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A Feeling Once Familiar… (Bioshock Infinite)

After my brief exposure to Bioshock Infinite over the weekend, I felt the need to write something about the experience. I wouldn’t say my faith in gaming has been waning over the past years (mostly over fear that it makes me sound old and jaded), but I once remember a time when games used to instill a real sense of wonder and discovery. Lately I’ve been feeling that I’ve seen it all. I’m seeing a lot of the same corridors, the same landscapes, the same enemies etc. and I’m not even playing that many shooters anymore. Don’t get me wrong, many of my favourite games came from the last few years, but they still feel few and far between.

For example, I think back to 2007. Within the span of a few months, I was introduced to the dark, mysterious wonders of Rapture for the first time and had my mind blown into oblivion by its not-late-enough-in-the-game twist. I DIED halfway through Call of Duty 4 in a nuclear explosion that Treyarch and Infinity Ward have yet to top or even match no matter how many times they make the same game. I landed on the Citadel for the first time and quickly fell in love with a universe that I can safely say is my favourite setting in any video game, movie or book. Valve bundled five different games (all of which were stellar in my opinion) into a single package and swallowed a few weeks of my life in the process, inadvertently creating a meme in Portal that lasts to this day (for better and for worse). All those memories and likely many more for most people were created in the span of a few months. As I said before, I don’t want to come off as cynical or anything, but even when the top developers are all pushing out major games right before the Christmas holidays I get excited for… maybe one or two of them? A feeling once familiar, of total bliss at playing a game that could show me something I had never seen before, is all but gone.

Maybe it’s a cause of this generation going on too long, leaving developers to rely on old tricks to get the job done, but there is definitely a certain staleness in the air. It’s led me to retreat back to games like the Persona series to find something truly new and memorable. All this changed over the weekend when I decided to put Persona 4 Arena and XCOM: Enemy Unknown (both games that I am thoroughly enjoying) on hold for a moment and try what some people have been describing as ‘the best game of the generation.’ I wasn’t skeptical, as a lot of people threw that label on the original Bioshock when it came out and, for my money, it earned that title for some time. I even heard the claim that diving into Infinite for the first time was a more affecting experience than Bioshock itself. My interest was absolutely piqued.

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I popped the game in my 360 (because no fucking way was my laptop gonna run that thing on decent settings without having an epileptic fit) and started a new game. I’m suddenly in a shoddy boat in the middle of a rainy night, slowly paddling my way to an isolated lighthouse. Feelings of 2007 rushed back to my mind and I got an uneasy  chill, like maybe I had accidentally put in Bioshock or something. But not long after that, I’m soaring high above the clouds in a city in the sky. It’s like seeing Rapture for the first time, but more exhilarating. I’m a kid again, unsure of what is coming next but overly excited to find out. As I explore Columbia, my jaw is glued to the floor and my eyes are stuck open. I am admiring every little detail and constantly being distracted from my goal by anything and everything. I’m not just playing a game anymore, going from point A to point B and killing everything in my path, I’m interested and invested. I’m not completing objectives for the sake of more experience or better gear, I WANT to do the things the game tells me because I trust that it will only lead to more great encounters. I’m not thinking ahead to what the next boss will look like or how long this section of the game will take, I’m in the moment, enjoying the here and now. It takes me an hour (or maybe two if I want to be totally and embarrassingly honest) to complete about 15-20 minutes worth of gameplay. My family arrives for Easter and I have to rip myself away from the game. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

Maybe the game drops off dramatically from that opening (it likely doesn’t), but I already don’t care. I was hit with a shot of shock and awe straight to my imagination, something I hadn’t experienced in some time. A feeling once familiar returned to me in a surge that was overwhelming, but welcome. I realize I’m coming off a bit strong (insert ejaculation joke here), especially considering I can’t really say I’ve even played the game yet, but I don’t care. That first impression was all I needed to have my faith, not in gaming, but in genuine wonder in gaming, renewed. Thank you Bioshock Infinite, thank you Irrational Games and thank you Ken Levine for giving me the opportunity the rediscover my unadulterated love for this hobby of mine. For the first time in a long time, I genuinely can’t wait to see what happens next.

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