I was chatting with David Uzumeri on Twitter recently about Bioshock on account of we were both playing the new DLC campaign for Bioshock Infinite, and I said I wished that all of the Bioshock games were, in fact, stealth games like Thief or even Dishonored (which is sort of a stealth-action first-person shooter). This is partially because I really like stealth games, but it’s also because stealth games, more than other games, require you to interact with the world around you: you have to really involve yourself with the environment, every table, fence and building becomes something you have to intimately know – this nook is safe to hide in, that cranny isn’t.
(It also means that good stealth games can immerse you into the world’s wider story in a way that feels far more organic than what Bioshock does with its “oh look the big bad of the game just happened to leave a diary recording of his nefarious plan here on this fruit stand” mechanic. Dishonored was particularly good about this: documents that you could sneak into rooms and read were always relevant to where you were and often didn’t have anything to do with your personal plotline while still being interesting.)
But why I particularly wish the Bioshock games were stealth games ties into the reason why I find most zombie games boring as sin. Stealth games make so much more sense when you are traveling through a world undergoing armageddon because during the end of a world, the tall grass gets mowed down. Why wouldn’t you want to sneak through a world where people with superpowers are trying to kill each other and also you? And this is of course why there are no truly great zombie video games that really capture the fearful aspect of zombies: they’re all action games like Left 4 Dead (which I really like, don’t get me wrong) or comedy-violence games like Dead Rising or Dead Island (which I really don’t like at all).
A zombie game that would be primarily about stealth would really make the problem with zombies plain: there’s more of them than there are of you, and they never get tired and they never stop coming, so the trick is to make sure they’re not coming for you. That game doesn’t exist yet and doesn’t appear to be coming. Instead, right now, the big thing is “build a base and defend it” zombie games, which also kind of miss the point: bases, in zombie stories, exist to be overrun. They’re honey traps for humans, that’s the point of bases.
(Day Z kind of got stealth gaming in zombie games right, but it’s also not fun because it’s an MMO and first off there’s all the PVP, which is just frustrating – and sandbox play doesn’t really work for a stealth game because at some point you have to get to your safe point, your stage end, and breathe out and relax. But War Z is at least a step in the right direction.)
Anyway, it’s just another of the many failures of Bioshock Infinite, which has to top my list of games that could have been so much more than they were but which I still play because what they are isn’t terrible by any means.