BioShock: Infinite and the Art of Alternate Game Modes Part 1
This is part 1 of a 2 part series delving into Hard Modes and Alternate Game Modes in video games.
The recent release of BioShock Remastered game me a chance to finally check out something I was a bit too chicken to try originally in Infinite: 1999 Mode. The past few years of gaming had toughened me up, getting nearly a dozen platinum trophies has boosted my confidence in taking on Super Hard Modes. Plus, I had beaten Infinite on Normal before and it was absolute cake, so what the heck? I loaded the disc, typed in the Konami Code, watched that ‘Should Auld Acquaintance…’ trophy pop, pulled up a road map of all the Voxophones, and go to work earning that sweet, sweet plat.
1999 Mode is an homage to 90’s First Person Shooters. It was crafted to be rigorous and grueling, a supreme challenge for players to reminisce about the good old days of old with. It would have a toned down auto aim function, Elizabeth provides you with fewer combat resources, and few autosaves – it was going to feel ’90’s’. It is advertised as being ‘for hardcore gamers only’ and Ken Levine, Irrational Games creative director, went so far as to say, “This mode is not going to feel like BioShock.” and let me tell you, Ken was absolutely right: 1999 Mode is an absolute mess.
BioShock: Infinite is already a big departure from the first two BioShock games: different world, two weapon load out, regenerating shield, and speaking protagonist. I love BioShock Infinite, it is unique and inspired, it took risks, and most importantly it knew what it wanted to be. The battlefields felt organic and were designed well, many fun and varied play style options were given, and the game felt driven by narrative. It never felt exhausting because of the variety, different guns were everywhere, new Vigors were changing things up, and the big enemies presented a challenge. It was a lot of game, and it was a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, 1999 Mode took a very lazy approach to being hard. The basic enemies never pursue you, which forces you out into the open in order to attack them, and makes everywhere without cover was a killing field. The constant lack of ammo made most guns unusable, snipers and rocket launchers were the only weapons guaranteed to kill anything, and Vigors were hardly good enough to be used as distractions. All enemies, basic, big, or boss, all had obscene amounts of health; I shot Lady Comstock with 13 rockets directly to the face and there she was still standing, alive, and well. The sheer amount of health for every enemy made every weapon feel like a potato gun. Oh, and anytime you die, the game takes away some of your money, just to add salt.
These things do come together to make 1999 Mode incredibly hard, but it was an awful hard. It abused those once radiant battlefields, deprived its combat of play styles, stripped Vigors of value, and made big enemies relentless annoyances. Any level could be beaten eventually, any encounter could be repeated endlessly, and the only difficulty was choosing to continue playing to find exploitable tricks and abusing the restart chapter option. It was an excruciating grind to the finish devoid of pleasure and the most unsatisfactory platinum I own.
But what could they have done differently? How could Irrational Games have crafted the experience to be satisfactory instead of back breaking? Is an increase in difficulty enough to say that 1999 Mode ‘does not even feel like BioShock’? Did 1999 Mode even merit being in the game, because surely for auld lang syne is not enough.
Next week I will be talking about Hard and Alternate Game Modes within other titles. What makes difficult games rewarding and when do they simply become frustrating? What alternate modes redefine a gameplay experience enough to merit additional playthroughs? Tune in next week to find out!