I finally started Bioshock Infinite! YAY! I loathe the battle music! BOO!

So I had a grand week of gaming. Not only did I finally put The Conduit for Wii out of its misery (and mine), played some more amazing Tomb Raider and Lord of the Rings: War In The North, but I finally started Bioshock Infinite.

I don’t usually played the same genre of games back to back, but considering the differences in caliber and scope, there isn’t much in common with The Conduit and Bioshock Infinite except for falling under the same and very broad banner of “first person shooters”. I just couldn’t put it off anymore. It certainly didn’t help that when I was playing (and hating) The Conduit I kept saying to myself “I could be playing Bioshock Infinite right now instead of this steaming pile.”

I’m amazed so far. I have to say upfront that Irrational Games’ System Shock 2 is my all-time favourite game and Bioshock is definitely in the top 10. So, it is really no surprise that I’m loving my time in Infinite.

It is a little weird having so many people around in the game since the other games' atmosphere was born from being alone in a hostile environment, but it is a nice change instead of treading down the same path again.

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I love it all...except for the awful battle-music that is forced upon me.

I am not the world biggest fan of music in games to begin with. Especially in first/third person shooters where it seems utterly ridiculous to me that I would be running around a world with music playing when I should be using my ears as well as my eyes to track down my prey. I enjoy soundtracks in games that don’t rely on sound as a sense. Platform games in particular are generally great for soundtracks and Sonic CD is some of my favourite in-game music of all time.

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I know that while some share my dislike for most music in these games that many people enjoy having a soundtrack while they play. Fair enough. Most games allow me to turn off the music with little penalty, so I am generally ok with this. I ran into problems not so long ago when I turned off the music in Spec Ops: The Line and this actually breaks some of the game where you are supposed to be able to hear the music of the in game radio station. Sometimes you turn off all the sound for the cutscenes when you turn off the music in other games, but that’s generally a problem of the past and doesn’t really rear its ugly head unless I am in a retro gaming mood.

I do however enjoy music as a part of the game world. I smile when you walk into rooms and radios are playing. I love when you go into a discothèque and have a shootout in the strobing light and thundering bass. I love when music in games is treated as music is in real life.

And this is the problem with Bioshock Infinite and with Bioshock.

Irrational Games has a phenomenal sense of sound, for the most part. The sound design is as much of an integral part of their experience and atmosphere as are their visuals. Irrational understands exactly how sound affects a player and how you can create a real and living world with sound.

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They understand that music should be treated almost like an object in games. Radios play music in well placed sections and they have appropriate music playing at the beach and at the fairs.

They understand to lower the background sounds when you are listening to audio logs. They have amazing sound quality as well, shaking my bones with the low ends while having amazingly clear vocal recordings that never have me straining to understand what is being said.

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System Shock 2 and Bioshock are some of my favourite games because of the sound design. They’ve really perfected the art of sound in my opinion.

This is why the forced battle-music is so crushingly disappointing.

Battle-music sucks. I don’t know how to say it any plainer. I do not understand the need for battle music especially since I think it is so at odds with the atmosphere in most games. I am speaking more about third and first person action games. I can certainly see more compelling reasons for music in turn-based rpgs and the likes since sound isn’t one of your senses in these battles.

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You know you are never in danger when there is no battle music playing. In games like Bioshock Infinite, Dead Space 2, or a whole host of other games this completely ruins the atmosphere and immersion of the games for me. I don’t want to feel safe in these games. In Bioshock Infinite, at least so far, you are a man on the run and a man that doesn’t want to be noticed. You should always feel on edge and paranoid. In Dead Space 2 the haunted house theme fails utterly when you know that the monsters come only when the scary music is playing.

You can’t rely on your sense of hearing to locate trouble, you can’t be ambushed, and you simply can’t be made to feel always on edge when battle-music is present in games. It is completely immersion crushing to me. When the battle-music comes on I immediately think (in the voice of a Dalek from Dr. Who) “You will be tense now...you are fighting...you will be tense now...you are fighting...you will be tense now...you are fighting…” and then when the music shuts off when the last baddie is dead I think “You will be calm now...everything is safe...you will be calm now...everything is safe”. I hate it. I hate knowing that everyone is dead, I hate not having that feeling of “Did I get everyone, is anyone still around?” You immediately go into no-fear mode which as I mentioned seems very at odds with your current situation in most games. You should always be on your toes.

I have seen some games that actually treat battle-music as a separate entity in the options. This is fantastic and I can’t praise those developers enough (though I am embarrassed to say I can’t remember any of the specific titles that did this with my aging brain). This is how this should be done. I usually get a separate slider in audio options for voice, music and general sound. Would it really be so hard to give me a little on/off switch for battle music?

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My options in Bioshock Infinite are damned if I do and damned if I don’t with regard to the battle-music.

I am damned if I do turn off the music. This will indeed kill the battle-music, however I get robbed of all the environmental music and anyone who has played Bioshock or Infinite knows that this is indeed a crime. I played Bioshock with the music off and was so sad later to find out how much of the atmosphere was hurt by not having the various radios playing music.

I am damned if I don’t turn off the music as I have to contend with the battle-music. I have picked this course of action for the moment, but it is wearing me down. I absolutely adore the music in the game and turning it off would have robbed me from hearing the wonderful calliope version of a specific song. Watch the video to hear it, don’t spoil it if you haven’t played the game. (not my video)

It is a shame that Irrational Games with all their deep understanding of sound design in games have overlooked this terrible wart on the face of such an otherwise stunningly and beautifully designed game.

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All said and done though, I can’t wait to get back to the game. It is almost a pity I am going away this weekend but I get to see some good gamer friends and the game will wait. So what are you playing this weekend?