artful hatred that forms the community's foundation. It's beautiful and disgusting and perfect. Everyone should at least youtube this part of the game.

The Story

The story of Bioshock Infinite, which I will try not to spoil, is in structure more or less a Borges story: all idea, little characterization, and requiring the most precise tolerances in execution in order to work well. And it almost does.

The problem is that this kind of story almost always requires a short form execution. There are maybe two hours' worth of story in the actual narrative of Bioshock Infinite, and if this were a suitably short game like Journey or Papo & Yo, it would be brilliant.

However, they've taken a AAA-length game (albeit maybe a touch on the short side) and stretched it over that two hours of story, and that's a problem. It shows in the narrative dead time where you're doing busywork or running around for no good reason, and it shows in the unfinished and generic characters -- including Booker and Elizabeth, who when compared to, say, Monkey and Trip of Enslaved, or Drake and Elena of Uncharted, feel like straight-up cardboard cutouts.

(By the way, Enslaved has a narrative structure that is quite similar to Bioshock Infinite, but it does a much better job of fleshing it out into a full-length story.)

The Gameplay

It has Bioshock's controls, but the design sensibilities of Uncharted -- which is to say, it's built around much more gamey/set-up encounters, enemy behavior is pretty rote, and the whole thing is waaaaaay linear.

Which doesn't really bother me at all; I like Uncharted style games.

Go play Kentucky Route Zero, damn it

Ultimately, I find that Bioshock Infinite is a great demonstration of what's broken about AAA games. If you take similar values -- Americana, tragedy, political awareness, trippy narrative -- and instead of strapping them to a $60 shooter experience, put them in another format, like the art-game adventure style of Kentucky Route Zero, then you can have a vastly more complete and fulfilling experience. (Or so I hope after playing the first act of KRZ. It could always fall apart.)