Bioshock: Elizabeth Needs Saving & So Do I
It all started when the dame walked into my office. The first things I noticed about her were her legs – they seemed to go on for days, like a boring movie, or a particularly determined hunger strike. They went all the way from her ankles to her torso. Lemme tell ya, these were legs, all right. And then, before I could notice anything else, she was at my desk, looking at me with those dark, burrowing eyes of hers; those deep, brown eyes, perfect if not for the fact that the left eye was slightly, lazily askew. She looked at me, with those terrifying, penetrating eyes, or at least with one of them, and that’s when I knew: I was gonna have to stop narrating my life out loud, at least with her around.
She was crying now, probably sensitive about her damn broken eye. Or maybe her tear ducts were screwy too, how was I to know? I was just a guy with a grudge, a gun, and a finely-carved desk made outta the finest woods the office’s previous owner could buy. Point is, it was an expensive desk, and her tears were ruining the varnish. I had to get to the root of her problems, and fast, or I was going to have an afternoon’s scrubbing and polishing to attend to. And the only thing I was in the mood for polishing off was this scotch, see. And the only thing I cared to scrub out was two-bit crime.
I bought Bioshock Infinite.
I half-intended for this article to be a review of the game, but unfortunately, life has, like a half-blind rhinoceros in a sewage treatment plant, horned its way in and made a right mess of things for everyone. Tuesday night, I pre-loaded it. I was, in an almost-literal sense, ahead of the game. But: life.
I’d been reading How I Escaped My Certain Fate, Stewart Lee’s paean to the self-destructive art form that is uncompromisingly intelligent comedy, and it’s every bit as good as you’d imagine. Except, oddly, every time I put the book down to eat some crisps or check the download’s progress, the book insisted that I start reading from the beginning of the chapter, despite the fact that bookmarking technology has been available and, let’s face it, taken for granted, for most of the twenty-first century. This mightn’t actually sound so bad, but I’d urge you to keep in mind that a chapter in Lee’s book ranges anywhere from a 4-page long reprinted diary entry to a painstakingly-annotated transcription of a 90-minute stand-up performance. It was not an ideal way to read the book. It was almost insulting.
So, Tuesday night was a bust. Still, there was always Wednesday. So I slept. Or, at least, I did for two hours, at which point I woke up to get a glass of water. And here’s the weird thing: my body’s internal clock, despite being fully aware that I’d already slept for two good hours, found it necessary for me to get the full, recommended eight hours of sleep consecutively, in a row, with no breaks for anything or anyone. So, obviously, given this ludicrous demand, I ended up sleeping on and off through the majority of Wednesday morning and afternoon. It was silly, really. No need for that.
Still, Wednesday evening, I finally got to play some Bio Inf, and I started writing some impressions on that opening sequence. But it got a bit strange, because every time I stopped writing in the middle of a paragraph, the WordPress editor would automatically delete everything I’d just typed, and I’d have to do everything all over again, inevitably in a more bored and rushed fashion. It was, and I promise we’re getting to the end of this tortured analogy now, rather infuriating.
Very little of the above actually happened. But all of it might have.
Let’s talk about Bioshock Infinite’s save system.
I finally convinced her to sit down, and calmed her hysterics with a withering glare and a threatening gesture. We sat there in a stony, measured silence for a few long minutes. Eventually, she broke, and asked me if I was really a detective. I told her to back off, what business was it of hers anyway. (I was a very private detective.)
She explained her situation. She’d come home from a society dinner two nights ago to find her apartment ransacked, torn apart, but with nothing of value missing. On account of this the police had quickly lost interest – they were somehow still busily trying to figure who’d killed that chauffeur all those years ago. But she was unsettled, and so here she was, knocking on my door. I told her to stop that – she was already inside, and I was very hungover. I took a meaningful swig of scotch from a tumbler and asked her what she was going to offer me for my services. She tremblingly pulled a mighty nasty-looking pistol out of her purse, and pointed it at me. She needed my help to feel safe, and so I was going to help, and that was that.
I balled my hands into fists, and immediately regretted not putting down the apparently fragile tumbler first.
Let’s talk about Bioshock Infinite’s lack of a save system.
Irrational’s choice to encumber Bio Inf with a needlessly frustrating checkpoint system is a deliberate one. We know this because the original Bioshock had checkpoints, and manual saves, and quicksaves, and saves-on-exiting, and vita-chambers. It was almost impossible to lose any meaningful progress in that game, short of deliberately throwing your hard drive in a lake. Infinite turns that around 180 degrees, then goes another 360, and then another 180, before collapsing dizziedly in a heap by a radiator and giving up. No more manual saves, no more quicksaves, no more saves-on-exiting. Just saving if and when the game decides maybe it’d like to save. Clearly, Irrational made this choice because… Um.
I don’t know. It’s mystifying, and inexplicable, and rubbish. And let’s be clear that the needless frustration isn’t borne out of the game’s difficulty. It’s frustrating because SOMETIMES I JUST NEED TO QUIT THE GAME, why are you questioning me on this Bioshock. Why am I being held hostage by the game? It’s often brought up how no other medium locks content you’ve paid for behind tests of skill, but certainly no other medium punishes you so petulantly for having a life or a power outage or just wanting to stop when it’s convenient for you to stop. How is it that we’ve moved into a world where we can pause live TV, but no longer save our games?
The only way this makes any sense at all is if it’s some sort of ill-thought-out artistic statement that’s backfired horribly. Maybe Ken Levine thought the games press would notice this glaring flaw at preview events, and run giant headlines reading “IRRATIONAL NOT TO OFFER MANUAL SAVES” because, haha, yes it IS irrational not to offer manual saves, oh Ken, you jokester, and then, having made their point, they’d fix the game in time for release and everything would be okay again. Only then the press didn’t do that, and they forgot to fix it? Is that what happened?
Because, if not, what happened?
I haven’t even come close to finishing the game yet, but there are already plenty of things I think I might find annoying about Bio Inf, like the player’s verb list being reduced to Move, Pick Up, Shoot, and Gawp At The Pretties. And there’s a heap of things I already love about Bio Inf: the shooting is a lot more satisfying than the first Bioshock’s, and of course, The Pretties. I haven’t made my mind up about anything yet.
And every time I stop to think about something else, all my burgeoning opinions reset and I have to form them all over again.
A look of shock splashed across her face. She timidly tucked the gun back into her purse, and then tended to my bleeding hand, while I kept a firm chin and stern grimace. With the worst of the wounds bandaged, she looked at me, with those almost perfect eyes, and smiled.
“Let’s start over,” she said.
I turned and faced the back wall.
“No,” I replied. “Let’s not.”