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The Power of Curiosity

I played through Bioshock Infinite because I had a single question that needed to be answered: What was REALLY going on in Columbia?

I've spent the past weekend playing Bioshock Infinite almost nonstop. It's one of the few games I've really been anticipating these past several months, and while I do have several issues with the game (mainly the "game" part), I still found the experience enjoyable, and it'll likely rank among my top games at the end of the year. However, while playing through BI, I noticed something: I wasn't playing necessarily playing the game for the moment, but for the promise of something big.

The gameplay in Bioshock Infinite seemed rather lackluster to me. The various powers you get seemed completely arbitrary and irrelevant to the plot. The gameplay did not demand the huge variety of weapons, either; there was little to no stealth in the game, and as long as you could point a gun at an enemy and pull the trigger, it would generally get the job done. This stood out in particular to me because of my recent time playing Far Cry 3, where sniper rifles, pistols, shotguns, flamethrowers, etc. all had specific uses, and there was genuine strategy involved with choosing which weapons to carry. In contrast, for Bioshock Infinite I merely used whatever weapon had the most ammo available. The combat was serviceable, but aside from a few of the more open areas with the rails, it was never particularly engaging to me.

However, I kept playing BI. Part of it was that Booker and Elizabeth were genuinely interesting characters (itself a rarity when it comes to games), but the main reason is because I felt like I was chasing something. You see, the first Bioshock blew me away with what I consider one of the greatest moments in all of video games. At the time, I wasn't even considering that there would be a revelation - I was happy just to explore Rapture, and the business with Andrew Ryan was all just background noise. When the turning point of Bioshock came, it went from a pretty decent game to one of my favorites of this generation. Even acknowledging the game's flaws (including a lackluster ending), I still highly recommend it to friends looking to get into video games.

It was that sense of shock that made me ready to dive into Bioshock Infinite head first. This time around, I wasn't there just to take in Columbia - I knew that Ken Levine had an idea, and that the entire game would be one big lead-up to what would hopefully be another mind-blowing reveal. Even putting aside the oddities of the setting (why do I have a hat that makes me invulnerable after I eat a hot dog?), I was still paying attention to every line of dialogue and every word that Booker and Elizabeth exchanged. I was looking for clues and putting together theories over what might be going on, and while I was wrong on most of my accounts, the chase was plenty of fun.

However, Bioshock Infinite is actually the second game in the past year to make me keep playing solely in anticipation of something bigger. While it's a completely different genre, Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward drew me in in the exact same way. Just like Bioshock Infinite, VLR is a sequel to a game that also wowed me with a stunning conclusion that redefined the experience. I was willing to put up with the sometimes confusing puzzles in VLR because I wanted to know where the story would end up. The way I was drip-fed details here and there made me hungry for the conclusion, much like an appetizer wetting my appetite for the main course.

Looking over the games I've played lately, it seems like very few games have this sort of draw to them. I don't play a Mario game to see what will happen when he rescues Peach - I play it for the challenge of the levels. Even a story-based game like The Walking Dead thrives on the character-to-character moments, though a great ending is still appreciated. However, it was interesting playing Bioshock Infinite right after Far Cry 3, which had the exact opposite effect on me. Toward the end of FC3, I got weary of the game and felt like there was little left to do, even though I had not completed the story yet. I wound up looking up the ending online because I wasn't sure I had the interest necessary to see the game through to the end. I imagine it must be a downer to game developers knowing that most players don't finish the games they buy, so games wind up either being short, or with most of the interesting content put at the front.

It really says something about Bioshock's story that it kept me gripped despite the gameplay feeling lackluster. Having a reason to keep the player interested is always a sign of great game design, but BI really illustrates the strength of a strong narrative. Even Fire Emblem: Awakening, one of my favorite games this year, remains unbeaten because I take the game one challenge at a time rather than out of a desire to see the ending. Of course, if there is too many promises without a solid resolution, then the player is more likely to just become tired and call it quits, much like the TV series Lost.

Then again, Bioshock Infinite never did explain what the hot dog invincibility hat was about. I should send Ken Levine an email about that one. 

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