Written by: Ed Humphries
What goes around comes around. Two years ago, I was asked by my editors to kick-start the year by gazing ahead and predicting the one title I thought would be the best game I would play all year OR might be the biggest disappointment to come. I decided to open Door #2 and selected Bioshock 2 as a title I had yearned to play since completing my first trip through Rapture yet something in my bones told me a return visit would yield nothing but vacant, faded memories – the same feeling anyone gets when touring a beloved property gone to seed. Knowing that game had been given the fast track for a sequel purely based on the massive coin dropped in 2K’s coffers – and most importantly – knowing that Bioshock’s true father, Ken Levine, had nothing to with the sequel – I just felt a sinking dread wash over me. So, I called it out as the one title destined to disappoint me that year. And despite the earful I received from some ticked-off PR rep, my prediction came true. The sequel was a faint echo of a once compelling siren song; one I thought I would never fall for again.
But like the snake eating its tail, here we are again; the start of a new year and the chance to look ahead and select one game that will make or break my 2012. Only this time, I aim to make a quantum leap and set right what once went wrong. I’m selecting Bioshock Infinite as my most ANTICIPATED game of 2012.
For starters, this is the secret project that Ken Levine was laboring on as Bioshock 2 was nearing release. Rumors swirled that whatever Ken was working on, it was as far removed from the Bioshock universe as could be. After all, if he wanted to submerge into those waters once again, surely he would have dove deep the moment 2K greenlit the sequel. But Ken is a world-builder and I get the sense he had shown us all we ever needed to see of Rapture’s ruin. For Ken, and his expert team of artisans and craftsmen at Irrational Games, hitting new heights and bringing gamers to brave new worlds seems more important than the bottom line. Plus – if you want to nurture a property properly, you need to push it in new and interesting directions while retaining a tether to where you came from. Don’t forget your roots but get out there and see the world.
And that’s where Ken and company have led us with their new take on the Bioshock mythos. Gone are the watery depths – replaced by a floating utopia at the turn of the century. Where Bioshock presented Ayn Rand’s grand experiment brought to a frightening conclusion – Bioshock Infinite sends the American Dream into the stratosphere. Bioshock was a world of leaky, dripping despair. Bioshock Infinite opens in a sun-dappled small town slice of American Dream that just so happens to hover up in the clouds. That’s what Irrational does best. They build worlds dripping with atmosphere that encourage exploration and float enough conspiratorial details to get your mind racing in league with your blistered trigger finger and pounding heart. It’s like that rare sleeper summer blockbuster (like District 9) which offers up a tale that insidiously tattoos itself upon your psyche while you’re enjoying the usual action movie bombast. These types of games reward the adventure gamer in me who loves to just soak in the environment, chasing down each twisting rabbit hole just to see where it all leads.
That Ken Levine and Irrational resurrected a franchise I thought was one and done after that tired, leaky Bioshock retread makes me look forward to Spring 2012 when I can once again blind myself with Ken’s beaming vision. And to think, that’s just the start of the year. Who knows what other epic adventures await?