Bioshock Infinite is good, at times very good.
The ending, however, disappointed me, and I’d like to talk through my disappointment in as spoiler-free/vague terms as possible.
First off: the plot twists themselves weren’t that great. I could boil it down to two absurd and stupid sentences; I saw one of the plot twists coming from a mile away and the other I dismissed as something so Shyamalan-esqe that Ken Levine wouldn’t have dared. To the game’s credit, the twists are handled in, perhaps, the most elegant way possible, if at the expense of Elizabeth’s characterization and plot holes. There are, however, much bigger problems with the ending.
As I see it, Bioshock Infinite’s narrative shortcomings can be blamed on too much ambition. The game wanted to be a story about right-wing conservatism versus populist/socialist movements (particularly in America), an alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking story of a woman’s quest for liberation, a heady, mythologizing piece of sci-fi mind-fuck and a somber mediation on the nature of a tragic hero.
The trouble is, Infinite goes from one idea to the one, rarely allowing its disparate narrative strands to mingle or build off of one another. Instead of forming a rich, thematically potent storyline, each thread fails to build to much at all – the politics are kept at South Park-level extreme abstraction and ridicule, Elizabeth’s arc stops stone cold, the sci-fi heady mind-fuck elicits more of a WTF than a wow and Booker’s somber resolution gets overshadowed by the late-breaking plot-twists.
Similarly, gameplay fails to evolve or develop to any great degree. Infinite introduces a bunch of neat ideas (the renamed Vigors from Bioshock, the sky-rail, interdimensional tears, etc.), but fails to come up with the appropriate challenges. Enemies just get more health and more numbers, to the point that the very last thing level is a wretched, interminable slog of you and your BFF shooting dudes while the dudes try to outshoot you.
Ordinarily, I could probably forgive a lot of these problems in a game – I mean, have you seen the average quality of modern video games cough Black Ops 2? – but Infinite’s failings are incredibly frustrating. A game with as many interesting ideas and mechanics as Infinite should have amounted to a masterpiece. What we have, instead, is a messy (but still good) game with flashes of much, much more like a cruel striptease.
Try this: play through the Hall of Heroes level. Then think about Call of Duty. Then think about the ending. Then have your mind blown.