With series creator Ken Levine and his Irrational Games outfit back at the helm, it’s safe to say that some of us are struggling to contain our excitement at the prospect of BioShock Infinite. The solid but Levine-less BioShock 2 wasn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination – in fact, its much-improved combat mechanics arguably dragged the franchise into the top tier of first person shooters. But it had its niggles and there’s no escaping the feeling that Rapture wasn’t quite the same the second time around. Thank heavens then for Columbia – the city in the sky that will serve as the setting for the next BioShock outing. The simple announcement of a new stage on which to act out the latest BioShockian drama will be enough to satiate plenty of those who felt BioShock 2 was a little stale. However, it also sets the mind racing as we wonder what else will be new when the third entry in the series finally arrives. We’re going to have to wait until 2012 to find out, of course, but in the meantime here’s a wish list of the top five improvements I’d like to see made to this outstanding franchise before I board the good ship-state Columbia:
1. A new subtle, well-rounded villain
Andrew Ryan stands proud as one of the greatest antagonists ever thrust into a game’s spotlight. Whether you saw him as a villain, a hero, or something in between, his character was fleshed out to an extent rarely seen in a film – let alone a videogame. Sophia Lamb, on the other hand, was an annoying cow with a school teacher’s approach to plot exposition and all the depth of character of Master Chief’s pet amoeba. Let’s hope BioShock Infinite leaves Lamb’s lamentations behind and gives us a villain to rival Ryan.
2. Freedom to explore a brave new world
From where I’m standing, there’s nothing wrong with linearity in itself. But BioShock 2’s strict linearity contributed to the feeling that Rapture had lost a little bit of its magic by the time of the franchise’s second installment. The fact that the first game allowed the player to backtrack through previously explored areas of the city did more than just afford you genuine choice in how and when you tackled the Big Daddies and Little Sisters. It also gave Rapture the feeling of a real ecosystem that existed independently of your actions, adding greatly to the underwater world’s magic. Irrational could do worse than to build on this sense of freedom as they strive to recreate the wonder of Rapture.
3. Fitting boss fights
Does a BioShock game really need strong boss fights? No, probably not. But what no game on earth needs is a silly blue rubber man sitting between the protagonist and the final cut scene, steadily demolishing your immersion in the storyline whilst you begrudgingly eat your way through his cartoon health bar. If we’re going to face a final boss in BioShock Infinite, please don’t let it be one that makes us wet ourselves with laughter instead of fear.
4. More nuanced NPC interactions and moral dilemmas
It might have seemed pretty neat the first time, but the power to decide the fate of a Little Sister soon loses its charm. Let’s face it: you’re not really making any choice at all other than a simple selection between the options of having your power-up cake now and eating it later instead. If anything, the choice of whether or not to fight Big Daddies in the first place was more interesting than the subsequent ‘dilemma’ over how to deal with your defeated foes’ young charges. The option to pass by on the other side of a Little Sister’s menacing guardian felt refreshingly real and provided a nice anecdote to the decidedly one-sided nature of your interaction with most of the other inhabitants of Rapture. BioShock 2’s introduction of the fairly single-minded Big Sisters failed to repeat the trick but perhaps Irrational Games have something more exciting up their sleeve? Fans won’t complain about the questionable decision to trade off the BioShock brand if Infinite takes player choice up a notch.
5. A fresh tutorial system
The way in which the original BioShock held your hand through its early stages without ever feeling artificial was masterfully executed, especially since the dubious difficulty curve inherent to the game’s central mechanics would otherwise have stood out like a sore thumb. However, it would be nice if BioShock Infinite could find a new way to show you the ropes, since BioShock 2’s repeating of the same tutorial formula grated more than a little bit. Irrational Games can’t be blamed for that, of course, but if I find myself being forced to “learn” that fire melts ice one more time, I may have to have a little cry.
What are your biggest hopes and fears for BioShock Infinite? Do you think there’s room for improvement or am I being too picky?