Reviewing the reviews: BioShock Infinite

Disclaimer: Nick’s views does not necessarily represent those of Pixel Enemy or its staff and he has written this “review of a review” on a freelance contributor basis).

Reviewing the Reviews: BioShock Infinite – by Nick Simberg

Everyone loves BioShock Infinite, the latest Irrational Games masterpiece. And I mean everyone – at the time of this writing, there is but a single “Mixed” review on the entirety of MetaCritic (on the 360 version, from notorious low-scorer Tom Chick), and not even one “Negative.” It’s a good thing, too, as the game took something like six years to develop. That’s half as long as Duke Nukem Forever! So you just know it’s gotta be good.

My question, though, is who said “it’s great,” the best? Instead of me reviewing the game and telling you to go buy it (apparently, you should), I’m going to review the reviews, from all most of the best game sites on the internet.

Polygon

Since they had the best review last time I did one of these things, let’s start with game journalism’s resident supergroup: Polygon.

First off, they still have some of the prettiest reviews on the internet. It’s like a magazine! Except I don’t have to pay for it. So I guess it’s like my neighbor’s magazine. Get a lock on your mailbox, dude!

Intro paragraph: lots of big, boring-sounding words. By the end of the third paragraph/intro, however, I am intrigued. The BioShock comparisons are there, and will probably be prevalent in every review I review, but what makes this game better than the first? And will they all ignore BioShock 2? Answer: probably.

As the paragraphs go on, Gies’s storytelling unfurls slowly, like the actual intro to the game. Unfortunately, it’s not really working for me. I understand that Infinite is supposed to be this brilliant work of art that we’re only allowed to talk about with a sort of hushed reverence (and even then, you’d better be on the lookout for spoilers!), but… not being able to discuss some of the finer points dilutes the impact of the review. Maybe all reviews.

Glossing over a game like Infinite, and trying to get people to play it without giving away too much by reducing it a mere sum of its parts – graphics, controls, art direction – is hard. Reducing a 20-hour game to 1,700 words is tough. Reducing those 1,700 words to my 250… well, that’s just the internet.

Score:

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Giant Bomb

Our pal Jeff Gerstmann jumps deep into the story specifics right off the bat, so if you want to jump into your own game with a complete sense of wonder and newness, this is not a thing you should read. And then he keeps going, for paragraphs upon paragraphs. The problem I had with the Polygon review is turned a complete 180 here – instead of too little story/world info, I get far too much.

It’s like when Kotaku posted that “THE JOKER DIES IN THE INTRO OF ARKHAM CITY” thing a while back. Got everyone’s panties all in a bundle. I just want to know if the game is worth my $60 and your take on it, Jeff. Don’t tell me every little thing that happens in the first five hours of gameplay.

And then the review is over. Like, I thought there was a page two or something. But nope, I looked everywhere. Review summary: “Here are some story spoilers, the guns are standard and the magic is pretty much exactly the same as the first game, and the enemy AI ignores your ally. Five stars.” What. Worst review yet.

Score:

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GamesRadar

Great start! It has random imagery from the game interspersed with opinions about Infinite’s world. Very, very effective to get me to keep reading. Even the way Elizabeth is described makes me care about getting to meet her in-game.

After the review is over, you realize: wow, he just focused on the relationship with your sidekick through the entirety of the review, with little glimpses into this crazy world in the meantime. It works. It really, really works. You should read this one.

Score:

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Destructoid

It’s Jim Sterling time. Seeing him review a game that he not only likes, but is objectively good (a far cry from his weird Dynasty Warriors obsession) is refreshing, and he does it in a way that must finally prove to all the haters that he’s much more than just a “professional troll.” He is a man who cares deeply for games, wishes to see them do well both as an entertainment and an artistic medium, and after many, many years in the game criticism world, is well-equipped to present them in a provocative way.

Suffice it to say, this review is very good. It’s also the first to point out that no, you don’t have Elizabeth from the beginning of the game. Lots of crazy stuff happens before you even meet her, but she changes not only how you play BioShock Infinite, but also how you will think of side characters in video games for the rest of your life.

I don’t know how we can top this one. Terrific words written on a terrific game. Hmmm… how about we head over to the only 6/10 review on MetaCritic!

Score:

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Quarter to Three

Clicking on this because it’s the only low score on review aggregate sites is how most people will find it, and you’ll obviously come into it with some presumptions. But you have to remember: this is Tom Chick, who has been reviewing games for something like 34 years, and his recent panning of beloved titles like Journey, Uncharted 3Halo 4, and Far Cry 3 has earned him some modicum of notoriety. But people are forced to admit that the way he looks at games is unique. And we need more variety in the voices of game journalism, because, like he so eloquently states, it’s “too often a matter of cheerleading on behalf of the already winning teams.”

He pulls no punches:

  • “This is BioShock with no new solution for how not to be a game about rummaging through desks.”
  • “When this game should fly, it instead rides rails, like a rollercoaster where a dream of flight should be.”
  • “Imagine ambition exceeding gameplay. Imagine Kojima.”

It’s harsh. But he draws you in and kind of… makes you see his perspective. Sure, you’re enjoying the crap out of it. But you could see where it wasn’t as brilliant to Chick as it was to you. And it makes you appreciate what it does do so much more, especially compared to some of the other annual dredge clogging the market today. Even if I disagree pretty much completely with his assessment of Elizabeth’s role in the game.

Score:

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IGN

They were allowed to break embargo and review the game early. This relationship has so many things wrong with it, and the review – while most likely sprouting the same basic information as all the others – is tainted because of it. This practice should not be encouraged by page clicks, which is why I’m not linking to it here or even clicking on it myself. I give this idea IGN’s God Hand score out of ten.

Score:

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Game Informer

This review starts off similarly to Polygon’s – slowly, deliberately, like the game itself. But it’s done so much better here. It even has one sentence which could serve as a sort of thesis statement for basically every review I’ve read on this journey. Regarding the atmosphere: “Whether you’re looking at a piece of propaganda, listening to an audio log, or participating in a horrifying raffle, almost everything you encounter contributes to your understanding of the floating world.”

By far, this review feels the most… professional? But not in the style overused by the fanboys to mean “unbiased;” that is impossible and, frankly, unwanted. He hits all the review checkboxes and delivers the information we are looking for in a straightforward, unhurried, unmuddied way. It comes across as a bit sterile/inoffensive (or “soulless” if you want to be mean about it), but if I had to give my parents one BioShock Infinite review to read, it would be this one.

On the other hand, if I had to recommend that you read only one of these, it would be Destructoid’s. 10 out of 10 good job everyone.

Score:

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Now, Levine… Get started on Infinite 2! I want something to play on my Wii U.

(For more on Nick Simberg’s views and ramblings on the videogame industry, head on over to DigitalGumballs).