Thursday, August 15, 2013

Why BioShock Infinite Left a Lasting Impression on Me, and The Last of Us Didn't ...

I'd like to preface this article by saying that I genuinely loved both games. I already wrote an article comparing them, but I don't want to get into direct comparisons and arguments about wether or not one is better than the other. The great thing about artistically strong games like these is that they are art. What I do want to address is why I feel BioShock Infinite left a bigger impression on me than The Last of Us did. Also, possible SPOILERS are ahead.


Sorry. I just refuse to ruin any of these amazing experiences for people who haven't yet played them.

Let's get going.

Familiar Territory

I genuinely consider The Last of Us to be the first big budget game to really nail the feeling of a zombie apocalypse in every sense; from story to atmosphere to tone. The realism in the game is astonishing and the tension is top notch. The characters are believable and the setting is beautiful. However, it's that very strength that is it's weakness. We've seen the zombie apocalypse. We've seen it done well. We're familiar with the archetypes of character's evolutions in these situations. We've seen these plot twists. It's familiar territory done astonishingly well, but it's familiar territory nevertheless. 

BioShock Infinite has the benefit of having a completely unique setting and story. We've not seen this is a video game before, or any medium for that matter. A city in the sky built by a religious defector of the United States who uses the manipulation of quantum mechanics to manufacture his status as a powerful prophet in the 1910s? It's unfamiliar territory, and it's new to us. BioShock Infinite has a lot to say and by the end of the game we feel as though we've just been through a mind bending experience. The music, the world, and the atmosphere all merge into this incredibly unique experience that I've never experienced in a game. 

Profound Ideas

By the end of BioShock Infinite we are left to contemplate so much. The game explores racism, religious extremism, revolution, multiverse theory, quantum mechanics, abuse of power, nationalism, political idolatry, time travel, humanity, rebirth etc. It asks profound questions. What is free will? Is choice an illusion? What is the difference between the malevolent dictator and the violent revolutionaries? Are we our own worst enemies? 

There are questions the player will have upon completing the game. It doesn't hand everything to you at the end. It leaves you with the biggest piece of the puzzle, but it's up to the player to piece it together. The second time playing the game gives it new meaning. You understand what the world of the game is saying. You understand the nuances that you may have missed before. Making those connections is a fascinating experience. It was much like the end of the original BioShock when you finally understand the significance of Atlas's particular way of speaking only on a deeper and more profound level. There is not a single thing in BioShcok Infinite that is in the game for the sake of being in the game. It's all there for a reason, and having completed the game 10 times and finally pieced that puzzle together, I can say that with the upmost confidence. 

Expect The Expected

At the end of The Last of Us we're left to contemplate wether Joel was a good person or not. Is it selfish to abandon the chance to save the human race in order to keep what you love intact, or is it smart? It asks us what we're willing to sacrifice and for what? Unfortunately, this is again familiar territory. We're asked to contemplate exactly what we were expecting to contemplate simply because the situation in which the game takes place is so familiar. Perhaps if The Walking Dead hadn't been so recent The Last of Us might've hit a little closer to home, but it doesn't break new ground in what it does so much as it breaks new ground in how it does it. The Last of Us, again, is the finest example of capturing the feel of a zombie apocalypse, but if they had just deviated from the norm just a little bit, it probably would have been even greater. 

To this day I think deeply about the ending of BioShock Infinite, and I only ever think of The Last of Us when BioShock Infinite is mentioned simply because the two were so closely compared for so long. The Last of Us is definitely an amazing experience and I very much doubt you'll forget playing it. It's one of those games that you'll likely remember several years from now, but in terms of leaving a lasting impression? In terms of blowing minds? In terms of asking unique questions in new ways? It's not likely to be something you'll think about too often. The Last of Us is a story to be experienced. BioShock Infinite is an experience that will make you think. If there's any reason BioShock Infinite left a lasting impression on me, it's this:

It's well beyond unfamiliar territory.

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